Saturday, May 19, 2007

Salem's Future in a Second Energy Crisis (Part 1)

[This post is part of the World Without Oil Game. It might be fictional but the opinions are real.]

I remember being around for the first Energy Crisis (which I place in 1974 for discussion's sake.)
Salem was still a tired little mill city, like Lynn or Peabody only smaller and more congested. It had a downtown with lots of stores, including Almy's, a local department store chain.

It had factories. Mills and tanneries and machine shops. Sylvania, the big lighting company, had two factories in town, one in South Salem, and the other in Blubber Hollow (famous for the Great Salem Fire, near where I lived at the time.) The great Parker Brothers factory still existed. There were places to earn a good middle-class living. The great decline of the middle class hadn't yet happened. Nor had the decline of downtown, at least not yet.

Cars were becoming necessary in Salem and the North Shore, but one could still shop for everything one needed on foot. We had a commuter rail line and 8 bus routes. My family never owned a car; it was hard even then to manage, but we did.

Most importantly, Salem had a thriving commercial tax base with a lot of local employers. This meant a lot for charity and community events, such as Heritage Days and the parade that was held each year.

I can't romanticize this too much; we had serious environmental problems then that still plague us today. The North River turned colors according to what the factories were dumping that day and it still isn't clean today. As typical for the tannery business, many of the factories were firetraps. (I remember too well when the Flynntan factory on Boston St. burned, since my mom woke us all up at 3 AM when it happened; if the house burned, we were going to sleep in Gallows Hill Park as a previous generation did during the Salem Fire. Fortunately, the wind shifted and that didn't happen.)

Of course, long-time North Shore residents will recall the Salem Harbor powerplant and its environmental problems. I'll get to that later on.

What do I remember from the first Energy Crisis? Not much. I remember the glow-in-the-dark Count Chocula sticker that told us to turn off the lightswitch when we weren't using it. Turn off the TV. (In those days, a color TV could run 300 watts, so this was important!) Almy's shut down at 5 PM rather than 7 PM. To an 11-year old, even the newsjunkie 11-year old that I was, this was distant. I didn't have to pay the bills back then.

It's now 2007. What happens to Salem in a Second Energy Crisis? My speculations in the next post.

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