Published in the Boston Daily Globe on July 12, 1908
Histories record facts, furnish dates, and tell the cause and effect of changes and progressions, political and otherwise, but to feel the underlying sentiment of past times, to acquire that close personal touch with persons and events, you must read what men of those times have written; or, better still, if you can, talk with men ripe in years, who can give you first hand, from their own knowledge and reminiscence, the human touches, the little details which are crowded out of histories.
If, instead of being satisfied with simply reading American history and thereby getting, at best, a sort of distant look at past events and people, you would be made to feel a closer relationship and a truer familiarity with those events and people, you must talk with a man like George W. Fowle of Jamaica Plain, who as a child was held in Lafayette’s arms; who knew William Lloyd Garrison and saw him mobbed in the streets of Boston; who later stood with Garrison at the corner of Washington and State Streets and saw the first regiment of colored soldiers go off to the war; who saw Wilkes Booth standing back of his house in Jamaica Plain three days before Lincoln was shot; whose father knew and helped John Howard Payne; whose brother knew and worked under Admiral Foote and heard him give General Grant encouragement and advice at the beginning of the war; whose mother died on the day that George Washington passed away; whose memory, in short, teems with interesting facts of history.
Mr. Fowle, although 87 last Thursday, is as active as a man of middle years. Not a faculty is impaired. His eye is keen, his hearing as acute and his mind as alert as ever, and in talking of happenings of many years ago his memory never fails him.
He has always taken a deep interest in the affairs of the country and its people and thus is able to easily call to mind a host of incidents large and small. And it is a source of great pleasure to him to reflect upon events which have happened since his memory began.
Mr. Fowle comes of the sturdiest of New England stock, and he claims relationship with all the Fowles in the country. “The only family of Fowles which came across,” he explains, “were four brothers who landed back in 1600 and something.
“One settled in Woburn, one in Connecticut and the others in Virginia, and from these boys sprang the families of Fowles here now. One of those who went to Virginia married into the Custis family, one daughter of which was the wife of George Washington.
“I was born in New York and when I was but a baby our family moved to Westfield, which is at the extreme westerly end of the state, on Lake Erie. My father’s mission in going there was to establish a customhouse for the U.S. Government to handle goods that were coming over from Canada. While working there in the government service he organized a military company and as its head was quite a factor in the town.
“While we were there, that was in 1824, Lafayette made his second visit to this country, and, as you’ve read, was feted generally. His mission here, of course, was to be present at the laying of the cornerstone of Bunker Hill Monument. While here, Congress voted him $200,000 and a large piece of land in Ohio, and being naturally curious to have a look at his land he traveled by the old stage coaches to the west, or what was then considered the west, passing through Westfield on the way. It became necessary for him to stop there a day or two and he was given a royal reception.
“I was but three then, but my mother used to discourse frequently on the affair afterward, so that it seems as though I have a recollection of it all my own. My father as head of the militia company helped arrange for the reception, which included an elaborate ball in the evening.
Held by Lafayette
“Lafayette, who, by the way, was extremely fond of dancing, had the first dance with my mother. The next night there was another reception, and many women and children were there, and then Lafayette showed his love of children. I was one of those whom he picked up and held while he joked and laughed with the mothers.
“A few years later we returned to New York, and one of the things that happened while we lived there that left a most vivid impression upon my mind was the epidemic of cholera which spread from England through New York down into Central America. It was terrible in New York that summer, and I can remember now the death teams going by loaded with bodies. I was about eight then.
“While in New York my father used to make trips abroad, Tunis being one of the ports he touched. One day, about four days before he was to sail, a man came up and asked him the cost of a trip to Tunis. My father told him, and the man’s reply was that it would take all the money he had and leave him nothing after he got there, so my father offered to let him live on the boat after they reached there.
“The next night my father and the man were walking along the street and stopped in front of a house to hear a woman playing a musical instrument and singing. One of the songs was ‘Home Sweet Home’ and as the woman finished singing it the man turned to my father and said ‘I wonder what the woman would say if she knew the author of that piece was standing out here listening to it?’
“When my father had found words to express his astonishment at learning who his companion was, Payne explained that it was his song and how he came to write it.
Payne Tells How He Wrote “Home Sweet Home”
” ’ There were four of us boys,’ he said, ‘who were accustomed to meet in the eating saloon, and one night while there someone suggested that each try to write a song about home. We all sat there and scribbled away, and what that woman has just sung was the result.’ Payne was afterward appointed Consul to Tunis and I have a couple of letters at home now that he wrote my father while he was there.
“I had in my possession for many years the only flag with the original 13 stars and 13 stripes in the country. About two years ago I gave it to the State and it is now hanging in the State House. Soon after Congress decided on that pattern of flag my grandfather had one made and hung it from the old homestead.
“Upon his death it was handed down to my father and later to me. The old homestead where it first hung is 150 years old, and still standing on Amory Street near Hogs Bridge. The flag is at least 125 years old. The late Admiral Sampson, while at the Charlestown Navy Yard, heard of the flag and came out to see it.
“When I spread it out before him he said: ‘We are trying to put the old Constitution in such a condition that she will last for many years, and when we get her improvements completed we must have a gala day on board and raise this flag on her, even if for a day.’ This pretty plan was never carried out, because the Admiral’s death came soon afterward.
“Some of my choicest recollections are of William Lloyd Garrison, that noble hearted Abolitionist, and I am indebted to a kindly fate that threw me in with him frequently. I first saw him on the day that he was mobbed in the streets of Boston.
