It was mere chance that found Jamaica Plain Historical Society member Fran Perkins on Boylston Street that November day in 2009 when she met a group of people from New York, looking a bit lost, who were trying to find a house at 257 Lamartine Street where one of them had lived in 1930. Fran’s conversation with the group led to our story “A Holocaust Survivor Returns to Jamaica Plain” in which the house at 257 Lamartine plays a prominent role.
Soon after the writing of the Holocaust story began, another coincidence emerged. We received an inquiry from a family in Connecticut seeking information about one of their ancestors, a German immigrant, who lived and died in Jamaica Plain in the 1920s. The ancestor, Jacob C. Becker (aka Carl Becker), a veteran of the Spanish American War, lived at 267 Lamartine Street in 1920. His daughter, Emily, married a Lawrence R. Grove and they lived, of all places, across the street at 257 Lamartine Street, which became the home of our Holocaust survivor some ten years later! We tried, but failed to find a connection between the Groves and the Lessings, the family in the Holocaust story, other than they lived in the same house, 10 years apart. The Groves, of 257 Lamartine, had a daughter Lorna, who was the mother of our Connecticut respondent.
Moving from Lamartine Street, the family tradition says that Carl Becker lived in the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home. Sadly, after he moved to the Soldiers’ Home, the tradition says that during a visit back to 267 Lamartine in the late summer of 1924, a tenant there provided Carl with more homemade beer than he could handle and he wandered to Jamaica Pond, fell in, and drowned.
There is a Becker family plot at Forest Hills Cemetery with a headstone listing Carl along with his wife Paulina but the Cemetery has very little information about Carl. As the Becker descendants continued their search for information about Carl’s death they learned that their original belief that Carl lived in a Sailor’s Home near Egleston Square was incorrect. We had found no record of any such institution in Jamaica Plain, nor did the Naval History Library in Washington whom we queried about it. We suggested to the descendants that it might have been the Home for Aged Couples, near Egleston Square, that the Becker’s oldest living descendant (92) remembered as Carl’s residence after leaving Lamartine Street. We eventually learned that Carl did indeed live at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home which was probably reached by public transportation from Egleston Square, which established the Egleston connection in the elderly descendant’s memory.
The coincidence of the house at 257 Lamartine playing a part in two family’s lives 80 years ago and then their stories coming to light almost simultaneously is, we think, very interesting, to say the least.
April 15, 2010
By Peter O’Brien
What does a 1940’s type shoe repair shop, a fleet of World War Two B-17 Bombers, the Building 19 discount store in Norwood, Arthur Fiedler of Boston Pops fame and Jazz Maffie, the late Brinks bandit, have in common? And the answer is: 90 year-old cobbler Guy Perito, formerly of Sedgwick Street, Jamaica Plain!
Guy Perito was born August 23, 1920 at Ritchie Street in Jackson Square, Roxbury. Jackson Square’s intersection of Centre Street and Columbus Avenue, under the watchtower on Fort Avenue, was then a busy gateway to Roxbury Crossing on Columbus Avenue and a shortcut to Dudley Street via Centre Street. Guy knew the Square and its diverse 1930s small businesses well.
His parents were Valentino of Naples and Grace of Sicily, Italy.
His younger siblings were Johnny, Mary, Rita and Leo. Leo fought at Anzio in World War II and has passed away.
Leaving Ritchie Street the Perito family moved to a three-decker with gaslights and an oil-fired black kitchen stove that heated the flat and cooked their meals at 9 Albert Street, Roxbury. Albert Street ran from Heath to Tremont Street alongside the old raised NYNH&H railroad track bed which was later depressed below grade as part of the aborted Southwest Corridor Project.
Guy went to the Blessed Sacrament grammar school and then on to Boston Trade School where he took the popular Auto Mechanic’s course, graduating in 1939. He then took Machine Shop courses at Wentworth Institute, learning the various machine shop tools and processes. His favorite subjects in school were math, history and of course, shop. Due to his mother’s vigilant oversight of his schoolwork he was a pretty good student and was determined to never bring home an unsatisfactory report card for her signature… and he never did. Guy goes to his Trade School reunions, but notices the attendance is dwindling now. (Not many make their 70th year class reunion!)
His school years’ activities included singing in the Blessed Sacrament choir and many hours in the gym. He was an avid member of the Roxbury Boy’s Club and remembers swimming there and playing table-pool at the younger kids’ tables which featured thick wooden discs instead of ivory balls, played on a bare wood table without felt covering. He also played sandlot football for the “Pirates” and frequently enjoyed the matinees at the famous “spit box” (the Madison Theatre on Centre Street was known by many different names, depending on your neighborhood.)
Guy discovered a love of the drums and played in the Trade School drum and bugle corps as it marched in the annual Boston Schoolboy Parade. He was good enough to earn an audition for the All American Youth Orchestra. The Massachusetts’ auditions were handled at the time by Arthur Fiedler of Boston Pops fame. Guy didn’t make the cut but he certainly enjoyed meeting the famous conductor.
Guy’s father, Valentino, was a skilled shoemaker making hand crafted shoes in a shop in Needham for the affluent professionals in that town. He had learned the trade in Italy and was never out of work, even during the Great Depression. Notwithstanding his relatively secure circumstances, Guy remembers writing to the Boston Post (newspaper) Santa with a list of wanted toys, which he thinks Santa fulfilled. Thanks to Valentino’s skill however, the family weathered the Depression’s worst years in modest comfort.
Valentino commuted to Needham by public transportation until Guy bought his first car, a ‘32 Chevvie for $15 at a Jackson Square gas station. Repairing its broken axle himself, he was able to drive his dad to work much of the time. Guy has been driving since he was 16, and continues driving as he nears his 90th birthday.
Valentino eventually bought the shoe shop in Needham from its owner, Rocco Perrara, with money Guy had saved. Guy then learned the shoe-making and repair business from his father, never dreaming that one day he’d enter the declining field of shoe repair.
Guy’s working life started very young, as was the case for most youngsters in the 30s and 40s. He remembers selling the Daily Record for three cents, or a 100% markup on the penny and half he paid the distributor. In those days the paperboys could ride the El, streetcars and busses free with a Newsboy’s pass to sell papers to the commuters. The second of the two daily editions of the Record, called the “Payoff Edition,” was the more popular because it contained the daily “number” that yielded a 600 to 1 payoff on a bet with the local bookie.
Despite possessing a solid auto mechanic’s training from Boston Trade School, Guy thought he wanted to be a fireman. So, with an uncle’s encouragement, he enrolled in the Firefighter’s course at MIT and he did well in it. However, when the Boston Fireman’s test day came, Guy, upon reaching the front door at Fire Headquarters, decided he didn’t want it after all.
During his growing up years, Guy had developed a love of airplanes and built many models, starting with the simple penny balsa gliders and moving on to the more complex paper covered kit models of the famous World War One Spads, Sopworth Camels, Fokkers and other “double wingers” of that era. The fascination with airplanes grew and was fully realized when he entered the Army Air Force and became a World War Two B-17 bomber mechanic. The B-17 was one of the toughest war planes ever built and Guy loved every moment working on them from 1942-46 in Selma, Alabama. Selma then was just a small southern city, pop. 20,000, and the site of a famous Civil War battle. Twenty years later it was a major battlefield in the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s.
After the war Guy went to work for a series of auto repair shops in the Roxbury, Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury areas. Between automotive jobs he tried machine shop work and he even tried plastering for a while. His uncle Angelo owned the barbershop next to the Jamaica Theatre, above the bowling alleys, where Mayor Curley regularly had his hair cut and Guy considered that line of work also (i.e. barbering, not mayoring.) As the post war boom continued and he was getting steady work, he met Shirley (Tibbetts) of Lowell at the Clarke and White auto dealership on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston where she was working as an assistant to the Service Manager. They were married and in 1953 they moved to a three-decker on Sedgwick Street, directly across from the Jamaica Plain Branch Library. Guy knew Sammy Klass’ shoe repair shop around the corner on South Street. Sammy had a very busy shop because in those days shoes saw several reincarnations before a trip to Ed Hanlon’s for a new pair.
The Peritos had three children and three grandchildren. All of the children have advanced degrees and are working in responsible careers, making their dad very proud. In the mid-fifties Guy and Shirley moved to Needham where they live now.
After nearly 45 years in the automotive world, Guy grew tired of it and decided to try a new career. With his Dad’s training many decades earlier, Guy found a job in a shoe repair shop in Stoughton. He discovered that he liked it very much, especially the customer interaction, as he loves to talk and make new friends. The owner of that shop retired and Guy bought the tools and equipment. In the late eighties, Paul London, the shoe buyer for the Building 19 discount store chain, asked Guy if he’d be interested in opening a shoe repair shop in Building 19¾ on Route 1 in Norwood. Guy agreed and moved his newly acquired equipment in and he has been fixing shoes and meeting new friends there ever since as “Shoe Repair by Gaetano.” (Guy in Italian = Gaetano.) Over the intervening years he’s met the inimitable Jerry Ellis, one of the founders of the Building 19 organization and many other locally prominent people.
Nearing 90 now, Guy has no intention of stopping what he loves to do. His weekly “club” meeting, which he presides over, meets each Saturday in Shoe Repair by Gaetano’s at Building 19¾. The group includes friends from as far back as his Jackson Square days and newer friends he’s met in his Building 19 shop. The diverse group makes for lively and fun talk with much reminiscing and a challenge or two about a date or a place or a long-past event or person of note. The discussions, with frequent interruptions by customers picking up and dropping off shoes, range from the finer points of the 1940s pizza at Napoli Café on Columbus Avenue to where one could get a pint on a Sunday morning to the appropriateness of Jazz Maffie’s (several knew him) 18 year prison sentence at Walpole and just where did that Brinks money really go and what was the name of that restaurant on Broadway in Southie (Amrhreins?)
Guy knew Jazz Maffie and his family very well when the Maffie’s were living at the foot of Parker Hill near Heath Street. He and the others all said Jazz was a very well-liked and friendly fellow.
Some of the weekly “club” attendees are Catherine “Kay” Desimone, Emmet Tynan, John Tighe, Chester Wallace, and Rick Sidorowicz aka Mr. Sid, the former Dedham clothier. The whole scene is like a modern version of the old-time paintings of weathered, pipe smoking oldtimers sitting around the pot-belly stove in a country store, whittling and chewing the fat.
As he looks back, Guy’s fondest memory of Jamaica Plain is the 4th of July festivities at Jamaica Pond. He thinks the computer, television and the cell phone are the major innovations he’s seen in his lifetime and he’s conversant with all three. He attributes his long life and excellent health to a good wife, a healthy diet (with very little meat,) swimming and plenty of walking before he had both hips and a knee replaced. He is encouraged by the fact that some people still want to learn the shoe repair trade and he will be training a new hire very soon.
Guy and Shirley were big fans of the Julia Child and Jacques Pepin cooking duo and they like to cook and bake bread for each other, although more modestly than Julia and Jacques. They’ve slowed their social life down a bit, but being crazy about each other, they enjoy each other’s company and the slower pace is comfortable for them.
Guy Perito is a happy man and he looks forward each day to the challenges, chit-chat and drop-in visitors at Shoe Repair by Gaetano’s.
[Editor’s note: Guy Perito passed away on June 6, 2014. He was 93. ]
This is the story of a personally conducted tour through Jamaica Plain. It began about 6:45 last evening, and it lasted for about two and one half hours. And if there were any streets that escaped, it wasn’t the fault of patrolman Joseph Cunningham of Station 13, the conductor, or Mrs Louisa Cline of 16 Dixville St., South Boston, the conducted.
The tour began in this wise: Patrolman Cunningham was walking along Burroughs St. a few minutes before 7 o’clock when a woman rushed up. "Aber, wo ist das? —" and she trailed off into the mysteries of German. Patrolman Cunningham had left his German at home on the piano. After a desperate attempt he gathered that she was looking for 8 Amory St.
As she seemed at a loss, he decided to take her to the address. And just here the tour began. When the tourists got to 8 Amory St. they found that it was the wrong place. Patrolman Cunningham asked her who the people were she was to meet. She didn’t know. Then she had an inspiration. It wasn’t Amory St. after all. It was Burroughs St.
Back the party went. They hunted up 8 Burroughs St. No use; they were wrong again. Cunningham strove again to get the name of the person sought by Mrs. Cline. She couldn’t remember it. But she thought that the street might be Parkman St. The tour now turned to that highway, but there was no one at No 8. Certainly that wasn’t the place.
The next inspiration of the conducted was South St. By this time Patrolman Cunningham was getting his stride. The preliminary had been mere play. He decided that they would begin at the car barn and "do" every street in the vicinity. They did. And when it was all over, although the conductor was a willing guide, he decided that he had done his share of walking for about a month, so the tourists turned toward the police station.
Lt. Riordan was flabbergasted when the party arrived. Mrs. Cline overwhelmed him with a torrent of German. He hurried to the desk and rang for the sole German policeman in the station. But that gentleman was floored by Mrs. Cline as easily as the others.
Finally, after nearly 15 minutes questioning, Lt. Riordan managed to inform the conducted that she was not under arrest. He only wished to know where she lived. And as soon as he extracted that bit of information, he got busy with the telephone.
Twenty minutes later a man and woman entered the station. They were Mr. and Mrs. W. Heinmann of 8 Enfield St, Jamaica Plain. They were in a great to do. They had arranged to meet - "Ach, ya! Aber es ist das Enfield St." came an excited voice from the seat near the wall where Patrolman Cunningham and the conducted were seated. And then followed an excited and heart-gladdening greeting.
After the matter had been all straightened out, and the two ladies and Mr Heinmann had closed the door behind them and walked down the steps, Patrolman Cunningham stood up and scratched his head. "Well, I’ll be darned."
How a chance meeting on JP’s Boylston Street reveals a Holocaust survivor’s brief connection with Jamaica Plain 80 years ago.
By Peter O’Brien
A member of the Jamaica Plain Historical Society happened to be on Boylston Street in early November 2009 and, by chance, met a couple from Hastings on Hudson, New York, who were looking for a certain house on Lamartine Street. The couple, Edward Lessing and his wife Carla, were looking for the house at 257 Lamartine where Ed had lived in the early 1930s. After a short residence there, Ed Lessing’s story took many turns with several unplanned surprises including life-threatening experiences with the Nazis and his mother’s internment in a notorious concentration camp during World War II. This amazing story about a Dutch family displaced by the Holocaust and happily reunited after the war, might never have happened if the patriarch, a cellist, could have found work and remained in Jamaica Plain during those pre-war depression years.
The Lessings Leave Holland
The story starts in 1929 when a Dutch Jewish couple, Nathan ‘Nardus’ Lessing, his wife Engeline ‘Lien’ Elizabeth, (nee van Leer,) and their three-year old son Eddie arrived in America. They were greeted by Lien’s sister, Suze and her husband David (Cohen) van Leer who had emigrated to the United States earlier and had settled in what was then the most Catholic (97%) city in the USA; Holyoke, Massachusetts. They tried fruitlessly to rent an apartment there until a friend told them that with a name like Cohen, they would never succeed. David and Suze then changed their name, legally, to van Leer and never thereafter told anyone that they were Jewish. David van Leer worked in a typography company while Suze worked as a bookkeeper. The van Leers never left Holyoke.
A New Friend Tries To Help
Nardus Lessing, an accomplished cellist, had studied at the Music Conservatory in The Hague, Netherlands, until his father told him that he had had enough education and he should now find a job in music somewhere. He was soon hired as a member of a musical trio on a ship that sailed for Cuba. He also made several working trips to New York on ships of the Holland-America Line. A few times he visited his sister-in-law Suze and husband David van Leer in Holyoke during his New York layovers.
When the family emigrated, Nardus had hoped to find steady work in America through Jacobus ‘Jaap’ Langendoen, a Dutch cellist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO), which was then under the direction of Serge Koussevitzky (1924-1949). The family tradition is that Nardus may have met Jaap through his sister-in-law, Suze van Leer, of Holyoke. Langendoen at that time lived at 17 Pearl Street in Dorchester. Jaap’s granddaughter, Heidi Langendoen, of Wakefield, Massachusetts, fondly recalls her grandfather as someone who would try very hard to help another musician and that he mentored many young musicians over his long career. She remembers hearing about his summer work playing at the Wentworth Hotel in the town of New Castle, New Hampshire. Later, the Langendoen’s bought a house and resided there for many years.
The kindly Jaap Langendoen will appear again after the war to help another member of the Lessing family.
Unfortunately, Jaap Langendoen’s helping hand could not be accepted because Nardus contracted tuberculosis and was hospitalized in Holyoke. There was a small 50-bed Holyoke City Sanatorium on Cherry Street, Holyoke, which had been under the direction of Dr. Carl Rosenbloom. The 1930 census lists Nathan Lessing and several other patients and staff as residents at the Holyoke City Sanatorium. In those days before effective TB drug therapy was developed in the early 50’s, patients’ recovery rates were not good.
Following this health disaster, Nardus’ wife, Lien, and their son Eddie, found themselves living in a two-family house at 257 Lamartine Street, Jamaica Plain.
Only in America
Lien, a very enterprising former telegraph operator, first of all searched for and found an elderly couple to take care of Eddie during the daytime. Eddie fondly remembers them only as Grandma and Grandpa, a kindly couple whose surname cannot be recalled.
Lien then found employment with Mr. Ben Franklin Allen who owned a small travel bureau called “Allen Tours” on the second floor at 154-156 Boylston Street, Boston, a six-story building located across from Boston Common between Tremont and Charles Streets, in what is now the Piano Row Historic District. The first floor at 156 Boylston Street was occupied by the New England Piano Company. Ben Franklin Allen lived at 12 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston.
Ed Lessing clearly remembers Allen’s name because of an incident his mother related much later. It seems a former travel client sent a letter addressed to Mr. Allen at “Allen Tours.” Lien opened it and it read: “Dear Mr. Allen, - I do not know anyone whom I hate enough to let him suffer one of your tours! Sincerely etc.” Lien, torn between duty and fear of an executive outburst finally got up the courage to hand the offending letter to Mr. Allen. As she said years later, “I could not believe what happened. Mr. Allen read the letter twice, then burst out in uncontrollable laughter and shouted, ‘The best letter I ever received. Let’s frame it!’ And so it was done, and Mr. Allen proudly hung it over his own desk.” Eddie always remembered this story as proof that there was no country in the world like America where such a thing could happen!
In 1931, in what was a very lucky outcome for the period, Nardus recovered. He then found summer work through Jaap Langendoen, as a cellist with 11 other members of the BSO, at the grand Wentworth Hotel in New Castle, New Hampshire. The family moved to New Hampshire and enjoyed a happy summer there while that music engagement lasted, remaining hopeful that a more permanent job in music could be found. Ed Lessing’s photographs from that memorable summer show him playing in the water with his mom. Nearly 80 years later, on their way to a conference in Boston, Ed and Carla Lessing stayed at the same Wentworth Hotel and presented them with a picture of those summer of ‘31 musicians, which included Ed’s dad, Nardus Lessing.
As the depression deepened permanent work could not be found, and in 1932, three years after their arrival, and with only the summer work at Wentworth Hotel and Lien’s job at Allen Tours having sustained them, the Lessings had to return to the Netherlands.
Back Home in Holland
After their return, the Lessings finally settled in the small historical town of Delft, located near Rotterdam. Delft is noted as a most typical Dutch town with a canal passing right through the town center. It was the home of the noted painter, Johannes Vermeer and the world-famous Delft pottery.
The Lessings, struggling through the depression at whatever work that could be found, had three more sons, one of whom died at nine months.
World War II Arrives in Holland
By May 1940, the Lessing family of Nardus, Lien, Eddie (14), Arthur ‘At’ (6) and Alfred ‘Fred’ (4) had become part of the community living on the canal in Delft. At that time Hitler’s troops overran Holland’s little democracy and installed a Nazi government there led by a friend of the Führer, The Reichskommissar for the Occupied Dutch Territories, Dr. Seyss Inquart, who was hanged after the war as a war criminal.
As a non-religious, though, nevertheless, a Jewish family, the Lessings found themselves in immediate danger. It took the Nazis just three years in Holland to accomplish what they did in their own country in six years, i.e. to destroy the age-old Jewish communities by murdering its members, irrespective of age or gender, in death camps located in Nazi-occupied Poland.
Nardus and Lien saw that the only way to survive with their three boys was to go into hiding from the Gestapo, the Secret German Police. Thus, on October 22, 1942, the Lessings dispersed and disappeared.
At that point, Eddie’s mother, Engeline Elizabeth Lessing/van Leer changed from housewife to heroine, fighting to save the lives of her entire family. First, she secured a false ID card with a new name from the Dutch Resistance. She then began to travel through Holland with the false ID on the extremely dangerous, constantly Gestapo-patrolled trains to find hiding places for her sons, her husband and herself.
At great personal risk, she succeeded in placing all in fairly secure locations with trusted Dutch families. Lien and Nardus were taken in by a brave gentile family who hid them for two years. As the war wore on, however, Lien had to find new safe houses for her younger sons Fred, aged six, and At, aged eight.
Rescued From the Nazis
Her eldest son, Eddie, 17, wound up with a group of Dutch Resistance men in their headquarters hut in the woods in the center of Holland, near the tiny village of De Lage Vuursche, in the Dutch province of Utrecht. At dawn on December 29, 1943, German forces arrived to arrest and/or kill the Resistance group. Eddie was standing watch at the time and he and his partner barely had time to warn the six men sleeping in the hut and save themselves. The men quickly dressed and scattered into the forest.
As part of a contingency plan in the event of such a raid, at eight o’clock that evening, Eddie and his partner went to a designated meeting place in the woods, about seven miles from the hut, where they hoped to meet any survivors of that morning’s raid. At the meeting place they were armed with 9mm Mauser pistols in case of a surprise German attack. Soon, in the pitch-black darkness, someone arrived on a bicycle. Fearing that it was a German trap, Eddie and his friend held their fire. And they were thankful they didn’t shoot when they discovered that it was neither the survivors of the raid on the hut nor German troops that had arrived, but to their astonishment, the bicyclist was found to be Eddie’s mother, Lien!
Lien explained to Eddie that as soon as she heard about the raid on the hut, she “immediately decided to try and rescue you.” She then explained that they were completely surrounded by a large circle of Wehrmacht and SS troops looking for them and that they should immediately bury their weapons to avoid being killed when arrested.
When the weapons were buried, Eddie’s partner accepted Lien’s bicycle and flashlight and left to find a hiding place leaving Eddie and Lien standing in the dark, surrounded by Germans. At this moment, Lien conceived a desperate plan to survive as they walked towards the encircling German troops waiting to capture them. They soon came to a German soldier pacing with a shouldered rifle and immediately executed Lien’s plan. Tightly hugging each other in an embrace with heads close together they began talking and laughing loudly, while making kissing sounds. As they approached the German soldier, they waved to him with a wide smile on their faces and ice-cold fear in their hearts. He stopped them with a loud HALT! - - - and they kept the grins on their faces as he made up his mind. It was at that moment a life or death decision for the two of them. Suddenly he shouted, “Nah also, gehen sie!” (Now then, get going) as he waved them on. They thanked him profusely with many loud “Danke schons” (thank you’s) and thus they walked out of that circle of death to live another day.
Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp
In May 1944, Lien was on her way to find a new hiding place for her youngest child, Fred, when she ran into a Gestapo specialist on a Dutch train. He immediately recognized her false ID card and she was arrested. She was put in a separate train compartment with a civilian Dutch police officer to guard her on her way to Gestapo Headquarters in Amsterdam. Realizing that she had all the family members’ hiding-place addresses in her handbag, she surreptitiously tore each piece of paper in shreds, chewed it up and swallowed it, to arrive in front of the Gestapo interrogators with only her false ID card.
“Who are you?” she was asked. “I am Engeline Elizabeth van Leer”
“Do you have a husband?” “Yes, he is in the U.S. Merchant Marine.”
“Do you have children?” “No, I have no children.” And then, out of the blue, she shouted, “You have no right to keep me here. I am an American citizen!”
The Gestapo agent, having heard every Jewish excuse to prevent their imprisonment or death, asked her the next question: “Well, Mrs. van Leer, if you are, as you claim, an American citizen, you have, no doubt, no problem giving us an address where you have lived or where your husband lives in the United States?” And she, with unfailing memory of 1931, answers the Gestapo interrogators: “No, I have no problem - - 257 Lamartine Street, Jamaica Plain, Boston, Massachusetts.”
As the interrogator wrote down her response, Lien heard a German officer behind her saying, “Well, that’s no fake, she knows where she lives.” Nevertheless, she was eventually sent to the infamous Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northern Germany where she managed to barely stay alive by getting a night job in a kitchen where she could sometimes steal half a potato.
Then, one morning in January 1945, returning at dawn to her barracks, she is told by her bunk-friend to present herself to an SS officer who is checking on people with foreign nationalities. “Why?” she asks. “You told them you are an American,” her friend answered. Lien responded, “You know, I just made it up,” but her friend nevertheless urged her on and Lien presented herself to the SS guard. He checked a list and told her that in two days she’d be on a transport out of the camp, to be exchanged for a German citizen.
Two days later, with 300 other sick and dying prisoners of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, she was put on a train that traveled to St. Gallen, a border town in northeastern Switzerland, where they were exchanged; ironically, for Germans coming from Palestine where they had been interned as enemies by the British.
Lien chose not to go to her sister Suze in America, but rather to stay in a United Nations Rehabilitation camp, winding up in Camp Jeanne d’Arc, in Algiers on the North African coast.
When the war finally ended, Lien hitchhiked a ride on an American bomber and was reunited with Nardus, Ed, At and Fred once again in Delft.
Starting Again in America
Soon after the war, the Lessings again immigrated to America. All except 21 year old Ed, settled in Springfield, Massachusetts, where Nardus taught cello, Lien became a buyer in a hardware store, and Ed’s brothers At and Fred attended college; both becoming professors of philosophy.
Ed’s brother, At, however, had earlier considered a career in music and actually took cello lessons for a year from none other than Jaap Langendoen! At recalls that every Sunday he would take the bus to Newton Upper Falls and have his lesson from Jaap who was expert in the bowing of the cello and the instrument’s technical demands. Jaap’s wife, Leni, would then serve a hearty lunch for the three of them. Jaap would then head for his BSO matinee and drop At off at the bus station. On the way, At would ask Jaap what music was to be played that afternoon and Jaap would reply, “I’ll find out when I get there!”
Continuing his help to the Lessings, Jaap Langendoen got At a full summer scholarship in 1954 to study with the BSO at Tanglewood where Leonard Bernstein was conductor of the student orchestra. However, realizing that music was not to be his life’s work, At began a new life that fall and went on to study at Wesleyan. He never stopped playing the cello, however, and to this day uses finger warm-up techniques taught him by his respected mentor, Jaap Langendoen.
Ed Lessing pursued a career as an independent graphics designer and is now retired. He devotes much of his time to lecturing and writing about the Holocaust. He occasionally finds time to build a WWII model airplane.
Ed’s Dutch wife, Carla, also survived the Holocaust. In 1942, at age 12, she began to live as a “hidden child” in Nazi occupied Holland. The hidden children were the Jewish kids whose parents chose to place them anywhere survival was even remotely possible. These children lived for extended periods with kind (and sometimes not-so-kind) host families, in convents and churches, in barns, attics, caves, cellars and even in sewers to escape the Nazis searching for people to send to the labor and death camps. All who would rescue these terrified children and their families were themselves at risk of death or deportation for harboring them. Carla spent years moving to and from hiding places in Holland and despite several stressful close-calls she survived to meet and marry Ed Lessing and come to America with him after the war. Her memories, as with many of the hidden children, are very painful, confusing and rife with carried-over anxieties and fears. With the background of these life experiences she became a caring and effective psychotherapist and an active officer of the Hidden Children Foundation/ADL, a New York-based survivor’s group.
Over the intervening years Eddie has often wondered what became of the men in the hut and especially his partner who rode off into the night on his mother’s bicycle. Fifty years later he was to learn that all the hut’s occupants, including two downed Royal Air Force airmen, had escaped. One of the airmen, Fred Sutherland, a full Cree Indian, was a crew member of the famous RAF Squadron 617 bomber group known as the “Dam Busters.” And, contrary to Eddie’s long-standing memory of the partner being a certain resistance fighter who was later killed by the Nazis, the actual partner was in fact alive and serving as a Catholic Bishop in New Guinea! Ed was reunited with Bishop Herman Munninghoff in Holland in 1992 where the Bishop recounted the exact same version of the terrifying night of the raid on the little hut in the woods, his own dangerous escape on Lien’s bicycle and his later calling to the priesthood … all thanks to Eddie’s mom.
The Lessing’s dramatic stories of evading the Nazis and surviving the Holocaust as children, hiding alone or with host families in occupied Holland, are told in the book “The Hidden Children – The Secret Survivors of the Holocaust” by Jane Marks.
Ed and Carla live in Hastings on Hudson, New York. They have two children; Noa, born in Israel and Dan born in the United States and four grandchildren.
While many of us were collecting paper and scrap metal, and buying war bonds and stamps to win the war, a nimble-minded Dutch mom was outwitting her Nazi captors and surviving one of the most notorious concentration camps to become an exchanged prisoner and thus live to see her family reunited after the horror called the Holocaust.
And, had a kind-hearted attempt to find music work for her husband (who never served as a Merchant Mariner except as a cruise ship musician) by Jacobus “Jaap” Langendoen succeeded back in 1930, 257 Lamartine Street might only be remembered today as just another Jamaica Plain two-decker instead of an important landmark in the world of a courageous Dutch family.
Sources and References:
Sheldon Rotenberg, retired Boston Symphony Orchestra violinist, Brookline MA
Heidi Langendoen, Jacobus Langendoen’s granddaughter,Wakefield MA
Bridget Carr, Boston Symphony Orchestra Archivist
“The Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1881-1931” by Mark Anthony DeWolfe Howe, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1931
“Gentlemen, More Dolce Please” by Harry Ellis Dickson, Boston: Beacon Press, 1969
“I had put all that behind me years ago” copyright monograph by Edward Lessing, 1994
“The Hidden Children – The Secret Survivors of the Holocaust” by Jane Marks, New York: Ballantine Books, 1993
The idea of recording these memories came in a discussion with Agassiz teacher, Marilyn Walsh. She said that there seemed to be no history of the Agassiz Schools as they were before they moved from Burroughs Street down to Carolina Avenue. I decided that if I did not write these thoughts down nobody would. Actually, I took one or two copies of the School Magazine called The Agassiz Boy to the Headmaster there sometime three or four decades ago. As I recall it, it was when the School was still on Burroughs Street. I also think I gave them the third grade pictures. Perhaps they are in the library on Holbrook Street.
On a bright day in early September, 1922, Mother took me by the hand from 6 Newsome Park, down Eliot Street to Brewer, down Brewer to Burroughs and up the granite steps into the smaller of the two brick Agassiz School buildings. She took me to put me into the kindergarten, which was in the room on the first floor on the right, as you went through the door on the Burroughs Street side of the school. I was a somewhat protected child, they having waited 5-1/2 years for me after my brother was born, and I did not like the idea of staying there all day, but there was not anything I could do about it. The ice was broken for everybody when poor little Calliope Jairis vomited. She was the daughter of the able fruit storeowner across from the bank and two or three stores from Seaverns Avenue on Centre Street. She obviously was more upset than I. Everything settled down when very large, round white haired custodian Kelley came in with a bucket of sawdust and cleaned the whole thing up.
I do not remember very much about kindergarten except that our teacher was Miss Earnshaw. If I have it correct, the Earnshaws owned and operated an old “coaching inn” on Center Street, West Roxbury, just beyond the current Unitarian Church. The inn was razed three or four decades ago to build a Stop & Shop or one of those markets. I believe it was still functioning as a tearoom during those years.
My father, having been on a championship club baseball team in the 1890’s in Boston was terribly pleased that I had Miss Earnshaw, for, if I remember correctly, her brother pitched either for the New York Yankees or New York Giants.
I do remember that we sat in a circle in that room. The circle was painted red on a maple floor. I suppose we sang all the songs and did all the things that kindergarteners do.
Actually there were three buildings. The use of the plural in the title was done on purpose. The Primary School contained the first three grades. It was a red brick Victorian building with a double-pitched roof, slate, as I recall it. It was very high studded. The basement had windows above the ground. In the basement were the latrines. The boy’s room had a slate barrier and trough with water running down the slate. Some small boys tried to shoot over the barrier and did occasionally, until a supervising teacher interfered. I never saw the girl’s bathroom.
The larger of the two buildings was built probably around 1880 or 1885, some twenty years later than the Primary School. There were several buildings like the Primary School around, such as the Hillside School on Elm Street on the corner of Everett Street at the end of Seaverns Avenue. It was razed for a parking lot across from the Congregational Church. I believe these schools were built shortly after the annexation of Roxbury by Boston in the1860’s.
This larger of the two schools was truly Victorian. It had a large overhang. Its main grand entrance was on Brewer Street. The Headmaster’s office was over the grand entrance looking out on Brewer Street toward Jamaica Pond. There was a protrusion on the primary school side which contained the fourth grade which I attended. I believe the architectural reason for the protrusion was to allow the hall on the third floor to take all the pupils.
