, Salem, MA


April 22, 2013

McAllister: The Willows, 'genteel' through the years


One of the attractions along the line was an early carousel known as the Hippodrome. While not as old as the original merry-go-round, which lasted until about 1906, or as well-known as Mr. Brown’s Flying Horses (located on the knoll opposite what is now the vacant Men’s Cottage), it was billed in 1929 as “the last word in flying horses.” The Hippodome featured horses and other animals that went up and down, as well as around, which Mr. Brown’s did not, and unmatched decor. The upper interior walls of the Hippodrome were adorned with three dozen oil paintings, evenly split between American landscapes scenes and portraits of past U.S. presidents, rendered by “the famous European artist, Mr. Kotzbauer.”

Dancing was an important attraction at the Salem Willows in its early decades. Professor Kennerson’s Casino at the corner of Bay View Avenue opened in the 1880s and attracted the serious dance crowd. It would inspire Lou Collins and George Hardy to pen the “Salem Willows for Mine Waltz” in 1919. Historian Joe Garland excerpted lines from the waltz in his wonderful social history of Boston’s North Shore:

“The dear ball-room floor is the place I adore/The waters with nice shady views/The music is grand, makes you dance, understand/It’s the place where you’ll never feel blue.”

The casino would give way to Charles Schribman’s famed Charleshurst Ballroom in the 1920s. Locals flocked to the venue to watch “Battles of the Bands” pitting Duke Ellington’s band against one headlined by local star Chet Frost. The late Carl Reed, a musician and Salem Willows resident, said the stage at the Charleshurst was really too small for the larger bands. “Putting a 14-piece band on it was like putting 22 people in a phone booth,” Reed recalled.

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