“I happened to be walking down State Street and saw a crowd ahead of me, and as I reached Washington Street saw a mob in front of the office of the Liberator, Garrison’s paper. I got there just after he had been taken into the Old State House, which was then City Hall, for protection.
“The crowd tore down the sign over Garrison’s office, and if I had only realized what important history was then being made I would have saved a piece of the sign which I picked from the ruins and carried around half the day for company.
“Well, I walked through the great yelling mob from the Liberator office to City Hall, and as I reached there Mayor Lyman opened a window and began to address the crowd. I saw Garrison standing beside him. The Mayor appealed to the crowd in the interest of fairness and peace.
“The crowd still hung around waiting for Garrison to come out, and they were nearly outwitted too. I happened to walk around on Wilson’s Lane, which is now Devonshire Street, and saw Garrison being bundled into a carriage, having come out on the other side of the building.
“Just as the carriage was getting away the crowd realized what was happening and they attacked it, trying to cut the harness from the horse, etc. The driver was nervy and determined, however, and he slashed right and left with his whip and drove through that dense crowd.
“Those were exciting times, I tell you. They carried Garrison that day to the old Leverett Street jail. That was in the fall of 1835.
Garrison at Work
“I was a bookbinder, and although the doctors had told me I must keep out of doors all the time, and had been doing so for some time, I decided to buy a shop next to Garrison’s office, and I staid there about a year.
“One night when I came into my office I found a book lying on my desk which one of my workmen had left there, marked for Mr. Garrison and to be delivered that night. I was alone in my office, so I took the book up myself. I rapped on Mr. Garrison’s door and was bidden to enter. As I went into his printing office I saw him at his desk, alone in the shop, working like mad.
“We talked a few minutes and I remarked that he was staying late, to which he replied: ‘I’ve got to get my paper out in the morning. I’m writing an editorial now and when I get it finished I’ll set it up over there and then print it myself. I can’t afford to hire much help, and if I can’t get help I will do the whole thing myself.’
“It wasn’t so much what Garrison happened to say to me that night, but it was the way he said it; it was his whole bearing and the cast and expression of his countenance that told me that he was carving a niche in history. He was in the midst of his terrible struggle and there were yet many dark days ahead of him.
“About 25 years later I was standing at the corner of State and Washington Streets watching the first colored regiment that the north sent to the war, march to their boat. Robert Gould Shaw was at their head, and they marched, as they knew they were marching, to complete annihilation. The work of such men as Garrison was nearly over. They had fought against immense odds for years, night and day, and were watching a cruel war finish their labors.
“As I stood there watching that noble, self-sacrificing Shaw lead those Negroes away, I happened to turn my head and saw Garrison standing beside me. His eyes filled with tears, as he, too, watched the colored troops pass by.
“I spoke to him and asked him if he remembered that day so many years ago when he had stood by the side of Mayor Lyman in the window just over our heads, and he nodded. ‘Yes’ he said. ‘I well remember that day, and many others that have gone since. Our fight has been a long one and the fight those fellows are going into is to be a hard one, for not one of them will come back alive.
” ‘I’m sorry for those poor fellows, for I know just what will happen to them when they get down there,’ and worn and bent with the constant struggle of years, Garrison walked away. I later visited him at his home in Roxbury and he introduced me to his two sons, who are still living, as one of the ‘boys who was in his mob.’
Booth in Boston
“One morning in April 1865, while walking across the land in back of my house I saw two men standing on a pile of rocks that stood on some raised land back of mine. One of them raised his hand in salute and spoke to me, and I recognized my neighbor, Benjamin T. Stevenson. I returned his greeting and went on about my business. Three days later we were all astounded by the news that Lincoln had been assassinated.
“That day I met my neighbor Stevenson and as we talked over the grave situation he said to me: ‘Fowle, do you recall seeing me talking with a man back of your house three days ago?’ I told him that I did. ‘Well,’ said Stevenson, slowly and soberly, ‘that man was Wilkes Booth.’
“I could scarcely restrain my astonishment, and Stevenson went on to explain that on the night before I had seen him with Booth they both had been present at a gathering in Brookline, which was attended by a number of people - a social gathering it was, I believe. When the time came to leave, Booth told Stevenson that he was going to get back to Washington and was in a hurry to see about some mining interests of his.
“My neighbor said that there was no use in starting out at that time of night, and asked him to come to Jamaica Plain and spend the night with him. Booth accepted the invitation, and in the morning they walked out a piece from the house to look about.
“During all the time that Booth was in my neighbor’s company he never mentioned Lincoln, the war, or any of the prevailing troubles, and Stevenson could not believe that Booth, his guest, and Booth, the murderer, were one and the same.”
Thus did the old gentleman regale the reporter, who paid a birthday visit to him, with tales of the past. Nor were these all, for he told many more, not yet exhausting his fund of recollections. And he enjoyed telling them as much as the reporter enjoyed hearing them all.
He has a house full of interesting mementoes of the past, and his brother John and his wife are the proud possessors of like reminders. Another brother, Samuel A. Fowle, who lives in Arlington, was also in Washington at the time of the war, and can recount facts of time gone by. Samuel made medals while in Washington, which the soldiers wore in battle.
Mr. Fowle lives at 214 Chestnut Ave., Jamaica Plain, with his son’s family. His wife died about three years ago. When his father came east from New York they lived on Fort Hill. He learned the printing and bookbinding trade and went to Woburn and opened an office.
Mr. Fowle is a well-known figure in Jamaica Plain, respected by everyone. He is Deacon in the Boylston Congregational Church, and three years ago was tendered a reception by the Society in observance of his residence of half a century in the District. He has been treasurer of the Horticultural Society and Vice President of the Davis Street Home.