Despite the fact that the main entrance was on Brewer Street, we entered and excited through the Burroughs Street side. Directly across the street from the entrance was a wonderful penny-candy store where one could buy “tootsie rolls” or other luscious items. It was in the workshop of the local house painter, Mr. Heap.
There was a third building in the back of the brick courtyard sort of between the two brick buildings, but way back toward Thomas Street. This was a gray prefabricated school building. Several prefabricated buildings were added during that period as the number of pupils increased. It was probably either a Hodgson Houses or a Brooks Skinner prefabricated school, one floor, and I believe heated by a stove.
The first grade was on the second floor on the back side toward Thomas Street. The teacher, whom I had, was Miss Cleveland. She was a graying rather large woman who wore glasses. I have a couple of recollections of that class. That is where we started cursive writing the Palmer Method, “push and pull,” but with pencil. I think we did not get ink until the second grade, or even the third grade.
We learned to spell with a box of little green letters out of which we would pick the right letter. Once I saw the exact letter that I wanted on the desk of a fellow pupil across the aisle. As I reached over to get it, Miss Cleveland just had to say loudly “David.” She was a nice person, and all went smoothly.
I believe it was that year that we became very conscious of Miss Anna Von Groll, who was the Assistant Principal of the Primary School. One day my mother came to pick me up early for a doctor’s appointment and Mother never got over the fact Miss Van Groll pinned her up against the wall of the stair hall and scolded her, asking her what she thought she was doing breaking up the continuity of the School by picking me up for a doctor’s appointment at quarter of twelve when school did not close until twelve. Much more on this Miss Van Groll later.
For the second grade we went up to the top floor on the back toward Thomas Street. The class was broken in two and someone else had the room on the Burroughs Street side. My teacher was Miss Bertsch. She happened to be the sister of the stenographer in my father’s office in Roxbury. I do not know whether that helped or hurt. She was very tall, probably 5’11”. Had a somewhat large nose, was graying by this time. As I remember it, second grade was a serene year except for the fire escape.
Naturally, we had to have fire drills. These came unannounced. We would go out a door directly from the room onto the grill of the fire escape. Unfortunately, instead of looking down at the step, one looked right through to the brick courtyard below.
Perhaps it is well that we had practiced, because one morning about eleven o’clock the fire alarm went off and we all thought it was a false alarm. When we got down to the ground and out the gate on the other side, there was Engine 28 and the other pumpers. We were told by all the authorities to get out of there and go home.
My father was something of a “spark” having witnessed the Roxbury fire as a little boy in the 1880’s, which burned down the old Walpole Street American League baseball grounds on the site of where Northeastern exists today. He also witnessed the Chelsea fire a few years later. When he heard that the School was on fire, when I got home, as he happened to be there, he got into the car and took us to see what was happening. It actually was a fire and the firemen were on the roof taking the slates off and chopping through the roof. I believe we went back to school the next day.
Third grade under Miss Van Groll was really something. She probably stood all of 4’10” or 11”. She was a little round. She had brown hair and wore pince-nez glasses, as I recall. She was a little autocrat, as is indicated in the episode with Mother and the doctor’s appointment.
When she would sit at her upright piano and play back to the class, she would announce that she could see everything that was going on in the polished mahogany of the piano, so we must behave.
One of her finest moments was probably in 1926, the day after Malcolm Nichols was elected as the Mayor of the City of Boston. His son, Clark Nichols, was in my grade. The new Mayor came and visited us the day after he was elected. I can still see him now in a black Chesterfield, a gray suit, black shoes and a derby. Miss Von Groll was thrilled that he had come to her class.
The Nichols’ lived on Centre Street on the corner of Hathaway Street. There was a younger brother and sister. Mayor Nichols was a widower at the time, I believe.
I do not remember the names of too many people of that grade, but I can say that Dorothy Neale was very bright and may have been the brightest in the class. Another very bright boy was Hugh Gray. I remember also Pricilla Picket, who was the daughter of the eminent carpenter in Jamaica Plain, who lived off Centre Street near Dunster Road. Jane Ohler lived on Orchard Street and we often walked to school together and became good friends as grownups. One of the Bowditches, I think Hoel, came down from their place on top of Moss Hill. Philip Rasmussen, later a Navel Flier hero, lived as far away as Winchester Road. The school at the end of Louder’s Lane had not been built yet. Henry Schmidt lived right at the entrance of Louder’s Lane. Those were the people I saw because of growing up on Prince Street walking to school.
However, most of the children came from the other side of Centre Street from Lamartine Street and Chestnut Avenue and down Centre Street toward St. Thomas Aquinas and Carolina Avenue, Custer Street and so forth.
I think the second section of the third grade was in the portable building. I do not know how they divided us, whether it was by grades or just arbitrarily. I believe the other second grade teacher was a Miss McReady.
Then in the fall of 1926 we split. The girls went to the Bowditch School and the boys went next door to the larger Agassiz School building.
My fourth grade teacher was Mrs. Holland. She was a lovely lady with white hair. She was kind and soft spoken and everybody took to her. My friend Nathaniel J. Young, who still lives on Pond Street, Jamaica Plain, tells me that at that time a married person could not be a teacher. His mother had been a teacher in the Boston School system until she married Mr. Young. I believe Mrs. Holland was a widow and lived on Willow Street, West Roxbury. She was a nice enough so that my parents sought her out one afternoon and that is why I have the Willow Street recollections.
Later, according to Joan Scolponeti whose father was Corporate Council at City Hall and who grew up on May Street, Jamaica Plain across the street from the Gargans, with whom she played, told me that she also had Mrs. Holland. So sometime in the years after I left, the fourth through eighth grade building apparently started to accommodate girls as well as boys.
The Ruling Hierarchy
We have already noted that Miss Anna Von Groll, who proudly lived at the Fritz Carlton Hotel on Boylston Street near Fire Department Headquarters, was the Assistant Principal of the Primary School.
The Headmaster of the whole Agassiz School system was Joshua Q. Litchfield. “Q.” stood for “Quincy.” Mr. Litchfield was extremely proud of his Yankee ancestry and of that Quincy name which, after all, was related to the famous Adams family in Quincy. He looked like a typical Yankee, bald, with a large nose. He seemed completely competent to handle the job.
Under him the Assistant Headmaster, who was a receding-chin gentleman by the name of James Nolan. Everybody thought “Jimmy” Nolan as tough. It was he who gave the rattan to the worst offenders (more on this later). In case Mr. Nolan was out, Miss West, who was also somewhat chinless, had the authority. She was an eighth grade teacher.
My fifth grade teacher was a round somewhat red faced, brown haired 35-year-old called Miss McGowan. She was a very good teacher. She was a very good disciplinarian. It was there that the rattan first appeared. Luckily I escaped it. It was fearsome to see these tough little boys asked to go into the coat room to get their hands whacked with a rattan and come back with tears running down their faces and all defiance gone.
For a short time that year Miss McGowan was sick. She was replaced by a younger woman by the name of Miss Butler. She must have had a boy friend at Boston College, because all she could talk about was the Philomatheia Club. I looked in the Newton phone book but the Philomatheia does not show. I have seen it in a Swiss Chalet style building over there. I suspect that Miss Butler attended dances or parties at the club there in the 1920’s.
It was in the fifth grade that we started woodworking. I got good grades at Agassiz, all “1”s in everything except woodworking. The more dexterous boys were sent down to Eliot School on Eliot Street, which had been taken over by the Public School System sometime in the 19th century. There they really got good woodworking training. I think our woodworking teacher’s name was Mr. Maguire. He was very patient with clumsy people like me, and in spite of not getting a good mark, I enjoyed it and still tinker with things.
For sixth grade we went upstairs to the second floor of the big building. The teacher was Miss Childs. The other sixth grade teacher I do not remember. The School did go on through the eighth grade at that time. After age 11 I had more confidence. I would stay after school and play with John Malone, who lived on Brewer Street, in the schoolyard until thrown out. Malone’s father had the Arborway garage on Centre Street near Forest Hills. Originally before automobiles, it was Malone & Keene with horses and buggies. Or I even went down to the Carolina playground and tried playing baseball, but I was not any good, so gave it up.
The next year I went off to Roxbury Latin.
Once a month or so we would go upstairs to the third floor where Mr. Litchfield would give us a treat of movies. Of course, these were silent movies and captioned. This was supposed to be a treat, however, getting two or three hundred little unclean boys in a hot hall is not the pleasantest for the olfactory senses.
The Children’s Museum
At that time the Children’s Museum was located on the Pine Bank of Jamaica Pond in the Victorian mansion of Thomas Handasyd Perkins, which is still there, although it is falling apart. We would walk from the school down approximately to Mayor Curley’s mansion and there would be a policeman there who would get us across the traffic. These visits went completely over my head, but I guess some of the children got something out of it. The Children’s Museum moved to the old Mitton Mansion on the corner of Burroughs Street and the Jamaica Way before it moved downtown a few years ago.
The Pet Show
In the spring of my sixth grade year, it was announced that there would be a pet show on the lawn across the street from Mayor Curley’s house on a given Saturday. Our family had a thoroughbred wire-haired fox terrier. I bathed her, and primped her, and brushed her, and put a ribbon on her and walked down there to the site of the show. I looked around and it did not look to me as though I had much competition. There were two or three cats, a couple of not very beautiful dogs. Perhaps there was a canary, a parrot.
Just when the teacher said, “We will now have the judging,” the door of Mayor Curley’s Mansion opened and young Francis came out. The policeman stopped the traffic, led him across the street and with his not-very-well-groomed mongrel dog. This was just in time for the judging.
The teacher called him by name and told him to come and we could now have the judging.
My recollection is that I did get the Blue Ribbon, and Francis Curley got second prize, a Red Ribbon.
This was a very good school, the Agassiz School. These teachers were good. They devoted their lives to teaching small children. All of them were unmarried except Mrs. Holland, who was a widow, as I said. Most of them had been trained at Boston Normal School on Huntington Avenue. Discipline was strong.
There was a great mixture of people in the Agassiz School. As I described before, most of the pupils came from the south side of Centre Street. This was not an affluent area. One little boy needed a bath so badly that one of the teachers sat him in the back of the room so that the odor would not bother the other children (or the teacher).
Joe Graham was a genial, smiling, blonde policeman, who got those two to three hundred children across Centre Street safely every day. He was a character. He was there long after I left school.
On a balance, it was a good and fulfilling experience.
Written by David A. Mittell.
David A. Mittell grew up on Prince Street in Jamaica Plain. He attended the Agassiz School and Roxbury Latin. He is a 1939 graduate of Harvard University. Mr. Mittell is a retired executive of Davenport Peters, the oldest American continually operating lumber wholesaler. He is a member of the board of trustees of the Plimoth Plantation and Roxbury Latin High School.
Comment by George B. Stebbins, Jr. (geosteb at juno.com):
A friendly amendment: I believe the policeman who covered Centre Street was Joe Graham, not Jimmy. Jim Graham, who lived in the castle on the Arborway, was president of the Forest Hills Cooperative Bank. I also attended the Seeger School where the Mittell and Salisbury names were important; I spent four years at Agassiz, two at J. P. Manning, and then went to Roxbury Latin School.
Copyright © Jamaica Plain Historical Society.
Then one morning you would be awakened by the joyous sound of bells. To children this meant one thing - IT SNOWED! The pungs were out! (a pung is a low one-horse sleigh) First to announce the good news were the milkmen who started their deliveries before five o'clock in the morning. The horses had special shoes for the winter, which had, caulks driven into them - sharp pieces of steel which would give a gripping power in the snow and ice. Each night after the days work the horses hooves were checked to see if the caulks had become dull. If so, they had to be replaced.
At the first storm of the year, if it were accompanied by severe cold or wind, the horse would be sporting his winter shoes, a warm woolen blanket and the bells, which would announce his coming. He was "rarin' to go" with half the schoolchildren of the neighborhood running alongside him. Hopping the pungs on the way to school was a way of life for children in Jamaica Plain, It annoyed some of the drivers but most of them, remembering their own childhood, either closed their eyes or just made sure you were on safely. It was great fun!
All was great for the horses as long as they were on level ground, but there were hills, which were difficult to go up, and, when they were iced, were more difficult to come down. Vividly I remember an icy day when a horse fell on Newbern Street, broke his leg and had to be shot. Also, if there was a thaw the main streets would become bare in spots and it would be a very difficult drag for the horses. However, the milkmen know the angles and would use the side streets as much as possible. The Public Works Department in Jamaica Plain was located on Child and South Streets where the Farnsworth House and equipment needed to carry on public works. Snow removal, as we know it today was not a problem. Mother Nature would take care of it in time. Huge weighted drums six feet in diameter and eight to ten feet in width were drawn by teams of horses through the streets after a storm. The roller left the street hard packed with snow over which teams of horses pulled pungs on snow runners.
A horse and small V plough with a driver took care of the sidewalks and made them passable for pedestrians. Children who had no fear of horses whatsoever found them a formidable sight when they invaded the sidewalk. They were given the right of way as the children watched from the safety of their yards.
After the First World War, the automobile and the truck came into their own, and the days of the horse, wagon and sleigh were almost gone. Snow removal then became a problem and the people were required by law to shovel the snow from their sidewalks. This applied to both property owners and tenants as well. If there was a delay in clearing your sidewalk the police would be at your door to read the law to you. As a general rule those who were fortunate enough to have a car would put it into the barn or garage for the months of January, February and March until the roads were usable for tires again. This continued until the 1940's when a car became a must for the year round.
For children there was much to do in the winter. There were great hills that were safe for coasting; skating on Jamaica Pond, and the playground at Child and Carolina Avenue was flooded for skating as well. The girls built snowmen and women and dressed them up in whatever they could come up with. The boys built snow forts and piled up a heap of snowballs, and from the safety of the fort went to war with their adversary. There was, indeed, great fun in the simple things of life in those days!
Sources: Gerry McCarthy, McCarthy Brothers Milk Company; B. Tafty, 1001 Questions Answered About Storms.
Written By Mary Glynn. Reprinted from From the Archives, Winter 1989, a newsletter once published by the Archive Committee of the Jamaica Plain Historical Society. Copyright © 1989-2003 Jamaica Plain Historical Society. Photograph courtesy of Chicago Historical Society, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, DN-0090242.
Based on interviews with John and Anthony Ristuccia, second and third generation owners of Bob’s Spa, and William R. Fernandez, current owner of the store, in July 2009. Special thanks to John Lovett who suggested this article and participated in the interviews.
by Peter O’Brien
Ask anyone growing up south of the Monument where they could find industrial sized bologna and cheese sandwiches on super-fresh bulkie rolls, the plumpest jelly donuts, the smoothest ice cream, the foamiest root beer floats, the coldest tall bottles of Royal Crown, Pepsi and Nehi Orange, an honor-system penny candy case and a kind and trusting proprietor who’d carry your family “on-the-cuff” when needed, and the answer can only be “Bob’s Spa” at 128 South Street.
Nearing its centennial, with 90 uninterrupted years under one family’s devoted management through two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Middle Eastern and other military excursions, rationing and shortages, the Great Depression, several recessions and three generations of family ownership, Bob’s Spa, from its humble beginnings in 1912 as a tiny fruit store, continues to serve the vibrant South Street neighborhood’s ever-changing needs under a new and equally dedicated family management.
Interior view of Bob’s Spa, circa 1912.
A young man’s odyssey of 30,000 miles from the tiny seaside village of Malfa, on the island of Salina in the Aeolian Island group off the coast of Sicily, to founding a Jamaica Plain icon at 128 South Street reads like an Horatio Alger novel.
Bartholomew Ristuccia was born in Malfa in 1891. He left his hometown at age 17, with just a fourth grade education, to join a cousin in Sydney, Australia, who owned a fruit store there. Then as now, Australia was a favorite destination for émigrés from Malfa.
Bartholomew loved the fruit business and was determined to make a future for himself in that field. Learning all that he could from his cousin he left Sydney and arrived in Jamaica Plain in 1910, now a burgeoning fruit expert. He immediately went to work at Favaloro, Saltamacchia and Company’s fruit store at 343a Centre Street, near Blessed Sacrament church and Hyde Square. Favaloro, Saltamacchia and Company also operated a store at 74 Green Street. The principals, Joseph Favaloro and Giuseppe Saltamacchia, were Bartholomew’s cousins from Malfa.
With two years experience at Favaloro’s fruit store under his belt, in 1912, at the age of 21, Bartholomew joined Joseph Favaloro and Giuseppe Saltamacchia as partners in a new fruit store at 128 South Street. Soon, Bartholomew bought-out his cousins and renamed the store “Bob’s Spa.” (Bartholomew had taken the name Bob and was known that way for the rest of his life.)
Thus was launched a family owned and operated business thriving for 90 years under the continuous operation of the Ristuccia family until 2001 when it was sold to William R. Fernandez. As it nears its centennial, the store is now called Fernandez Spa and Liquors and it continues to thrive serving the diverse community flourishing in the neighborhood.
From its modest start in 1912, focusing on fruit and fruit baskets, Bob’s Spa grew slowly, but steadily. One of its first customers, Annie Gavin of 15 Boynton Street, remained steadfast for the next 50 or so years, as did many others in the neighborhood.
Other long-time customers were James “Jimmy” Lovett and his son John. Jimmy owned and operated the last blacksmith shop in Jamaica Plain, located at 10 McBride Street, just around the corner from Bob’s Spa. Lovett’s shop had been operated previously by John “Jack” Mahoney and before him by Ignatius J. Craffey. Jimmy Lovett was born in 1905. He shoed the Boston and MDC Police horses, Hood Milk’s and the Larz Anderson estate horses until he was 84. Many an inverted horseshoe hanging in local homes and many a local game of horseshoes owed their origins to the Lovetts.
Jimmy Lovett would stop in at Bob’s after Sunday Mass at St.Thomas Aquinas Church and those visits made a lasting impression on his son, John. Jimmy taught his son the farrier’s (horseshoeing) trade and he worked at it for several years before landing a job at the Telephone Company.
John Lovett, 2009
One of the major sources of Bob’s customer loyalty was the ability of nearly anyone known to Bob to buy “on-the-cuff”, i.e. on credit. The term originated in the early 1900’s when bartenders with starched cuffs would keep a tally of a customer’s drinks on the cuff. At Bob’s, there were no credit checks, no forms, no bills sent, just the faith that the customer would settle up, most, if not all, of his outstanding bill at the end of the month. Most did, but a few skipped and Bob took the hit, preferring, true to his benevolent nature, to think it was the hard times and not the customer’s intent to cheat him.
Exterior view of Bob’s Spa, circa 1912. Bob Ristuccia shown on the left.
Bookkeeping for the credit customers consisted of small notebooks for each individual customer with hand-written entries for various purchases. The tally of a given purchase would be done in pencil on the outside of the brown paper bag holding the charged goods so the customer would have a record of the transaction. The total of the transaction would then be entered in the customer’s individual book.
And many a loyal customer was created by the fact that an 8 year old could be sent to Bob’s with a note for a pack of Pall Malls and it would be duly honored because the tobacco laws hadn’t kicked in yet.
Assuming 50 customers per 18-hour day for 90 years, there could have been over 1.6 million people entering Bob’s Spa. Even today, many of those former customers visit the store for the Sunday paper as they return to weekly services at St. Thomas. These nostalgia trips keep alive the memory of the Ristuccia family’s devotion to the store and their customers’ goodwill over many years during the good, and not-so-good times.
The original 1912 fruit store was just a rented corner of the block of stores between McBride and Boynton Streets owned by the John W. Patterson family. The Pattersons operated a liquor store and the Arborway Market for many years in the same block. Contrary to what most of his customers believed, Bob never owned the store that he and his family occupied for 90 years. They remained the tenants of the Patterson family and it’s successors until they sold the store in 2001.
As a hedge against escalating rent, Bob bought the old Wilson’s Meat Market building on the north corner of McBride Street as a possible future store site. Mr. Wilson was something out of a Studs Terkel book with his standard butcher’s straw hat, blood-stained sleeve covers, band-aid wrapped fingers and an apron that very, very rarely saw the inside of a wash tub. It was alleged that he sold horsemeat as beef during the Big War. Nevertheless, he’d collect the ration stamps and tokens required for the meat purchase. Whatever it was, we ate it and we survived.
The large room above the market had been a pool parlor and men’s club, perhaps at an earlier time catering to the clientele of the nearby pre-prohibition Coffee Tree Inn at 16 McBride Street, which later was the site of the Washington Wet Wash laundry.
The Patterson’s also owned a small variety store at the corner of Woodman and Jamaica Streets. These Patterson business interests presented a bit of a challenge for Bob as he tried to grow his own store. For example, each time Bob wanted to add a line of food or merchandise, he needed to get Mr. Patterson’s approval, especially if the item being added was competing with the same being sold by Mr. Patterson. Eventually, Mr. Patterson would relent and Bob could keep up with his customers’ demands and remain competitive with his landlord and the many small variety stores and markets within walking distance.
The small competing stores along South Street included Dolan’s, Mary Kelly’s, Andy’s Spa, Mouradian’s Market, a one-man A&P store run by Arthur MacMillan of McBride Street next to Farrell’s Drugstore and Cavalier’s Variety further down South Street. Another one-man A&P store, Caraber’s Variety, Kelly’s Market and Campbell’s were located on Call Street. And Woody’s Variety, owned by Woodrow Barbour, was located on McBride Street.
Other short-lived small stores, with long forgotten names, dotted the area as others tried the “easy” life of running a small variety store.
Growing the Business
Weathering the impacts of wars and the related rationing and shortages, recessions, inflations, and The Great Depression, Bob’s Spa continued to grow, becoming known as a purveyor of fine, gift quality, fruit baskets. It was commonly known among the poor in those days that a family didn’t have fruit in the house unless someone was really sick, so the sight of Bob’s beautiful fruit baskets was something for most of us to crave.
Bob’s Spa, date unknown
The neighborhood was growing too. A substantial streetcar maintenance facility located across South Street, known locally as the “car-barns,” which, along with expansion of the public transit systems at the Arborway and Forest Hills terminals brought streetcar, and later, bus riders up and down South Street. Fortuitously, a streetcar stop was located right at Bob’s door and later; the former car-barn site became the turnaround for the Dudley streetcar. And, as the automobile became available to working people, the public was transiting through the southern end of Jamaica Plain to access and enjoy the Arnold Arboretum, Forest Hills Cemetery and Franklin Park.
Nearby, at Child Street, the City’s DPW yard, the Boston Consolidated Gas Company maintenance facility and Kinney Pump Company on lower McBride Street and the Barbara Lee Chocolate factory on Call Street, attracted workers who found Bob’s Spa.
Expansion of St. Thomas’ elementary and high schools, many small retail and service businesses sprouting up along South Street and development of housing on Carolina Ave, South, Child, McBride, Boynton, Hall and Rosemary Streets were contributing to Bob’s Spa’s growing presence in the neighborhood.
Other revenue generators were the “Smokers,” an evening of newsreels and sports films barely visible through a dense blue cloud of cigar and cigarette smoke, at the American Legion Post No. 76, then located across South Street, and the annual carnivals at the vacant former car-barns site.
Another major boost to the business came with the construction of the Housing Project on the former car-barn site in the early 50’s. The store continues to serve the many families located there.
Nearly the End
Among the many bumps along the way, perhaps the most significant was the fire on December 24, 1927, that nearly wiped Bob out. With the same perseverance that sustained him in the early days, and the help of friendly merchants and suppliers, Bob immediately reopened in the vacant store next door until his fire-damaged store could be repaired and reopened.
Exterior of Bob’s Spa, 1947
Life in America
Bob’s personal life over the span of his 65 years in America was marked by his strong spiritual beliefs, his devotion to family and honesty and integrity in all his business dealings. He was a lifelong member of the St. Thomas Knights of Columbus Council No. 120, achieving the Fourth Degree, and, because of his obvious devotion to his new country, he was made an honorary member of the American Legion Post No.76, directly across the street from his store. He was also a lifetime member in the Massachusetts Retail Grocer’s Association and the Boston Retail Grocer’s Association. The only thing Bob feared in America was driving, and after one serious close call he never drove again.
His marriage to Rosalina Caravalio from East Milton produced four children, John, Robert, Rose and Mary, all of whom, along with their spouses, at one time or another worked in the store. In the early days of their marriage Bob and Rosalina lived at Hyde Square, then South and Rosemary Streets. They finally settled in their own home at 16 John A. Andrew Street. Married for over 50 years, the Ristuccia’s experienced the same economic ups and downs as their customers. In fact, during the Depression, Bob and his wife lost their house at 16 John A. Andrew Street, but later were able to buy it back for less than its original price. This was serendipity of the sweetest kind because the foreclosing bank had callously dismissed Bob’s plea for time.
When World War II came, three of Bob’s children, John, Robert and Mary went off to serve. The growing business was open from 6 am to 12 midnight for many years in order to survive in the retail store environment. The burden of those long days, wartime rationing and shortages, and the uncertain post-war economic conditions had to be borne by Bob and his wife. After the war, the returning Ristuccia children were drafted to duty in the store, thus relieving Bob and his wife for a long overdue vacation.
The store was the family’s life and the long workdays were standard fare for the many family members who worked there over the years.
The Second Generation
On March 4, 1927, Bob’s youngest son, John, was delivered by Dr. Frederick W. Beering Jr., of 61 South Street, (known as the Flying Dutchman in his Harvard football days,) at the Ristuccia family home at 16 John A. Andrew Street.
Dr. Beering was probably the most widely known and visited doctor in that part of Jamaica Plain because he usually neglected to collect payment for an office visit, and when he did, he’d often give it back to one of the children he just examined or contribute it toward the cost of the prescription he’d just written. The good doctor claimed, without a hint of bitterness, that he was owed many thousands for unpaid services and medicines he himself paid for. His prescriptions often came into C.B. Rogers Drugstore with a note that it be charged to his account.
Johnny Ristuccia went to the Agassiz, Bowditch and Curley Schools followed by Boston Trade School to learn the “tin-knocker” (sheet metal) trade he loved. In his shop days at Trade School, Johnny made radiator covers for the State House and fuel tanks for the Boston Fire Department’s fireboat.
Johnny remembers earning money selling newspapers, especially the Boston Daily Record’s Payoff edition, which carried the daily “number.” This was the number bet with the local bookies - not the electronic State operated Lottery system existing today. The daily number was the last three digits to the left of the decimal points as shown in the daily pari-mutuel handle, or amount bet, (win, place and show) at a designated horseracing track. The fourth number was the first digit to the right of the decimal point in the “show” row.
A favorite number, quickly scribbled by the local bookie on a slip of paper, had a promised payoff of 600 to one, or $60 for a ten-cent bet. After the bet was placed, the bettor needed to check his luck in the “Payoff” (late) edition of the Boston Daily Record that evening. The Record was the closest thing to the tabloid ‘Enquirer’ of its time and it published the pari-mutuel betting numbers that in turn formed the daily number. The earlier, or “Home” editions of the Record did not carry this vital piece of information.
Johnny peddled the papers in various taverns, including Doyle’s on Washington Street. “The Chapel” on McBride Street and several other local pubs as well as more distant watering holes in downtown Boston. All paperboys were given a Newsboy’s Transit Pass to ride the elevated trains and streetcars free, to sell papers to the riders.
Johnny earned seven tenths of a cent per copy sold, (70 cents/100 copies) plus an occasional tip. Notwithstanding the meager commission structure, he was able to buy himself a wonderful new Western Auto, balloon tire, single speed bike with chain guard, kickstand, and a thumb-operated bell he had spotted in the window at Western Auto near Fenway Park. Johnny was riding high.
Seeking better pay, Johnny became a pinboy at the Arborway Bowlaway, downstairs at the corner of Boynton and South Streets, earning the respectable sum of five-cents per string while ducking flying pins and balls in the dark caverns at the end of the well-worn alleys. Occasionally a tip would come sliding down the alley after an evening of accurately spotting the candlepins for several strings bowled by the bowling leagues using the alleys. An evening’s pay of $1.50 to $2 was possible, and that was a significant night’s pay.
After high school, Johnny became an electrician’s helper at the Boston Navy yard pulling cable on ships being overhauled there. In 1944, at 18, he entered the Army and served aboard an Army tugboat in Seattle, Washington. After his discharge in 1945 he felt the not-too-subtle pressure to come to work in the family’s store. So he came aboard and stayed there for his next 47 working years.
In 1949 Johnny married one of his customers who had walked in one day and sent sparks flying about his head! Jane McCallam, from Hall Street, was a 1946 graduate of St. Thomas High School (for girls only back then.) Johnny was smitten and stayed smitten for 54 years. They were married at St. Thomas church and lived initially on Rosemary Street and then in the Project across the street from the store. They moved to Child Street and finally to 126 Montclair Avenue, West Roxbury, for the past 40 years. They enjoyed a wonderful marriage, raising four children, Anthony, John, Paul and Jean, all imbued with the Ristuccia family’s tradition of retail grocery store management. Johnny lost his soul mate when Jean passed away in 2004.
Johnny, now well into his retirement, maintains his ties to the store in several ways including as longtime proud owner of Mass license plate “Bob’s.”
After World War II, Bob’s daughter Rose married Mike Caliri. Soon, Mike became a partner in the Spa, and he and Rose were able to move to a fine house on May Street. They lived there until the late 1960s when Mike left Bob’s Spa and the Caliris moved to Chatham, Mass. to open a small store of their own. They remained there for the rest of their lives, raising their nine children in Chatham.
Shortly after the partnership was formed with Mike Caliri, Bob began to cut back on his involvement with the store and around 1950 turned his interest over to Johnny. Bob retired, more or less, in the early 50’s but of course he could not stop coming in to see how things were going.
The new management under Johnny and Mike lasted until Mike’s move to Chatham in about 1969. When Mike left, Bill White became a partner and under Johnny and Bill’s management the store was remodeled in 1970. Bill White stayed about 10 years.
Other employees over the years were Bob Micelli, Buddy Gillis and nearly all the Ristuccia family members.
Bob continued his semi-retirement until his death on November 15, 1975 at the age of 84, far away from his small hometown of Malfa, Messina Province, Sicily.
Bob’s Spa, 1987
Everyone seems to have a different favorite memory of Bob’s Spa. Many recall the festive neighborhood gathering packed in after each of the Sunday morning services at nearby St. Thomas Church.
Commuters remember sitting out a wintry snowstorm inside the warm store waiting for the snowplowing streetcar to come up from the Arborway, followed by the big center entrance streetcar to get them to school, work, shopping etc.
Several generations remember “hanging out” at the store’s front door. Bob tolerated it but Johnny thought the kids’ presence was an effective deterrent to hold-ups.
As a meeting place/waiting room it was unsurpassed, offering jumbo 25-cent bologna and cheese sandwiches on super sized Kasanof’s Bakery bulkie rolls and hot coffee and delicious donuts made by Mike’s donuts up the street. In later years, Johnny remembers three or four different coffee klatches of seniors that would gather at the fountain at their regular times each morning.
In earlier years, who could forget the creamy smooth homemade ice cream Bob developed in his Depression era ice cream machine. Only two other local establishments could boast ownership of the same long cylindrical ice cream machine; Sammy’s Drugstore at Green and Elm Streets, and Busy Bee Spa up at Hyde Square.
Anthony and John Ristuccia, 2009
The unique feature of a five-cent cone at Bob’s was that the mixed ice cream was first discharged from the machine into a paper cone-shaped wrapper and a paper lid was placed on top. Batches of these paper-wrapped cone shapes would then go in the freezer until ready to be served. When you ordered one, the spiral paper wrapping would be unwound while the cone was upside down on the server’s palm. It would then be flipped over into a sugar or cake cone, and finally the top paper lid peeled off. Bob often claimed that this machine saved the store during the Depression and he was thankful that he could offer a penny sale on a second pint (normally forty cents) of ice cream at the ends of the dreary depression months to help pay the rent during those tough times.
The soda fountain had been installed in the 1920’s and was typical of the period with the marble top, high wire-back seats and the array of containers for ingredients of frappes, milk shakes, sundaes etc. Bob’s frappes and sundaes were unsurpassed with the generous serving of always-fresh ingredients and toppings he used. Root beer floats at the soda fountain looked like an old time beer ad with a huge head of foamy root beer and a scoop of ice cream afloat in it. And the tonic cooler would be jammed packed with tall ice cold Royal Crown, Pepsi and Nehi Orange drinks to be enjoyed with a Devil Dog that in those days was about a foot long, or so it seemed.
Attesting to Bob’s trust in his young customers, and the knowledge that weekly Confession loomed for most of us, the glass penny candy case, in full view of all, could be accessed from its rear where a small brown paper bag would be filled by the young customer with an amount of penny candy he or she desired. The bag would then be brought to the tobacco counter and the youngster would declare its value. Seldom, if ever, was the bag’s contents checked against the declared value. Bob had an unerring eye for character and besides; one wouldn’t dare violate the established honor system.
A Grandson Takes the Helm
Johnny’s son, Anthony Ristuccia, was born on March 16, 1960 and became the third generation to manage the store when his father retired in 1992 at age 65. Anthony, his wife Donna and their two children, live in Norwood, MA.
