The year 2020 marked the 75th Anniversary of the end of World War Two, an outcome that powerfully changed American life. To explore what happened locally after the soldiers came home, the Salem Museum announces a new feature exhibit, BOOM! Salem After WWII, that celebrates the boom times that Salem and the United States experienced from 1945 through 1952.
In Salem, the period started and ended with a BOOM—parades, programs, and community-wide celebrations! When victory was announced in 1945, all of Salem erupted with joy. Impromptu parades took place along Main Street, culminating in celebratory programs held at Municipal Field. A similar set of events, planned in advance this time, took place in 1952 when Salem celebrated its 150th anniversary. The whole town turned out for parades, historical performances featuring a cast of 500, and other activities that lasted for a week.
In between, Salem experienced a baby boom and a surge in students, growing demand for suburban housing, and a wide range of consumer goods available once more. New businesses opened and expanded up and down Main Street and all through the town. Some are still in operation, such as Medeco, Graham-White Manufacturing Company, and Maid Bess Garment Company (now Integrated Textile Solutions). Others now gone, but well remembered, included Tarpley’s, Valleydale, and the Lee-Hi Drive-in. Existing schools saw expansions, and two new schools—West Salem and South Salem Elementary Schools—were soon built.
“This time period is when modern Salem begins to take shape,” said Alex Burke, the Salem Museum’s assistant director and exhibit designer. “It’s interesting to look back and see how this time period leads into the Salem we know today.”
The exhibit opens with a display of weapons and equipment that soldiers brought home from the war. Some notable figures from Salem’s history are featured: Brigadier General Guy Denit, who witnessed the Japanese surrender; 12-year-old Russell Gwaltney, national marbles champion; authors Elizabeth Gresham and Alfreda Marion Peel; Frank Chapman, Sr., town manager; and actor John Payne, the star of Miracle on 34th Street.
BOOM! Salem After WWII was made possible through the support of the William and Margaret Robertson Endowment.