Production assistance and transcription by Peter O’Brien.
by Roy Magnuson
I spent the first year of my life in a three-decker at 20 Glade Avenue, a dead-end street off Glen Road near Franklin Park. On my first birthday in May, 1950 we moved to the third floor of a three-decker at 171 Forest Hills Street. My grandparents were the owners and lived on the second floor with my widowed aunt. Life on the third floor had its ups and downs, literally, but I look back on it with many fond memories.
One big issue was the heat. Not enough of it in winter, and too much of it in summer. Until about 1964 our main source of heat in winter was a coal-fired boiler in the cellar that fed steam radiators in our apartment. This system required constant attention and many trips down and up three flights of stairs every day to stay warm.
Each summer a delivery truck would bring several tons of coke, not coal, and deposit it into our cellar storage bin using a chute through a cellar window. I never understood why, but my father preferred coke over coal. Although he used to talk about the dangers of coal gas, I’m guessing that coke was cheaper.
The big decision each fall was when to fire up the boiler. Too early in the fall might mean using up coke when it wasn’t really necessary; too late in the fall might mean not having heat when we really needed it. When it got cold out, we really needed it.
When the big day came, it took a bit of work to get the boiler going. First we’d crumple up lots of newspaper and throw it in the boiler. Then came the kindling: lots of small pieces of wood; then bigger pieces of wood on top of that. Next, in went several lit wooden matches. The object was to get a good, strong wood fire going that produced a nice bed of red glowing coals. (Dad was always on the lookout for wood. When the old utility pole was replaced out front, he got the workers to leave it in our driveway. He spent many hours sawing and splitting it up.) After about a half hour, two shovels of coke went on top, the draft was adjusted, the fingers were crossed, and if everything went as planned, the coke caught, glowed bright red, and we had heat. But before the steam made its way up to our radiators we had the banging.
There was some kind of problem with the steam pipes that fed the radiators on the living room end of our apartment. Every time the heat “came up” we heard this loud bang-clang-bang-clang. It sounded like someone was hitting the pipes with a hammer. But the noise passed in less than 30 seconds, then came the blissful sound of the radiators hissing. That meant heat. Finally! No amount of fiddling with the involved radiators by lifting this end or that end or both ends could ever stop the banging. We learned to just live with it.
Every day in winter Dad made many trips down to the cellar to add coke, adjust the draft, shake down the ashes, shovel out the ashes, add more coke, dislodge a clinker, etc. Then in the early 1960s we converted to oil. That was just awesome. From that point on, when we got cold all we had to do was turn a thermostat on the dining room wall and after a while the pipes banged, the radiators hissed, and we got warm without having to go down to the cellar at all. What an improvement!
In summer we had the opposite problem: too much heat. All day the sun would shine down on the flat roof and bake our apartment. It got really hot. The kitchen at suppertime would often get unbearable. What saved us was our screened front porch. It faced east so it got no sun after noon. We spent many hours out there every summer trying to escape the heat. In 1965 my mom got a part time job at Diamond’s Dress Shop on Centre Street. Right from the beginning she must have saved every dime she made because before long she bought two small air conditioners, one for each bedroom, so we could sleep when it was hot. We were among the first in the neighborhood to have an air conditioner, and what a difference they made. Over the years Mom also worked at Jones Gift Shop, Wayne’s Clothing Store, and Eileen’s Women’s Store.
Before we converted to oil heat, our hot water came from a device in the kitchen called “the stack.” This thing was a cylindrical black gas-fired water heater that sat alongside the kitchen stove. It connected to a copper storage tank in a small closet. When we needed hot water we opened the stack’s door, lit a match, turned on the gas valve which ignited a good sized flame, then closed the door. If we just needed to wash the supper dishes, we only let it run a few minutes. We’d open the closet door and feel the top of the storage tank. If it was hot down several inches, that meant we had enough hot water for the dishes. But if we needed to take a bath (we had no shower), it had to run longer. We needed the top two feet of the tank to be hot to make sure we had enough hot water to fill the tub. We were always reminded to never forget to turn off the stack, because it could explode. The stack was not vented to the outside, which was fine in the winter because it warmed up the kitchen. In the summer it just made the kitchen even more unbearably hot. And it was dangerous because it could be extremely hot on the outside if it had just been running, but you couldn’t tell by looking at it. I learned to just stay away from it. It was removed when we converted to oil heat, which gave us “continuous hot water.” Good riddance.
Ours was the end three-decker in a row of eight three-deckers along Forest Hills Street. There were eight more around the corner on Lourdes Avenue, which also had three six-family houses. That’s a total of 66 apartments in a fairly small neighborhood. Each three-decker was owner occupied, and all were well maintained with an obvious pride of ownership. The neighborhood was very stable. Most families had been there a long time which meant you got to know your neighbors. All these apartments meant that there were plenty of kids to play with. When I was in grammar school, I had to go out to play every day unless it was raining. So did the other kids. We came home from school, changed our clothes, and then went out to play. We had to stay out until we were called for supper.