Anthony lost no time getting the store into the 20th century, if somewhat belatedly, by installing Western Union, credit cards, and a direct store telephone that precluded the need to ring home three times from one of the three phone booths, get the nickel or dime back, and await the call back. Of course these callbacks were never taken in the third phone booth over in the corner that was reserved for the bookies’ use only.
In 1995 Anthony bought Patterson’s Liquor Store next door and Bob’s expanded again. This addition generated a new revenue stream along with its related responsibility for store management.
The store continued to change and grow, but the basic premise of great customer relations never changed nor, however, did the long hours and infrequent vacations. So, seeking a career that would allow him more time with his family, Anthony sold the store in June 2001 to William R. Fernandez.
A New Era
William R. Fernandez owns the store now and it’s called Fernandez Spa and Liquors. He also owns the entire Patterson block that originally rented to Bob’s Spa. Bill’s family owns several other liquor stores as well.
Fernandez Spa, 2009
Bill came here from the Dominican Republic in 1984 and attended Dorchester High School. He presently lives in Roslindale with his wife Maria and their three children.
His observations since buying Bob’s Spa are the wonderful reception that they’ve had as new owners of a store with such a long and rich neighborhood tradition and the constant flow of people who grew up with the store coming in and mentioning the pleasant memories it has for them.
Bill Fernandez is proud to continue the goodwill and reputation of this local landmark and he’s very grateful to the Ristuccia family for all that they’ve done to help him launch the new era of Bob’s Spa.
While the Ristuccia era as ended, the lasting memories of the place continue to enrich the lives of generations of former patrons. The Ristuccias really cared for their customers and their customers cared about them. As the store nears its 100th birthday, rolling along under Bill Fernandez’s watchful eye, we can only imagine what the young immigrant from Malfa, Sicily, would think about his cherished fruit stand. We think he would be proud indeed.
Any reporter must visit the scene of a story, but getting onto Kelley Circle, through constantly moving traffic, is no mean feat - not quite like getting to Paris' Arc de Triomphe, but close. This risk component must have been a rich incentive to the unknowns with their paint pots last fall. All-hiding night must have been the time of the pointless attack on an initially defenseless stone, which commemorates William F. Kelley, yet this disrespectful act produced interesting results.
My visit to Kelley Circle yielded his birth and death dates and the knowledge that Kelley was a member of the Board of Park Commissioners. This was novel information, since any bet was that Kelley Circle was named for a Jamaica Plain veteran like Murray Circle above it. The best source of further information was Kelley's obituary and then the appropriate city departments.
William Kelley was born of Irish parentage here on September 14, 1893 and was a fine representative of the many thousands of Irish immigrant families who came to Massachusetts' shores and made good. He served his country during World War I and entered the ranks of the New England Telephone & Telegraph Company.
At the time of his death, Kelley was vice-president and business manager of Local 1 of the International Brotherhood of Telephone Workers. He had risen through the same ranks as Maurice Tobin, who branched out into politics to become mayor and governor. Indeed, Tobin's name appears on the plaque as mayor of Boston at the time. Kelley was sworn in as a member of the Board of Park Commissioners, on May 27, 1938, under the aegis of chief commissioner, William Long, fabled in Jamaica Plain for his particular care of Olmsted Park all the way from the Arboretum to Leverett Pond. In those days half a century ago prominent and interested citizens sat on the board as unpaid advisors. According to Park Department records Kelley never missed a meeting, but discussions were not recorded.
Kelley sat in these meetings with Jamaica Plain beer baron Theodore H. Haffenreffer (l880-1956), whose presence on the Park Commission from 1930 to 1956 caused granite tablets to be placed by the main gates of the Boston Public Garden. The connecting pathway over the lagoon bridge was dubbed "Haffenreffer Walk" during the administration of James Michael Curley's successor, John Hynes, in the late 1950's. The tablets' last lines proclaim Haffenreffer's "Lifetime of dedicated service to his native city" in a rare tribute to the many, many German immigrants who have passed through the City of Boston and in particular through its southern neighborhoods, including Jamaica Plain. A familiar text might have been applied to Kelley's plaque, but rather the prosaic, "May he rest in peace," ends the text before the names of the mayor and his fellow commissioners.
The quick ending is probably explained by the shock felt at the unexpected death of Kelley of heart attack on October 17, 1943 at age 50 at his home at 3 Glenburne Road in West Roxbury He was buried at a Solemn High Mass of Requiem at Holy Name Church with the mayor, the chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court and the president of the New England Telephone & Telegraph in attendance.
The obituary, brief as it is, tells much. The Kelleys had no children, but Mayor Tobin soon appointed a brother, Frank, to succeed the board. Frank later became chief commissioner with a fine office in the Parkman House, where the Parks Department was headquartered.
After a visit, the life of William Kelley had gotten illumination, but there was still the besmirched boulder. Who would clean it up in an area of double administration? A visit to the Department of Veterans Affairs turned up that Kelley's birth and death dates, cause of death and place of burial were on file with an invitation being issued to lay the whole matter out to the commissioner in a letter.
Among other things, Veterans Affairs makes sure that signs erected to veterans at intersections all over the city stay up. Those omnipresent small memorials are fitting reminders, in an age of peace, of veterans' sacrifice for a way of life we all take for granted. Could this office assume responsibility for a plaque once erected by the Park Department now on MDC traffic control and cut through the various Gordian Knots of jurisdiction?
In less than a month a letter in full sympathy at "the horrendous action" praising a citizen's publicity of such a matter was received. Disrespect for property is bad enough but dishonoring a person's name, especially one who has served his country in perilous time, carries with it no redeeming feature. The commissioner himself visited the site of the vandalized boulder and went beyond the call of duty to arrange for cleaning both stone and plaque.
The memorial stone is now clean again and looking surprisingly better than ever thanks to the Veterans Affairs Commissioner. He made a bit of the landscape more honorable and caused a lifetime to be commemorated.
Sources: Veterans Affairs Dept.; John Ruck of Parks Dept.; Obituary in Boston Globe Oct. 19, 1943
Written by Walter H. Marx. Reprinted with permission from the February 10, 1995 Jamaica Plain Gazette. Copyright © Gazette Publications, Inc.
Published in the Boston Daily Globe on September 24, 1907
Two applications for warrants are pending in the West Roxbury Municipal Court because of the trap-gun shooting which occurred late Sunday night, while Henry Cantwell, the 15 year-old Roxbury boy, was near the grape trellis in the garden of Frank D. Seiberlich of 4 Boylston St., Jamaica Plain.
Henry Cantwell is now at the City Hospital with a wound in his thigh.
Sketch showing how gun was concealed in house and relative location of boy when shot.
Edward Cantwell, father of the boy, yesterday made complaint to Judge Perrins against Mr. Seiberlich for assault on his son. No warrant was issued and it is said that not even a summons will be made until the injured boy is able to appear in court.
Today Mr. Seiberlich will ask the court for a warrant for the arrest of Henry Cantwell for trespass.
Henry Cantwell is suffering from what was at first termed a gunshot wound, but the physicians there state positively that there was no bullet nor shot of any size found in the wound. “The effect was just what would be expected from a blank cartridge,” is the report. “The wound is on the thigh, and from this wound were taken pieces of burnt powder and wadding.”
This wound from the gun appears to be the only one from which the lad is suffering, and even this is not considered serious at the hospital, the only fear being that blood poison may set in.
The house in which the gun was set up is of one story, with pitch roof, and is on the top of the ledge near the rear end of the Seiberlich residence. The arrangement for its discharge was rather ingenious.
An old Springfield rifle was made fast in a carpenter’s miter box, which was raised from the floor of the house by two pieces of two-inch joist, one at each end. This gave room for the butt of the rifle to rest securely on the floor, and the barrel of the rifle was made fast to the bottom of the box.
A piece of wood about six inches long, which worked on a pivot, was attached to the side of the miter box, and a second piece of wood made fast to that reached to the trigger of the rifle and was operated by a wire that ran out through the house to the fence and along the length of the fence. An opening was made in the front of the building to allow of the discharge of the gun outside of it. If the wire on the fence were touched by any one climbing over it the gun would be discharged.
The boy Cantwell is supposed to have got to the fence at the top of the ledge by going through the grounds of the German Baptist Church on Center St., some distance from the Seiberlich residence. The top of the ledge is higher than the second-story windows of Mr. Seiberlich’s home.
“It is my opinion that the boy was on the fence, and when the gun went off that it frightened him and he fell down the ledge of rocks under the fence and got his hurts that way. The gun was not charged with shot and therefore he could not have shots in his wounds.”
Such was the comment of Frank B. Seiberlich, uncle of Ex-Senator Frank Seiberlich at his residence, 4 Boylston St., Jamaica Plain, last evening, when questioned by a Globe reporter about the alleged shooting of Henry Cantwell, 15 years old, of 251 Heath St., Roxbury, who claims he was shot by the discharge of a gun on the premises of Mr. Seiberlich about 8 o’clock Sunday night, and was taken to the City Hospital by his companion, John Weil, 13 years old, of 58 Chestnut Ave., Roxbury, to have the gunshot wound in his right thigh dressed.
Mr. Seiberlich is much incensed at the stories that have been published about the affair, and said: “I will give you the true story”.
“I put up a fence at the top of the ledge of rocks and wired it in such a way that no one could get over the fence to my grapevine without striking a wire that connected with a gun I had set up in the summer house near the grapevine, and would discharge it. The gun is an old Springfield rifle and was loaded with coarse powder and paper wadding. There was no shot in it. It was set in such a way that the wadding from the gun would have struck the boy in the shoulder and not in the thigh.
“I went to bed at 7 pm. About 8 pm my wife woke me up and said the gun had gone off. I got up and looked out of the window, but could not see anyone and heard no outcry. About 1 am four policemen came to my house and woke me up and said they had heard the boy’s story and they wanted to hear my story. I told them there was a gun there charged with a little powder and paper wadding, and that I had put it there for a ‘scarecrow.’ I showed them the place where the gun was and the police took the gun and the fastenings on the floor, the powder and the caps. I was told by the police that a boy had been shot by the gun.
“It is my opinion that the boy was on the fence, and when the gun discharged it frightened him, and he fell down the ledge at the back of the yard, which is 18 or 20 feet high, and got his hurts that way. There was no shot in the gun. I am not so cruel as to want to shoot a boy for stealing my grapes. The fence is eight feet away from the gun. Last Sunday noon the gun went off when I was working near the fence and it did not hurt me. Last year it went off once, and this year it has gone off twice. I am hard of hearing and I rigged up the gun so that if it went off I would know that boys were stealing my grapes.
“The boys that come out here from Roxbury are a nuisance. They steal all the fruit they can lay their hands on, and have made it so disagreeable for me that I am seriously thinking of selling the place. Tomorrow I am going to get out a warrant for the arrest of the boy on the charge of trespass. No summons has been served on me and I don’t know what they can arrest me for anyway. I did not fire the gun.”
Mr. Seiberlich is a veteran of the Civil War and has been a resident of Jamaica Plain many years. The house he occupies is the oldest dwelling in the West Roxbury District and its record dates back to 1722, and it is said to have been an old house then.
At Police Division 13, there is an entry on the journal that reads: “Henry Cantwell, 15 years old, living at 251 Heath St., Roxbury. Gunshot wound in right hip received while attempting to steal grapes from the premises of Frank B. Seiberlich, 4 Boylston St., Sunday night about 8 pm.
Complaint has been made by the father of the boy Cantwell against Frank B. Seiberlich for assault on Henry Cantwell. That complaint has been entertained by Judge Perrins of the Municipal Court at Jamaica Plain, but no summons will be issued for his appearance until the injured boy is able to appear in court.
Edward Cantwell, father of the boy who was shot, was last seen last night at his home, 251 Centre St., Roxbury. He is employed as an operator at the Columbia Road ledge. Young Cantwell worked in the Plant shoe factory. Mr. Cantwell at first declined to say anything about the matter and referred reporters to his attorneys. Henry Cantwell was 15 years old and a graduate of the Cheverus Parochial School.
Mr. Cantwell said that he considered the affair and outrage and believed that steps should be taken to prevent a recurrence. He said that such a thing as placing a gun trap was wholly unnecessary, and that if the boys had been stealing grapes other means than that of a rifle could have been used to stop them.
He visited his son at the City Hospital yesterday afternoon, but what the boy had to say he refused to divulge. It is expected that young Cantwell will be released from the hospital within 10 days.
By Chris Globig
Buff & Buff Manufacturing Company occupied the site of what is now the Buff Condominiums at 329R Lamartine Street in Jamaica Plain until the mid-1980’s . Buff & Buff manufactured and repaired a variety of precision engineering instruments, most notably surveying transits and theodolites.
Image courtesy of Elise & Peter Pogorski
George Louis Buff started the company in 1898 with his son Louis, a transitman, after the dissolution of his previous enterprise, Buff & Berger, located at 9 Province Court in Boston. It seems George had plenty of experience in the precision instrument business, having worked for various instrument firms in his native Germany, and later in England and New York.
In 1900, the same year that George’s second son Carl joined Buff & Buff as a clerk, George applied for a building permit to construct a stone foundation, two-story brick building with a flat roof for light manufacturing on a portion of land he had bought in 1890, and where he currently resided. This encompassed what is now 23 Cheshire Street and 321-327 Lamartine. After 1901, ads in the Boston City directory gave the company’s address as 329 Lamartine. George and his wife Mary lived at 23 Cheshire together until her death from Brights disease (nephritis) in 1892 at the age of 47. George continued to live at 23 Cheshire until his death in 1923.
One of the critical pieces of equipment for making surveying instruments was called a circular dividing engine. George had two, one 28.5 inches in diameter which he built in 1899, and the other 48 inches in diameter, which he acquired in 1903. He had improved on earlier transit designs from 1866, calling his new product Buff’s Precise Transit, and, with the use of his dividing engines, manufactured it in his new factory for many years. For the cross-hairs on the instruments’ eyepieces, he used spider silk. Spiders were collected each year from the banks of the Charles River and kept in the factory’s basement on racks designed to encourage the spiders to spin silk onto reels for use in the factory.
Buff & Buff was incorporated in Massachusetts in 1904, but it wasn’t until 1907 that George deeded the rear portion of 325-327 Lamartine to the Buff & Buff Manufacturing Company. That same year, his eldest son Louis married and moved out of the house at 23 Cheshire. Shortly thereafter in 1908, Carl, not quite 31, died of typhoid fever. By 1909, George’s third son Henry had joined the company as a clerk. In 1918, they added a roofed wooden platform and steps to the factory building.
When George died in 1923, Louis became President of Buff & Buff Manufacturing. In 1926, Louis added a one-story wooden addition on a concrete foundation to the factory and Henry became Vice President of Buff & Buff. By then, Louis was involved with several other companies, and remained President of both the Babson-Dow Manufacturing Company and the Henrici Laundry Machinery Company until he died in 1941.
Upon Louis’s death at age 65 from pancreatic cancer, Henry took over the reins. Henry, who never married and continued to reside at 23 Cheshire Street, presided over the company until 1975, when Frank Dow took over the position of President. Henry died of atherosclerosis in 1976, at the age of 91. Frank incorporated under the new name of Buff Instruments Corporation in 1979, but that company was involuntarily dissolved in 1983. Around 1984 a salvage operation was undertaken by the Liberty Tool Company and a multitude of parts, miscellaneous equipment and valuable lithographs were found in the old factory. Today these artifacts can be found in the Davistown Museum in Liberty Maine.
In the early 1970’s, Sheldon Weinstein and Warren Cossit acquired the land at 321-323, 325-327, and 329R Lamartine Street. In 1979, Anne Dow bought the parcels. She sold 325-327 Lamartine in 1981, and in 1985 a real estate trust bought the remaining lots. Use of the building that housed the Buff factory was first changed from light manufacturing to light manufacturing, artists’ studios and offices, and later to a six-family dwelling. The master deed for Buff condominiums, covering the land formerly occupied by Buff & Buff Manufacturing, was recorded in 1990.
Birth, marriage and death data from Massachusetts State Archives.
Property data from Suffolk Registry of Deeds and Massachusetts State Archives.
Building data from Boston Inspectional Services permits.
Copyright © 2005 Jamaica Plain Historical Society
Eisenhower was president, and the first baby-boomers had
just started school. Men still wore suits and hats, while
most women wore dresses and stayed home. But change was in
the air. The Cold War sent a nuclear chill around the world.
In the newly sprouting suburbs, supermarkets began to
replace neighborhood grocery stores. Television and
advertising entered their golden ages. Marilyn Monroe
appeared nude in the first issue of Playboy. Teens sporting
duck-tails and poodle cuts would soon be gyrating to the
rebellious beat of rock ‘n’ roll. A truck driver named Elvis
turned 18, Martin Luther King, 24. An average family income
was about $3,000. A modern house went for $14,000. A Philco
TV cost $200. And for 50 cents you could get a jacket
dry-cleaned at a new shop on the corner of Centre and Green
streets called Classic Cleaners.
Icons like Martin, Marilyn and Elvis now belong to the ages-but Classic Cleaners, started by Al Pavone in October, 1953, survives as the grand dame of Centre Street, outlasting most of its dozen or more competitors to celebrate its 50th anniversary this month.
“When I started out, Centre Street was a much more diverse shopping district,” said Al Pavone, a 1948 graduate of Wentworth Institute who like many other World War II veterans was just beginning a family and career. “It was a very busy street, with clothing stores, baby shops, shoe stores, jewelers, pharmacies-basically, everything residents needed. “And of course, there were lots of other cleaners nearby. When I bought the old Cleaning by Adele business some people thought I was crazy…”
“And some of us still think that,” joked his son, Mike Pavone, who took over the shop in the early 1980s after his dad retired. “Hey, don’t interrupt me. I don’t want to be late for my tee-off time,” Al said with a wink as they both laughed. “Now where was I?” “The golf course,” his son rejoined.
The two laughed again, displaying the personal rapport that attracts loyal customers with the grace of Hope and Crosby. “We have a lot of fun here,” Debbie Carmichael, an employee at Classic Cleaners for 24 years, admitted. “We laugh every day. Al and Mike are great to work for.”
“They sure are,” replied her sister, Patty, who has worked there for 20 years. “Mike is like a big brother to us.” As she walked out the door, Jamaica Plain resident Phyllis Isberg noted “There’s another cleaner close to my house, but I use Classic because of the great service and friendly atmosphere. I can see why they’ve been in business for 50 years. Congratulations.”
But Al Pavone pointed out it took a lot more than a couple of laughs to stay in business half a century. Long hours and hard work were, and are, the norm. “When I bought the place it was like an empty barn inside,” he said. “There were no clothes on the racks and not many customers. But one day a salesman walked in and put a mannequin wearing a wedding dress in the window. When people realized we were good enough to clean something like that, business picked up. But it still took a long time to really build up the business.”
The clientele included some real characters, Al Pavone recalled, like the mobsters who dropped off clothes with guns in the pockets.
On a more serious note, Mike Pavone, who began working Saturdays at the store when he was 11, said, “You know, we still have some customers from the 1950s. We appreciate their trust for so long.”
Mike Pavone went on to say his business, like most others’, has dipped since the Sept. 11 attacks two years ago. “But I’m optimistic. I don’t fault anyone, we just try to do the best work we can.” That includes investing something back into the community. In addition to sponsoring Regan League baseball teams for years, Classic donates 50 cents from each order to the Jimmy Fund or AIDS Action Committee, with $1,500 already collected for each.
And as part of their 50th celebration, for 50 weeks they are having a drawing for $50 worth of dry cleaning. Classic Cleaners offers a full line of services, including dry cleaning, shoe repair, tailoring, leather cleaning and regular laundering. “Our motto is: If you can wear it or tear it, we can clean it or repair it,” Al Pavone said.
Asked what the best thing has been about 50 years of business, Al’s countenance transformed from a sidekick to a father. “Working with Mike. It’s great to see your son take over the business.” “Dad taught me a lot,” Mike Pavone replied as he slung an arm over his father’s shoulder. “I appreciate his confidence in me.”
For more information call Mike, Debbie or Patty at 524-9852. Just don’t ask for Al, he’s in Florida now, on the golf course.
Written by John Swan. Reprinted with permission from the October 10, 2003 Jamaica Plain Gazette. Copyright © Gazette Publications, Inc.
Prohibition Killed a Coffee Tree on McBride Street
–But It Made a Surprising Recovery
By Peter O’Brien
A Grand Opening
On June 29, 1898, three well-known Boston beer and ale brewers opened a handsome new Inn at 16 Keyes Street, Jamaica Plain. The owners, Bradley & Farmer, Rueter & Co., and A.J. Houghton & Co. called it the Coffee Tree Inn, naming it for a coffee tree that once grew on the site.
Keyes Street Re-named McBride Street
Keyes Street was laid out in 1850 and named for John Keyes who was a local tanner, making leather from animal hides.
David Greenough developed the land he had bought from the Loring estate that included Keyes Street. Greenough proposed 50-foot lots on Keyes Street for sale to the Irish immigrants flooding into the area to work as laborers and domestics in the burgeoning Jamaica Plain economy. Thus, the area became known as “Little Ireland.” Later, growth of the Boston Gas Company, further down Keyes Street, brought even more Irish labor and tavern customers to the area.
In 1921, several Jamaica Plain streets, squares and playgrounds were renamed to honor World War I heroes who had been killed in that war. Keyes Street was renamed for Corporal John J. McBride who was born on Keyes Street and had been killed in France.
The Coffee Tree
A coffee tree growing on McBride Street would strike anyone who ever tried to grow tomatoes there as an astonishing horticultural achievement. However, there is a coffee tree, unrelated to the tropical coffee plant that produces our morning coffee, native to the eastern and central United States. A member of the bean or legume family, the Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus) produces a bean which early settlers in Kentucky used to make a bitter, low-grade coffee substitute. It is a fairly common, large deciduous tree with about twenty specimens presently growing in the Arnold Arboretum, one of which dates to 1873, planted just a year after the Arboretum opened. Another labeled specimen is presently growing along the sidewalk near the tennis courts just east of the Shattuck Hospital. A Kentucky Coffeetree could grow in Massachusetts but how did one find its way to McBride Street?
Whether the owners knew or cared how it got there, the tree became the logo for the Inn and it can be seen on the Inn’s sign. Although not documented, the tree logo was also used in an approximately five-foot diameter tile mosaic in the floor of the main room of the Inn. A long-time Jamaica Plain resident, Mrs. Constance (Cuddy) Buckley, clearly remembers this mosaic before it was covered with machinery in the building’s later life. In that later life the new owners also remembered the tile mosaic in the floor.
The Inn was designed by Boston architect J. William Beal. Mr. Henry A. Rueter suggested its conceptual design based on his survey of popular English and German taverns. Rueter, who owned the Highland Spring Brewery in Roxbury, was President of the United States Brewers’ Association. His estate was on the Jamaicaway where Jamaica Towers is presently located. Rueter and the other owners apparently felt that while the final design of the building might not blend with the neighborhood’s modest architecture, the Inn’s European Tudor design elements would resonate with the large and growing immigrant population in Jamaica Plain, especially those living and traveling on McBride Street.
The Inn’s design called for dark red burned brick for the first floor with typical Tudor style half-timbered and stuccoed walls above. A beautifully decorated gable was painted in deep green. The overhanging eaves were trimmed with relief-carved bargeboards in a sinuous stylized grapevine pattern. A carved finial at the peak faced the street.
An elegant cast iron sign, illuminated by an early electric arc light, hung near the walled-in entrance to the Inn. Another cast iron sign advertising Sterling Ale was mounted to the front of the building near the square entrance porch.
Cast iron gates secured the driveway that was flanked by birch trees and led from the un-paved McBride Street to the rear delivery area. One can imagine the delivery wagon with its stacked cases or kegs of beer navigating between the brick columns supporting the gates. Rounded granite bumper blocks protected the bases of the columns. These blocks were important architectural features in the horse drawn wagon era with its iron-rimmed wheels. They became less important later when motor trucks with rubber tires could more accurately navigate the opening.
The diamond pane leaded windows reinforced the Tudor design concept. Beautiful stained glass windows with English and Germanic heraldic emblems graced the side of the building facing the driveway. The stained glass windows remained long after the Inn was closed and the later owners of the building remember them well.
The footprint of the main room in the Inn was about 40 feet square, with carved oak paneling all around and an oak bar on three sides. A tall oak screen separating the bar from the dining area with its oak tables afforded privacy for diners. Customers could enjoy a slice of prime Westphalian ham with roasted potatoes and a mug of beer or ale in comparative privacy.
High above the bar a skylight admitted soft diffused light. The presence of the two light poles in the picture indicates that the Inn was electrified at some point. At night the glow of early electric lighting fixtures would then have illuminated the room.
A great fireplace of red sandstone stood just beside the entrance door. It can be located more precisely from the location of the massive (front) chimney in the steeply pitched roof. It must have been very pleasant with a crackling fire burning on a snowy winter’s night with a mix of brogues and other dialects engaged in lively conversation.
Signs were carved in the oak panels at the base of the skylight dome. One stated: “Enough Is Good Use - Too Much Is Abuse.”
One profession that kept many men working in the early 20th century was bartending. It was a respected profession and bartender’s reputations and skills were widely known and discussed. The ability to keep a bar well stocked, clean, and properly serviced were the attributes of a good bartender. Keeping the beer pipes from the kegs below to the bar above cleaned out regularly and the floor covered with fresh sawdust were other measures of a barkeep’s performance. He also had to keep peace in the establishment and be sure over-drinking patrons were sent home before becoming inebriated, a state the Irish would quite naturally minimize as; “heyadafewinim,” (he had a few in him.) And, above all, the attentive bartender had to manage the “cuff,” his record of charged drinks recorded on his starched shirt cuff.
Thanks to the famous Doyle’s Café, founded 1882 and still going strong, we have a copy of an old Doyle’s menu that carried an undated song by M.C. Hanney. It named the many local Jamaica Plain barrooms and their bartenders and their attributes noted in each location. One verse mentions the Coffee Tree Inn:
“Then take a walk up Keyes Street, and you cannot fail to see
An ancient looking bar room, ‘tis called The Coffee Tree
They say that Bradley runs the place, when Mike Brady is not there
Mike’s Irish wit and pleasant ways, are always rich and rare … .”
And thanks to another long-time Jamaica Plain resident, Michael Galvin, we have a picture of a genuine shot glass from The Coffee Tree Inn. Michael also allowed us to copy his beautiful Reuter’s Highland Spring Brewery sign. Michael’s eclectic collection of JP memorabilia includes one of the green cast iron water bubblers used around the corner from the Inn on South Street and two working gas street lights from nearby Boynton Street that were serviced morning and night by our local lamplighter, Mr. Shields, “who made the night a little brighter wherever he would go.”
Neighbors and Customers
The Inn was located a few hundred yards from the Jamaica Plain streetcar car barns on South Street. The car barns site became the Jamaica Plain Loop after the barns were torn down in the 1930s; and 25 years later a public housing project was built there.
Among its clientele, the Inn probably served members of the Hampstead Club that was located on the second floor at 114a South Street at the corner of McBride and South Streets. In later years, Wilson’s meat market occupied the first floor at that address, and later still, the Ristuccia family (Bob’s Spa) bought the building. That building, on the corner of McBride Street, can be seen with the large striped awning behind the motorman in the photo of an 1898 streetcar leaving the South Street car barns.
A short way up South Street, one of the green cast iron water bubblers, a copy of which resides in Michael Galvin’s garden, quenched summer thirsts.
Another neighbor of the Coffee Tree Inn would have been the blacksmith shop, next door at 10 McBride Street. Ignatius J. Craffey founded the shop about 1910 and operated it until about 1925. John P. Mahoney, who formerly owned stables and a smithy at 716 Centre Street, took over and ran it until James ‘Jimmy’ Lovett bought it. Jimmy had arrived from Ballyferriter, County Kerry, Ireland in 1928, just a year after he witnessed Lindbergh’s historic flight over Ireland heading for Paris. Jimmy bought the shop from Mahoney’s widow in the mid 1930s and ran it until about 1961. Earlier the former stable at the front of the structure was removed, leaving only the small smithy shop at the rear of the lot.
Jimmy’s son, John Lovett, learned the trade and worked there as a youngster, helping his dad shoeing a diminishing horse population. Thus, John Lovett is probably the last resident farrier (blacksmith) in Jamaica Plain.
The rhythmic pealing of Jimmy Lovett’s hammer on his anvil with streamers of hot sparks flying was our own version of the Blacksmith Blues long before that song hit No. 3 on the charts in 1952! It’s sad and so often true that we didn’t appreciate what colorful additions things like Lovett’s blacksmith shop and our lamplighter, Mr. Shields, made to our lives and neighborhood until much, much later. It’s especially true to those of us who took Forging (blacksmithing, not writing bad checks) at Mechanic Arts High School in Boston back then.
The Inn prospered until the Volstead Act, commonly called Prohibition, ended the country’s legal supply of alcoholic beverages in 1920. The Inn was then vacant for six years except that in 1924 a Daniel J. Hogan briefly appears as proprietor of the Coffee Tree Inn. Was Hogan attempting a comeback as a dry restaurant, or did he suspect early repeal of Prohibition? In any case, Prohibition, a well intentioned but failed experiment to control excessive drinking, was finally repealed in 1933
A New Life for the Building
In 1926, Joseph Yerkes (aka Joe Bags) of Brunswick Street, Roxbury, started the Washington Wet Wash, a commercial and residential wet wash laundry in the unoccupied Inn building. “Wet wash,” meant that your laundry was washed, but not dried. Later, Harry and Israel Yerkes joined their brother Joe as partners in the laundry enterprise. When Joe died, his wife, Betty, remarried a man named Kaplan and they lived in Brookline. The laundry was then in Betty’s name for a while. About 1951, Joe’s daughter, Helen Reinstein, and her husband Mel, took over operation of the laundry.
Many of our moms and neighbors worked at the laundry at one time or another. It was very heavy and hot work so turnover was high. One of the things that probably hastened the laundry’s demise was the overnight laundry service that was offered to stimulate business. Laundry picked up the night before would be delivered, in a repainted deep green hearse, early next morning! That door-to-door service went the way of all other home delivered things like bakery goods, diapers, twice-a-day mail delivery, milk, ice, fruit, vegetables and peddler’s wares as the age of the automobile arrived.
The Reinsteins, now of Delray Beach, Florida, remember the hearse, the tile mosaic, the stained glass windows and the fireplace in the building but little else of its fifty-year old well worn architectural features because they were busy trying to earn a living; not cataloguing the building’s formerly handsome details. They do, however, remember many of the local “characters” and tradesmen that worked there including the local bookie. The bookie already had a dedicated ‘private’ phone booth in Bob’s Spa around the corner at 128 South Street. Nevertheless this enterprising bookmaker wanted to put an “office” upstairs in the laundry, but Joe Yerkes, sensing potential problems in that arrangement wisely declined.
As the economy was improving, unskilled help was becoming hard to find and retain at the McBride Street location so in 1966 the laundry was moved to 830 Blue Hill Avenue as the Jamaica Plain Laundry and Dry Cleaners. It continued there until Oct 4, 1972 when it was finally closed.
The Inn is Demolished
It isn’t clear when the Inn/Wet Wash building was demolished or who owned it at the time.
The land is now owned by James’s Gate Pub and together with Lovett’s blacksmith shop’s land; the two abutting parcels form the present paved parking lot for the pub.
James’s Gate is located on the former site of Hester’s Tavern, irreverently known for years as “the chapel”, at 5 McBride Street, located across the street from the former Inn. In later lives, as times improved, Hester’s was elevated to “the cathedral” with little increase in either reverence or maintenance.
Bernard T. “Bonnie” Hester, a former bricklayer from Dalrymple Street, opened his tavern at 5 McBride Street in the mid-1930s and ran it until 1959 when it became McBride Lunch. Around 1967 it was called Joe Cunniff’s Bar. Cunniff was a long-time patron and former bartender. Thereafter it was Danny Harold’s, Dory Lounge, MacDonald’s and 5 McBride Lunch again until James’s Gate purchased and renovated the property in 1997.
James’s Gate’s extensive renovations with antique building materials replicated an Irish pub alongside a contemporary dining room in a building inspired by the St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin, home of Guinness Stout since 1759.
The Tradition Continues
So, 112 years after the Grand Opening of the Coffee Tree Inn, with the caveat that “Enough is Good Use - Too Much is Abuse,” the tradition of good food and drink for travelers and the residents of Little Ireland lives on in a nifty Irish pub on McBride Street.
And while the Inn, the blacksmith and the lamplighter are long gone, the memories of them, and of a great growing up in Jamaica Plain, are refreshed whenever we play their songs in our heads.
Sources and References
Boston Globe, June 30, 1898 and April 18, 1921
Doyle’s Café Menu (undated)
Remember Jamaica Plain? by Mark Bulger
JP Memorabilia by Michael “Mikey” Galvin
Song: The Blacksmith Blues by Jack Holmes, 1952
Song: The Old Lamplighter by Nat Simon and Charles Tobias, 1946
Frank Norton archives
James’s Gate Restaurant and Pub website
Special Thanks to John Lovett, Mrs. Constance (Cuddy) Buckley, Frank Ratta, James McNally, Paul Byrne, Anne (Hester) Devaney, Ira Yerkes, Mel and Helen Reinstein, Maggie Redfern, Arnold Arboretum, Visitor Education Assistant, and Diane Parks and Liane Lalor at the Boston Public Library, Central Library.
