This week’s column, a hastily put together but heartfelt tribute to seven Salem area residents who have passed away in the last six months, and whose collective contributions to the region’s cultural and tourism industries cannot be measured, was prompted by the recent death of model builder Leon Masse.
In his retirement, this beloved Salem carpenter and handyman began building birdhouses that were actually replicas of famous buildings from around the world. From there, Leon moved on to scale models of regional lighthouses — he built more than 50 of them — and eventually replicas of important Salem buildings.
The latter group included the Salem Cadet Armory, which took him a year to research and build and which is now on display at the Salem Visitor Center on New Liberty Street; the Old Salem Train Depot; the Custom House at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site; and the House of Seven Gables. Leon’s final effort in this arena, a model of Salem’s First Church, was completed just before his death last week at age 100. All were given away, incidentally, never sold.
Robert Murphy, who died late last winter, sold antiquarian books in a shop in Derby Square before buying and moving to the Joshua Ward House on Washington Street. A wonderful carpenter with a love for historic structures, Bob set out to restore the Ward House interior. He did most of the work himself, using a variety of antique tools but, sadly, never got to see the project through to completion.
Bob’s Higginson Book Company was a leader in the print-on demand industry. Through the company catalog, he made available to the public more than 10,000 family genealogies, in addition to local histories and books on his personal passion, the Civil War.
No discussion of area genealogists could ignore the late Kay Piemonte. Kay was a longtime, active member of the Essex Society of Genealogists and taught courses on how to do genealogical research at both Salem State University and the Explorers Life Long Learning Institute in Salem.