We found things to do because we had to. We played tag, hide-and-seek, red light, baseball, football. We threw rocks, rode bikes, climbed trees, went coasting in winter, collected horse chestnuts. We lived near the back edge of Franklin Park so we went exploring in the woods. On many Sunday afternoons in summer, my dad and I would walk through the Franklin Park woods and then walk alongside the golf course up to the Refectory across from the Zoo entrance. Dad would have a beer. I’d have a Coke. After a pleasant rest we’d walk back home. We’d often see people riding through the park on horseback. There were stables at the end of Forest Hills Street where anyone could go to rent a horse and ride through the park. Franklin Park was a wonderful and beautiful place to have so close to home.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe that so many things were delivered right to our door. The ice man had already vanished by the 1950s, but many other delivery men still came around. Our milkman was Walter Collyer from Hood’s Milk. He came three times each week: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. He delivered to each floor in our house. We got homogenized milk but my grandparents got the milk with the cream on top. They’d pour off the cream to use in their coffee. I’ve often wondered how many flights of stairs Mr. Collyer trudged up and down every day. Whiting’s milk also delivered to the neighborhood, but my mother preferred Hood’s. We had an egg man who came from his farm in Abington every Friday with a fresh dozen eggs for us and a dozen for my grandparents downstairs. Cushman’s bakery also delivered fresh bread.
A fruit and vegetable man came around yelling from his truck so the housewives would know he arrived. “Bananas! Strawberries! Fresh tomatoes!” You walked down to him so you could see what he was offering that day and check the freshness of his goods. A ragman came around every other week or so, yelling: “Rags. Got any rags?” He had a horse-drawn wagon, even in the 1950s. The insurance man, Eddie, came around each week knocking on doors and collecting the weekly payments due on people’s policies. In summer Bob the ice cream man came around every day ringing his bell. It sounded like the bell at school that told you recess was over. He had a small red pickup truck with a white ice cream freezer in back. When he’d open the freezer door to get your popsicle a cloud of white vapor would spill out and go straight down to the ground. He’d wait around a bit to give everyone time to run home, get a nickel, and run back. Numerous newspapers were delivered: The Globe, The Herald, The Traveler, The Record, and The American. Around Christmas we got two mail deliveries each day.
I attended the Margaret Fuller elementary school on Glen Road from kindergarten in 1954 through the 6th grade in 1961, as my older sister had. My teachers were: Miss Jennings (kindergarten), Miss Pezzulo (first grade), Miss Heffernan (second grade), Miss Madden (third grade), Miss Macavella (fourth grade), Miss Loughran (fifth grade), Miss Shaughnessy (sixth grade). My sister had the exact same teachers seven years earlier.
My classmates (to the best of my recollection) were: John Callahan, Gail Collyer, Paul Cotter, Christopher Diminico, Joyce Duggan, John Fonseca, Robert Gava, Robert Grimes, Angela Hart, Edith Healy, Gary Kobialka, Dennis Magee, Linda Malovich, Edwin Mankiewicz, Mary Mulvey, Vicky Munafo, Judith Nawrocki, Angelina Nawrocki, Horace Ryder, Nancy Sardella, Evelyn Sargent, Judith Scapinski, Joseph Scarcella, Deborah Smith, Marcelle St. Clair, Joseph Tringali, Bruce Walker, Donald Watson, William Wetterhahn, Mary Wieziski. (Note: I may have unintentionally omitted someone or misspelled a name; it’s been a long time.)
One reason why JP was a great place to live was the public transportation. All our lives we rode buses, trolleys, and the El. Right below Green Street Station we could catch the Wren Street bus that would take us up to the business district and all the stores along Centre Street. From there we could take the trolley and get anywhere along Centre and South Streets, as well as South Huntington and Huntington Avenues, all the way to Park Street station. The elevated Orange Line stopped at Green Street station, and went directly downtown to all the movie theatres, stores, restaurants and everything else in the city. By the time we were 12 or so, we often took the El to “Friend/Union” station. Then we’d walk under the Central Artery, through the North End, down to the municipal swimming pools on Commercial Street and spend the day swimming and having fun. We’d also go to “Milk/State” station, change to the Blue Line, and go to Revere Beach for the day. We could go places and do things by ourselves at a fairly young age, which, in retrospect, fostered our sense of independence and self-reliance. And we never once had a bad experience or a problem of any kind. Remarkable.
We were always trying to make some money. We’d run errands, cut the grass, shovel snow; anything to make a quarter or two. I spent many hours with my red Radio Flyer wagon combing the streets, woods, vacant lots, anywhere I might find returnable bottles. The small ones were two cents and the big ones were five cents.
I got my first real job just as I turned 14 at the Green Street Drug Store at the corner of Washington Street and Glen Road. I worked the soda fountain, and sold cigarettes, newspapers, candy and gum. Cigarettes were 28 cents a pack, and we sold a lot of them. I think everybody in JP was a smoker. The drug store was owned by Bob and Birdie Rosenberg. I worked for the summer but had to quit when school started. About 15 years later I met Bob and Birdie in Framingham. They had closed the drugstore and Bob had early stage dementia. What a shame. About a year later I started working across the street at the White City Food Store. I worked every day after school and every Saturday waiting on customers and making deliveries. I worked 19-1/2 hours each week and received a twenty dollar bill each Saturday. I worked there for about one year, then went next door to Strachman’s Cleaners. I also worked there after school and Saturdays and received $1.25 per hour.
The intersection of Washington Street and Green Street/Glen Road also had Timmons Liquor Store, a First National Food Store, Ruggerio’s Variety Store, a barber shop, and Jo-Anne’s Coffee Shop. With all the foot traffic from the El and the bus, it was a busy place. Jamaica Plain was just a great place to grow up. I left in 1974 when I got married and moved to West Roxbury. I look back fondly to my experiences there in the 50s and 60s, and I have many, many pleasant memories. I consider myself very fortunate to have lived there.