It's 1984, and a young businessman shows up at Doyle's Cafe, the landmark pub on Washington Street in Jamaica Plain that Bill, 52, runs with his older brothers, Ed and Jerry. The fella's trying to sell a new beer. He's having a tough day; in fact he's so angry that his face is busting out red, because the posh Ritz-Carlton told him his beer "wasn't up to their standards."
Burke laughs about it today: "We thought he was out of his mind, too. We were all Bud drinkers at the time. We said, 'What's this stuff?' But we put it on, anyway. In 10 minutes, everyone loved it."
The beer was Samuel Adams Boston Lager. The young businessman was Jim Koch, founder and chairman of the Boston Beer Co. The rest, as they say, is history. It seems history has a way of finding a home at Doyle's Cafe, a perpetually popular pub smack dab in the center of the city that looks like it witnessed its share of bare-knuckled brawls back in the days of "Boston Strongboy" John L. Sullivan. Antique-looking, oversized beer signs cover the facade. The floor planks inside are faded and worn by the better part of a century's worth of tipplers who have made their way to the long wooden bar. (The bar itself was moved to Doyle's from an even older pub early in the 20th century.) Pictures of Boston politicians - mostly Irish - adorn the walls.
Even Hollywood has been smitten by its charm. The pub has appeared in movies like "The Brink's Job" and "Celtic Pride," and out-of-towners today recognize Doyle's as the local watering hole for the characters of the Fox TV series "Boston Public."
Boston's Irish-American community has adopted the pub, too. Come Saturday, if past St. Patrick's Days are any indication, cops will direct traffic out front while bagpipe bands inside entertain the mayor, a veritable Who's Who of other local politicians, and a wall-to-wall crowd of singing, swaying Guinness drinkers.
Thanks to the youngest Burke's guidance, Doyle's has also grown into a classic American beer bar, with 26 carefully chosen draft beers, three hand-pulled cask ales, and a large selection of bottles. Burke orders the beer, takes the deliveries, cleans the lines, taps the kegs and otherwise does everything he can do to ensure the beer is in the best condition possible. (Among the beers you won't find at Doyle's are Anheuser-Busch products, which Burke now refuses to sell. This doesn't sit well with the Teamsters who deliver A-B beers; they protested outside Doyle's last St. Patrick's Day.)
But Doyle's is more than just a great beer bar. It's something of a museum of Boston brewing history, and Billy is its curator. He takes great pride in his role.
"Burkes have been serving beer in Jamaica Plain since 1918," Billy says, first at the now-defunct Rossmore Tavern, which his grandparents owned, and at Doyle's, which Ed Burke bought from the Doyle family in 1969.
He makes his way down the cellar, where the pub is connected to the city's brewing legacy at, quite literally, its most elemental level. Stony Brook, which begins in Dedham and ends in the Fenway, runs right under the foundation of the pub. It was along Stony Brook that Irish and German immigrants built dozens of breweries in Jamaica Plain and Roxbury in the 19th century. The hollow, brick shells of many of these breweries can be seen today throughout the two neighborhoods, some with their names, such as Franklin Brewing Co. and American Brewing Co., still etched in granite and visible from the street.
The old Haffenraffer Brewery, a few blocks up Washington Street, sits along the brook, too. Today it's the home of the Boston Beer Co., and Doyle's is often the first place in America where you'll find new or experimental Samuel Adams beers.
After the most treacherous downpours, the brook bubbles up into the basement. A water line, two feet above the foundation, can be seen at various points along the cellar. The water fills a square hole cut out of the concrete where booze was hidden during Prohibition, and threatens an impressive collection of beer and brewery memorabilia.
The collection includes 12-year-old bottles of Chimay Grand Reserve and Thomas Hardy's Ale (beers "that get better with age," Burke says), and original bottles of Samuel Adams beers, with generic labels marked "sample." There's also a large collection of ads for nearly every beer and brewery that ever made Boston its home. Among them: Pickwick Ale ("ale that is ale"); J.J. Pfaff's "lager beer"; and the original Boston Beer Co., which touted itself as "America's oldest brewery" (it was established in 1828) and reminded folks that "Good Food Tastes Better with BB Stock Ale."
Beer cannot make its way up to the bar by itself, and the cellar houses a time capsule of beer-serving technology. An old electric beer pump sits next to the contemporary canisters of gas - carbon-dioxide and-or nitrogen - used to push beer today.
In another crowded section of the basement is a thin, five-foot tall brass, iron and wood handle with two brass cylinders at the bottom. Years ago, it would have been placed next to the bar, and the bartender would push it back and forth, creating air pressure to draw beer up out of the kegs in the cellar to the taps upstairs. It worked much like the manual keg pumps found at frat parties today.
There are more stories back upstairs. One of the centerpieces of the main barroom is a mural of Paul Revere's ride. The moon over Revere's shoulder does more than just illuminate the colonial countryside: it hides a bullet hole put there by one of the Burke brothers.
The brass railing in the center of the barroom is a late addition to the pub. It was placed there by the producers of "The Brink's Job." They wanted it back after filming was complete but were hoodwinked out of it by the Burke brothers.
Behind the bar is a small framed picture - something of a memorial, actually, of a gentleman to whom Bill Burke feels a special bit of gratitude. His name was George Dauberschmidt, and for years he worked for the breweries of Boston, installing and caring for draft lines.
"Back then breweries sent out someone to clean the lines, and everyone in the beer business knew George," Burke says. But, he adds, Dauberschmidt had a bit of a personality quirk. "He wouldn't show anybody how to do his work because he was afraid someone would take his job. But as I got older he took a shine to me, I guess, and taught me the trade."
And taught him well, as the thirsty crowds and national acclaim attest each and every day - but especially on St. Patrick's Day, when Burke expects to sell nearly 25 kegs of Guinness alone.
"We never had any idea we'd be this busy," Burke says. "But we always wanted to sell the best beer in town."
Written by Kerry J. Byrne. Photographs by Charlie Rosenberg, Jamaica Plain Historical Society archives. January 2003. Reprinted with permission from the March 11, 2001 Boston Herald. Copyright © Herald Media, Inc.
This article is based on a talk given by Gerry Burke to a meeting of the Jamaica Plain Historical Society the evening of November 9, 2005 at Doyle’s Café.
Good evening! When I started to think about this presentation, I thought; “there’s roughly 120 years of history connected with the place so I’m going to have to condense it to a broad overview to give a good history of Doyle’s.”
So part of my show-and-tell is this picture, which was taken in December 1902, from the Forest Hills side of Washington Street showing progress of the work on Stony Brook and the Elevated Railway System going to Forest Hills. The Forest Hills work had progressed to a point approximately between Williams Street and Rossmore Road at that time. If you notice that fellow on the right, wearing a bowler hat, and standing next to the mailbox, he has a remarkable resemblance to my grandfather, Bill Burke. I’m not sure it’s him; it could have been, but I don’t know. In 1902 he was the owner of John Sheehan’s Tavern on the corner of Rossmore Road and Washington Street. It’s not there anymore; it was located where the parking lot in front of the Laundromat is found today.
In 1905 Bill Burke became President of the Ancient and Honorable Hibernians, Division 40, in Jamaica Plain and there he became very close with the Doyles over the ensuing years. The building behind the man in the picture is the original Doyle’s. The wall you see there encloses the grocery store. Halfway between the grocery store and the saloon on the other side are swinging doors that were used to enter and leave the saloon side. I can’t see anything on the windows, but I would assume the windows on the grocery side would say, “Fine Teas, Coffees, and so forth.” There is a sign on the other side but I can’t read it. The house in back still exists and Dennis Doyle, who built the original Doyle’s building, owned it. His son Barney assumed ownership after Dennis’ death in 1900.
Doyle’s did well all through the 1880’s and 1890’s. But with the burgeoning population coming out this way and with the Elevated Railway System in place, Barney said to himself, “I’m not going to be able to do this unless I expand the operation to keep up with the times.” He had considered a couple of options, including destroying the building, but he couldn’t do that, because it was only 20 years old! What he decided to do was to push it back roughly 60 feet toward Gartland Street and add a new building to the existing structure. And so the entire building was jacked up about eight inches and telephone poles were inserted under it as rollers. Horses and teams moved the existing building back to make room for the new building addition.
I have the original Specifications and Contract for the new Doyle building. The salient features of the two documents were (1) the call for nothing but Union Labor and (2) the use of only the best materials available.
So you’re now sitting in the original saloon of Doyle’s – the old Willow Athletic Club – as it was after the move. It now serves as our function room. You probably noticed the floor in this room is slightly elevated. This is because this is the original part of the building that had been raised for the rollers. The original bar was formerly against the wall in this room and when the new building was completed the bar was moved to where it is now, in the saloon on the Williams Street side of the building. This is the reverse of the original layout when the grocery store was on the Williams Street side.
The grocery store and the new saloon prospered in the new building from about 1910 to 1919 when Prohibition came in. Prohibition brought tough times and all the money spent on the expansion went down the drain as the Doyles were no longer interested in the business without the saloon. They had invested heavily in the new building that was built to last forever! So, they sealed-off the swinging doors that formerly connected the saloon and the grocery store and Doyle’s began its new life as a Speak-easy!
The grocery store, located in the room we’re meeting in tonight, stayed open and continued operating under the management of Luigi Salvi. Luigi Salvi’s family owned the saloon my grandfather operated at Rossmore Road. Due to Prohibition my grandfather had to close that saloon down also. But he kept it open as a Spa, selling fancy candy, notions, and so forth. However, it was really a front for a bootlegging operation. The deal was that he would supply the booze for Billy Doyle’s Speak-easy.
So over the years, while the Burkes and the Doyles became close friends, no one ever mentioned their business arrangement because anyone with Irish blood in him would know you’d never say anything about that, - the favorite expression being “tell ‘em nuthin!” In fact, because it was never discussed in my family, it was only through my own research later that I learned that my grandfather, Bill Burke, supplied the juice. Some have suggested that Joe Kennedy, JFK’s father, was involved, but he wasn’t. He was busy in the stock market at that time, while after Prohibition he became a liquor importer, among other things.
Then, in 1928, during the administration of Mayor Malcolm Nichols, the last Republican Mayor of Boston, my grandfather was granted the refreshment concession at Franklin Park. It included the Franklin Park Zoo, the Refectory, and the Golf Course. I don’t know if he did anything in the Refectory Building; a big cavernous building, but knowing Bill Burke, chances are he was selling juice from there too! However, my grandmother faithfully went to Mass and put enough money in the box at Lady of Lourdes to save his soul. Of course, the old Irish always said, “If you’re in the booze business you’re gonna die a violent death,” but the widows always said, “I’ll take the money anyway!” They lived in splendor thereafter.
Getting back to the new building, in 1909 they installed a new flat-rate telephone connection to the new saloon. You didn’t have to use money in it and you could get the latest ball game scores, boxing results, whatever you needed to know, including the numbers. It was located in the old telephone booth that used to be in the front room and then for years, before we got here, it was down the cellar.
So Doyle’s did well until Prohibition ended in 1933 and Francis Doyle came back in, taking over from Barney Doyle, around 1933 or 1934. At that time there was an Irish-American boxer named James J.Braddock who beat Max Baer in 1935 to become the heavyweight champion of the world. Joe Louis took the title from Braddock in 1937 but he always remained a favorite of the Boston Irish. At the time there was a Braddock Rye Whiskey from Maryland that was named after General Braddock, the Commander-in-Chief of the British Armed Forces on the continent during the French and Indian War. General Braddock was liked and respected by both sides until he was fatally wounded in a skirmish and died. Somehow, Francis Doyle got together with the Braddock Whiskey people and made the proposition that; while he could not sell their whiskey exclusively, he would ‘push’ it hard as he could, if they would agree to put a new front on the existing building which had fallen into disrepair during Prohibition and the Depression. The Braddock people agreed and installed new brickwork, a new window and paid for new signage. And that’s the origin of the Braddock Café. In 1939 the business’ name was officially changed to “F.J. Doyle and Company, dba Braddock Café.”
During Prohibition the Doyles had extensive land holdings in Jamaica Plain. There was plenty of development work to be done and by 1955 they had built the building at 18 Pond Street. Bill Doyle, who had taken over from Francis, had heard my grandmother was looking for a place and he gave her first refusal at a rent that would barely pay for an afternoon there today!
In the late 30’s and 40’s, with the kids going off to war, there were a couple of lean years but the slack was soon taken up by the expansion of local factories converting to war work. So, Doyle’s generally did well in the war and post-war years when the veterans returned until the late 40’s. Then Harry Truman came in and things were fine.
In the 50’s everyone just sailed along. The 50’s were a good time to be living in Jamaica Plain as some of those here tonight know. Graduating from Jamaica Plain High School in 1958 we are now looking forward to our fiftieth reunion coming up in 2008!
The early 60’s saw the young Irish Catholic kid from Boston, John F. Kennedy, elected President of the United States and everything was fine. Then when he was killed things just went all to hell in a handbasket as far as I’m concerned and this neighborhood began to change fast! It had started changing in the late 50’s as the boys and girls were getting out. Pushed on by the riots in ‘67 it was tough down here. This neighborhood from Forest Hills to Eggelston Square was really no-man’s land by the early 70’s; and, as many of you know, it wasn’t easy.
So, in 1971, Bill Doyle asked my brother Edward if he’d be interested in buying the place – “I’ll give your family first shot at it”, he said. I told Eddie he was crazy, “you’re out of your mind, Franklin Park is already gone and if we don’t get out of there we’re gonna get hurt!” But he said, “no, if we do it right and offer good food and drink and systematically exclude a lot of the jerks we grew up with and keep them out it’s gonna work!” So we went ahead with it.
Then we were lucky enough to get this fellow, Ted Pitman, who was the head chef at the Venetian Gardens. He lived up on Glade Avenue and we talked him into coming with us. We picked his brain and took his advice to buy only the finest food available and cook it right, - so he had a lot to do with putting us on the map. As a result, business got so good in the first room we had to something, so we expanded to this room, the old grocery store.
I was still doing my political work with Kevin White and I began decorating the walls with all this political material, all of which is authentic and original because I won’t put up reproductions. John L. Sullivan, the famous Irish boxer who was world heavyweight champion in 1882 came here often. His mother was from Roscommons, the same village as the Doyle family. His picture was on the wall along with Mike Kelly, the first Irish baseball hero.
We dedicated the main room in 1986. Mayor Raymond Flynn, named it in honor of the great Irish patriot Michael Collins. Ray Flynn had a lot to do with the success of this place and he is truly a great guy.
As things got better my brother Billy was in charge of beer operations and I handled food operations and public relations. Then one night, Eddie Martin, an aide to Senator Kennedy came in and said, “I really like this place, is there any chance that the Senator would get a good reception here?” I said “I’ll tell you what, we’re opening a new room in 1988 and I’ll name it in honor of the Senator’s maternal grandfather, John F. Fitzgerald.” So, on St. Patrick’s Day in 1988, Senator Kennedy dedicated this room, the old grocery store. I was originally going to name it the Sam Adams Room because Jim Cook had opened the Sam Adams Brewery here in Jamaica Plain.
This John F. Fitzgerald Room was the original grocery store. Over the years it had been occupied by The Willow Athletic Club, various tailors, cobblers, barbers and so forth. It had been closed off from the saloon by a wall and was in terrible shape when we took over. We removed the wall, cleaned up the old shops’ area, added a small room extension and began using this side.
In the 90’s things were going wonderful. We never had an incident of any kind. It was nothing like years ago when we’d announce “last call” and guys would say, “I’m not leaving, what are you going to do about it?” And we’d call Police Station 13 and they’d say “that’s your problem, we’re not going down there!” So we’d have to fight the “last call” crowd to get them to leave. Now the customers are saying “thank you very much, how much do I owe you?” at closing time. We can’t believe it!
A couple of years ago we opened the Tom Menino Room which is this room we added at the end of the Fitzgerald Room.
Some of you may recall that in 1964 three guys came in and announced it was a hold-up. They put a bullet in the wall over there near the Paul Revere picture. That isn’t the moon you see in the picture, it’s where the bullet hole was patched with plaster. They then pistol-whipped Tom McDonough, the bartender, and they ran out the door, not knowing that Billy Doyle, a former policeman, was crouched down behind the counter. Doyle then came out, opened the window, and shot one of the robbers four times, killing him. He then went outside and relieved him of his money. He then called Station 13 and they took the robber to City Hospital, but he was dead. Bill Doyle had a well-deserved reputation for being very frugal and the story goes that they were the only four shots he ever gave away for ‘nuthin.
My mother always said, “When Bill Doyle talks, you listen”. One day, during the energy crisis, he said, “You like to burn wood don’t ya?” I said “yes” and he said, “I’ve got some nice wood down the street.” So I went down with the truck and got some rotten wood from an old shack he owned nearby. It was filthy wood, just awful. It turned out that the City had cited him and had ordered him to get the wood out of there in three days, or else!
Bill Doyle also owned the Meehan Block at the corner of Glen Road and Washington Street. I was still working for the City and he let me park there and get the El upstairs to go in town. One day in November 1972, during the energy crisis, I got off the train and found him in the parking lot with a flashlight under his arm. He was getting old about this time and I said, “What are you doing here at this time of night Billy?” He said, “I shut the heat off on these bastards this morning so now I’m putting it back on!” Billy Doyle was quite a character.
My brother Billy decided a couple of years ago to leave the business. He went to work for Stop and Shop in their liquor operations. My brother Eddie got out recently too. So, I’m here, on a long leash, using the place as my clubhouse, and I’m in and out all day. My son Jerry took over in June of this year with my godson Christopher Spellman who’s from a great old Jamaica Plain family. And of course, I told them not to change anything, but I notice they’ve put in a couple of flat-screen TVs over the bar.. But that goes back to the old Doyle’s premise of “keeping up with the times.” I recall when we took over; Bill Doyle only had two ice cube trays, saying, “What the hell do you need an ice maker for?”
So that’s about it. I can take some questions now I guess.
Q. Isn’t there some kind of easement under this building?
Ans. Yes, the old Stony Brook that wandered from Stony Brook Reservation at High Point Village, in Hyde Park, to the Muddy River passed right under us, and all the properties along its route to the River. They decided to put Stony Brook in a culvert and cover it over. To do that they made a taking for easements to install the culvert underground. This was actually another reason for moving the building back originally. They granted a hundred year lease to occupy the easement which was up last year. But by logic and common sense we deserved the land anyway. When they demolished the Elevated you could see the culvert.
Q. I was wondering about the movies they made here.
Ans. Oh yes, there have been several movies shot here. There was The Brinks Robbery, The Celtics movie, The American Experience on James Michael Curley with David McCullough, The Irish in America, Mystic River, the Sam Adams beer ad in which my son appears and many other TV ads. There isn’t a month goes by when someone doesn’t come in to do some kind of an ad which we are happy to accommodate on a complimentary basis.
Q. Wasn’t there an old clothing store located here?
Ans. Yes, there was. It was Cappy’s Tailor Shop. It was on this end of the building. The Capone family ran it. (Not THAT Capone family!) The barbershop, with two pool tables was here too. Then this was the Viet Nam Veterans Post No.1, then the old Rossmore Associates - Jack Spinney and those guys, came back too. They had been in the old Norton’s bar room down the street. This was the late 70’s and these guys were dying off, one-a-month from overdoses, or suicide, and so forth. It was a very rough period.
Q. Has this building been put on the Historic Register?
Ans. No, it isn’t because you have to conform to their restrictions - you can’t do what you want to the building. You can open up any area of this building and you’ll find an old door, an old window or whatever; there’s so much character here as you can see in the pictures I sent around.
Q. Wasn’t this always, more-or-less, a workingman’s Pub? And when did women start coming in?
Ans. Yes, that’s what it always was - a workingman’s Pub. The women started after the First World War when they reluctantly came in to get their husbands out after Mass. They became more acceptable in the early 60’s. Remember, this was a tough neck of the woods.
As far as the political aspect of the place, it started with Ray Flynn in a lot of ways. I don’t remember any other Mayor before him coming in. Former Mayor Collins used to come in after he was out of office. We would drag Mayor Kevin White in here if there were something going on in Jamaica Plain. Generally, the advice to political candidates was to stay out of the gin mills – you’re not going to get any votes in there. But times have changed. In Mayor Curley’s time, if you wanted to petition him, you had to use the phone. But nowadays, Ray Flynn and Tom Menino practice retail politics – they bring it right to you, which in many ways is much better.
Q. Wasn’t there always a strong ethnic Irish presence here?
Ans. Yes there was, and a lot of Germans too! But mostly Irish. They would stop in here asking about work in the nearby factories, the Gas Company, and so forth. And many came in to cash their paychecks. When my own grandfather came from Galway he was told to go down to Doyle’s to ask about work at the Gas Company, Sturtevant’s, Franklin Park, the MBTA, Crittendon’s and other places.
Q. Has the removal of the MBTA’s elevated structure changed things much around here?
Ans. Oh yes, and I miss it a lot! There was nothing better than standing in the first car looking out the front window as the train headed in town. It was a lot of fun. And, of course, we now have to wash the windows more frequently!
Q. In the early 70’s there was a very multi-ethnic, multi-racial, group employed at the nearby Brookside Community Health Care where I worked. And everybody said, “We can all always go to Doyle’s”.
Ans. Yes, and remember, my grandfather, my father and my brother Eddie and I operated the refreshment concessions at Franklin Park, the greatest melting pot in the world! We worked with everybody up there. And we never forgot how oppressed the Irish had been in their own day and that always guided us in dealing with people. And if it weren’t for Teddy Pitman we wouldn’t have done what we did here.
Q. When did the Refectory Building at the Park come down?
Ans. About 1974. There had been several fires and in 1972 there had been an auction there. I stayed on a few more years at the Zoo. The Refectory became derelict and it was stripped of its ornate decoration. It was a sin. If they would take some money and fix the beautiful bear den at the Park it could be restored. Instead, there are street-people hanging out there and shooting-up. Demolition by neglect it’s called. Franklin Park is gone. I’m still very interested in the place. I was on the Board of Directors when Brian Rutledge was there. I took that poster of the three performing elephants off the wall of the Elephant House when it was abandoned. It reads “Molly, Ratty and Tony, Performing Elephants, presented to the Boston Post and the City of Boston by 70,000 Children, June 6, 1914.” These were old circus elephants purchased with contributions by the kids. They were brought to Fenway Park to an overflow crowd. Mayor Jim Curley had been in office for just a few months and, on behalf of the Boston Post, they were presented to him there. They were then paraded to Franklin Park. They passed away and were replaced by a succession of other elephants.
Q. Was that the Boston Post Newspaper?
Ans. Yes, the old Boston Post Newspaper which was around to the 1950’s. The publisher, Mr. Fox, worked in the back room of a nearby bookstore until the 1980’s. It was a Democratic newspaper.
Q. Was that a gorilla cage up on the hill at the Zoo?
Ans. No, from what I understand that was all farmland in the 1880’s and one of the landowner’s sons was interested in astronomy. To my knowledge there were never any gorillas in that cage. There were gorillas in the old Monkey House, however. When the Refectory was built, before the Zoo and Golf Course came, there was a carriage house built across the way, but it never worked because there was no attraction in it. So, when the Zoo was opened and there was an overflow of animals, they made the carriage house the Monkey House and that lasted until 1942 when Mayor Maurice Tobin, God rest him, closed it down due to the shortage of fuel during those early World War II days. That put my old man out of business in the Refectory. Maurice Tobin was a very honest man and he didn’t mind hurting someone if it benefited the City.
Well, I guess that’s it. I’ve really enjoyed this and I will be happy to answer any other questions later in the evening. Thank you.
You may also be interested in this video interview of Gerry Burke by Rick Berlin.
The Jamaica Plain Historical Society is extremely grateful to Peter O’Brien for his assistance in transcribing this article from tape and editing it for print.
The rapid and almost universal spread of the automobile the past few
years finds a striking illustration locally, not only in the number of
machines owned and operated in the district, but in the development of
various lines of business connected with the automotive trade. Among
the instances of the business development there is none in the local
district that has been more rapid and substantial than that of the
Farnham & Nelson Co., of Jamaica Plain, the large and well-known
concern engaged in the building of high-grade automobile bodies and
all that pertains to the automobile above the engine and running gear.
This firm is located at 47 Union Avenue, Jamaica Plain, in one of the
best of the large brick buildings formerly a part of the Sturtevant
blower works. The proprietors are J.T. Farnham and F.D. Nelson and the
business was established in December, 1908. The concern is, therefore,
just beginning its fourth year, and some idea of the rapid rise of the
business can be had from the fact that the volume of business done
during the year just closed will approximate $75,000.00.
Previous to establishing their business on Union Avenue, both Mr.
Farnham and Mr. Nelson were superintendents of different departments
in two large automobile concerns, one in Boston and one in Cleveland,
and are, therefore, men of large experience. That they are successful
businessmen is shown by the fact that they started with nothing, in
the way of trade, and the second year more than doubled their volume
of business, while the third year will yield a one-third increase over
the second year.
The secret of success of the firm is due, in additon to the skill and
business ability of the two proprietors, to the fact that they supply
a special product for a special class of people. They are designers
and makers of special automobile bodies, tops, windshields and other
equiptment for people who cannot purchase ready-made cars that are
entirely to their liking, so that a large portion of their trade is
making bodies for imported and domestic cars which are purchased
without bodies by some customer who then engages them to design and
build a special body to suit their particular taste or requirements.
It is interesting to note, and it may be a surprise to some, that
people cannot buy an automobile ready-made from the fatory that is
satisfactory to them in all respects any more than they can get a
custom-made suit of clothes that is to their liking in fit, style,
etc., so they buy the chassis and have the body of the car built to
In the factory, they have a large portable blackboard, some 20 feet in
length by 10 in height on which they draw the designs at full size so
that the customer can see exactly how the finished body of his car is
to look. In addition to building bodies, they make and repair all
other parts of the car above the engine, making a special windshield
and doing a fine class of leather and upholstering work, and making
the tops for high-grade cars. All of their work is of the
highest-class and their customers include the owners of the largest
and most expensive cars in use. The firm handles the line of work both
for private individuals and manufacturers.
A considerable portion of their factory work is also supplied in
making bodies for those cars whose owners desire a closed body for
winter, and an open one for summer. If a machine has a limousine top
they will build an open type for the summer, and vice versa.
An intersting feature of their business is that of a large proportion
of the bodies they build are of aluminum and their factory is equipped
with the latest devices for metal working, including a power trip
hammer, and other appliances.
The firm employs 50 men and its factory includes a woodworking,
painting, upholstering and blacksmithing department. The large factory
building is heated by steam and equipped with electric power, with
separate motors for all departments. The factory thus being heated
makes a desirable place for automotible owners to leave their cars
during repairs or through the winter when they are having a new body
built, and a walk through the building reveals about 75 cars in
various stages of completion, some entirely new with bodies being made
for their first use, and some limousines for which the firm is
building open bodies for summer use. All cars for regular customers
are stored free of charge. Special bodies for cars devoted to special
uses such as hospital and sanitorium use are also built there. One
that attracts particular notice of a visitor to the factory is a body
specially constructed to admit sick persons who are obliged to ride on
a cot and which is used for carrying invalids to and from trains, and,
for other private purposes.
In brief, the firm makes and repairs everything about the automobile
except the engine and running gear, and the rapid development of the
company’s business in the last three years it has been established
shows clearly the large and growing field its particular line of work
fills, as well as proving the fact that the firm meets the demand well
with its equiptment and qualtiy of work.
From the Jamaica Plain News, January 27, 1912
Originally published in the Boston Daily Globe, June 28, 1909
A fire that swept through the north section of the Forest Hills Hotel, at the junction of Hyde Park Ave. and Walkhill St., Forest Hills, yesterday afternoon, drove 400 guests in the building in a stampede to the street and did damage to the hotel and adjacent property estimated at between $16,000 and $18,000.
The heroes of the fire that swept through the wooden building with appalling swiftness were Ex-Senator Frank Seiberlich, proprietor of the hotel, his manager, Frank J. Jeager, and assistant manager Stephen Walsh who forced their way through the smoke-filled rooms and rescued Mrs. William F. O’Connor and her 4-year-old son William, Mrs. John O’Connor, all guests, and Mrs. Sarah Leach, Mrs. Mary Brady and Mrs. Josephine Benson, domestics. They were cared for at the residence of Patrick J. Rooney, 36 Hyde Park Ave.
The damage to the building, which is owned by Gabriel Gougeon, is estimated at $5,000; to contents and furnishings owned by Frank Seiberlich, $9,000; to Hotel Meyer, a three-story apartment house at 49 and 51 Hyde Park Ave., owned by William Miller, $1,200; to furnishings of Joseph Bornino in his apartment in Hotel Meyer, $300; to the building at 3770 Washington St., owned by William Miller and occupied as a saloon by John J.Walsh, $300.
Heavy Sunday Business
The hotel is a three-story wooden structure at 51 to 61 Hyde Park Ave., having a frontage of 158 feet on Hyde Park Ave. and a long frontage on Walkhill St. It is triangular in shape, and contains 35 rooms. The north portion, numbered 51, 53, 55 Hyde Park Ave., and running back to Walkhill St., was the part burned.
That section of the hotel contained a large wine-room in the basement, containing $6,000 worth of wines and liquors, and a rathskeller. On the first floor were the office and two large rooms: on the second floor a saloon and nine private dining rooms, with parlor and kitchen at the rear, and 12 chambers and bathrooms on the third floor.
Sunday is one of the busiest days at the hotel which caters to a very large out-of-town patronage. Yesterday the business was unusually heavy and at the time of the fire there were seated about the tables in the serving rooms about 400 guests.
These rooms were on the street floor and directly back of them is a large piazza that runs to above the second story. There is an exit from the hotel at the end of the piazza on the Walkhill St. side. It was under this piazza that the fire was first discovered by John Reilly, an employee, who gave the alarm. Mr. Seiberlich was behind the desk at the east end of the serving room, and manager Jeager and assistant manager Walsh were also in the office. All of them saw the smoke curling into the windows of the serving room and the 400 guests also saw the fire making rapid headway up the side of the rear of the hotel and getting a hold on the dry timber of the two-story piazza.
Saved in Nick of Time
Almost at once the flames were forcing their way through the windows into the building, driven by a strong west wind, and the guests tumbled over each other in their haste to escape.
Mr. Seiberlich quickly rang the hotel fire alarm, then telephoned Station 13 that the hotel was on fire; shut the cash register and closed the door of the safe, and with manager Jeager and assistant manager Walsh hurried through the hotel and rescued the women mentioned.
Mrs. William O’Connor was carried out of the building by Stephen Walsh and her little son William by Mr. Seiberlich. During this time the fire department of the hotel, composed of Otto Luskarg, William Reinhardt, Peter White and John Reilly, got out a line of hose and endeavored to check the flames.
Knowing that Mrs. Leach, Mrs. Benson and Mrs. Brady were at work in the kitchen in the second story, directly above the heart of the fire, Mr. Seiberlich and Stephen Walsh forced their way through the smothering smoke that now filled the building, up the narrow stairway to the second story, and brought out the three women in the nick of time. A few minutes later the room in which they had been was a mass of flames.
Second Alarm Ordered
Patrolman George Keyes of Division 13 was on Washington St. not far from the rear of the hotel when he saw a sheet of flame shoot almost across Walkhill St. He jumped upon a passing car and ordered the motorman to make all speed to Box 531, at the corner of Washington and Morton Streets.
Someone on Hyde Park Ave. called to a passing driver of a hack that the hotel was on fire and to rush to Box 592 before Patrolman Keyes sounded Box 531.
The fire made such rapid headway, fed by the hard wood of the hotel and fanned by a strong westerly breeze, that when District Chief Michael J. Mulligan got sight of the fire he ordered a second alarm before he left his wagon.
Engine 28 and Ladder 10 of Jamaica Plain was the first apparatus to arrive. Engine 45 and Ladder 16, Roslindale, followed closely. When the firemen reached the scene the flames were eating up the rear of the hotel on the Walkhill side and had a good hold on the roof and one side of the Hotel Meyer.
A four-foot alley separated the north wall of the Forest Hills Hotel and the Hotel Meyer. The wind was driving the flames against the latter and District Chief Mulligan knew that he must make his fight there. He placed men with a line of hose at that point and; although the heat was intense, they succeeded in holding the fire in check.
The building at 3770 Washington St. caught fire but the flames were quickly extinguished.
Fight Watched by 5,000
The second alarm brought additional apparatus from Roxbury, West Roxbury and Mattapan.
The fire, which was most spectacular, was witnessed by more than 5,000 people, who crowded Hyde Park Ave., Walkhill St and Washington St. A crowd of 2,000 men, women and children watched from the raised track-bed of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad until driven from their dangerous position by police.
