• Salem Maritime National Historic Site

    Salem Maritime

    National Historic Site Massachusetts

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Mary Nowak

Mary Nowak as a young woman

Mary Nowak as a young singer in the Chopin Choir, c. 1930

National Park Service

Mary Nowak provided a unique perspective during the research for this project. She came to the U.S. from the Austrian-occupied region of Poland at the age of three in 1913, making her one of Salem's last representatives from the immigrant generation of the early twentieth century. Mary was just old enough to have first-hand memories of the Salem Fire, which burned much of the western end of the waterfront district in 1914. She recalled her mother taking a few clothes and the feather tick they had brought from Europe when the family fled their boarding house and took a boat out onto the harbor: "And while we were in the harbor, I saw, honest to God, I remember, the flames. Just a ball of flame."
 
Portrait of Mary Nowak later in life

Mary Nowak in later life, c. 2000

Courtesy of the Nowak Family

As a young woman, Mary sang in Salem’s Chopin Choir, which held rehearsals in the old firehouse at 128 Derby Street. She was involved in many groups and activities in Polish Salem, including the Women's Polish American Citizens Club. She also worked in all three of Salem's main industries: leather, electronics, and textiles (at the Pequot Mill). Visit those pages for some of the many recollections that she shared with researchers for this study.

Mary passed away in June of 2009, as the report for this project was being completed. Her memories are interspersed throughout the report, and her vibrant spirit and humor informed the study in many ways. Below, Mary stands with community member Linda Moustakis and Chuck Smythe, Program Manager of the National Park Service's Northeast Regional Ethnography Program, in front of the storefront exhibit at St. Joseph Hall in May 2008.

 
three people in front of a storefront exhibit
Polish community member Linda Moustakis (left), Program Manager of the National Park Service's Northeast Regional Ethnography Program Chuck Smythe (center), and Mary Nowak (right) pose in front of the storefront exhibit on the Polish Community at St. Joseph Hall.
Courtesy of Cathy Stanton
 

Back to Salem's Polish Community

For more information about this topic, see these pages from In the Heart of Polish Salem:

  • For more about the Salem Fire, see pp. 116-20

Did You Know?

On a sunny day, a small boat motors past the 1871 lighthouse at the tip of Derby Wharf.

Salem native Captain John Derby was the first to bring news of the Battle of Lexington and Concord to England when he sailed from Derby Wharf in April 1775. In 1783, Captain John Derby was also the first person to bring news of the signing of the Treaty of Paris to America.