Salem historical society to celebrate 60 years

The society is also close to adding 60 new members.



SALEM — Listen to a little classic jazz. Check some queries. Wonder where to get hardware for an improvement project.

Another afternoon at an Internet cafe? No, it’s just another day at the Salem Historical Society and Museum.

The society will have “A Night at the Museum” from 6 to 9 p.m. July 27 to celebrate its 60th anniversary.

There will be music in the museum’s garden as the sun sets, a pictorial history, tours and hors d’oeuvres.

This is not a group dedicated just to old stuff. Promotional material for the event says the society is “Keeping and making history.”

David Stratton, the museum’s director, recalled talking to an official at the Salem branch of the Butler Institute of American Art, which is able to plan its events two years in advance. But Stratton said he can only plan about two weeks in advance. “Stuff comes up,” he said.

For example, Stratton found himself taking an offer from a Salem resident who wanted to get rid of a city light pole stored in his garage. The light pole dates to the 1890s.

Stratton said the light will be put in the society’s garden after he finds the right hardware. “Some parts need to be replaced,” he said.

The society

It’s all part of his unpaid job. “Each day is a different experience,” Stratton said.

The society gets requests for information on genealogy and Civil War service, as well as for information about companies such as Deming Pumps and Buckeye Engine that operated worldwide. The museum gets local and out-of-town visitors, including bus tours from other states.

Some travel greater distances: Hans Martin Fleischer from Berlin, Germany, came to Salem this year to do research on composer Brooks Bowman. “On Mother’s Day, he showed up,” Stratton said. While in town, the unexpected visitor camped out on the lawn of one of Bowman’s relatives.

Bowman was a student at Princeton who wrote several songs, including the jazz standard “East of the Sun [and West of the Moon]” which was has been recorded recently by American singer Diana Krall.

A Berlin singer, Viola Manigk, also recorded Bowman’s tunes, in English, in a 2006 tribute concert. Copies are available at the historical society, which sells a variety of items to help raise funds.

The visit from Fleischer sparked more local interest in Bowman, whose family moved to Salem in the 1930s. He apparently spent several summers in Salem during his years at Princeton. He died in a car wreck in 1937 and was buried in Salem.

A rich history

One reason the society is so active is that the city has so much history. It’s been a center for the anti-slavery movement and women’s rights.

Janice Lesher, the curator, estimates that the society has anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 items, depending on how the items are counted.

The society is very close to reaching its goal of 60 new members for its 60th anniversary. That would bring the membership up to about 350 people.

But the society also brings the past alive.

Joe Armeni restored portions of his father’s barber shop that are now are in the museum. His father, who was also named Joe, ran the shop for about 50 years. The younger Armeni gives talks to school children.

The society, Stratton says, makes history, “by keeping it alive and relevant. We’re keeping it fresh and vibrant for other generations.”

XThe museum and its gift shop are open from 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $4. For more information, call (330) 337-8514 or visit

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