Ladders were thrown up on the Hyde Park Ave. front of the hotel, on the Hotel Meyer and against the rear walls of the Forest Hills Hotel. From there the firemen poured a deluge of water directly into the heart of the fire. The heat from the fire was almost unbearable. Senior Hoseman Wesley Newdick of Engine 42, Egleston Square, was overcome and was compelled to relinquish his task. He was replaced by Hoseman Griffin, Chemical 5, Egleston Square.
Ladderman Stephen A. Moran of Ladder 16, Roslindale, while taking down a line of hose on a ladder on the Walkhill side of the hotel, fell and injured his right leg. Hoseman Fall of Engine 28 was also slightly overcome.
After two hours the firemen won.
Carelessness Probably the Cause
Ex-Senator Seiberlich, proprietor of the hotel, was loud in his praise of the work of the firemen and told District Chief Mulligan that the men of the department would hear from him later. He also assured all the employees of his hotel, who had lost their belongings in the fire, that he would reimburse them.
Mr. Seiberlich carried an insurance of $10,000 on the contents of the hotel. Mr. Gougeon, owner of the building is also well insured and it is understood that Mr. Miller’s loss is also covered by insurance.
The south section of the hotel, with entrance at the junction of Hyde Park Ave. and Walkhill St., which contains the bar on the first floor and 20 chambers on the floors above, was but little damaged as Mr. Seiberlich closed the iron fire doors separating the two sections of the hotel.
It is expected that the hotel will be rebuilt at once.
A lighted match, carelessly dropped through a crack in the piazza, is believed to have started the fire.
We lived on the second floor of a three decker at the corner of 51 Custer Street and Goldsmith Street. There was a corner grocery store right underneath us that was owned and operated by our landlords Harold and Laura Poppleton. As far as I can remember, the Poppletons didn’t have any children. Mr. Poppleton loved the Red Sox and golf. He had all of these small homemade boxes with holes in the middle of them and ramps leading up to them all over the back yard. This was his miniature golf course. He allowed Larry and me to play along with him when we were old enough to do so. Archie Scott lived on the third floor. The surrounding three deckers were home to the families King, Panos, Duffy, Bowes, Di’Ampolo, Sullivan, Cotter, Sevigny, Burdell, and McPartland to name a few.
Mrs. Poppleton worked at the store most of the time. She would sit behind the glass display case that held my favorite candy treats. Back then, candy really was a penny! She had this handheld device with a grip on the end of it to reach items that were too high on the shelves. In this particular corner store you could get everything from food products to kerosene for the kitchen stove. I can remember many a night my father going to “Poppy’s” for kerosene and coming back with those wax covered liquid treats that you would snap the neck at the top to get to the sweet liquid inside. We had a round washing machine with a clothes wringer. The clothes used to wring into the white porcelain sink. We had a “stack” which was similar to a hot water heater. The “stack” would be lit once a week for hot water for our Saturday night bath. You would feel the side of the stack to see if you had enough water heated. The kerosene can would be tipped upside down and put onto the holder located on the back of the stove.
In the late 1940’s, we used to entertain ourselves by listening to radio programs like The Green Hornet and The Great Gildersleeve, and being told by the radio announcer to “watch for The Cushman Bakery delivery truck that would be soon coming down our street”. Back then, very few people had television sets. I can remember when they did become available that they were small and had a round picture tube. I think the test pattern with the awful buzzing noise was the clearest thing you could really see. The Poppletons eventually bought a television set and used to let us come downstairs to watch cartoons and an occasional Red Sox game.
Almost everything that you needed to buy was delivered to the neighborhood. If you needed ice from Gordon Durning the iceman, you would put the cardboard sign in the window. It had different weight amounts on all four sides of the card. When he would collect, he would reach in his pocket and pull out all of this money to make change. If you needed milk, the milkman would deliver on a regular schedule. If you needed clothes or household goods, Sid from the Green Supply would take the order and deliver them to you. The way people paid for things back then was to leave the envelopes on the door with a few dollars inside of them for each vendor.
The fruit and vegetable man would come down the street with his horse and wagon. He would yell “‘Maters, three pounds a quarter.” He had a scale attached to the back for weighing your purchases. The same was true of the ragman. He had a similar wagon with a scale, and would sing “rags, any rags today?” We were always reminded when we went out into the street to watch out for the horse droppings. The lamplighter would climb his small ladder and light the gas lights early each evening and come back in the morning to put out the light. We had mail delivered twice a day. Three men and a truck that had an opening on the side of it picked up the rubbish. There would be one guy inside the opening and the others throwing the barrels to him. He would empty them and throw them back. There was a separate truck for garbage. One man used to go around to the backs of the houses and collect the swill from the round receptacles that were in the ground and bring them out to the street where they would be picked up by this awful-smelling truck similar to today’s rubbish truck.
Doctors made house calls, and some of our locals were Dr. Sumner Karp and Dr. Melvin Gould. The dentist of choice was Dr. Sarris.
We had Jolly Cholly the ice cream man visit us nightly on Custer Street in the summertime. We could hear his bell ringing as he drove down the street. He would let a few of us go with him on his route around the Arborway and up to the rich section of Moss Hill. We took turns ringing the bell and riding on the running boards. We must have looked like a band of gypsies, but what did we care; we were young and having fun.
In the very early 1950’s we got our first television set and started watching television programs like Life of Riley, I Remember Mama, and Tom Corbett Space Cadet. The heroes of the day were Pinky Lee, Big Brother Bob Emery, Buffalo Bob, and especially Howdy Doody! The older folks watched Queen for a Day, I Love Lucy, Our Miss Brooks, Arthur Godfrey, and during serious times the McCarthy hearings. Senator McCarthy would start each one of his inquiries with the question “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the communist party?”
In the wintertime we used to go coasting at the sugar bowl which was located on the left-hand side of the Jamaica Way near Mayor Curley’s house. It was called the sugar bowl because it was shaped like a bowl. If you went down one side you’d go half way up the other side during coasting. Another great spot to coast was the Arnold Arboretum right near the Administration building. This was the closest for us to go to. All we had to do was to go to the end of Custer Street and cross over the two lanes of traffic at the Arborway and we were there. The Arnold Arboretum is 265 acres of beautiful trees and historic plantings. In the spring they host Lilac Sunday. The smells were delicious. Bussey hill was the highest point, and if you rode your bike down the winding spiral you would build up momentum with each turn. If you made the entire ride in one piece, you were considered a hero for at least ten minutes or so.
When my brother Larry and I were old enough to venture away from the neighborhood we would go up to Centre Street. That’s where all the great stores were. On our way we would pass Margie’s variety store which was on the corner of South Street and Carolina Ave. There was Doctor Bering’s office on South Street, The Jamaica Plain Library, Curtis Hall, The Monument, the drugstore on the corner of Eliot Street, The First National, Brigham’s, “Ask” Mr. Fowler Real Estate, Mullen’s bakery, Costello’s bar, Mammigon’s restaurant, Kresge’s, and Woolworth’s to name a few.
On the walk back we would go to my favorite toy store The Erco Shop. It was located near the First National and Brighams. Mr. Erco spoke with an accent. If you needed the latest model plane or ship to build, this was the place to come. We had to buy the airplane glue separately. They called it Dope.
Larry and I delivered grocery orders at the First National store on Centre Street using our Radio Flyer wagons. He delivered newspapers for the Jamaica Plain Citizen and walked Mrs. Barnes’ dog, a boxer, for extra spending money. As we got a little bit older Larry went to work part-time for Forester’s Market on Boylston Street near Lamartine Street. He delivered orders in an old delivery van with a driver named John. The owner of the market was Bill Judge.
My first part-time job was at Hailer’s Rexall drugstore on the corner of Seavern’s Ave. and Centre Street. Les Weiler was the owner/pharmacist. Fran Shultz ran the lunch counter. The surrounding merchants were: Wayne’s Dept. Store, Hanlon’s Shoes, Jones’s Card Shop, Metropolitan Furniture (formally the Mohegan Market), Kennedy’s Butter & Egg store, Mike’s donuts, The Shawmut bank, Woolworth’s, Kresge’s, Capital Super Market, Ralph’s fruit stand, Jamaica Flooring and Harvey’s Hardware, just to name a few.
There was the fire station across the street and police station #13 on Seaverns Ave. One of the police officers that worked out of that station loved to sing. His name was Bill Dolan, and he and another police officer were on Community Auditions, the local talent program on Sunday morning television. They won the contest and went on to the Ted Mack Amateur Hour. I don’t believe they won that contest, but they were great!
There was a woman named Mrs. Nixon who lived in the brick apartment block directly in back of Hailer’s Drug Store. Her son was a movie producer or director and was married to the movie star Marie McDonald from the My Friend Irma television show.
My family moved out of 51 Custer Street when I was about twelve years old. The family had grown to four children. Tommy and Joe came along in 1950 and 1951. It was starting to get a little crowded in two bedrooms, and the Poppletons were getting ready to sell the house and store and move to California. Up until that point my brother Larry and I went to school at Saint Thomas Aquinas on Saint Joseph Street. Farrell’s Drug store was on the corner of Saint Joseph and South Street. Further down the street (where the projects are now) used to be the MTA car barns. They were across the street from Bob’s Spa, with Saint Rose Street to the left.
When I was a young kid, you rode in the old fashioned streetcars like you see at the Trolley museum in Maine. I forget how much the fare was, but you could go from the streetcar to a bus, to a train, to a trackless trolley all for one fair by getting a “transfer” slip of paper. Our parents used to tell us to “Don’t forget your transfer.”
Forest Hills housed the train station overhead and the trolleys and buses down below. From the Forest Hills station you could go left to Hyde Park or right to Roslindale. If you went up Washington Street towards Green Street, you would pass Ernie’s Diner, the Forest Hills Outlet Store, the Boston Gas Company, Timmons Liquor Store, and Jo-Ann’s coffee shop which was right beside Ruggierio’s Market. If you went down Green Street heading towards Centre Street you would pass Kilgariff’s restaurant. Further down the street was the Green Elm coffee shop owned by Mike Kalijian. If you took a left on Elm Street you would come to Jamaica Plain High School. If you continued on Green Street you would see the K of C Hall that was once called the Jamaica Club years before. When my brother and I were young, my father would take us to the minstrel shows that they would have there. The K of C also used to have Christmas parties with Santa handing out presents and small boxes of hard candy.
When we moved, we went to 14 Haverford Street that ran between Cornwall Street and Montebello Road off of Washington Street. My parents bought a three decker and our back yard abutted the convent that belonged to Our Lady of Lourdes parish and housed the Saint Joseph nuns. We were one block in back of the overhead train tracks and when we first moved in; I thought I would never sleep again. The trains went by about every 10 minutes or so during rush hour and it was quite noisy.
After a few days we adjusted to the sounds and started fitting into our new surroundings. Mrs. Gallagher lived on the second floor of the house. She was very Irish and she and her husband had a beautiful, well kept apartment. They had a gorgeous black cast iron stove in the kitchen. This heated that section of their apartment. Mrs. O’Connor lived on the third floor. I attended Our Lady of Lourdes Parochial school for the sixth through eighth grades. The Principal was Sister Joanita, and she was tough as nails. The story was that she came from a school for deaf students, and was a real disciplinarian. I got suspended for a day because I had a duck tail haircut. I had to bring my mother to the school. My mother was a scrapper, so it was an interesting war of words between the two of them. My brother Larry continued at Saint Thomas Aquinas parish. The nuns were tough, but overall the education we got was good. I graduated from Our Lady of Lourdes in 1958.
The Haffenreffer brewery was down off of Amory Street and each day around noontime you could smell the hops being brewed. The apartment we had was heated by coal, so it was interesting to see the truck deliver the coal down the chute and into the coal room located in the cellar. The furnace would be stoked daily, and the ashes would be used on the snow to give us traction.
We found our way around the neighborhood rather quickly. Up at the corner of Washington Street and Montebello Road was Buddy’s Spa on one side and Madden’s drugstore on the other. If you wanted a chocolate or vanilla coke, Madden’s drugstore was the place to go. If you wanted a 25-cent Italian sub pre-wrapped on the counter, and a bottle of cream soda, Buddy’s was the place to come to. Buddy let all of the parents in the neighborhood run a tab. He would give you a small spiral notebook and kept track of your purchases until week’s end when it was time to settle up. We had the Boylston CafÈ on Washington Street. They had the best barroom pizzas, and if you wanted to play a number with the bookies, you just had to go to the end of the bar and see the man. The Boylston bowling alley and pool hall were right next door to the Boylston CafÈ. Tommy Smith was the manager of the bowling alley. Dottie’s Donut was on the next corner. Across the street from there was DW Dunn Mayflower storage. The JA Club (actually a barroom) was beside that. We had Jerry the barber who charged 50 cents for a haircut and gave you back 25 cents so you could go and get a treat. There was the Chinese laundry beside Madden’s drug store. Across the street from that was Waterman’s block. There was a grocery store on the street level. It was on the corner of Forest Hills Street.
At the time the most memorable movie on television was the Fighting Sullivans. Television was really progressing at that time, and some of the shows were Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, Red Skelton, Jackie Gleason, Uncle Milton Berle, and Ed Sullivan just to name a few.
If you came down Montebello Road off of Washington Street the brick apartment building on the left belonged to the Walsh family. All of the sons were tradespeople so they built their parents a ranch house in the back yard of the apartment building. It looked strange when they were building it, and I’m sure if you rode by there today, it would look just as out of place.
When my brother Larry and I were old enough to go for our driver’s license we went up to Station #13 on Seaverns Ave. for the “dreaded” road test. Larry got his license right away; I failed the first time. I hit a curb while turning around on Gordon Street. The second time around I got mine too. Larry’s first car was a primed but unpainted 1949 Ford. My first car was a 1949 Plymouth. We went through cars every other year it seemed. It was in this neighborhood that we were introduced to the “I shoveled this spot out when it snowed, and put my chair or barrel in its place when I had to leave” unwritten law of Haverford Street. Smaller versions of World War III were argued over who took a parking spot after a snowstorm. God forbid a stranger came into the neighborhood; everyone would gang up on whoever the offender was.
As my brother Larry and I got older we both started branching out further and further away from the house and the friends that we had gotten to know from the neighborhood. By that time we were both out of school for good. Larry had graduated in 1959 from Jamaica Plain High School. If you happen to see that particular yearbook, he’s on page two. He was involved with some of the writing of the yearbook and the opening pages.
I went to Jamaica Plain High School in 1959 and had to repeat the year because I wasn’t able to go to the required 13 weeks of Agriculture School in the summer of that year. I went to the Mary Curley School the following year. I found public school quite different than Parochial school. The structure wasn’t the same and I became a horrible student. It was my own doing, so in order to take on a full time job at Radio Shack on Commonwealth Avenue in Brighton, I quit day school and spent 2 years going nights at Roslindale Evening High. A few years later I became a milkman for H.P. Hood & Sons on Anson Street that was off of South Street. We used to garage our stand-up Divco milk trucks across from Anson Street in a brick garage. Driving the Divco was a challenge. The clutch and the brake were on the same pedal, so it you stepped down too hard you would be thrust forward towards the windshield. Being a milkman, and working for Hoods Milk was not only a great job at the time, it was a lot of fun.
My brother Larry moved out of Jamaica Plain in 1961 and got married. I moved out of Jamaica Plain in 1965 and got married. Unfortunately we both ended up being divorce statistics years later.
When we went back to visit our parents it wasn’t the same anymore. You could notice the differences taking place and the decline of the neighborhood. When my parents sold the 3 decker in the 1970’s, you couldn’t give them away for $13,000. The insurance companies were redlining the neighborhoods and not selling fire insurance. My parents bought a house in Weymouth and lived there until they passed away. My mother died in 1978 and my father died in 1985. My beloved brother Larry died April 25, 2002, at the age of sixty. He had a 35-year career with a great company named Roche Brothers Supermarkets. He was in management. He was my hero, and I miss him terribly. As for me, I just wanted to write our story.
by Paysha Stockton
Ripe guineos verde green bananas Dominican olive oil, dulce de leche
candy, Embajador chocolate, and Yaucono coffee, shrink-wrapped for
Photograph courtesy of David Salafia
Shoppers who push through the swinging metal doors of Hi-Lo Foods are
on a mission: to fill their carts with foods like these that they
often can’t find anywhere else.
“They have everything I want,” said Damaris Pimentel, 31, who treks
monthly from Charlestown to the Centre Street market some call the
center of Boston’s Caribbean community. “Sometimes I go to other
places and it takes me forever.”
Forty years ago, the Hi-Lo was your average white-bread chain Sklars
Market, and it served mostly Eastern European and Irish neighbors.
Store manager Bill Jordan, 62, of Jamaica Plain, who’s worked at the
store since it was built, has seen it change ownership and names
several times; John Knapp Jr., who’s owned it for 33 years, named it
Hi-Lo about 25 years ago.
But as Spanish-speaking newcomers arrived and the ethnic makeup of the
neighborhood changed, the store’s flavor changed along with it, said
Today, the Hi-Lo’s crowded aisles are stacked with hard-to-find
cookies, produce, sodas, meats, and spices from all over the Caribbean
and Latin and South America. Reflecting its Latin flavor on the
exterior, a crew of young painters was busy last week painting a
massive, Caribbean-inspired mural in colors that echo the fruits and
But more than a place to stock up on food, the Hi-Lo is a social
center for the local Latino community, where customers run into
friends and family and can immerse in their language and culture.
“You don’t see your friends for 10 years you come here, you see them,”
said Sergio Vega, a store security guard.
Pimentel, who came here from the Dominican Republic, said she loves
finding staples such as yucca up front. “I like shopping here,” said
Pimentel, plump aloe leaves poking out of her overloaded cart. “It
makes me more comfortable. Mostly everybody speaks Spanish.”
Jordan said he doesn’t advertise: He has word-of-mouth power.
“High value, low prices,” Jordan said. “They can come in and feel
comfortable. They can speak their own language and they can buy all
the products from their particular country. It’s a winning
Hi-Lo is not about chi-chi foods prettily packaged for adventurous
Anglo cooks, foodies who frequent exotic co-ops and drool over “The
Naked Chef.” Nothing is chic or color-coordinated here. The foods are
staples for people far from home, people who bargain shop and call
friends about sales. But the shoppers are also a diverse bunch: They
could roll up in a shiny SUV or on a city bus.
Some neighbors have suggested Hi-Lo go for the specialty niche, said
Valerie Grabiel, former director of the Hyde/Jackson Square Main
Street group, who is working with the grocery to spruce up its
storefront and helped it get a city grant.
“I’ve had people come to me and say `What can we do with the Hi-Lo?
They could be the Bread and Circus of ethnic food!’ ” Grabiel said,
But those people don’t get it, said Aileen Duggan, Main Street’s new
director. “Hi-Lo sells what anybody else would call specialty foods,
but they’re selling them as staples. It is a regular supermarket to
all the people who shop there.”
Hi-Lo is an insider’s take on Caribbean cuisine and culture. Everyone
is welcome its 40 employees are happy to advise on how to boil yucca,
blend frozen mango pulp, or cook with Sofritos but the store isn’t
geared for the masses. Its shelves cater to the tastes of Cubans,
Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Haitians, Jamaicans, Ecuadorians,
Colombians, Mexicans, and other Spanish speakers.
The evolution from a mainstream to Latin market was gradual, Jordan
said. Immigrant customers wanted foods he didn’t stock. Faced with
JP’s shifting demographics in the 1970s, he had a choice: change and
prosper, or stand still and possibly die.
So Jordan, whose wife is Puerto Rican, took a Spanish immersion class
and started chasing down requests. Soon, Goya beans and Bustelo coffee
filled the shelves, goat meat and pigs ears appeared in the coolers,
and plantains were prominent on the produce table.
“You gotta go with it,” Jordan said. “If you want to do something and
be successful, you have to go at it 100 percent.”
Duggan said Jordan’s success comes from understanding his customers’
needs and striving to meet them. “That’s real neighborhood customer
Jordan, who can tick off products and explain which are favorites in
which countries, said transforming the Hi-Lo into a Latin food mecca
has paid off, and customers come from as far as Maine and Cape Cod to
“When you live in a country and you go the supermarket, you take it
for granted. You know what to expect,” Jordan said. But that basic
comfort often eludes immigrants. Ricardo Austrich, president of the city’s Latin American Grocers
Association, said the store also gives customers glimpses into each
“You get a sense of an interchange of ideas and a different way of
eating,” he said. “You pass the word when you can find things you
can’t find in other places.”
The outside of the store reflects its spirit. The back is covered with
a huge mural by the Puerto Rican artist Rafael Rivera Garcia. Painted
in 1984 and renovated last summer by the city’s youth Mural Crew, it
depicts three mythical figures of the Taino people, the Indians who
were essentially wiped out by the mid-1500s after the arrival of
The Garcia mural, which grew out of Boston’s relationship with Dorado,
Puerto Rico, affirmed JP and Hi-Lo as the heart of Boston’s Latino
community, Grabiel said. “This was the place they chose.”
The new Mural Crew masterpiece’s wild-colored banana leaves and
tropical birds now cover the store’s faded front. Jordan hopes the new
look makes his customers feel even more at home.
“It will give it more identity,” he said. “The feeling that this is
their market, it means a lot. It’s not like any other supermarket.
It’s not like you’re going to see Del Monte peas” here.
Copyright © 2004 Globe Newspaper Company. Reprinted with permission.
Industrial concerns are sometimes mysterious to their surrounding neighborhood. They usually do not sell any goods in the local area and display no products behind glass windows. But Holtzer-Cabot was a very well known company in its field, especially during its early years. It was an innovative company that produced both electrical communications devices and electric motors.
The Signal Department made communication apparatus such as fire alarm systems, watchman clocks, and telephones. The Motor Department produced speed reducers and small motors, usually less than one horsepower, for special uses. Electric coffee mills, envelope openers, and oil burners often used Holtzer-Cabot electric motors. This expertise in small motors, transformers and communication equipment evolved from the founding of the company.
Holtzer-Cabot Electric Company was started in 1875 in Brookline as the Holtzer Co. Charles W. Holtzer began the company to make simple electrical devices like doorbells, burglar alarms and electrical lighters for illuminating gas. By 1880, he was also operating the first telephone exchange outside Boston with one toll line to Boston and fourteen local subscribers. Since the telephone had been invented only in 1876, we can appreciate how progressive this commercial enterprise must have been.
Between 1880 and 1888, the firm was known as Seth W. Fuller & Holtzer, and then Fuller, Holtzer & Company when George E. Cabot joined the business. In 1889, Mr. Fuller left the company and the enterprise became Holtzer & Cabot and formally incorporated as Holtzer-Cabot Electric Company.
In 1891, the company built an electric carriage able to carry two people for Fiske Warren of Boston. This was one of the early automobiles in America, and a very early electric car. At this time, inventors were using steam, electricity or internal combustion to power the horseless carriages. This car was initially built for four passengers, but additional power was needed and more batteries were added in the back seat.
Although William Morrison in Des Moines, Philip W. Pratt of Boston, and John A. Barrett in Philadelphia had built earlier electric autos, this “Holtzer-Cabot” has been called the first successful electric vehicle built in the USA. It was one of the first to feature a steering wheel as it is used now; and it was manufactured as a commercial venture for a client, not as a demonstration vehicle for an inventor.
Mr. Warren scared everyone when he drove the car on the roads around his country house in Waltham, but it must have been successful because he ordered anther one built by Holtzer-Cabot in 1893. This one seated eight people, weighed 5100 pounds and could attain the speed of sixteen miles per hour. It seems to be the last electric car the company made.
The Company greatly expanded its telephone work from 1890 to 1915 and achieved success with the useful invention of noiseless generators for central telephone exchanges and other innovations. By World War I, their telephone apparatus was in telephone systems around the world and aboard ships and submarines of the US Navy. In 1912, a special Holtzer-Cabot generator allowed the first radio communication between an airplane and land. Mr. Holtzer, the founder and Chairman of the Board guided the creativity and expertise for these advances.
Charles William Holtzer had been born in Karlsruhe, Germany in 1848. He came to New York at eighteen years old, and six months later was working at E.S.Ritchie & Sons, Brookline. He started the electrical firm of Holtzer & Newell in 1874, then proceeded on his own in 1875 in a small building in Harvard Square, Brookline. The company expanded quickly, moving to Boylston Street in 1880 and then buying property on Station Street opposite the railroad station in 1885.
This building (still standing) was remodeled, added to, expanded, and rebuilt until 1915, when Holtzer-Cabot’s new building was ready at 125 Amory Street, Jamaica Plain. He had chosen the area for its excellent transportation lines along Columbus Avenue, Washington Street, and the New Haven Railroad (now the Southwest Corridor). The area had abundant skilled help, and was in the heart of the Jamaica Plain German community.
The plant was six stories high, had 150,000 square feet of floor space and had room for expansion of four acres. Here Mr. Holtzer indulged in the benevolent management of his employees, with a Mutual Benefit Association, Savings Club, Shop and Management Committees and numerous extra-curricular activities. Sports teams of all sorts were well known in the city, and the daily band concerts at the Holtzer-Cabot bandstand every noon are still fondly remembered.
Mr. Holtzer died in 1927, and the company expanded during World War II. After ninety-seven years, the company closed. Its remaining lines were sold to Eastern Air Products in Dover, New Hampshire, which still carries the Holtzer-Cabot trademarks. The Boston Housing Authority bought the land and building for its renovation and reuse as housing. The building remains in our neighborhood, but nothing of the Holtzer-Cabot Electric Company has survived here - excepting perhaps its spirit.
Sources: Holtzer-Cabot Electric Co., Fifty Years 1875-1925, Boston, 1925; Automobile Quarterly, The American Car since 1775, New York, 1971; The Brookline Chronicle, April 7, 1925; Boston City Directory, 1905-1976. Photograph of battery powered car, early 1900’s with Mrs. Charles C. Gates and friend, similar to electric vehicles produced by Holtzer-Cabot Electric Company. Photograph by Harry M. Rhoads courtesy of Western History/Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library.
Copyright © 1995-2003 Michael Reiskind
No wonder Jamaica Plain residents speak and act as though they can have some control of what happens in the neighborhood. Starting 49 years ago, local people along the Southwest Corridor banded together to stop a highway from splitting the neighborhood. Then they persuaded government to move the elevated Orange Line from over Washington Street and put it in the corridor with other positive additions.
In 1986, JP resident Edwina Cloherty, who grew up on Washington Street in JP, told me about her and the community’s experience.
Summer 1964: “It was very hot that night. I was a first year teacher, and I had a friend who worked for the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA)…” At the crowded meeting at what was the Neighborhood House on Amory Street, the BRA said that I-95 was coming through and “it would clean up a decaying area of Jamaica Plain.”
Winter 1967: Several organizations held a meeting and presented a report saying the elevated highway would “really muck up the neighborhood.” But officials said there was “nothing anyone could do.”
Early 1968: Cloherty and others formed the Jamaica Plain Expressway Committee. A City Council hearing at the Curley School drew 400 people, most opposed. Officials said something might be done.
Summer 1968: Community people advocated depressing the highway. Mayor Kevin White commissioned a BRA evaluation that said an elevated highway “would have a significant negative impact on the neighborhood visually and economically.”
Gov. Francis Sargent’s office reported receiving 2,000 postcards favoring depressing the highway.
February 1969: At a national conference for people impacted by mass highway plans where air pollution issues were presented, Cloherty said that her community could not stop the highway from coming through. “Well, I was so embarrassed,” she said later. “The others responded that they had stopped highway projects in their neighborhoods, and we certainly could, too.”
When she got back to JP, the Jamaica Plain Transportation Committee took a vote, and “No highway” won.
1967: Sargent put a moratorium on highway construction in the state. JP and Roxbury activists requested a study showing a different transit corridor instead of a highway.
In 1972: Sargent declared that 128 could replace I-95. But houses and businesses along the Southwest Corridor had already been torn down.
1974: A proposal for depressed rail and a four-lane street was made for the corridor. Activists started wearing buttons, “Stop i-95” with a lower case I.
July, 1976: Cloherty cancelled her vacation to attend a packed meeting at the State Labs in Forest Hills. She and others then met with officials from the Kevin White administration to describe how much people did not want any highway in the corridor. The highway was never mentioned again, she said.
The community and government worked together for the next decade to plan for and build the new Orange Line, parks, businesses and housing.
“As a community we have more power than we usually think,” Cloherty reflected later. “What we have to remember is that responsibility comes with the power. We are the people we have to hold accountable.”
Copyright © 2013 by Sandra Storey. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with the permission of the author and the Jamaica Plain Gazette.Origianlly appeared at: http://jamaicaplaingazette.com/2013/08/30/jp-observer-how-jp-activists-created-the-southwest-corridor/
James Dwyer, 21 years old, living with his parents at 6 Carlow St., Roxbury, was arrested yesterday afternoon by the police of the Jamaica Plain station after an exciting and highly amusing chase, in which a patrol wagon with several officers, a sergeant and near a dozen more officers, a doctor in his buggy and hundreds of citizens figured.
Jamaica Plain has not seen such excitement in years and but for the serious side of the affair it would have eclipsed the Fourth of July celebrations held in this vicinity.
It all happened about noon. Patrolman Riley was standing with a young man, whom he had just placed under arrest as a suspect, at a patrol box on Washington St., near Green. He had rung for the wagon and was standing there talking to his man, when two young men walked down the street and passed him. As they did so he noticed that neither made any attempt to stop, and it was plainly evident that both purposely avoided looking at him or the man he was holding. This aroused a suspicion in his mind. Every officer in the Jamaica Plain district has been on the lookout recently for unknown men who might be suspected of wrong-doing. The district has been invaded of late with a gang, and as a result there is a sort of terror among the residents. Breaks have been so numerous that the police officials have become tired of entering on their books the complaints.
It appears that one house was broken into by breaking a pane of glass and forcing the catch. When discovered it was found that the window and woodwork were covered with blood, and it is presumed that the man who had committed the break had cut himself in the attempt.
This was a slight clue, but the police took it up and tried to carry it to its end. They have been on the close watch for any man who had a cut hand or wrist.
Patrolman Riley proved yesterday that he had remembered the instructions of his superiors. As the two men passed him he noticed that one made a poor attempt to conceal from view his wrist by pulling it up into his coat sleeve. This proved the man’s downfall and but for this slight movement on his part, he might now be enjoying freedom instead of occupying a cell at Station 9.
The men had not gone far when the patrol wagon drew up to the box. One of the officers jumped off but before he had time to take Riley’s prisoner, Riley ordered the driver of the patrol to hustle down the street and get the two men who had passed. "They are the men I want," yelled Riley. "Never mind this man, but be sure you get them."
A Sensational Chase
The driver put the whip to the horse and drove at a mad pace down the street. But the two men were not unaware of the proceeding and quick as a flash they separated. This was a tough problem for the men in the patrol wagon, and while some jumped out to chase one of the men the driver continued after the other.
Just at this point the fun began, and it proved as exciting a cross-town run as the Marathon race, but was its superior in point of spectacular features. Seeing the chase, a well-known Jamaica Plain physician, whose house has been broken into, tried to outdo the patrol wagon and whipped up his horse and started after one of the men.
Station 13 is but a short distance from the scene of the affair, and it so happened that the patrolmen were just after receiving their pay and a number of them were coming out of the house. The clanging of the gong on the patrol wagon attracted their attention, and upon looking they saw the cause of the excitement.
Not to be outdone several of them joined the chase, headed by Sargt. McCausland. They continued the run through yards and fields and with each hundred yards the chase was continued the crowd of followers increased. The two fleeing men passed near the works of the Sturtevant Blower Company just as the employees were leaving for dinner, and without knowing why they did it several of them also joined in the hunt.
But there is a limit to all things and the limit was reached at Stony Brook. The fleeing men reached the edge of the brook, and at this point one of them stopped and was placed under arrest. The other, however, did not scare at the sight of water and boldly jumped in.
The swimmer was pretty well exhausted and at the other side of the brook was completely used up and an officer who had made a circuit of the brook ran up and grabbed him. He was taken to Station 13 in the patrol wagon with the other prisoner. The latter was later released as there was no charge on which to hold him. But Dwyer was locked up on the charge of breaking and entering and later turned over to patrolmen Lynch and Rooney of Division 9, Roxbury.
The break for which Dwyer was arrested was committed about 1:30 yesterday morning in the liquor store of Henry Nolte, 2056 Washington St., Roxbury. At least three men were concerned in the affair and two are now under arrest. Dwyer and Joseph H. McCourt, who was taken in the store at the time of the break by patrolman Lynch.
Yesterday morning Lynch turned into Washington St. from Nawn St. and as he looked up Washington St. saw a man disappear around the corner of Eustis St., but a short distance away. He started after him and as he passed the store of Mr. Nolte, saw a man on the inside. He stopped and tried the front door, which was securely locked. He then went around to the side door and this was also found to be fastened. Then patrolman Lynch passed around to the rear of the building and saw that a window was open. He climbed in and made for the form he had seen behind the counter.
There was a grapple, in which the officer won out. He floored his man and was just placing the twisters on his wrist, when he heard a crash and quick as a flash he saw a man dive headlong through the large plate glass window in the front of the store.