His cousin, Jerry Burke, who for many years was the owner of Doyle’s Café and is a local political and historical pundit, furnished the following memoir by retired Judge James Cradock.
Judge Cradock was born in 1941 and grew up on the upper end of Montebello Road near Franklin Park. He attended Our Lady of Lourdes School, Boston College High School and Boston College, where he graduated in 1963. After college he served on active duty with the U.S. Navy from 1963 to 1968. He continued his military service in the Naval Reserves and eventually retired with the rank of Captain.
Following his active military service Judge Cradock completed Law School at Suffolk University in 1970 and practiced law until 1990. At that time he was appointed a Judge of Federal Administrative Law, serving in various locations until his retirement in 2004.
Judge Cradock now lives in South Carolina and is a frequent visitor to Jamaica Plain where many of his relatives still reside.
When I was about 14 or 15 and a student at B.C. High during the 1950’s two schoolmates and I decided to go to a football game at White Stadium in Franklin Park. After school we rode the T from Dorchester over to Egleston Square and walked from there up to the game. On the way we stopped at my house on Montebello Road where my mother gave us milk and cookies. As we left and started walking up to the stadium one of the boys, Frank Carney from Cambridge, said, “Gee, your mother has a beautiful Irish brogue.” I responded, “What do you mean?” I wanted to punch him in the nose! I didn’t of course and Frank became a lifelong friend who reminds me occasionally that he informed me that I was Irish that day. Hah!
The truth is I didn’t believe my mother had any kind of accent. She did indeed have a beautiful brogue, as did my father, both having come from Galway. But their speech to me was as natural as the sun in the morning. This “Irish ear” which I had was reinforced regularly in the neighborhood I lived in.
Montebello Road in Jamaica Plain starts at Walnut Ave., which serves as a border to Franklin Park. It runs from there down a steep hill in our time gladed by leafy maple and oak across Washington Street and there under the El where Forest Hills Street comes in at an angle about halfway between then Green Street and Egleston T stations. From there it continues down, where it was known as “little Montebello” and reaches its terminus at the Our Lady of Lourdes complex of church, convent, school, rectory and old church.
At the intersection on Washington was kind of a mini-mall with Walter Leong’s Laundry, Gordon’s Market and Madden’s Drug Store on one side, and Johnny McLaughlin’s Parkview Spa (our “corner”—several people had run the store prior to Johnny over the years but he was the most recent and best known by our crowd), Mr. Dwyer the cobbler and Buddy Shea the Funeral Director’s office on the other. Across Washington was Johnny Hughes’ venerable Gas Station. At these places immediate necessities were often bought. I remember it being a big thing to me to be sent down the hill from 81 Montebello to the corner for “a quart of milk and a loaf of bread” and later to Gordon’s, where there was always sawdust on the oiled hardwood floor, for “a piece of cube steak.” I remember coming home with the Record-American one time, with a headline saying that Babe Ruth had died.
We had gas lanterns on Montebello that looked Dickensian era and ancient streetcars on Washington that looked from not long after. They were slow enough for some kids to hitch a ride on the back (not us). Washington Street was still cobblestoned then, making cars sound like tenor drums as they rolled along.
Above Washington was “big Montebello” and starting above Pop Martin’s Rest Home at about number 70 and going up to the 100’s there were about 15 three-deckers, counting both sides. Families who lived in them at one time or another during the 40’s and 50’s included the Careys, O’Connors, Tonrys, Keegans, Kellihers, Sullivans, Connaughtons, Conlons, Powers, Gradys, Laffeys, Clohertys, Matthews, Collins, Griffins, Coffeys, Tighes, Cradocks, and Mrs.Peasley. In almost every one of these families there was at least one “beautiful Irish brogue.” Thus we kids who grew up there at that time were graced every day, in our own homes and others, by that lyrical speech, “smiling eyes” and ready sense of humor with a hair-trigger willingness to laugh.
I estimate there were 20-30 of us growing up there then, all shapes, sizes and ages. It was one group, with the older taking care of the younger. I was reminded of it years later when my daughter Kathleen was on a swim team in Fairfax, Virginia which consisted of boys and girls, ages 8 (and under) to 18, where they all found community pulling together. When we were small the older girls looked after us. My brother Butch and I had the benefit of four older sisters, Mary, Patsy, Helen and Chris, and some of their friends like Joan Power, Marie Grady and “Reety” Conlon. Our cousin Noreen Dooley also lived with us then, having come over from Ireland when she was 10.
I remember Mary in particular, the oldest, looking after us. She and sometimes Patsy would bring us over to the beach at Savin Hill. We went to Revere Beach with Chris, and with Helen and her friend Helen Carey. I remember in later years groups of us, boys and girls, would take the excursion across the city to Revere. One time Charlie Cloherty, “the Punch,” got stuck in the folding side door of a streetcar on the way and let the driver know in a vocal way to “close the d—- door”. Since almost none of our families had a car we relied on the T for any traveling. We rode it all the time and it was very ordinary for us. Wasn’t something we ever complained about. The girls would walk us up to the park often, and it was always a treat to go to the Zoo.
Chris, our youngest sister, is and was four years older than me and seemed to get stuck with Butch and me often, hanging out with us on the hill or at the park or taking us on “serious” trips such as to the library or over to the dreaded Forsythe Clinic for dreaded dental work by dreaded (do you brush your teeth?) dental students. I do remember one thing Butch and I loved to do was to go up to the Children’s Museum, which was then in a big old house up on the Jamaicaway. There the lady would give you a pencil and a list and you could walk around for what seemed like hours checking off what you discovered. Butch has reminded me of a movie house there, and an elephant! They had 4th of July fireworks on Jamaica Pond in those days and I remember walking up there from Montebello passing people in their front yards with sparklers. You could take a rowboat out on the Pond to watch the fireworks.
