Corp. CitizensTwo Corporate Citizens Step Up for local History and "Everyone" Wins

History Smiths

Two examples of outstanding corporate citizens supporting history just crossed my path, and I wanted to share their inspiring stories with you.

The first one is a thirty-year success story, and it involves Haunted Happenings in Salem, Massachusetts. Thirty years ago, in 1980, you may recall that Halloween in the United States had become rather disturbing. There were instances of razor blades in apples, tainted candy, and the like. The holiday, which had long since evolved into a costumed, memorable, literally sweet childhood joy had essentially been taken over by a very dark element. It was no longer the innocent pleasure it should have been.

Even in Salem, Massachusetts, where the historical story of the Salem Witch Trials has lived side-by-side with the contemporary holiday for generations, Halloween was troubling for families. In 1980, as the President and CEO of the Salem Witch Museum (and Salem native), Biff Michaud decided to act. He put up his own money to fund the first-ever, city-wide Haunted Happenings to transform Salem’s Halloween into a truly family friendly event. He involved dozens of people and organizations throughout the city, and the city itself, and it worked! Over the years, Haunted Happenings has grown and changed. Today, it is a month-long festival that draws families and crowds of every age to a well-managed, safe, enjoyable, diverse event.

Biff is quick to credit Salem’s current mayor, Kimberley Driscoll, and all of the city employees and Salem organizations that make Haunted Happenings work today. But it was his vision 30 years ago, his steady leadership since that time, and his generosity as a leading corporate citizen in Salem, that have created one of Salem’s premiere economic development machines.

And Salem’s historical resources benefit not only during October, but also year-round because people visit Salem, fall in love, and come back to learn more!

My second story takes place in Ipswich, Massachusetts, and although the business involved has not been around for 30 years as Biff Michaud’s has, their recent actions ensure the stability of historical resources that are well over 30 years old and will last for another 130. I am talking about Windhill Realty, and Shawn Cayer, who recently received the prestigious annual Community Service Award from the North Shore Association of Realtors.

To be honest, I am not aware of everything Windhill does in their community, but knowing Shawn, it’s considerable. The history-related project I want to call attention to is the “Old Ipswich News Building” on Market Street in the heart of downtown Ipswich.

A couple of years ago, this small wooden building was decimated by fire. What would happen to what was left of it? Everyone in town was concerned. Arguing ensued, followed by a demolition delay, lots of angst, opinions, and letters to the editor of the local paper. Finally, Shawn Cayer bought the building after securing the assistance of his colleague Mat Cummings, the Ipswich architect who specializes in preserving and renovating old houses. With backing from The First National Bank of Ipswich, Shawn and Mat transformed a blighted hole in downtown Ipswich into a jewel of an office building that looks like it’s been there since 1840. Truly.

Shawn could have done pretty much anything he wanted to with the building because Ipswich, unfortunately, has very few restrictions and no historic district. Shawn could also have hired a less reputable and accomplished architect. Instead, every one of his decisions ensured that this building would help preserve the historic character of Ipswich’s Market Street. What a wonderful steward! And by the way? Windhill Realty’s offices are now housed there, so you can go inside and see for yourself what Shawn and Mat achieved – and what will still be there for many years to come.

And speaking of preserving historic buildings for future generations, Biff Michaud, the hero of Story #1, is using his own money to preserve the magnificent 1844-6 Gothic Revival brownstone-and-brick former church that houses the Salem Witch Museum. There is no preservation grant money for businesses, folks; this is all his doing – for us, and for future generations.

Well, done, gentlemen!