Lynch fired two shots, but neither took effect and the man ran through Sterling St. toward Shawmut Ave. and was lost to view. The sound of the shots attracted the attention of patrolman Rooney and he came to the assistance of his brother officer and then went looking for the man who had escaped. The jump through the window was a daring one, the man carrying away with him nearly the entire pane of glass.
The man who was caught by Lynch was sent to Station 9, where he gave the name of Joseph H. McCourt. Examination proved that the men had tapped the till and taken $4.99, leaving one cent.
McCourt appeared in the Roxbury District Court yesterday morning and pleaded not guilty to a charge of breaking and entering. He was placed under $1000 bonds for trial Saturday. Dwyer will be arraigned this morning. He denies that he was implicated in the affair. His hands and wrists are cut and his shirt is spattered with blood.
The police claim that both men have prison records. McCourt, it is said, was released from prison March 30, and Dwyer is said to be out of Concord Reformatory but little more than a month.
A Lively Time in Roslindale
There was an exciting chase after two housebreakers in Roslindale yesterday afternoon. One had entered the house of William L. Lovejoy, 40 Ashland St., but was frightened away before he had secured any property.
Fred G. Child, who resides in the neighborhood, saw two men prowling about the premises. Presently the smaller of the two climbed a trellis, and opened a window on the first floor of the house and entered the building.
Then Child started across the street toward the larger man, who was keeping watch. Upon seeing Child he whistled to his companion, who immediately made his exit from the house by opening the front door, and both men ran toward Washington St.
Child hurried to the Station, at the corner of Washington and Ashland Sts., and notified officer Chadwick, and both started in pursuit of the fleeing men. One of the latter continued running down Washington St. toward Forest Hills, while the other went across the meadowland toward Mt. Hope.
Officer Chadwick called upon two bicyclists, Charles Lannon and Charles Tibbets, to pursue the man who was running down Washington St. while he started on a cross-country run after the other. Chadwick tried hard to overtake his man, but was unsuccessful, losing sight of him after he reached Florence St.
The bicyclists obeyed the officer’s orders and started after the man fleeing down Washington St. When the latter saw that Lannon was overtaking him he left the street and ran across the fields on the east side of Washington St. Lannon kept on to Forest Hills and notified officer Schlehuber, and both started back toward Roslindale.
When Lannon rode away the housebreaker returned to the street and got onto a wagon that was passing and lay down in it. His action was observed by Tibbets, who was wheeling leisurely along, and when he saw his friend Lannon and Schlehuber approaching he increased his speed, shot ahead of the wagon and informed the officer that his man was in it. The burglar discovered the officer some distance ahead of the wagon, and jumping to the street tried to make his escape through a yard, but he was overhauled by the officer before he had gone any distance.
At the Station House he said his name was Vincent and that he lived at 23 Keyes St., Jamaica Plain.
Later he was identified by Mr.Child and admitted his guilt.
How the game of baseball brought unexpected recognition and honors to a modest Jamaica Plain man, George T. “Red” Johnson, and his namesake team, the Johnson Bombers.
Special thanks to Joe Davis, former Johnson Bombers (baseball) and Johnson Classics (basketball) player who suggested this story and assisted with the research.
By Peter O’Brien
Baseball in Jamaica Plain
Jamaica Plain’s baseball history goes way back to 1871, when Harry Wright and his brother, George, founded the Boston Red Stockings. The Red Stockings later became the Boston Braves. The Wrights were English cricket players who came to America and switched to baseball. Harry lived for a time on Pond Street, Jamaica Plain, and was an early inductee to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
In 1874 the first standardized baseballs were manufactured at 39 Green Street, Jamaica Plain, by Louis Mahn. Mahn later sold the patent for the ball to Albert G. Spalding, a co-founder of the National League in 1876 and founder of the sporting goods firm that still bears his name.
Leo Callahan was born in Jamaica Plain in 1890. He played from 1913 to 1919 for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies.
Babe Twombley was born in Jamaica Plain in 1896 and he played with the Chicago Cubs in 1920.
Johnnie Tobin was born in Jamaica Plain in 1906 and he played in 1932 for the New York Giants with just one major league at bat.
In 1914 the owner of the Boston Red Sox, Joseph Lannin, owned the apartment complex known as Fordham Court on South Street, Jamaica Plain. There were rumored, but unconfirmed, reports of occupancy in the apartments by Tris Speaker and Babe Ruth.
In 1929, the year the Boston Park League was started, St. Thomas of Jamaica Plain was the first League champion; a feat St. Thomas repeated again in 1931 and 1932.
Ervin Pete Fox, former Red Sox player, lived on Carolina Avenue, Jamaica Plain, for a time in the 1950s. He often attended our CYO ball games at Murphy Playground on Carolina Avenue, Jamaica Plain, wearing the old-style Red Sox jacket.
Eddie Waitkus of Cambridge, also known as “the natural,” played for the Phillies, Cubs and Orioles in the 1940s and 1950s. Waitkus was the victim of a shooting which is dramatized in Robert Redford’s movie, The Natural. Waitkus survived the shooting and lived until 1972 in Jamaica Plain.
And then comes Red Johnson and his Johnson Bombers.
George T. “Red” Johnson
Red Johnson is a legend in the Boston Park League where his love of baseball, his players and the team he founded, the Johnson Bombers, consumed all of his free time and a good chunk of his hard-earned salary. We’re not sure when Red was bitten with the baseball bug, but he was driven to personally sponsor, fund and manage his teams over most of the 30 years he was active in the Boston Park League. He won a seventh-grade baseball award at the Agassiz School – perhaps that’s where it started?
While never winning a Park League baseball championship, Red did bring home the gold in basketball, coaching the Johnson Classics to a championship season in the City Basketball League in 1962. In the end, and perhaps better than a winning baseball career, the “Red Johnson Alumni Award,” presented each year since 1982 by the Boston Park League to a selected former player, would please Red more than a shelf full of trophies. And his election to the Park League Hall of Fame that same year would be the ultimate recognition of his many years of helping to keep the league alive.
The Boston Park League
The Boston Park League was founded in 1929 by Bob Cusick, program director for the Boston Parks and Recreation Department, and it is now the nation’s oldest amateur baseball league. It was Cusick’s idea for the City of Boston to support and manage a quality amateur baseball league, and have most of the City represented. Teams were sponsored by different individuals, businesses, and churches. He bought discarded Red Sox and Braves uniforms and hired unemployed professional umpires at three dollars a game, and was able to field ten teams to begin the Boston Senior Park League.
The popular league was highly publicized and games were well attended. In the 1930s and 1940s, it was not unusual to see 3,000 to 5,000 fans show up for a regular season game. At play-off time, the attendance would increase from 8,000 to 12,000 a game, and it is reported that one game at Fallon Field in 1933 drew 18,000 to see the Roslindale Town Team beat the Rosebuds.
The Boston Park League drew praise from such notables as Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Commissioner of Major League Baseball from 1920 to 1944, who said it was “the best operated municipal baseball organization in America.” He demonstrated his support by attending the 1932 Boston Park League banquet along with other prominent baseball personalities.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the League continued to draw 6,000 or more fans to post-season playoff games. These were the most productive years. Despite the leveling of attendance, the League continued to prosper as a steady stream of skilled players were coming and going. The players came from high schools, colleges and the professional ranks. The latter’s professional experience and skills influenced many a ballplayer to play in the best league around.
Over the years there have been several distinct Park League levels. While the criteria are lost to us, we know there were seven other levels besides the Senior Park League. They were: Industrial, City National, City American, Hub, Suburban, Dorchester and Business leagues.
In 1982 the City of Boston decided to transfer the League’s administrative duties to a small group of former players and coaches. The league named Bill Mahoney its first President, Harvey Soolman Secretary-Treasurer, and Walt Mortimer Umpire-in-Chief. Walt Mortimer is currently Secretary-Treasurer. With the need for more funding, the Budweiser Brewing Company of Medford sponsored the League for four years. The Yawkey Foundation came on board in 1986 and has continuously sponsored the Boston Park League to the present. Much more information about the Boston Park League can be found at their website, www.bostonparkleague.org.
Robert F. Cusick was born in 1907 in Fall River, Mass. He died, aged 82, in 1989. He attended Durfee High School where he played basketball, graduating in 1925. In 1929 he went to work for the Boston Parks Department under Parks Commissioner William Mullen. Soon after joining the City’s Parks Department, Cusick’s proposal for a Boston Park League was approved and he proceeded to set it up and preside over it from his office at the Pinebank Mansion on Jamaica Pond, until retiring in 1976 as Director of the Boston Parks and Recreation Department. Known as a “helluva guy” by Joe Cronin, Bob Cusick was the confidant of Ted Williams, Tom and Jean Yawkey, and other members of the Red Sox family for many years. He was known far and wide in professional baseball as “Mr. Baseball,” and was the owner of annual complimentary passes to all American League ballparks for many years.
Bob raised his family in West Roxbury, relocating to Cape Cod after he retired. Shortly after his retirement, Mayor Kevin White proclaimed September 12, 1976 as Bob Cusick Day, and named the baseball diamond on Boston Common, at Boylston and Charles Street, for him.
Countless thousands of Boston’s young and not-so-young men have found an organized outlet for their baseball “field-of-dreams” in the Boston Park League. They played for well over 100 different teams with the caliber of play at the top levels good enough to attract former and future professional players. Indeed, many former Park League players were signed by major-league scouts. Bob Cusick’s vision for amateur baseball in Boston was certainly fulfilled, and the present Park League administration continues that vision for Boston’s young men.
Until budget cuts in 1981, the City provided well-maintained fields, night-game lighting, paid umpires and a minimal level of equipment. Thereafter, the teams had to pay the umpires and an assessment for use of the fields. While now self-sustaining with the generous help of the Yawkey Foundation, it is interesting to note that the chairman of the Yawkey Foundation, John Harrington, and Bob Cusick’s daughter, Joan Morrissey of Norwood, are year-apart graduates of St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Jamaica Plain.
Red Johnson’s Beginnings
In researching this story, several of Red’s former players were interviewed. Few, if any, knew much about Red’s personal life, only baseball anecdotes related to his teams and players. The answer is simple; he never spoke about himself, his work, his family or his own playing days – it was always about the game of baseball and his players.
Red was born on February 8, 1914, in Dorchester. His parents were from Nova Scotia. He died in Boston of a heart attack at age 73 on December 11, 1987. Although he had moved to Newton in 1984, he was buried from St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Jamaica Plain on December 14, 1987. He is buried in plot 117 at The Gardens of Gethsemane Cemetery, 670 Baker Street in West Roxbury.
After 181 Sidney Street, Dorchester, Red is next reported, in 1930, at 3 Woolsey Square, Jamaica Plain. He married the former Dorothy F. Chaperon of Vermont and they lived from 1935 to 1940 at Vernon Street in Roxbury with his in-laws. During that period he was listed as an unemployed road laborer. From 1950 to 1960 the Johnsons lived at 2 Alfred Street in Jamaica Plain, until moving to 70 Green Street, just down the street from the home of the first standard major-league baseballs made a hundred years earlier, at 39 Green Street, Jamaica Plain. They next lived at 6 Everett Street, Jamaica Plain, until 1974. In 1981 they were located at 84 Dunster Road, Jamaica Plain, and in 1984 the Johnsons moved to 677 Winchester Street in Newton.
Red went to the Agassiz school in Jamaica Plain and completed two years of high school according to census records. He had two brothers, Joseph and Arthur, and both are deceased. Joseph was killed in action in WWII. The playground at the corner of Lamartine and Green Streets was named for Corporal Joseph E. Johnson in a 1960 ceremony with Mayor John Collins. Arthur Johnson’s widow, and Red’s sister-in-law, Catherine, who is shown in the Collins photo, graciously provided many of the photos in this piece.
We think Red began his Park League coaching career about 1949 with a team called Trimont Tool. Trimont Manufacturing Company was located at 55-71 Amory Street in the old Rockland Brewery building from about 1902 to 1954. Trimont made heavy-duty wrenches and other pipe-fitting tools. They held several patents for wrenches and other devices. Trimo wrenches are EBay collectibles nowadays.
At some point Red negotiated blue-on-blue uniforms and limited support from the Company for his Trimont Tool team which was probably in the Industrial League, a notch or two below the Caseys, Royals, Saints, Crosbys, Crownburners, etc. in the Senior Park League. And with money from his own pocket, and occasionally exercising his home team prerogative of passing the hat, he kept us in clean baseballs, and a few un-taped bats. The author’s first hitch with Red was about 1952-3 with the Trimont team. Another contributor, Dick Mazzocca, played for Trimont also. Dick went on for another six years with the Park League’s Crosby Club after we served together in the Army in Japan.
We are guessing the Johnson Bombers was formed shortly before Trimont closed in 1954. This time Red must have dug deep in his own pocket to come up with uniforms as seen in this early Johnson Bombers photo, about 1954.
There is scant information available about Trimont Tool or the Bombers in the Park League as most records were lost. It is known, however, that despite finishing between fifth and seventh for twenty years, the Bombers had two players who made it to the big leagues: Richie Hebner and Skip Lockwood.
The Players Remember Red
Larry McNulty, a retired teacher/principal/coach, a Park League Hall-of-Famer and former New York Mets player, played for the Johnson Bombers from 1958 to 1961 and for Red’s 1962 championship basketball team, the Johnson Classics. Larry was struck by Red’s love of the game of baseball and his players, and his wife’s devotion to repairing the uniforms kept at their Green Street apartment where Larry visited frequently. Noting that Red never spoke about himself, Larry did, however, visit him at work at Beth Israel Hospital where Red was so obviously conscientious. “He was an inspirational leader, if not the most astute baseball coach.” He would, Larry recalls, wear out the grass at the third-base coach’s box as he exhorted the batter to “give-it-a-ride, give-it-a-ride.” Most importantly though, without children of his own, Red seemed to adopt his players and treated them like they were his own kids. He was one-of-a-kind.
Jack Fahey, 83, of West Roxbury, played 26 years in the Boston Park League and was the 2011 Red Johnson Alumni Award recipient, and is another Park League Hall-of-Famer. Jack didn’t play for Red but knew him well and has heard many of the anecdotes connected with Red. He believes Red had a great eye for talent, excellent organizing skills (including finding sponsors), but Red’s baseball-managing skills were somewhat less, and so he never won a championship in the League. Jack recalled how Red enlisted Joe Coleman Sr., former Philadelphia Athletics pitcher, to manage the Johnson Bombers starting on May 11, 1959 at Fallon Field. Joe pitched an occasional game as well, and later managed the athletic programs at Walpole and Norfolk State prisons. Red also enlisted Gerry Leone, later coach at Franklin High School, who played until an ankle injury ended his playing days. Gerry’s son is now Middlesex County’s District Attorney. Jack also recalled Ornie Woods, a carpet layer, as another talented player Red recruited. And there were many others. Jack also visited Red’s apartment on Green Street and remembers the Bombers’ equipment neatly stored in barrels and boxes.
Joe Davis of Groveland lived on Forbes Street, Jamaica Plain, from 1959 to 1966. A retired Amtrak detective, he recalls playing baseball for the Johnson Bombers and basketball for the Johnson Classics in 1959-61, before entering the Army. His most vivid memory of Red is as a father figure to him and many others who played for him. Red loved baseball talk and remembering other players he had coached, easily recalling their names and particular baseball skills. Years after his Army service, Joe spotted Red at Fallon Field one evening and went over to say hello and Red greeted him like a long-lost son. Joe visited Red’s Green Street apartment also and saw the neatly-stored equipment and uniforms there. Joe’s class of 1958 at Jamaica Plain High has many friends of Red’s too, including Gerry Burke of Doyle’s Café. Red’s reputation carried him far and wide in Jamaica Plain.
Dick Mazzocca of Walpole is a retired Norwood business man and an eight-year Park League veteran from Jamaica Plain. He played for Red’s Trimont Tool team, and following his Army service in Japan, Dick returned to the Park League’s Crosby Club for six more years. Dick’s lasting memory of Red was his complete absorption with the game of baseball and his unabashed enthusiasm for each game, despite a pretty steady diet of losses. Dick says, however, Red never quit – he didn’t have it in him to quit.
Harvey Soolman of Medford won the Red Johnson Alumni Award in 2004. Harvey has been involved with the Park League for over 40 years as a player, coach and administrator. He is also a published playwright and an accountant. Harvey didn’t know Red but was playing while Red’s Bombers were still active and he remembers Red’s practice of driving around with give-away baseballs.
Boston Globe Newspaper Clippings
August 22, 1947. The Casey Club wons its opener with the Linehan Club, 3-1, before 5,000 at South Boston Stadium. Catcher Red Johnson drove in a single with a line drive to left field. Later, Johnson contributed a sparkling play to prevent a Linehan rally.
May 11, 1959. The Park League opened its 29th season that evening with former major leaguer Joe Coleman and George “Red” Johnson at the helm of the Johnson Bombers against the Boston Selkirks at Fallon Field, Roslindale.
March 30, 1961. Larry McNulty scored 31 points to lead the Johnson Classics to a 104-86 win over the Waltham Boy’s Club in the Class A semi-final of the 19th annual Waltham Boy’s Club Basketball Tournament.
March 31, 1961. The Wells Club of Somerville won the chance to meet the Boston Park League Basketball Champs, the Johnson Classics, in the finals.
March 20, 1962. Bill Foley and Bill Donovan led Newtondale Drug to a 115-89 Class A victory over the Johnson Classics at the Waltham Boy’s Club Basketball Tournament.
March 24, 1962. George Schlenhuber and Lennie Sorrin led the Johnson Classics to an 89-50 triumph over the Huntington YMCA in the 20th annual Waltham Boys Club Basketball Tournament at the Waltham Boy’s Club gym.
May 13, 1962. As the 32nd Park League season opened, the Johnson Bombers, with Red Johnson again handling the club, started a team made up mostly of newcomers against the Bottomly Club of Hyde Park at Fallon Field, Roslindale.
May 20, 1963. The future Mayor of Boston, Ray Flynn, threw a three-hitter against the Johnson Bombers for a 10-1 victory for the Supreme Saints in the first-ever Sunday Park League game.
August 1, 1965. Winning 12 of their last 14 games, the Johnson Bombers would be making the playoffs for the first time in Manager George Johnson’s 16 years of Park League play. The Bombers lost to the Connolly Club 5-1, but managed a 6-4-3 triple play in the game.
June 30, 1968. A lengthy Globe article said that there was no lack of brain power on the Johnson Bombers and the coach, a self-described “truck driver,” was not intimidated by the bright, articulate, kids on his team. On the contrary, they were all comfortable with each other despite a 7-8 record! The story reported the Bombers’ players with Princeton, MIT, Yale, Cornell, Harvard and Northeastern degrees. The degreed players were Phil DeSantis of Roxbury, Avi Nelson of Brookline, Geoff Weissman of New York City, Tom Argir of Natick, Wayne Rana of New York, Jim Hampe of Dedham, John MacGowan of Boston and Skip Cunningham of Boston, who the week before had earned only a tie in a no-hit, no-run game he pitched for the Bombers. Other (then) recent Bomber players included major-leaguer Joe Coleman, Sr., and Richie Hebner, the Norwood star who went on to a great major-league career. Red described himself as head of the motor service at Beth Israel Hospital during the day, while at night he was the Bombers’ owner, general manager, coach, scout, batboy, equipment manager, scorekeeper and groundskeeper.
November 25, 1979. In another lengthy article entitled “Remembering Boston,” several prominent Bostonians, including James Michael Curley, boxer Peter Fuller and other entertainers, remembered Boston. Red Johnson was also interviewed and he observed that after coaching semi-professional baseball for 30 years and playing before coaching, he opted to forego a rocking chair, a pipe and a pair of slippers so he could continue in some other capacity when he retired:
Back when he decided to become a coach, a lot of people told him he was wasting his time in sports and that he was not going to get anywhere. Red said to the reporters interviewing him, “Lookit, Howard Johnson makes twenty-eight flavors because people like different things, just as some of you guys like horses, some of you guys like dogs, some of you like music, and some like art. I happen to like sports and that’s why I’m in it. I didn’t drink, smoke or gamble but I took a liking to sports. Now when I was a youngster, if you went down to the local ballpark there’d be a game going in every corner. You had to get up early in the morning to find a place to play because there was so much interest in baseball. Of course, in those days there was no television, there were no automobiles, no drive-in theaters, and during Prohibition there were no barrooms. In other words, there were fewer things to do, so the youngsters turned to sports if they wanted some action.”
Red said he turned to sports because he liked it and the kids where he was brought up liked it too, and they had some pretty good athletes. Comparing the past with the (then) present, the sportswriters often asked his opinion about the kids he coached in 1979 and the kids he had coached thirty years previous. He told them the only difference was there were too many diversions – too many things for them to do at the present time, so that they tended to branch off into other areas. He thought the only real interest in baseball then (1979) was in the Spanish community, where they were deeply into baseball. When asked to umpire a (then) recent championship playoff series he was impressed with their sincerity compared to the (Caucasian) American kids. The Spanish kids dived into the bases head first and they got very emotional if they didn’t make a hit or if they made an error. He hadn’t seen that kind of enthusiasm for many years. Their genuine interest in baseball was evident when you spoke to them and they would say “viva pelota,” or “long live baseball!”
May 18, 1980. In an article noting the opening of the Park League’s 50th year, Red Johnson was named among the “angels” who kept the league going by running teams practically on their own.
April 1, 1981. An article describing the City’s withdrawal of financial support of the Park League, due to budget cuts, announced that lights would no longer be provided, umpires would be paid by the teams and the teams would be assessed a user’s fee for the use of the fields. Several managers were at a kick-off meeting and aired their concerns, along with their willingness to do whatever it took to keep the league functioning. “Dedication,” said George “Red” Johnson, a 30-year veteran of the league as a player, sponsor and manager. “I can’t refrain from contrasting the attitude of these guys with that of some of the prima donnas we know in higher places.”
Red Johnson at Beth Israel Hospital
Red was a driver/courier for Beth Israel Hospital from 1952 to his retirement in 1976. Their June 1976 internal newsletter, the BI Examiner, memorialized Red’s retirement with glowing tributes from staff and co-workers. Here are some of the accolades: Beth Israel’s talented man about town is retiring and will leave a gap roughly the size of the Grand Canyon. He doesn’t talk much about himself, but no one in the hospital has had such rapport with so many at so many levels. His daily rounds in the ’67 Ford van, in all weather and traffic conditions sometimes totaled fourteen stops, many times picking up snowbound key-employees, emergency lab deliveries, spare parts, the all-important mail and always making friends along the way. His driving skill in delivering a critically ill child to a neighboring hospital for emergency surgery was credited with saving the child’s life, and donning a Santa’s suit when B.I. had an in-patient pediatric unit was just another example of Red’s special concern for children.
Another of Red’s avocations was the creation of artistically-arranged photo albums depicting the people who were employed at Beth Israel Hospital. There were three, five-inch thick albums in all, started just after Red was hired at B.I.in 1952. These albums were a hit at each of the Old-Timers reunions he organized for B.I. retirees. Red donated the albums to the hospital.
At Red’s Beth Israel retirement, Representative James J. Craven introduced a resolution in the Massachusetts Legislature highlighting George Johnson’s “devoted career at Beth Israel Hospital and his years of community service and dedication to the youth of Jamaica Plain,” his hometown. And, in recognition of Red’s service to the hospital, he was presented with an inscribed Beth Israel chair by Dr. Mitchell Rabkin. Red Johnson left a mark on Beth Israel Hospital and he will be thought of, often and fondly, by all at Beth Israel.
Life after Baseball
After retiring from the hospital and baseball, Red devoted himself to entertaining senior citizens at various retirement homes including Farnsworth House at 90 South Street, Jamaica Plain. Red was a one-man band called “Memory Lane Ballroom,” and he’d bring tambourines for the seniors to participate. Soon, true to his coaching instincts, he’d have them up dancing. He performed every Sunday for over ten years and seniors and administrators, including Dean Collotta, Property Manager of Farnsworth House, fondly remember Red Johnson and his tambourines to this day. Coincidentally, Dean Collotta also played in the Boston Park League.
Red Johnson was obviously a man driven by a love of baseball. And his post-baseball career, entertaining seniors, bespeaks a kind heart, with perhaps a bit of a showman’s love for the spotlight, a spotlight that, sadly, never found him in the winner’s circle in Boston’s amateur baseball world. Nevertheless, those who knew him, or played for or against him, or worked with him, never forgot him. He was truly one-of-a-kind, and he would “give-it-a-ride” in whatever he applied himself to. Jamaica Plain is proud to include his name in its baseball history.
References and Credits
1. Baseball in Jamaica Plain by Michael Reiskind, Jamaica Plain Historical Society.
2. Trimont Manufacturing Co. information courtesy Fort Hill History, a blog about Fort Hill/Highland Park by Jason Turgeon.
3. Boston Park League information courtesy Walt Mortimer and the Boston Park League.
4. Beth Israel “BI Examiner” excerpts courtesy of The Ruth and David Freiman Archives at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Michael Keating, Manager of Internal Communications, BIDMC.
5. Boston Globe archives, various dates.
6. …and thanks to Dick Mazzocca, Walt Mortimer of the Boston Park League, Harvey Soolman, Jack Fahey, Dean Collotta, Eunace Davis at The Gardens of Gethsemane Cemetery, Larry McNulty, Catherine Johnson, Scott Johnson, Gerry Burke, Joan (Cusick) Morrissey and many other Red Johnson fans.
Elena Moore has worked in a hair salon since she was old enough to reach the
phone in her mother’s shop, and she sees no reason to stop now. "I’d like to die
with a pair of scissors in my hands," she says.
Moore owns Julia’s Beauty Shoppe in Jamaica Plain, the oldest salon and one of
the oldest businesses in Jamaica Plain. The shop, started by Moore’s mother,
Julia Spagnoletti, has been a part of JP for 75 years, remarkable in a
neighborhood known for its diversity and change.
The salon itself can be described by what it’s not: It’s not a trendy place that
serves tea and lemonade with its haircuts, and it’s not a discount chain store
that gets you in and out in 15 minutes or less. A simple black-and-white sign
"You’re not going to get your frills, you’re not going to get your thrills,"
says Greg Moore, Elena’s son, who helps out on occasion.
Wood paneling and mirrors cover the walls. Plants hang in the window. A slight
hint of cigarette smoke mixes with the scents of various hair solutions. Helmet-
style hair-dryers line the back wall.
In the center of the side wall hang a few relics that, according to a hand-
written note, belonged to Julia and date to 1938: a wood-handled hair dryer and
a curling iron that had to be heated on a gas burner.
As Moore sits behind her counter, neighborhood regulars wave in the window or
stop in to chat.
"Maybe," she says, "they can talk old times."
Jose Rivera, a longtime Jamaica Plain resident and regular customer, stops in to
say hello. He assesses Moore this way: "You’re Ellie, that’s the best thing I
can say." After a slight pause, he describes the salon. "This is the place you
have to be and you just sit and listen."
Befitting that atmosphere, Moore prefers walk-ins to appointments.
"I don’t like to keep appointments," she says. With walk-ins, "there’s no
pressure. It’s more like having a big family serving supper."
She says she keeps a fairly solid group of regular customers, mostly ladies who
come in weekly or every other week to get their hair set. Helen Olsen, for
example, estimates she’s been getting her hair done here for 40 years.
Moore was raised in the part of the neighborhood that is now the Bromley-Heath
housing development. She says she practically grew up in the back of her
mother’s shop, which started on the corner of Parker and Centre streets, then
moved to the corner of Centre and Roseway streets.
The shop’s been at its current location near the Civil War monument on Centre
Street for 32 years.
Moore politely declines to give her age but will say she is old enough to have
three children, two grandchildren, and a great-grandchild; her husband, Thomas,
died in 1994.
Given the modern decline in women getting their hair set weekly, business at the
shop has slowed, and her regulars are getting older.
"Sometimes," she says, "it looks like I’m running the geriatric ward."
Times and styles have changed, says Moore.
"She used to have five girls in here" until 9 or 10 at night, says Greg Moore.
"Then the sixties came."
"Young people don’t pay as much attention to their personal appearance," she
says. "You can look out the window and see how many girls have long, unkempt
hair, hair in ponytails, hair kept under a hat."
Now Moore works by herself. If she’s not getting business, she’ll chat with
neighbors who walk by, or go home early.
Nevertheless, she has no plans to hang up her brush and scissors. She says the
shop keeps her active and connected with the community.
"She looks twenty years younger than all her friends," says Greg.
"I hope she never retires."
By Craig Nickels, Globe Correspondent
09/11/2005 Page 12, City Weekly Section
Copyright © 2005, Globe Newspaper Company
Used with permission.
Margaret Fuller School days,
Readin’ and writin’ and ‘rithmetic,
Taught with a smile and not a stick.
This was sung every Friday afternoon as we assembled on the inside staircase of the school, just before going home. I attended the Margaret Fuller School from September 1929 to June 1934. It was a red brick, two-story school located on Glen Road, very near Franklin Park. There were grades kindergarten through 5. When I first was a pupil there the fifth-grade class was located up the hill in an old Victorian house at the corner of Glen Road and Forest Hills Street.
The fifth grade occupied one room, on the first floor. There were no desks, just an assortment of straight-back chairs, and the pupils piled their books on the floor underneath. Coats were hung on hooks along one wall, and heat was provided by a stove in the middle of the floor. Did people complain? Of course not! In fact, we loved it when we went up there for a special program or something.
In about 1931 or1932, an addition was built on to the original school that allowed for a fifth-grade classroom – and two portables were erected next to the school. The empty lot next to the school that had served as the schoolyard was cleaned up, fenced in and cemented – prior to this we just played in that lot.
I remember the teachers well:
Kindergarten: Miss Sullivan (assisted by Miss Ferry – a pretty young lady, still in Teacher’s College)
Grade 1 (2 classes) Miss Carpenter (also the Principal), Miss Fitzgerald
Grade 2 (2 classes) Miss McPherson, Miss Buxton
Grade 3 (2 classes) Miss Friary, Miss Young
Grade 4 (2 classes) Miss Dorey, Miss Scully
Grade 5 (1 class) Miss Loughran
There was only one fifth-grade class because children living on the other side of Washington Street were required to attend the Bowditch School on Green Street for fifth grade.
Every Monday began with a general assembly. There was no auditorium, so we assembled in the kindergarten room. A large circle was painted on the floor, and the kindergarteners sat around this circle in sturdy little chairs. As a teacher played a stirring march, we filed in, class by class (one pupil in each class carrying the flag), and stood in our assigned places. After the Pledge of Allegiance and My Country ‘tis of Thee, the Bible was read – especially Psalm 24 (yes, the 24th, which we eventually memorized). There was a prayer and then we sang Come, Thou Almighty King. There were the usual announcements, current events, a special story or poem, and we all filed back to our classrooms. I should mention that the Bible was read every morning in each classroom, followed by a short prayer.Quite often James Michael Curley, Mayor of Boston, would attend our opening exercises and our plays. (I think he often worked from home, which was in Jamaica Plain instead of City Hall.)
When the school was enlarged the cloak rooms were removed and clothes cupboards built in the back of each classroom. These had folding doors with panels that became bulletin boards. In the weeks leading up to Christmas the teachers would get pictures (copies of famous religious paintings) from the public library, put them up on those bulletin boards, and we would learn the Christmas story. We also memorized those portions of the Scriptures. Then when Lent arrived pictures of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Crucifixion and Resurrection would be put up and we would learn those Bible stories, too. I remember vividly how the teacher explained the reason for the crucifixion, and the rapt attention of the children. We had children of all ethnic and religious backgrounds, but NO ONE ever complained. The parents, too, enjoyed these religious displays.
In the Margaret Fuller School we were taught not only the usual subjects, but also things that have lasted throughout our lives. Every Monday a “Memory Gem” was written on the blackboard which we recited each day, i.e., If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again; Remember to be kind; A habit is a cable: you weave a thread of it each day until it becomes so strong you cannot break it; and Practice makes perfect.
In my second-grade class, the teacher would bring in a piece of classical music which she would play many times, explaining what each “movement” meant. So, we learned a little music appreciation along the way. I remember Humoresque, The Flight of the Bumblebee, and Melody in F, among others.
We went home for lunch – and on Halloween we were allowed to return dressed in a costume – and there would be the teachers, also in costume, waiting for us in the schoolyard. We would then go room by room in our costumes.
At Christmastime, Mr. Robinet, the custodian, would erect a real tree in each classroom. We would decorate these with paper ornaments, and also the windows. The day before Christmas recess, we would go room to room singing Christmas carols and looking at their decorations. Then, as we left the school, each child was given a little box of Christmas candy (the kind tied with a string). The trees were discreetly given to children whose families otherwise would have had no Christmas tree.
One day after Christmas recess was “Doll Day” (even though the boys were involved, too), when in the afternoon we could bring a toy to school to show the class. A lot of these were homemade (especially doll clothes and trucks). Another fun time.
We had plays for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and very patriotic plays celebrating George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Betsy Ross.