Our first playground was the street. It always seemed shady and cool in the summer and we became unaffected by the steepness of the hill. The girls would play jump rope and draw with chalk on the sidewalk and pavement. We all played Hide and Seek and the boys played games like Relievio and Billy Billy Buck Buck. We always seemed to have something going with a pimple ball, such as a game played off the cement “stoops” in front of houses. If the ball rolled into a sewer it was retrieved by an elaborate operation involving a coat hanger. When you called someone out from a three-decker to play you would stand by the house and cry something like “Hyoo Jimeeey” and if you were the one inside your mother might say, “there’s that eedjit so-and-so callin’ for ye.”
In the winter when there was good snow we coasted down the street. I remember running up the hill after school to do this and gliding down by the kids still walking up. The fathers spread ashes from the coal furnaces in the houses at the bottom of the hill to keep us from going out onto Washington Street. Later we would coast and ski “up the park” across from the block at the top of Iffley Road with the Jewish kids from there. I skied with Danny Connolly up by the Bear Den nearby.
Our original gang of boys, those bedrock first and lifelong friends you “grew up with” consisted of Butch (Jack), Buddy Keegan (Charles), Tom and Charlie Cloherty (T-Bone and Punch), Jerry Morelli and me. Our numbers expanded as the years went on but that early bonding left everything among we originals as a given. We’ve remained good friends all our lives. We’ve lost the Punch since. He was our funniest, and maybe our finest.
Once a year or so Jerry’s mother Mary would have all of us kids up to their house on the top of the hill for dinner. There she would prepare a big feast, and introduce our potato-numbed palates to the wonders of Italian cuisine. I still blame Jerry and his mother as being partially responsible for the fact that I married an Italian girl. Mary was a great friend of my mother’s and they enjoyed many things such as the Lady’s Sodality at Church together.
Our gang became the “little kids”on the hill to be watched over by the ”big kids” 5-10 years older. The ones we interacted with most were Frankie O’Connor and his brother Jackie, Bobby Power, Pete Grady, and my cousins Frannie and Johnnie Tighe. They all played ball with us forever. Frankie and Bobby coached us some. I remember Frankie piling us all into his 40-something green Plymouth for a ride to the beach. Joe Tighe, who was a little older, took all the Cradocks and Tighes down to Nantasket in his first car. Bobby took me to my first movie, “Pinocchio” after asking my mother’s permission. We took the T in town to RKO Keith’s and back with his pal Bobby Teehan. Frankie once drove my father to the City Hospital to take me home after a bike riding accident in the park.
The big kids were a large part of our lives growing up. Some, like Bobby, Frankie and Frannie were more like big brothers. And Johnnie Tighe took this seriously, sometimes directing my activities out playing to keep me out of trouble. He was sort of my bodyguard (I think Helen was a few times too). He encouraged me in sports and think I suggested that he play football at J.P. High. When he left for the Army as I was entering high school it was a loss.
In later years we would have tag rush football games up the park and softball games at Cornwall playground between the big kids and the little kids, which I believe we remained to be well into our twenties. As we got older we became “the boys” on the corner but I think to many we are still “the little kids.”
Our life was rich, and most of our activities seemed to revolve around the church, Our Lady of Lourdes, as our base. Our folks brought their deep and unwavering faith from the old country and embraced the Church in America. My father was a Knight, Holy Name member and usher at Sunday Mass. Mom was active in the Lady’s Sodality and Third Order of Mary. In addition to Mary Morelli she talked often of her friends in both, including Mrs. Jordan, Mrs. Stanley and Peggy Sullivan’s mother from Lourdes Ave. She used to get a kick out of Father Downey’s “mystery rides” when he would lead the ladies on Sunday outings to an “unannounced location.” As an altar boy I served at Sunday night meetings of the Holy Name Society in church and I have never since seen a full group of men sing with such gusto and heart as those members did with “O Holy Name….”
We went to grammar school there and were taught by the good Sisters of Saint Joseph. The nuns were very dedicated and worked hard to give us a good education and make something of us. I had the honor of being president of my 8th grade class (my nephew Jackie Power achieved that distinction years later). With that came the privilege of taking the T in town during school hours to fetch the sisters’ prescriptions at Cheney’s drugstore in the old Scollay Square. That was an interesting place. Big and old-fashioned, it had exotic things such as roots and Spanish flies exhibited in big jars on shelves high on the walls. Back at school I remember during recess outside sometimes smelling the hops and barley from the Haffenreffer brewery, where Uncle Jack (Dooley) worked. We served as altar boys (or in the choir if you flunked the Latin) and played CYO baseball and basketball at Carolina Field and the Mary E. Curley School.
The church had a great Boy Scout troop, #21, with Frank Ledwith, a wonderful guy, as Scoutmaster. We camped at Hale Reservation in Westwood where we had a cabin and went to summer camp at Loon Pond in Lakeville, near Middleboro. There I learned how to swim, row a boat and navigate a canoe.
