Five years ago this week, the Essex County Chronicles column was devoted to information about life in Salem in the first half of the 20th century, gleaned from the diaries of Frank Fabens, a longtime resident of Chestnut Street who died in 1953. A man of leisure, Fabens kept busy with socializing, exercising, attending cultural and educational events, participating in Salem politics, and giving back to the community. Bits and pieces of his many comings and goings made it into the pages of the pocket-sized journals he kept for more than 40 years.
It becomes obvious from a further examination of Fabens’ sketchy diaries that Salem offered plenty of diversions in the early 1900s. During that first decade, Frank and unnamed friends went fishing at the Naumkeag Mills, attended an exposition of Salem-made products at the Salem Armory and took in citywide youth sporting events held at the Salem Common. In July 1909, they joined the huge throng of area residents at the Salem Willows to take in the “Illumination.”
Thousands of lights were employed in lighting up the Willows amusements, the homes in the adjacent neighborhood and even a visiting U.S. Navy cruiser moored just off the coast.
Fabens was an avid supporter of any event of a theatrical or musical nature. His diaries for this period are filled with references to trips to Boston to see concerts and plays — he often took in two or three in a single trip — and to local cultural venues, as well. On April 10, 1903, Fabens and friends attended a vaudeville production at the Mechanics Hall at the corner of Essex and Crombie streets. Four nights later, he was in the audience at the Salem Armory for a production of the opera “Aida.” The Fabens gang also acted in plays put on by the Salem Dramatic Club at the Salem Theatre on upper Essex Street, and attended professional productions at the Federal Theater at the corner of Washington and Federal streets.