With all of the above happiness you might wonder if we ever learned our lessons. Well, there were seldom any discipline problems – we loved our teachers and were more than willing to pay attention during our studies, knowing that “good times were ahead.” There were rules, of course. Slingshots were not allowed, but once in a while one would appear sticking out of some boy’s pocket. These were immediately confiscated and put in the bottom drawer of the teacher’s desk. On the last day of school they would be returned to their owners with the admonition to “never bring it to school again.” Fighting was never allowed – boys who might get into a fight went to the Principal’s office. Whatever happened there was nothing compared to what would happen when they got home!
Rewards were given out for good work – usually a pretty sticker placed on the paper – and for a special, special thing there was “The Fairy Box” – a tin box on the shelf in the teacher’s closet, and the happy child would be allowed to take out something – usually a tiny piece of candy. However, one day I was especially good and my reward was a tiny wedge of CHOCOLATE CAKE!
One day when I was in the second grade, the teacher came in with a large box wrapped in white tissue paper and covered entirely with red and green string, each piece knotted. (It must have taken forever for the teacher to do this.) She told us there was something very special inside to be shared by all the class. She explained that every time one of the pupils did something very nice, displayed good manners, held the door for a girl/lady, was kind or helpful, that child could snip off one of the strings and when they were all snipped off, she would open the box. Well! Talk about good manners! Talk about being helpful! Talk about being kind! The great day finally came and the box was opened – with all those eager little eyes fastened on the treasure inside. All-Day-Suckers!!!!! Lollipops that none of us ever had, that really lasted all day – and from the fanciest store in Boston (S.S.Pierce) no less! Each child was given one of these HUGE candy treats. What a day! (Mine was in the shape of a rocking horse, lemon flavor).
Of course there were the down-sides of school. We had monthly “head checks” for little critters, yearly physical exams, and monthly dental check-ups. Hardly anyone had a private dentist, so we poorer children were taken to the Forsythe Dental School down in the Fenway, which scared us to death. However, when you finally received that little pin which said “My Teeth Are Perfect,” it was worth it all. (The dental work, cleaning and bus ride cost the big sum of 5 cents!)
In the winter of 1929-1930 they offered inoculations for diphtheria. My mother signed the papers giving her permission. The day for the shots arrived and we were all herded into a big room. No one had ever had a shot before so panic prevailed. Children were screaming and throwing tantrums – the teachers were beside themselves. And the doctors didn’t help matters with trays of needles displayed for all to see. I was practically paralyzed with fear, but you can be sure I’d never scream like that, not even if they were taking me to the gallows. Well, the nurse said, “Here’s a brave little girl who’s not afraid. She’ll go first to show you that it doesn’t hurt.” So, I was first to get the shot (probably the first kid in the school district). There were three injections in the series – and when each time came for another shot the nurse would call my classroom and say, “Send that brave little girl down to show the others that there is nothing to fear.”
We had monthly trips to the Children’s Museum (then located on the far side of Jamaica Pond). What an exciting day that was! We were allowed to choose our own partner instead of the one assigned for every day, and we could take a snack. We walked, with the teacher leading the way – quite a walk, too! – down Glen Road, the whole length of Green Street, across Centre Street, the whole length of Myrtle Street, and then down Moraine Street where we would stop beside Mayor Curley’s house. He would always come out to talk to us, and then call his daughter Mary to come out and bring her dogs to show the children. Finally, we’d reach the museum, where there was always a wonderful program – and then the long (but enjoyable) walk back to school.
On the first day of school each child was given a green pencil (no eraser) and this was used every day until it was just a stub – then you were given a new one. We were also given a box of letters and a box of colored pegs (to use in learning arithmetic). In grade 2 we began to use ink – with a black dip pen.
One day we would arrive at school to see the round holes at the top of our desks fitted with a little inkwell – then the teacher would carefully fill each one with ink – and we’d be taught the perils of fooling around with anything as messy as ink. We each had to bring a little cloth thing to wipe our pen points with – my mother made mine, about 3 inches round, out of grey wool, pinked the edges, and sewed a tiny red button on top. Real pretty – I kept it for years.
Even the last day of school each June was a fun day. We would bring rags and polish to school and proceed to scrub and polish our desks – so things would look nice for the next year’s class. Each afternoon throughout the year the windows were closed, the shades drawn in an even line and any papers on the floor were put in the wastebaskets. We were taught to take pride in our classrooms.
I look back on those days as among the happiest days of my life. We were mostly poor, but you don’t miss what you never had. People shared clothes – and we took care of them knowing that another child would eventually be wearing them, too. We even looked forward to “our turn” to wear something pretty that another girl was wearing. There was no shame or criticism. It was a time of caring and sharing.
And we made it! Out of those classes came policemen, firemen, postmen, politicians, secretaries, nurses, teachers, priests, ministers – even a couple of doctors! World War II played a prominent part in the lives of us all – the boys serving on battlefields from the islands of the South Pacific to the Arctic to the devastated cities of Europe – and the girls in munitions factories and shipyards. And finally home to seek the American Dream.
Moxie is older than Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola. From 1928 to 1953 it was made at 74 Heath Street at "Moxieland", as the plant and headquarters was called. It may look like a cola or root beer, but the original taste was not like any other soft drink. People either loved it or thought it was the worst stuff they had ever tasted. It had a distinct, strong medicine taste, and in its best year of 1920 it outsold Coca-Cola.
Augustin Thompson created Moxie in Lowell in 1876, about ten years before Coke. He was a medical doctor who brewed up a mixture of Gentian root extract, cinchona, sassafras, caramel and other flavorings to make "Moxie Nerve Food". It was billed as a medicine which can "recover brain and nervous exhaustion; loss of manhood, imbecility and helplessness. It has recovered paralysis, softening of the brain, locomotor ataxia and insanity". Moxie Nerve Food, like all early soft drinks in America, was first created as a medicine, not a recreational drink.
Carbonated beverages started out as cures thousands of years ago, and can be traced back to the Greeks and Romans who thought water could treat ailments. Cold and hot baths and steam rooms aided the curative process long ago and still do today. Hot springs with dissolved chemicals and minerals were thought to be restorative, and health "spas" were popular in Europe as places to "take the water cure". The natural carbonation in some of these springs helped digestion and other ailments and people began to drink the water as well as sit in it. These "tonics" invigorated, refreshed and increased the body tone of their quaffers.
After the US Civil War, pharmacists began to add medicinal roots and herbs to produce a more curative drink. Sugar was often added to counter the bitterness of these concoctions and to make a better-tasting drink. These medicinal tonics developed into today's soft drinks and New Englanders still call them tonic and get them at the corner spa. Moxie Nerve Food, named by Dr. Thompson after the American Indian Moxie Falls in Maine, became New England's tonic.
Thompson expanded his Nerve Food to a beverage soft drink and bottled it in 1884. (This date is still printed on every Moxie container.) The drink was an enormous hit at the St. Louis World Fair in 1904. When the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was passed, Moxie Nerve Food became simply Moxie and no more outrageous claims were allowed. But the soft drink Moxie thrived under Thompson and an entrepreneur partner, Frank Morton Archer. He sent eight-foot model bottles around the country pulled by horses or trucks, and they visited more than 40,000 towns. Of course, the drivers were called Moxie Men.
In 1916, Archer came up with an advertising idea that he called the Moxie Horsemobile: He mounted a dummy horse onto a car chassis and fixed the controls to enable the driver to sit in the saddle and operate the automobile. Everywhere they went, crowds appeared and followed the Moxie Man in the "Moxiemobile". Within four years of the invention of the Moxiemobile, Moxie was outselling Coca-Cola. Even to this day, the Moxie Man appears on every Moxie label.
Moxie's advertising played up the drink's bitterness. They said "It's the drink for those who are at all particular" and "What this country needs is plenty of Moxie". The name began to be imitated by Proxie, Noxall, Modox, Rixie, Noxie, No-Tox, and Toxie soft drink companies. Frank Archer added a Moxie Song, celebrity endorsements, and more advertising and the company grew. The word "moxie" entered the English language as another word for spirit or verve.
In 1928, the company moved to 74 Heath Street near Jackson Square and called their factory Moxieland. Dr. Thompson's sons, Frank E. Thompson and Harry A. Thompson were president and treasurer, and Frank Archer was chairman. Visitors were welcome to visit the plant at Heath, Bickford, and Parker Streets to see the mile of conveyer belts and 150,000 cases of Moxie and Pureoxia Ginger Ale all around them. If they couldn't visit personally, they could watch a movie Frank Archer had made showing all the steps in production and emphasizing the quality and care taken at the plant.
When the Depression started, the Moxie Company decided to cut back on advertising everywhere, including New England. That was a mistake, and they began to lose out to the present national leaders Coke and Pepsi. In 1953, Moxie moved to Needham Heights, and the Boston Housing Authority demolished the Jamaica Plain factory to build the Bromley Park Housing Development. The company produced the short-lived Ted's Root Beer in 1959 named after the Red Sox star Ted Williams, and was a leader in the sugar-free soft drink era when almost half of its output in the late 1960s was Diet Moxie. But by then, the company had been on a decline for almost forty years and was just a regional New England seller.
Moxie was taken over in 1967 by new management, and purchased the NuGrape Company of Atlanta and moved down to Georgia in 1968. In Georgia the company known as Moxie-Monarch-NuGrape produces NuGrape, SunCrest, Kist, Nesbitt's, and Grapette soft drinks nationwide, as well as Moxie, which is still primarily for New England. A disastrous reformulation in 1968 lost them half their customers in New England, and they went back to "old fashioned Moxie" soon after, but this current recipe is not the same as the real heavy and tangy old Moxie.
And so, raise a glass of real Moxie to the local drink that swept the country and left its name in the language as "the spirit of America...a word for the audacity of the movers and shakers who continue to change the world."
Sources: Tchudi, Soda Poppery, The History of Soft Drinks in America, New York, 1986; Potter, The Moxie Mystique, Newport News, Virginia, 1981.
Copyright © 1995 Michael Reiskind
One of the biggest crimes in Boston history occurred in quiet Jamaica Plain, with running gun battles and a dramatic shootout at bucolic Forest Hills Cemetery. The story includes foreign anarchists, less-than-astute police work, a mysterious woman, and more twists and turns than an Agatha Christie novel. And in the end, the entire thing was repeated overseas with a cameo appearance by Winston Churchill, in what must be his only connection to Jamaica Plain. The story is told here as it was reported in the Boston Globe at the time, which makes it a confusing story indeed. Much that was reported (or misreported) one day was corrected the next, but where the newspaper articles end, much remains unresolved. Remarkably, this dramatic story faded from the collective memory of the residents of Jamaica Plain. Here we bring it to life again.
“Three Robbers Kill In Saloon”
Boston Globe, 22 July 1908
Seven men were sitting in the Winterson & McManus saloon at 3171 Washington Street, near the corner of Boylston Street. It was just before 11:00 p.m. on Tuesday, July 21, 1908. Thomas Winterson, the proprietor (residing at 30 Sheridan St.), John Carty, the bartender (residing at 5 Atherton St.), and five customers were having a last drink. Just before closing, three unfamiliar men entered. As one jumped over the bar and threw the cash register to the floor, his two companions drew pistols and began firing.
Winterson took bullets to the base of the skull and the left arm. Customer Patrick Doran was struck in the left side and the spinal column. A second customer, Frank Drake, was hit in the right lung. While one of the men picked up the money from the register, bartender Carty escaped to the back room and called police station 13. With their take of $90 the three men ran into the street.
One block away at the corner of Washington and School streets, patrolman Butler was standing on duty when Frank Drake came running by, badly wounded and seeking a doctor. Butler arrived at the saloon in time to see three men run across Washington Street. After firing shots at them and losing sight of them in the darkness, he returned to care for the wounded at the saloon. Two witnesses saw the policeman shoot at the men, and seeing their direction, chased after them. They went up Chauncey Place (now Chilcott Place) through yards to Weld Avenue, School Street, back to Washington Street, and out Columbus Avenue, only to lose sight of them.
Patrolman Butler’s statement [from Boston Globe, 23 July 1908]:
“I was standing at the corner of School and Washington sts about 10:55 and heard a revolver shot followed by five others in rapid succession. I ran to the saloon and on the way heard six or seven other shots fired. When I reached the door of the saloon I was about to enter when I saw three men firing revolvers, and one of them, the smallest of the three, turned on me and pointed his revolver at me. I dodged out of the door onto the sidewalk as he fired at me. I did not have my revolver out and I got into a doorway in the next building to take it out, when at that moment the three men ran out of the saloon and across the street and into the lot where there are some old cellar walls. I fired at them. Someone cried out to me ‘Don’t shoot these men. The men you want ran down Washington st.’
“I got on to a passing car and rode as far as Green st, but could not see the men. I got off the car and jumped into a carriage that was going in the opposite direction and was driven to the police signal box at the corner of Washington and School sts and telephoned Lieutenant Bodenschatz about the shooting and asked him to send me help. I was told by a citizen that the men I had fired at were the right men, that a woman had told him she had seen them running through Weld av and down Washington st toward Roxbury. I telephoned station 13 that fact and station 10 was notified. I went to the saloon as quickly as I could and looked after the wounded until the physicians and extra police arrived.”
Thomas Winterson, the wounded proprietor, was brought home, where he was reported to be resting. Customer Patrick Doran had a bullet removed that had passed from one side of his body to the other. He was put on the dangerous list at Boston City Hospital.
“Desperadoes Kill One Man And Wound Eight Persons In Flight”
Boston Globe, 23 July 1908
At 7 o’clock on the evening of July 22, two of the yeggmen (bandits) involved in the raid at the Winterson and McManus saloon were in a running gun battle through the streets of Jamaica Plain. Edward Powers, a local citizen, had recognized the men and pointed them out to patrolman Edmund Inglis on South Street. In an exchange of shots at the corner of South and Child streets, patrolman Edmund Inglis took a bullet to his left leg. Nearby, Mrs Mary Fallon was shot through the right side of her face while walking to the store with her child. The men fled down Child Street. In a field at the corner of Child and Lee streets, Patrick McGinn and Edward Wightman were both shot in their legs.
The fleeing yeggs turned right onto Lee Street and then left on Keyes (now McBride) Street towards Washington Street. At the intersection of Washington and Keyes streets, Boston Elevated conductor Thomas Moore (of 191 Green St.) was shot while stepping off his streetcar, suffering a broken leg. Here, also, John Nolan (of 60 Keyes St.), foreman at the Ross Twine factory, was shot in the right side, seriously injuring him.
From there, the desperadoes continued to Forest Hills Street, where they turned and ran for Forest Hills Cemetery. At the entrance to the cemetery, Herbert Knox, a watchman at the cemetery, was shot in the abdomen and later died at Emerson hospital.
When news reached station 13, a force of policemen was sent out on the trail of the yeggmen, and calls were sent to headquarters for extra men from around the city. By 8:00 p.m., electric cars and patrol wagons had brought 250 men to the streets around the cemetery. Taking into consideration the size and terrain of the cemetery and the approaching darkness, no attempt was made to immediately search the grounds. Instead, every street around the cemetery was patrolled by armed men. Patrolmen took their places behind shrubbery and trees in the estates around the property. Automobiles with searchlights cruised the adjacent streets.
At 9:20 pm, the police learned that the desperadoes had not escaped. Patrolman Edward McMahon had been keeping watch on the west edge of the cemetery, in the back of 80 Woodlawn Street. He heard a noise at the cemetery fence, and when he came out into the light to investigate, he fell with a gunshot wound to the abdomen. His fellow officers returned fire in the direction of the shots, but with no apparent effect. The rest of the night was quiet, as the police waited for daylight before closing in on the yeggmen.
“Identified By Two Men”
Boston Globe, 23 July 1908
Earlier that same day, policemen from Division 13 who had been watching the South terminal train station in downtown Boston observed a man fitting the description of one of the desperadoes. When he saw the officers, the man ran and was caught after a short chase. Giuseppe De Vico, 21 years old, of Somerville, was questioned closely on the scene. He had a suitcase and a ticket to New York in his pocket, and claimed to be a shoemaker at his uncle’s shop in Somerville. Satisfied by the man’s actions that he had done something wrong, the police brought him to Division 13 to be examined by witnesses.
When John Carty the saloon bartender was brought into the station house, De Vico was brought forward. Carty immediately identified him as the second man to come into the saloon. William Pettee, a customer in the saloon at the time of the robbery, came in next. Pettee was brought downstairs to the cells and identified De Vico as one of the robbers, but suggested that his hat was not the same as the bandit’s. When another hat was brought out from De Vico’s suitcase, Pettee recognized it and identified him as the man who took the money from the cash drawer on the floor.
“Yeggmen Thought To Be Hiding In Woods”
Boston Globe, 24 July 1908
After waiting on guard throughout the night, at 4:00 a.m. two hundred policemen entered Forest Hills Cemetery to engage and capture the bandits. They had followed Superintendent Pierce, Chief Inspector Watts, and Captains Wescott and Hanley for a short distance to the left of the main entrance when they saw a man running over a hill toward a dry ravine. When the man saw them, he unleashed a succession of bullets in their direction. As quickly as he emptied the magazine, he reloaded with another clip and began firing again. The police returned fire as they advanced, but he continued into the gully, firing as he ran. He sought cover from one tree to another, settling behind a fir tree. As police bullets rained down on the man’s location, a single shot came from behind the fir, and a puff of smoke, but no further answers to the police fusillade.
From the Boston Globe article (24 July 1908):
“Supt Pierce, Chief Inspector Watts and patrolman O’Sullivan ran down the gully to where the man leaned against the tree in a sitting posture. Chief Watts grasped him about the throat, while patrolman O’Sullivan wrenched the revolver from the unresisting fingers. ‘He’s dead,’ the chief said, but the announcement made no impression upon the police. The force of armed men surged down the gully, frenzied with rage, crying, ‘Kill him,’ ‘Finish him up,’ ‘Make an end to him.’
“‘Get back, get back,’ shouted Superintendent Pierce and Chief Watts, but the policemen paid no attention to the command. They were for seizing the body and doing it violence. Inspectors Douglas and Wolf jumped beside the superintendent and the chief inspector and joined them in resisting the frantic policemen. Chief Watts and the others struck the patrolmen, knocked them down and fought them off for several minutes until the excited men regained their senses and dropped back. Then Dr. Dunn made a hasty examination of the body and announced that the outlaw was dead. From that moment the policemen were rational, obedient to orders again, the passionate resentment having subsided. They helped place the dead man in the automobile and quietly went away when released from further duty.”
Soon after the shooting described above, a Mr. Hugh McDougall, a conductor on the Forest Hills elevated line, was arrested on Morton Street. He was carrying a revolver, and was believed to be the second yeggman. Police charged him with the shooting of patrolman McMahon at 9:30 the previous night at Woodlawn Street. Immediately at the scene, a score of acquaintances vouched for him, to no effect.
The dead yeggman at the cemetery was identified by several witnesses in both the saloon raid and the running battle through the streets of Jamaica Plain. Dissenting was Edward Powers, who originally identified the two bandits to patrolman Inglis. Powers insisted that the dead man had different features, and a heavier mustache than the men he saw.
After the shootout at the cemetery, when things had gone quiet, patrolman Buckley walked along the edge of the Arnold Arboretum near South Street and the Arborway. The policeman saw a man and called after him, but the man darted off, dodging from tree to tree. Buckley chased him, firing his revolver as he went. The fugitive turned on the policeman, raising his revolver and shouted “I’ll getta you yet” with an Italian accent. With that, he sped off through the trees and was lost.
Patrolman Buckley returned to Forest Hills seeking help from the force that had surrounded the cemetery, but the police had all gone home, and the third man got away. Later that day at the Williams farm on Centre Street on the opposite side of the Arboretum, a suspicious man was seen. When called, squads of policemen searched for the man, but with no success. In spite of losing him, police had confidence that he would be caught. An hour before the two yeggmen were seen on South Street, they were believed to have entered the house of Christopher Spruhde of 48 Jamaica Street. Mr. Spruhde and his brother had left two coats in the kitchen in the morning, but when they returned, their coats were gone. In their place were two other coats, one with a bullet hole in one sleeve. The lining of this coat was saturated with blood, suggesting that the fugitive would need medical attention soon.
“Dead Desperado Edmund Gutman”
Boston Globe, 25 July 1908
The dead desperado at the Forest Hills Cemetery was identified as Edmund Gutman, a Lett (Latvian) who had come to the United States from the western provinces of Russia within the previous two years. Witnesses identified him as a participant in the raid on the saloon, and as the more vicious desperado in the running battle through the streets of Jamaica Plain to the cemetery. Gutman, it was said, shot at those who challenged them through the streets, urging on his companion to reload the pistols as he emptied them.
The companion was believed to be Francesco Sperduto, who had been arrested the previous day in Dedham with Sepa Pasquale. While no reason was given for the arrest of Sperduto, John Nolan, who was shot at Child Street, identified Gutman as the man who shot him, and Sperduto as the man who reloaded the pistol. Police became aware of two good friends of Gutman, and believed that finding them would close the case. Gutman himself had been identified by his Lettish countrymen when his death picture was published in the newspaper. When he arrived in this country, Gutman had received the aid of countrymen who lived in colonies in South Boston, Roxbury and Jamaica Plain. After a time, he procured a job with the metropolitan park force doing gypsy moth extermination work in the Middlesex Fells. Although he became a foreman, the men complained of his bad temper, and there were rumors that he had committed a murder in his own country. In time, it was believed that he became familiar with Jamaica Plain, visiting a friend on Jamaica Street.
A note found near Gutman’s body in the cemetery gave further clues to his connection to the area. It was addressed to a Miss L. Mauren, in care of Mrs Rosenwald, 3302 Washington Street, just north of Green Street and not far from the saloon that was robbed. The note was written in Lettish, but was translated for the police. When interviewed by the police with the aid of a translator, the Rosenwalds denied any knowledge of Gutman or a Miss Mauren, and said they had few visitors. However, local people told police that the Rosenwalds had many Russian visitors, and one was a young, good-looking woman.
Even after the success at the cemetery, Jamaica Plain remained in terror. Women and children remained inside their houses, and men came home early to be with them. Men called Station 13 and asked for spare revolvers. At all times, the streets were filled with young men, imagining a return of the fugitives to take revenge on the community, and extra police were sent in from the rest of the city to patrol the streets. In Roxbury and South Boston, police watched colonies of Letts for signs of the fugitives seeking aid from their countrymen.
“De Vico’s Friends Set Up An Alibi”
Boston Globe, 25 July 1908
During the same day, friends of the suspect De Vico came to his aid. Seven persons claimed that he had been on a Revere beach electric car at the time of the robbery, and had spent the night of the cemetery assault at a Revere beach cottage. During the day there had been a problem at his uncle’s cobbler shop with two women, and when he saw the police at the train station he feared that the women had set the police upon him. His poor command of English increased his fears, and caused him to run and draw further suspicion to himself. His friends and acquaintances insisted that his nature was mild and his connection to the Jamaica Plain crimes impossible.
“On Trail Of Yegg’s Pals”
Boston Globe, 26 July 1908
Intelligence gained from a series of raids and roundups in the Lettish community convinced the police that Edmund Gutman’s associates in the raid and the running shootout at Jamaica Plain were fellow Letts who had been employed with him in the gypsy moth extermination crew. This ruled out those suspects who had been arrested in Dedham and Roxbury. Leontine Mauren, to whom the final note was addressed to, was traced to 43 Union Avenue, Jamaica Plain. It was learned that Mauren, 20 years old, was married, but living under her maiden name since her husband had gone west seeking employment. Upon locating her residence, the police went to 43 Union Avenue, searched the premises, and took an unnamed couple into custody. They were questioned at station 13 and held for further interviews. Mauren was not the woman found, having last been seen at 1:00 p.m. that day.
Having collected much evidence, the police became certain that they knew the identities of Gutman’s accomplices. One had come from Philadelphia recently, and had written Gutman letters from that city. With the certainty of these identities, the authorities decided to release all the other Letts who had been rounded up and held at Station 13. Three men, Francesco Sperduto, Genaro Bruno, and Abraham Weise, were held on the basis of eyewitness identifications, but the police did not credit these identifications, and they were expected to be released soon.
Sepa Pasquale had been released the previous day, but was rearrested on a charge of carrying a concealed weapon. Giussepe De Vico, who was arrested at South Station, and Hugh McDougall, who was taken into custody near Forest Hills Cemetery after the death of Gutman, were held at Charles Street jail for appearances in the West Roxbury district court.
With new intelligence, the police came to believe that Edmund Gutman was not a participant in the running shootout the day after the saloon raid. The three men had spent the night of the raid in or near Forest Hills Cemetery. During the day, Gutman’s associates went out, probably for food. When recognized by Edward Powers and challenged by patrolman Inglis, the two shot their way back to Gutman and their sanctuary at the cemetery. Arriving at the cemetery at the Canterbury Street side, they came upon watchman Herbert Knox. They were overheard to ask Knox if he was a policeman. When he answered, “No, I am a watchman,” one man said, “Take no chances,” and the other man shot him, mortally wounding him in the abdomen.
It was also believed by the police that they knew how two of the men had escaped. At 8:15 that night, three patrolmen were stationed on Walk Hill Street on the south side of the cemetery. One robber was seen approaching the fence, and they drove him back with shots from their revolvers. An hour later, one of the men threatened to break out again, and again was driven back with shots.
In the early morning, when the assault on the cemetery began from the main entrance, the patrolmen on the periphery of the cemetery heard shots coming from the direction of Morton Street and ran to join the fray. In the excitement, Canterbury Street was left unguarded and the two remaining yeggmen escaped over the fence. With no police guarding the far side of the cemetery, it was believed that they jumped the fence, followed Canterbury Street to Walk Hill Street, turned right, followed the road down to Hyde Park Avenue, and crossed the railroad tracks to the Arnold Arboretum. It was at this time that one of the fugitives was seen and chased by patrolman Buckley.
Gutman’s life in the United States was traced with the aid of local Letts. After arrival, he found a job in a mica mine in New Hampshire. In time, he came to Massachusetts and got a job with the gypsy moth crew at the Middlesex Fells park, eventually becoming foreman. Two of his fellow Letts in the crew became close to Gutman, and a group photograph of the crew taken at the time was used to identify Gutman and his associates. During his time in Massachusetts, Gutman became acquainted with the local Lettish community, and became very friendly with Miss Leontine Mauren. Near the site Gutman was found dead, a woman’s handkerchief was found with the embroidered letters L M. It was assumed that the letter found nearby and addressed to Miss Mauren was in Gutman’s hand.
One of the two assumed associates of Gutman had recently traveled to Philadelphia and addressed letters to Gutman in Jamaica Plain, which suggested to the police that Gutman had a familiarity with the area. The man returned from Philadelphia, and he and Gutman were later traced to a home at 17 Oakdale Street, Jamaica Plain. This address was the home of a local Lett, John Walter, and also the place of publication of a Lettish newspaper called Truth. Police interviewed Walter, and learned that the men had no money, and had spoken of going out that night and committing highway robbery on a dark Jamaica Plain street.
In this meeting at the Walter house, there were five men, so the police assumed that others of the gang could be at large and planning more raids. With the intelligence they had gained from Lettish sources, the police raided houses on Green street, Jamaica Street and Oakdale Street. Among the effects of one lodger was the group photograph of the 16 men who worked on the gypsy moth crew, including the dead Gutman. The two men believed to be close associates of Gutman were recognized in the photo, and the rest were gradually identified, rounded up by the police and interviewed. Each accounted for himself and identified Gutman and his two friends.
While the police were focusing on the two known, but officially unnamed associates of Gutman, members of the public continued to arrive at Station 13 and identify Sperduto, Pasquale or Bruno, though none could identify McDougall or De Vico. In spite of the eyewitness identifications, the police were certain that Sperduto, Pasquale and Bruno were not involved in the raid at the saloon or the running gun battle through Jamaica Plain. It was the belief of the police that in carrying out such attacks, Letts would not trust men of another race, for “men of different races would distrust each other too much.”
When the lawyer for Sperduto, Pasquale and Bruno arrived to see his clients at Station 13, he was denied access to the men by the police. Going directly from there to police headquarters, he was told that no lawyer could see the suspects, as it might hurt the case against them. When the lawyer pointed out that constitutional protections were being violated, opening the possibility of civil prosecution, access was granted. Back at the station, it took the intervention of a Captain to allow the lawyer to speak to his clients alone, as the Constitution required.
“Plaude, Jekapson The Yeggs Sought”
Boston Globe, 27 July 1908
It was announced that Peter Plaude and Andrew Jekapson, two friends of the dead outlaw Edmund Gutman, were the men who shot their way through the streets of Jamaica Plain. All who knew Gutman recognized these two men as his closest associates. It was claimed, as well, that the men appeared identical to the descriptions given by witnesses who saw the running gun battle along Keyes Street. Plaude was “the big man” who did the shooting, and Jekapson resembled the other, who reloaded the pistols for his partner. Both men were Letts, both in their twenties, with sandy hair. Both had spent time in Philadelphia as well, and were expected to attempt to return there in an effort to find aid from their countrymen and gain passage out of this country.
It had been learned that the three men, along with Miss Leontine Mauren, had been members of a Lettish anarchist organization that held Sunday meetings in Roxbury. Gutman was a leader, while Jekapson and Plaude were his admirers and followers. The three companions were low on funds, and their extreme anarchist beliefs on property rights justified and led to their attack on the saloon.
Peter Plaude had come to the United States with his brother. Some time after arriving, the Plaudes moved into 53 Jamaica Street, opposite the home of Christopher Spruhde, where the outlaws later left their coats. At the time, the Mauren woman was with them. Miss Mauren was known within the Lettish community to be very fond of Peter Plaude. Eventually, the Plaudes and Miss Mauren moved to 3302 Washington Street, near Green Street. Plaude took the job with the Middlesex Fells Reservation gypsy moth crew, and became close to Gutman and aligned with his violent anarchist principles. Plaude and Andrew Jekapson, another Lettish gypsy moth crewman, began defrauding installment stores, buying furniture and clothing and reselling it without first paying the full amount. In time they came under pressure from agents of the sellers. Plaude fled to Philadelphia, disappeared from sight, and Leontine Mauren returned to her parents.
After a time, Miss Mauren came back to Jamaica Plain, this time living with her young sister at 43 Union Avenue. According to local Letts, Mauren was a believer in a violent form of anarchism. She would, it was said, address gatherings of their group, denouncing the treatment of the workers, and counseling murder when expedient. It was also believed by Lettish acquaintances that, contrary to earlier police belief, the note found near the body of Gutman addressed to Miss Mauren was probably written by Plaude, whose relationship with her was the longer and closer.
Eventually, Plaude returned from Philadelphia and again found his friend Gutman. Gutman was now living in Roxbury, and sought the aid of his landlady in finding rooms for two friends. She referred them to a friend of hers, who later identified the two boarders as Plaude and Jekapson. Shortly before the raid on the saloon, all three men complained of a lack on money, and under Gutman’s theory of property, they struck at the saloon to seize what the considered was rightfully theirs.
“Bandits Return To Scene Of Shooting”
Boston Globe, 28 July 1908
Witnesses from the gun-battle in the streets were shown the picture of the gypsy moth crew. All identified Jekapson as one of the men who ran shooting through Jamaica Plain, and all but one recognized Plaude. A new witness added to the certainty of the police. An acquaintance of Plaude and Jekapson, she volunteered that she had seen both men in Jamaica Plain on Wednesday night. New information led police to suspect that there had been a fourth man at the raid on the saloon, with one standing guard outside. The fourth man was Peter Sware, a known associate of the three bandits, though not a member of the gypsy moth crew. Sware did not have the reputation for violence the others did, and police said they sought him as a witness rather than as a definite suspect.
The police continued their search for Miss Mauren. A search of the homes of Lettish people on Ruggles Street in Roxbury failed to find a trace of her, as did a watch on her parents’ home in Lawrence. As she seemed to be the one person in the area who would remain loyal to the men, the investigators believed that she might be in contact with them. At the same time, the police of Station 13 continued to prepare their cases against Francesco Sperduto, Giuseppe De Vico and Hugh McDougall. Although police had reasoned that Gutman and his fellow Letts would not trust an Italian like Sperduto, six persons identified him as one of the bandits at the saloon, and one man identified him as the man who shot Herbert Knox at the cemetery. Hugh McDougall was under suspicion for shooting patrolman McMahon near the cemetery border at Woodlawn Street, but he was released on bail supplied by the treasurer of the Boston Elevated Railway Company.
A week after the raid on the saloon, only three men remained hospitalized. Patrick Doran, who was shot in the abdomen at the saloon, was now off the dangerous list. Thomas Moore, the streetcar conductor who was shot in the side at Washington and Keyes streets, was improving every day. Patrolman Edward McMahon, with a wound to the abdomen, was still on the dangerous list, but was also improving.
“Baffled In Yeggmen Hunt”
Boston Globe, 29 July 1908
In the week since the shootout at the cemetery, there had been no sightings of the missing men or their associate Leontine Mauren. The Mauren woman was now known as a philanthropist of the group of Letts. Police were told that she had supplied Plaude with the money to return from Philadelphia in early July. She had also helped friends of Gutman, and was the one person to whom the outlaws would turn for aid. Her disappearance had shocked her reputable friends, and the police had concluded that she was traveling with the fugitives and aiding them in their effort to leave the country. It was reported by local Letts that the four had been expelled from their association several months earlier for their bloodthirsty views, and the fear that they would bring disrepute upon the law-abiding members.