My first year at camp I was flat afraid of the water, and started in the “non-swimmers” section at the pond. You had to pass a swimming test, probably the length of the dock, to become a “beginner” and swim in deeper water. After awhile I thought I could pass the test but was afraid of it. Every day when I got back to our campsite from swimming Danny Clifford, an assistant scoutmaster and from our corner, would check me. “Did you take the test today?” Finally, with Danny’s nudging I took it and passed, and later graduated to “swimmer” (the deepest section). Swimming became a lifelong favorite pastime for me. Thanks, Danny. The troop had a drum and bugle corps, directed by Frank’s brother Paul and a man named Gabe from East Boston. We traveled often to competitions and parades. We marched in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, in South Boston, and in New York! (Go Sox!) The troop was very popular and there were usually over 100 of us at our weekly meetings at the Teddy Roosevelt school up by Egleston Square. I remember when Frank married a very nice lady from the Hufnagle family down by the church. They had a florist shop up on Centre Street. Frank later became a school principal.
The church was a lively, vibrant place in those days. I can remember standing on the corner and watching people literally pouring down Montebello and Forest Hills Street on their way to Sunday Mass. The church would fill up and Mikey Walsh would have the Sunday papers stacked on the front steps to get after. We had many occasions for celebration there, such as First Communion, Confirmation and the May Procession. The holidays especially remain in my mind. I remember walking down an icy hill on a snowy night, helping my mother and Aunt Sadie across Washington Street headed for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at the Old Church.
There were some other diversions for us as kids in J.P. We could walk up to Curtis Hall, by the Monument, and swim in its indoor pool called “the tank.” The library Butch and I went to with Chris was around the corner from Curtis Hall. Later we walked to a new library on Seaver Street by St. Mary of the Angels. We could go to the Neighborhood House on Lamartine Street to play basketball or take woodworking classes with Mr. Flaherty there. There was also a woodworking class in a one-room schoolhouse up on Eliot Street which the kids from Lourdes were invited to and which we enjoyed very much.
The local movie, the Egleston (“Egg box” or “Eggie”) was on Washington in the Square, which bordered on Roxbury. It was a great escape on Saturday afternoons, Westerns and Cartoons. The theatre would explode with the excitement of city-bound kids standing, jumping and some “scaling” popcorn boxes as they found themselves rushing across the wide open plains on horseback with the likes of Tom Mix or Lash Larue. Uncle Jack took me to see “The Boy With Green Hair” there. One evening as we left the Eggie Chris and I (and probably Butch) heard sirens which we found out later signaled the end of the Korean War. Sometime before that we went up on the enclosed pedestrian overpass, which ran above the Square to the T station and watched General Douglas Mac Arthur pass beneath us in a motorcade, wearing his weatherworn army cap. This was soon after President Truman had fired him.
On the same side of the street as the theatre there was a block in the square with a drugstore on either end on the corners. In the middle of the block was Azian’s 5 and 10, at which all of our sisters worked at different times. Directly across the street was The First National supermarket. Across from the theatre was the A&P. Friday nights were busy in those stores, as people would shop for their “order” of food for the week. Most of the shopping was done “by foot” and kids would line their carts up outside each store to earn money pulling orders to peoples’ homes (I think 25 or 50 cents for an order).
We had our own Radio Flyer so Butch or myself would go up with the cart on Friday night to meet Dad at the First National. Then we would cart our order home, pulling with dad’s hand on the shoulder.
One time Patsy caught the chore of walking home with me. With six kids, Mom Dad and Uncle Jack at home our order was big at least to me at 10 or 11. As I struggled to get up the hill pulling the cart I felt like my face was two inches from the pavement, while Patsy gave me pep talks all the way up about how I could read my new funny books when we got home. She found it all quite hysterical.
There was another time not so funny, when Dad and I were going down the walk alongside 81 headed for the back stairs with the order and Dad, who was upset, mentioned to me that Mary and her husband Beaver Power had been in a bad automobile accident in Nevada while driving cross-country to his Navy Duty in California. I think Beaver injured his shoulder but was o.k. after a while. Mary injured her back pretty seriously and took some time to recover. Pat, now their oldest daughter, was with them as a baby and miraculously escaped any injury.
The church remained our base, with the surrounds of J.P. our larger territory or neighborhood. But if that was the case then Franklin Park was our back yard. The park began for us at the top of the hill at Walnut where there was a wooded “island” surrounded by roadways with a path running through its middle to the other side directly across the road from the main entrance to White Stadium. This we called the “Entrance.” My earliest memories of the Park are crawling around in the tall grass where the stadium now stands. Mary tells me Mom and Aunt Sadie brought all of the Cradock and Tighe kids up to that spot often because they enjoyed it there so much. They would teach the girls how to braid and weave the grass like they did in the old country.
Then there were the Victory Gardens, created during the War, which covered the large field where the baseball diamonds are now located behind the stadium. I would go up there on summer evenings with my father, and sometimes Mr. Conlon from across the street. I remember crawling around among what were exotic to me colors and smells of the various vegetables and other plants while Dad worked and weeded. I loved it there and have kept my enjoyment of growing things since. I still have a distinct memory of being up the park with Chris and looking across a field near the Lion House, at prisoners in a stockade! They turned out to be POWs, Italians! Maybe that’s why they smiled at us. We went home and told Mom and she told us never again to go near those charmers.
As we grew the park became our playground. Our winter sports, including tobogganing and ice-skating, expanded up to the Golf Course. We skated where it was flooded for that around the old 16th hole. There was a toboggan chute on Schoolmaster’s Hill near the Ralph Waldo Emerson House.
Buddy taught me to ride a bike outside the main gate to the stadium. The idea was to start out across the street and up the hill a bit towards a rock formation we called the Giant’s Chair. (I think Joan Power fell off that Giant’s Chair once and broke her arm.) There I would get on the bike and roll down, aiming for the bushes to the left of the gate. I either “rode” the bike or crashed into the bushes. There was a method to his madness. After a few crashes (and “flights”) I got the idea, and balance. It worked!
