SALEM — The escalating spread of COVID-19 isn't the first time Salem has fallen on hard times. A new site launching Monday aims to help residents today cope with the lessons learned from those in the past. 

Several organizations have come together with city officials to launch a history-focused twist on #SalemTogether to retell stories from Salem's past. The site can be found at preservingsalem.com/salemtogether.

"The idea emanated from us recognizing that it's nearly a 400-year-old city," said city Mayor Kim Driscoll. "We've been through some very tough circumstances in the past, whether it's the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 or the Great Salem Fire of 1914."

COVID-19, Driscoll said, "feels unprecedented and really difficult. We're relying on some of the prior actions of our community to inspire us, enrich our thinking and teach us."

The site launches Monday with content surrounding the Great Salem Fire of 1914 and the work the city went through to recover from more than 250 acres of property being destroyed in just a couple days, according to Patti Kelleher, a city preservation planner. 

"You didn't have internet. You didn't have the telephone," Kelleher said. "Yet local residents came together, officials came together, and people throughout the Commonwealth came together and volunteered.

"It's really fascinating how relatively quickly the city was able to rebuild — within a year or two years, a lot of rebuilding had already occurred," Kelleher said. "New streets had been built; trees had been planted. When you look at the number of buildings built in 1915, 1916, 1917, it was remarkable how quickly they were able to monetize and get people out of the tent cities that were everywhere and into new housing."

Every Monday, the site will take on a new theme.

Donna Seger, a well-known historian around Salem and faculty at Salem State University, has done work on the city's efforts confronting the Spanish flu in 1918.

"The youth of the victims, the children they left behind, the coincidence and impact of war, etc., ... and all of this only four years after the Great Salem Fire," Seger said. "The second decade of the twentieth century was really a killer for Salem, but it rose to the challenge."

Brian Kennedy, who became executive director of Peabody Essex Museum in August, said in a release that the city's "past is a great teacher to those who pay attention."

"Seeking to learn from history allows us to make better meaning of our present moment," Kennedy said. "Salem's history is especially rich and instructive, and PEM is honored to contribute its staff and collection resources to the #SalemTogether effort."

Contact Salem reporter Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or DLuca@salemnews.com. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/dustinluca or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.

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