“Both Men Released”
Boston Globe, 30 July 1908
On Tuesday, Francesco Sperduto of Dedham and Giuseppe DeVico of Somerville had their hearings in front of Judge Perrins in the Jamaica Plain court. Witnesses called against DeVico during the morning session could not positively identify him in court. Both John Carty the bartender and William Pettee, a customer, said that they were brought to see DeVico in his cell, and were not required to pick him out of a line-up. When witnesses for DeVico testified that he was with them in Malden during the saloon raid and at Revere beach the night of the running shoot-out, the judge ordered him released. It was revealed during the afternoon Sperduto hearing that the police had believed since the day of his arrest that he had a perfect alibi. In spite of this belief, police put on witnesses in an effort to hold him. In the afternoon court session, none of the government witnesses could positively identify Sperduto as one of the two bandits from the running gun battle Wednesday night. David Eldredge, who was with watchman Knox when he was shot at the entrance to the cemetery, began his testimony quite sure of his identification. In spite of his initial confidence, the defense lawyer got him to admit that he “wouldn’t want to swear to it, because they all look so much alike.” The defense put Edward Powers on the stand, who had followed the bandits at the cemetery in the morning, and identified them to patrolman Inglis later that day. He insisted that Sperduto was not one of the two men he had followed that day. When the owner of the lodging house Sperduto lived in testified that he had been at home both Tuesday and Wednesday nights, the police closed the case and he was released.
Testimony during the day’s hearings added to the public’s knowledge of the case. It was revealed for the first time that the police were informed Wednesday, the morning after the saloon raid, and twelve hours before the gun battle in the streets, that two suspicious men were in Forest Hills Cemetery, but they failed to investigate. Edward Powers, who later identified the two men to patrolman Inglis at South Street, had followed the two into Forest Hills Cemetery. As he was on his way to work, he asked two people to inform the police. Powers said that one of the two had done so, because a policeman later told him of receiving the information. Another witness, Lawrence Gingoff, testified that as he was looking into the saloon during the robbery, patrolman Butler came upon the scene, looked into the window, and walked off, probably to go to a patrol box for help. When it was his turn to testify, patrolman Butler said that when he reached the door of the saloon, one of the men fired his pistol at him. He jumped back, and in the time it took him to draw his revolver, the bandits had run from the saloon and up the street. Patrolman Butler went on to testify that he gave chase, firing at the bandits and shouting at them to stop. When he lost sight of them, he boarded a car that was going in the opposite direction, explaining that he was sent in the wrong direction by a citizen. When he realized his mistake, he returned in a wagon pressed into service.
“In Defense Of Police”
Boston Globe, 1 Aug. 1908
The next day, Hugh McDougall, accused of shooting patrolman Edward McMahon at Forest Hills Cemetery, was released by Judge Perrins when no witnesses could testify to his presence at the scene of the shooting. Eight witnesses had testified for the defense when the judge discharged the defendant.
Following the revelations coming from the court hearings of De Vico, Sperduto and McDougall, Police Commissioner O’Meara defended his men. According to his statement, there were 238 policemen of all ranks on duty at Forest Hills Cemetery, not the 600 claimed by some. One hundred and forty nine men stood guard, while 89 entered the cemetery. Of those, it was determined that 67 fired 208 shots. After pointing out that the two missing fugitives could have left the cemetery before the police cordon was in place, the commissioner stated, “I have studied the events of the night with a greater interest perhaps than any other man can have and I do not see wherein the plan could have been improved, even if the work were to be done again.” Regarding Mr. McDougall, the commissioner said that his arrest was due to his own folly, and that if one of the fugitives had been in the cemetery at the time and had later escaped, it was due to the police believing that McDougall himself was that man.
“Mauren Girls In Harlem”
Boston Globe, 30 Oct. 1908
Boston Police detectives traced Leontine Mauren and her sister Elizabeth to a lodging house on 170th Street, New York City, where they were working as dressmakers. The police were confident that the sisters had no information to provide regarding the case, and expected to drop their watch on the two. With Peter Plaude in Russia, and Andrew Jekapson and Peter Sware assumed to be there as well, it was likely that no arrests would ever be made in the case.
Here, the trail goes quiet for over five years. On February 6, 1914, one final report is made in the Boston Globe. The Boston police announced that the two fugitives involved in the Jamaica Plain shootings of 1908 were dead. Three years earlier, two of the three men who escaped from Boston were involved in the Houndsditch jewelry robbery in London in December, 1910. One was shot and killed by one of his companions, and the other was killed in a building fire while fighting off the police.
Only in recent months had the Boston police learned of the connection between the events in London and the crimes that shocked Jamaica Plain. Inspector Thomas Lynch traveled to London, and with the intelligence gained there, an investigation in Boston was carried out and corroborated what he had learned. The companions of Edmund Gutman, the man who had been killed at Forest Hills Cemetery, were Fritz Svars and Poolka Mourrivtz. Both were Letts and anarchists, and both were known as criminals with many deaths on their hands. Inspector Lynch had learned in London that Svars had killed Herbert Knox, the cemetery watchman. Gutman was not killed by bullets fired by the Boston police, nor by his own hand, but had been killed by Mourrivtz before he and Svars fled. Gutman had told them that he could not keep up their pace, and Mourrivtz killed him out of fear that Gutman might be captured and talk.
It was a tip from Boston’s Lettish community that sent Lynch to London, following rumors that the two would be found there. In London, he learned that both Svars and Mourrivtz had boasted of the raid on the saloon and the running shoot-out through Jamaica Plain. A woman who was associated with both men in London could not say where the crimes had occurred, but the details she gave were such that the police were confidant that the crimes she described and those that took place in Jamaica Plain were the same.
In London, the Houndsditch robbery and the notorious Siege of Sidney Street repeated the events of Jamaica Plain in a remarkable way. As in Jamaica Plain, there was an initial robbery/shootout and a later siege on the surrounded fugitives. During the attempted robbery at Houndsditch, three policemen were killed by Russian revolutionaries. Through a tip, the gang was found in a house at 100 Sidney Street. When police attempted to take them, a gun battle erupted in which the police found themselves seriously out-gunned. Winston Churchill, the Home Secretary at the time, called in the Scots Guards, and during the siege, the building caught fire and burned to the ground. As the Boston Police came to learn, two of the men killed in London had taken part in the Jamaica Plain raid and shootout as well. So here we have the promised connection between Churchill and Jamaica Plain.
So our story finally ends, but the questions continue.
1. How did Edmund Gutman die? If we credit the story from London, we would have to believe that Mourrivtz shot Gutman as he hid behind the fir tree, but did so unnoticed by 89 policemen in the cemetery. The “fog of war” is relevant here. Can we trust the police story as conveyed by the Globe article? This entire story is an indictment of the value of eyewitness evidence. The original “swarthy” Italian bandits turned out to be sandy-haired Latvians, and the policemen who gave the story of Gutman’s death staged a massive brawl over the body.
2. How did Miss Mauren go from rabid anarchist, to gun moll on the run, to harmless Harlem seamstress? President McKinley had been assassinated in 1901 by Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist. Revolution had been put down in Russia in 1905, and pressure by the Czar’s secret police caused many, including Letts, to flee their homeland. How much did these events play in the portrayal of Leontine Mauren? If xenophobia played a part, it becomes harder to explain the sudden disinterest in her. Perhaps someone in the local Lettish community, feeling the pressure of midnight raids and round-ups, decided to point the finger at Mauren to protect the greater community. In the end, Leontine Mauren was able to convince the Boston police that she had no part in the crimes and provided no aid to the fugitives.
3. What of Plaude and Jekapson? According to reports from the Lettish community, there was no doubt that these two men would be Gutman’s partners in crime. They were picked out by witnesses in the gypsy moth crew photograph. If they were innocent, then the police must have pointed them out in the photo and asked, “Is this them?” rather than requiring them to pick out the men on their own. So why did they run? They had been involved in the installment store scam, and perhaps they brought a distrust of the police with them from their homeland.
4. What of Peter Sware? He was the fourth man, suspected of standing guard outside the saloon. Could Sware be the same man as Fritz Svars, who was killed in London? In the Boston Globe articles, De Vico became De Vigo, and it was certainly common for immigrants to change their names when they came to the United States. The Globe gives us no help here.
5. Why the Italians? Witnesses described the bandits as “swarthy.” De Vico and Sperduto were picked up by policemen on the basis of eyewitness descriptions. Patrolman Buckley heard an Italian accent from the man he chased. How did straw-haired Latvians become dark Italians? The statement of the witness in open court: “They all look alike,” certainly tells us something about the mentality of the time.
6. Why did the police insist on prosecuting Sperduto, De Vico and McDougall? Reports of their doubts as to the involvement of all three had already been published in the newspaper. They clearly recognized the inherent weakness of eyewitness identifications, and logic told them that a small immigrant group would not trust outsiders. It almost seems that they preferred going to court and losing to telling their witnesses that they had accused the wrong men.
Finally, for bonus trivia points, a Jamaica Plain connection can be made to Alfred Hitchcock. His 1934 film The Man Who Knew Too Much featured Peter Lorre and drew on the events at Sidney Street for its final shootout scene. Hitchcock remade his own film in 1956 with Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day, and featuring the song Que Sera, Sera, but without the climactic Sidney Street scene.
So the story finally ends for good. No movie was made about the events in Jamaica Plain, and no books were written. Both this middle-aged writer and his 82-year-old mother grew up in Jamaica Plain, and neither ever heard the story. Perhaps the people of Jamaica Plain were just too busy working and raising families to bother retelling the story to their neighbors and children. In any case, it is a story worth passing on to future generations.
43 Union Ave in 1908.
43 Union Ave. in 2007
The robbery suspect shot at Forest Hills Cemetery
Map of the crime scene
I built a phono-oscillator transmitter, connected a microphone and a 78 rpm turntable into an amplifier, strung the wire outside my bedroom window, and climbed a tree at Parley Avenue to attach it. I called it “WBIM” for “The World’s Best In Music” at 900 on the AM dial. The dial position of 900AM seemed to be clear enough, so I was really “in like Flynn” (a familiar Boston expression at the time.)
The “phono-oscillator” was a technical radio invention that transmitted the recorded music from a record player turntable in one room to a regular radio receiver in, say, the living room without a wire connection. In fact, every radio in the house tuned to the AM frequency of the phono-oscillator could receive the same “broadcast.” It was legitimately designed for a limited range signal, maybe only a few hundred feet.
There were people in a nearby apartment complex who could hear the broadcast, and my best friend, Kirk Seward, could hear it clearly on Goldsmith Place and he was several blocks away. I also learned to my complete surprise that there were listeners to my WBIM broadcasts in Nashua, NH…almost 50 miles away!! They complained to the FCC of my interference with their own station, WOTW at the same 900AM in Nashua. That long wire on to the tree top made a big difference, of course the amplifier gave the broadcast a good boost as well … but a 50 mile “signal skip” from Boston to Nashua was totally unexpected.
I found out that by being on the air only intermittently for almost ten months, the FCC monitoring equipment at The Customs House tower in downtown Boston could not easily locate my “pirate” transmitter. I’d come home from school and “sign on” for a few minutes or a half- hour before dinner and homework, and then again sometimes on Saturdays to play a few 78 rpm records.
One Saturday morning, however, the Feds rang my apartment doorbell at 590 Centre Street, my Dad met them, heard them say that “having an illegal transmitter would be cause for imprisonment and/or a $10,000 fine” … or, they could just take the equipment. Dad wisely said, “Take it!” and the G-Men then came into my bedroom unannounced, of course. I didn’t even say “Goodbye” to my vast listening audience, but I remember the final song playing on the turntable was “The Song Is Ended (But The Melody Lingers On)” which, I guess, is an appropriate farewell for WBIM.
I really don’t know how many people actually listened to WBIM. I drove my Dad’s 1949 Buick around, over Parley Avenue, down Parley Vale with the car radio tuned to 900AM while my friend, Alain DeVergie played the records, and I could clearly hear the broadcast. It faded when I drove around Jamaica Pond and over to Perkins Street. But, if you remember hearing WBIM, I’d like to hear from you.
This early experiment led to a 40+ year career in the broadcasting business, a legitimate career, of course. Now, in my retirement, I produce a program on Internet radio at http://www.bostonpete.com/russ called SONGBOOK AMERICA. I still occasionally play “The Song Is Ended” so, let me know if you’d like to hear it online.
Russ and his best friend, Kirk Seward, are shown in this 1949 photo. Russ is speaking into the microphone while Kirk listens with a headset. The boys are broadcasting from 78 rpm disks like the one held by Kirk.
A rack of 78s can be seen to the right of Russ and an electric clock with a sweep second hand. Notice the speaker on the shelf and the phono oscillator transmitter with two tubes. Behind the curtain was the bedroom window through which the antenna wire ran out to a tree top.
Photograph provided courtesy of William Kirkwood Seward. After graduating from high school in 1953, Kirk worked for the Boston Public Library in Copley Square until he sadly became disabled with Multiple Sclerosis when he was in his early thirties.
Russ volunteered after high school classes in 1952 when WGBH-FM, Boston first began on the air with studios in Symphony Hall. Then off to a Summer announcing job at Radio Vermont, WDEV in Waterbury until his military service and Armed Forces Radio. In 1955, Russ had a live, variety television show on Sunday nights for a year on WTAO-TV 56, the first UHF television station in Boston. It was just black and white TV back then and done with only one camera from the studio’s transmitter building on top of Mt. Zion.
While attending Northwestern University, he was an NBC Page at the Merchandise Mart studios in Chicago, then he joined several stations; WNMP and WEAW in Evanston, WEBH in the Edgewater Beach Hotel, and he was with an investor group who put a new Chicago FM station, WFMQ on the air.
He moved to do West Coast sales, marketing and promotion with Crowell-Collier’s KEWB in San Francisco and KGY in Olympia, WA in the 1960’s. He relocated back East in the 1970’s for sales and marketing positions with WEZF in Burlington, VT and hosted Ella, Frank and Friends on Vermont Public Radio for ten years. He was also the Development Director for Vermont Public Television. While with The Knight Quality Stations, he represented a network of New England radio stations for four years. He designed multi-media marketing concepts promoting Quebec tourism while living in Montreal as their Canadian Marketing Director.
In 1991, Russ moved to Newport, RI where he had a jazz show on WOTB-FM “Cool FM” and a Home Shopping radio show on WADK. In 1994, he relocated to Southern California and entertained thousands of retired seniors by presenting a program he created of reminiscing therapy with old time radio, interactive trivia and nostalgia music.
You may contact Russ at:
One Man’s Recollections of Earlier Times
By Richard Goolsky
The streetcar tracks were still there, winding down from Dudley Station, following Roxbury Street to Columbus Avenue and under what we called “The Bridge,” the dividing line between Roxbury and Jamaica Plain. The railroad bridge carried the old coal-burning steam trains over Centre Street and along Lamartine Street out to New York or some faraway place that a pre-teen couldn’t comprehend. In fact, even South Boston was a distant place where my relatives lived.
To my right, where the Bromley-Heath Project now stands, was an empty field where carnivals would set up in the summer months. Next to the field before Bickford Street was a red-brick tenement with a row of stores on the street level, and a barroom, the Monte Carlo, which Tom Nardone owned. His hobby was showing movies, and that was the way his sign read in the window. Next door was an Italian food store, the Stella chain. I can still smell the aroma of olives, salamis and cheeses coming through the open door. Across the street was Rocco’s Barber Shop and a couple of doors up was Saleri’s Variety store, where, for a nickel, you could fill a bag with penny candy that would last through two cartoons and a serial - Superman, maybe. (Remember when a brand-new 1941 Buick would go off a cliff and the episode would end, and the next Saturday a 1928 Ford would crash in flames at the bottom?) All this could be seen at the Madison, a movie house where admission was nine cents. Dutchy was the old ticket taker. A few doors up was Hoffman’s Bakery, a great German bakeshop with some wonderful strudels and tarts.
On the other side of the street was Plant’s Shoe Factory, a large building that took up about four city blocks. It housed many industries, including Block’s Leather Jackets, where my mother worked as a stitcher. She would put together a suede jacket for me out of the best leather she could find. But the best part of the building was a very loud steam whistle that would blow at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. and could be heard all over J.P. On snow days someone would give three or four blasts that echoed for miles. It meant NO SCHOOL! This was before television.
At the end of the factory was a park with benches that extended down to the Heath Street projects. A Stop & Shop supermarket was built there in the 1950s. On the corner of Walden Street stood a small Protestant church. I can’t recall ever seeing anyone enter that church. A row of stores extended toward Gay Head Street, including Helen’s Bakery and a men’s club that was housed in the basement and called the Jam-Rox Club. Us kids never knew what went on in there. Hanley’s Pharmacy anchored the block on the corner of Gay Head. It had the standard marble soda fountain for the time that Charley Hanley owned it and another one at the corner of Centre and Moraine. It was also the corner the big kids hung out on. But most were gone now, fighting in WWII.
Across the street was Mozart Street, where I lived for about 17 years. The Lowell School, a four-story brick structure with a slate roof and iron fire escapes clinging to its sides, had been standing there since the 1880s. The other corner was occupied by another Protestant church. Forgive me for not knowing the names of the two aforementioned churches, but being raised Catholic in those days it was almost forbidden to know such things - one of my first lessons in bigotry. I lived in the big three-decker, nine-apartment house next to the playground - third floor, middle unit. The John Holland playground was named after a WWI soldier who was killed in action. It was our ballfield and one of our hangouts. Every morning at 9 old Mr. McGregor would come out with his ladder and set up the swings under the “swing roof” as we called it. It was summer, and the days seemed to last twice as long as they do now. The playground was surrounded by seven or eight poplar trees then, very tall trees. In late summer, every time a big storm hit, one of the trees would be blown over. God, every kid in the neighborhood would grab his old man’s ax and those trees would be in pieces before the day was over. The city would send a truck around to pick up the pieces. I heard they built a school where the playground was, and built a playground where the Lowell School once stood. How about that!
I remember back in 1947 when my father died, my mother had his wake at the house, one of the last house wakes I had ever been to. It lasted three days and nights, not a dry eye in the place. They talk about Irish wakes but this one was Polish, and it wouldn’t have been outdone by any wearing of the green.
Back up to Centre Street there was Teddy’s Hardware Store owned by Theodore Levin, a fine man who treated everyone really nicely, and next to him was a little fruit store owned by a small Italian guy named Joe. Thinking back, we were a melting pot of nationalities: Irish, Italian, Jewish, Armenian, Greek, some American Indians, and blacks. And we all got along just fine.
Now, when we got a little too worldly for the playground, there was another hangout spot, the Busy Bee Spa. It was a soda shop, a meeting place with nickel cokes and six plays for a quarter on the jukebox. It was owned by an old Greek couple whose son fought in the war and later rose to the rank of general in the army. If we lingered a little too long, or Police Officer Davenport, the cop on the beat, was having a bad day, he would tell us in as few words as possible to get off the #@!%& corner. If we didn’t move fast enough, “Hubba-Hubba” Davenport, as some wiseguy would call him, would lash out with one of his size 11’s and plant his foot on the nearest rear end. He said he kept his shoes shined on our rear ends.
The Blessed Sacrament Church and what was then known as the Cheverus School was a big part of my life for over 10 years. The church was led by Monsignor Burke, Father O’Leary, Father Coyne and Father Clark. I’m still pretty sure that you have to be Irish Catholic to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Depending on the politics of the day, Blessed Sacrament parish was split with Our Lady of Lourdes (over near Washington Street) for the presence of one of J.P.’s most illustrious citizens, James Michael Curley. Ever the showman, he would arrive for Mass five minutes late, march to the first pew of the church and get more admiring glances than if God Almighty was here for the Second Coming.
The school was run most efficiently by the Sisters of Charity, who, I am sure, taught the Marines how to fight the Second World War. But thanks to my mother’s homemade fudge and the fact that they couldn’t put up with me for another year, I escaped with honors in 1951. In June after school let out, the church held the Rose Festival, a fundraiser for the parish. A carnival was held on the grounds for about a week. Two cars would be raffled off. Can you now imagine a Buick and a Chrysler for 10 cents a chance?
Across from the church was the undertaker’s parlor run by Mr. Milely, who also was Santa Claus at the kids’ Christmas Party. Boy, I hated to sit on his lap. Half a block up was Estelle’s Bake Shop, where we would go after Mass to bring home jelly doughnuts the size of softballs for 50 cents a dozen. The next block up to Hyde Square, and the end of my neighborhood walk, was taken up by a five & dime store, Sawyer’s Drug Store, that was right out of the 1890s. A German deli, another barroom and a couple of package-goods stores were there, too.
The streetcar tracks went around the rotary, past the First National Store on the corner of Day Street, past the Angel Guardian Home for Boys and the Jamaica Theater, to connect to the tracks of the South Huntington Avenue line and go to the car barn on South Street, where a project was later built when the tracks were ripped up, the poles for the electric wire were ripped down and some of my childhood was paved over.
If anyone I once knew wants to get in touch, please write: Richard D. Goolsky, 912 Canvasback Rd., Rio Rancho, NM 87124; e-mail:
By Richard Goolsky
Here’s to the kids I grew up with. In each others’ eyes we’ll stay forever young. Most of us parted ways when we were twenty-one or so. Some had nicknames, some not. There was Bobby (Cupcake), Sully, Hawkeye, Danny, Frankie (Happy Tooth; braces weren’t an option in a working class neighborhood.) I can’t forget Muzzy, Chuck and Scully and Sonny. Jeez, I think the cast of Westside Story ripped us off. My name is Richard Goolsky and I grew up in the “block” at 41 Mozart Street and lived there from 1942 until 1958.
Jamaica Plain really hadn’t changed much from the 1880’s until after the Korean War in the 1950’s. Times weren’t stable for those seventy-some-odd years. First there was World War I, followed by the Great Depression, which lasted through the thirties. Then World War II came, so the surroundings stayed nearly the same through the first half of the Twentieth Century.
A lot of people came to Jamaica Plain from Germany in the late 1800’s to work in the breweries. There were still two breweries operating in the 1940’s. The Haffenreffer Brewery off Boylston Street made Pickwick Ale. We called it the poor man’s whiskey. A quart of it, and you were on your way.
The other brewery was the Croft Brewery at Heath and Terrace Streets. They also made a couple of potent brews, Croft Cream Ale and another god-awful concoction called Gamecock Ale. Living between these two, and high up on the third floor, I thought that the natural smell of Jamaica Plain was malt, barley and hops. The names of some of the streets reflect the German influence: Mozart, Dresden, Minden, Germania, Schiller and Hoffman Streets. On Amory Street near Jackson Square there was a German Social Club, The Arbiter.
Growing up in Jamaica Plain in the 1940’s, our lives were mostly confined to a six or seven block area. We hung out around the John Holland Playground on Mozart Street. It was named after a World War I vet who was killed in the war. I went back to Jamaica Plain this year for the first time since the early 1960’s and found a school on what was the playground, and the Lowell School, which was on the corner of Centre and Mozart, was razed. A playground is now on the site. Progress?
Most of the kids’ lives revolved around playgrounds. Jefferson Field, also known as the “Ledge”, would encompass Day and Heath Streets and the Hyde Square area. On the other end there were the Green and Carolina Street playgrounds. The kids around Parker Street and Bromley Park and Bickford Street had the playground on top of Parker Hill. Shared by all was Daisy Field off the Jamaica Way. I guess the kids around Eggleston Square had Franklin Park.
We had a sort of unwritten pecking order about hanging in different places in the neighborhood. When we reached around thirteen, we moved to the “Busy Bee Spa” on the corner at Centre and Wyman Streets. Five cent cokes, and six plays for a quarter on the Juke Box. The dividing line between the two police stations that serviced the area was right around there so if we didn’t move fast enough when the cops told us to get off of the corner, we had a choice of getting a kick in the seat of the pants by either “Hubba Hubba” Davenport from Station Thirteen on Seaverns Avenue or Cornelius Mahoney from Station Ten in Roxbury Crossing. Back in those days the cops used to keep their shoes shined by kicking us in the rear, for no apparent reason.
Around the age of seventeen the next move was to hang around Hanley’s Drug Store on the corner of Centre and Gay Head Streets. I bet that if the doorway next to the drug store hasn’t been remodeled, you can still see some names carved into the moldings from the 1940’s. During the early 1940’s that corner was kind of deserted after the eighteen-year-old kids went off to war. I guess it’s OK to name some of them. Mishey Murphy, Harold and his brother Richie Fahey, Mal Maloney, Jackie Curren, Eddie Smith, and Doodie Gallager were from the Mozart/Preising Street area.
To show how things revolve, after the vets were mustered out of the service, most returned to the playground on Mozart Street. They were eligible to collect money from the government. I don’t remember the official name of the program, but they called it the 9/20 Club. That meant that they could collect nine bucks a week for twenty weeks. Most played stickball at the playground until the dough ran out. Seems like it takes about ten years to circle the block up Bolster Street to Wyman and down Centre and back to the playground again.
Richard Goolsky can be reached at 912 Canvasback Rd., Rio Rancho, NM 87124 or by e-mail to: Reprinted by permission from the November 2002 JP Bulletin.
By Richard Goolsky
The wife and I flew back to Massachusetts from our home in New Mexico last May. After the compulsory visits to relatives and friends, we put aside some time to visit our old neighborhoods. Carol grew up in Dorchester Lower Mills, near the old Bakers Chocolate Mill.
Things there were pretty much the same as they were nearly fifty years ago - new names on the old storefronts, more traffic congestion, but easily recognizable. We drove to Jamaica Plain by way of Walk Hill Street to Forest Hills. That’s when I started to notice the changes. If it weren’t for the overpass to the Arborway, I would have missed the exit to South Street.
The El (elevated train) that used to go through Boston and on to Everett was gone. I looked to my right, and the MBTA yard that used to be the starting point for the streetcars that ran to West Roxbury, Roslindale, Hyde Park and Huntington Avenue was an empty field. On South Street, the project that used to be the turn- around point for the Dudley Street streetcars was still there. I was so busy trying to drive and look around that I didn’t even notice if the old tracks were still there.
Things hadn’t changed at all for the next few blocks. Curtis Hall was still there; we used to go swimming in the pool in the basement. We called it “the tank.” No bathing suit for the guys, but the girls wore city-issued one-piece suits. I’ve been told that the bigger the girl was, the smaller the size suit she got, and vice-versa. The monument area didn’t look too different either. Gone of course was the First National Market.
Pictured: 1905 photogaph of Curtis Hall from a postcard published by The Metropolitan News Company, Boston.
When we came to Burroughs Street, I remembered the drug store on the corner, but I remembered even more the Hanlon’s shoe store that was above it. You had to climb about forty old wooden stairs to get to it, but what a great smell of leather - no man-made materials back then. A new pair of penny loafers to go with your dungarees cost you $6.95.
My thoughts also ran down Burroughs Street to the Children’s Museum. What a great place that was. They had stuffed birds and animals and displays on the Southwest and other sections of our country. They took us on nature walks and bird watching hikes to the Arnold Arboretum and around Jamaica Pond. How great it is to have a rural setting so close to downtown Boston.
Pictured: The Children’s Museum at 60 Burroughs St. Photogaph from Jamaica Plain Historical Society archives. Photograph by Walter H. Marx, Jr.
One of the exhibits was of mounted animals from Africa and Australia; they even had a small baby elephant. The story is that the school kids of Boston around 1914 saved their pennies, and with them the city purchased three baby elephants for Franklin Park. They called them Molly, Waddy and Tony. That was Molly in the display - she died of pneumonia a few months later. I think I spent every Saturday there from the time I was seven until I was a teen. I heard that the museum still exists in Boston, near the waterfront. I wonder if they go for nature walks along the Big Dig?
Pictured: Photogaph from Jamaica Plain Historical Society archives. From a postcard published by Mason Brothers and Company.
Across from Burroughs Street was my first bank, The Boston Five-Cent Savings Bank. I think the big clock in front was still there, but that could be wishful thinking. Next door to the bank was Harvey’s hardware store. It was a small turn-of-the-century store with bins for the nails and screws, the kind of place that you can only see at the Smithsonian now.
Gone also was Woolworth’s on the corner of Seaverns Avenue. The old fire station that was across the street had moved and the Mohigan Market on the corner of Green Street was gone. What caught my eye was the kaleidoscope of colors of the storefronts: the reds, oranges, yellows and purples. Most of Centre Street looked about the same as it always had until I got to the Mary E. Curley School. The only change there was new windows, but across the street on the corner of Spring Park Avenue, the Wolffel Brothers Shell gas station was an empty field.
The Mobil Station, and the A&P Super Market, where I had my first job, was also just a passing memory. Looking down South Huntington Avenue, as I continued down Centre Street, I first became aware that the streetcar tracks weregone. I know that the tracks had been ripped up on lower Centre Street in the 1940’s, but not seeing them on South Huntington was my first real notice of change since the last time I was in Jamaica Plain maybe forty years ago.
Continuing down Centre Street, the Connolly Branch Library was still there. Interestingly, although owned by the City of Boston, it was started when Monsignor Connolly of the Blessed Sacrament Church died and willed his vast book collection to start a local library. From Hyde Square down to the Roxbury line was, well, like I was driving down an unfamiliar street. Gone were the Jamaica Theater, The Hyde Square Bowling Alleys, and Braun’s German Deli.
The First National Super on the corner of Day Street, O’Donnell’s Packy, Woody’s Record Store and Pino’s Barbershop and further down the block Sawyer’s Drug Store. What a great place to have a frappe! Walking through the door was like going back to the 1890s - a marble counter, ceiling fans and the old wooden and wire tables and chairs. On the opposite corner used to be the Pelham Spa, another hangout for the kids from the square.
Callahan’s Clothing on the corner of Forbes St. was a very classy men’s store in its time. The place that really makes my old memories salivate, Elsie’s Bake Shoppe, was next door. After Sunday mass, the ritual was to get a dozen jelly donuts or cinnamon coffee rolls. Now I’m not talking about today’s donuts and rolls, I mean donuts and rolls the size of your hand, I mean so big that only a half a dozen would fit in a foot square box, and the price was only 60 cents a dozen. And the taste? Let me put it this way. Sit back and think, think of your first real meaningful passionate kiss. Not the kiss from your Grandmother, or your fat Aunt Sophie with the moustache. I mean the kiss that you will remember until your dying day. I bet you haven’t thought about it in years, until now. That’s how I remember those baked goods. There’s much to be said about Blessed Sacrament Church and the old Cheverus School, but I’ll take up the almost ten years I spent there in grammar school in another chapter.
Morgan’s Creamery on the corner of Westerly Street, the Busy Bee Spa on the corner of Wyman Street, and Moe’s Meat Market on the other corner had vanished. Someone had told me my street, Mozart, was now one way coming up from Lamartine Street, so I turned down Wyman to go around the block. What struck me was that there weren’t any parking spaces. The houses hadn’t changed at all, except for different coats of paint. The First National on the corner of Mozart and Chestnut Ave., and the Pioneer Food Store on Mozart and Armstrong, were gone. I would have liked to park the car and walk around, but there were no spaces.
A playground still stands where the John Holland playground once was. Turning back onto Centre I expected to see the old Plant’s Shoe building. I gave a yell asking one of the locals, “Where did it go?” After a strange look and a short pause came the reply, “It burned down.” It must have been some fire; that place was huge. Most people don’t know much about it, other than that a lot of separate businesses were located there. Alpert’s Furniture, Bernet’s Yarn, Garland Sweaters, and Blocks Leather Jackets - where my mother worked as a Stitcher - were among the many tenants.
A wealthy industrialist, Thomas Plant, built the Plant Shoe Factory in the 1890s. His family came from Canada, by way of Maine. When built, the whole building housed his company that specialized in women’s shoes. The Great Depression took a toll on his business and he had to subdivide the factory. What is little known about the nine-story building, situated on thirteen acres, is that Fredrick Law Olmsted designed it. Olmsted designed Central Park in New York City and the Emerald Necklace that runs from the Charles River through the Fenway, Jamaica Pond and the Arnold Arboretum to Franklin Park.
At the Plant Shoe Factory, there was also a nice little park with trees and bushes and benches. It was a kind of oasis. This disappeared around 1950 when a Stop & Shop was built on the corner of Walden Street. The last couple of blocks towards Jackson Square were also devoid of my childhood places. The Madison Theater and Hoffman’s Bake Shop were both gone.
On the corner of Wise Street, I expected to see Kelly’s Bar Room, an old joint that must have been there over a hundred years. I wanted to stop in and ask what ever happened to the old crowd. However, when I got there, in its place was an empty lot. A street fair or flea market was in progress but I didn’t stop. I guess it’s inevitable that things change, but in my head I still think about the cinnamon rolls the size of your hand and the guys pulled up to bar stools at Kelly’s.
Richard Goolsky can be reached at 912 Canvasback Rd., Rio Rancho, NM 87124 or by e-mail to:
Reprinted by permission of the JP Bulletin. November 2002.