We explored the woods at the other side of the entrance from the gate, first running along Walnut Ave. and then continuing parallel to Sigourney and then Forest Hills streets to the Brook, near where the Shattuck Hospital now stands. We named them the first, second and third woods, divided by us where they were interrupted by roadways. We saw many well-preserved gravel roads bordered by stone walls running through the woods and blocked off from the outside by large stones. Perhaps they were evidence of parkland enjoyed by earlier generations before the woods grew in. We were ever in pursuit of wildlife, however I recall only several “possible” sightings of pheasants. Our closest encounter was when a chipmunk bit Tommy. We picked blueberries in the first woods once, and Howie Russel’s mother baked us pies.
We first played ball at the park. For football we wore plastic helmets which were molded by a machine which made them more square than round. So we often appeared to be looking off askance. We played a game of mayhem called “fumbles” in which someone would take the ball and try to avoid being tackled by everybody, then to fumble intentionally or not. Then someone else would have to pick up the ball, take his punishment, and so on. I remember lying in the ripe fall grass with my head or backside or something else hurting so much that I thought I’d never get up again. Then a few minutes later up and at ‘em. We played by the stadium. We enjoyed watching many high school games there, especially when the stadium first opened and they had those dazzling Friday Night Jamborees.
We started playing baseball in a place we called “the gully” across from a drinking fountain by the stadium and down from a bench. There was a rock there shaped something like a small home plate and we kind of wore the grass down at the bases. We were so small when we started there that some of the big kids would come up and pitch to us underhanded. Larry Conlon did this and so did Frankie O’Connor (Frankie got his hits). I remember Jerry being there, just having moved up from Rossmore Road and using his uncle Chico’s glove. He was 8. And John Cloherty catching balls in the outfield.
Later we would graduate to the diamonds. We biked up there on a paved path, which started at the fountain. As we rode up leaving the stadium on the left we would pass a raised gravel roadway built up to around 10 feet by a wall of granite, and surrounding the ruins of a police department storage facility. This was called “the overlook”. My cousin Gerard Burke, who is quite a J.P. historian and who helped me with this paper, informs me that the overlook was sort of a spa in olden times from which you could view the surrounding fields, then called “the playstead,” a name given by Olmsted.
Our diamond was the one just beyond the practice field in the stadium. There we played many pickup games. When the Jamaica Plain Little League was founded we joined. Our first season was at the far diamond over by the Refectory’s “Hut” and gateway into the main park and Zoo.
Frankie has told me he umpired the league’s first game with a fellow from Forest Hills named Charlie Hoar. The game took place most likely in 1953, between the teams sponsored by the Parkview Club and the Forest Hills Merchants. Frankie was a member of Parkview, Charlie a Merchant. I was on that Parkview team, which was coached by a very nice guy from Iffley Road named Bernie Doherty,who taught me about sportsmanship,and who was well known at the Franklin Park Golf Course and as a boxing coach for J.P. youth.
Some of my fondest memories are of shagging flies with some of the big kids after pickup games at the diamonds on warm summer nights under an iridescent sky, walking home easily through the sweet-smelling park twilight to the sound of the cicadas and then down to the hill to the house at 81 where we could hear the “click-click…..clack-clack” of the elevated train, which seemed to have its own summer rhythm.
I always think of Sunday as a day of celebration. Starting with Mass the family would be free for the day, and anticipated a big dinner in the afternoon, often roast beef. Dad worked six days a week at his job as a bartender in Brighton and took full enjoyment in his day off. Sometimes we would take outings up to the park, the Rose Garden or the Zoo. I remember an annual trip on the “Nantasket Boat” from Rowe’s Wharf down to Nantasket Beach, and walking to the Feis (Irish Festival)) over at TechField in Brookline. On the way there was a small pond across the street from Jamaica Pond called Ward’s or the frog pond, which became a favorite fishing hole of Butch and mine with Dad.
The holidays were the ultimate celebration. At Thanksgiving the sideboard was so laden with exotic nuts and fruit that if it didn’t groan it should have. Butch and I would have a contest at dinner to see who could fit the most food on his plate. Mom’s potato stuffing was a favorite. She used to have me taste it the night before as she was mixing it.
Dad and Mom would go all out at Christmas. I remember Chris showing us how to leave tomato soup on the mantelpiece for Santa. My godfather John Burke would come by with Uncle Jack and leave me a nice gift. Dad would always get a huge tree and on Christmas morning our living room floor was always covered with gifts.
Dad had a chore for me in the winter. He wanted to warm the house up in the evening but got home a little too late for that so in the afternoon I would go down to our bin in the cellar and “shake the ashes down” in the furnace and put a shovelful of coal in. One Christmas Eve Dad took over on the furnace and in his enthusiasm wasn’t so frugal. It was so warm in the house that we all had jolly red cheeks and slept very well.
On Sundays throughout the year the folks would often have Aunt Sadie and Uncle Pat and our Uncle Jack for dinner. Sometimes some of their old Galway friends would come over, such as Bill and Molly Tonry, Binah and Martin Crowe, and Red and Kitty Thornton. There was music in our house. Mom played the melodian, and when she was ironing she would kind of whisper-whistle old Irish tunes. On those Sundays she and Aunt Sadie would sometimes sing sweetly together, tunes like “The Galway Shawl” and the old “Galway Bay,” And I remember Tonry leaning against the built-in China cabinet as he sang “The Queen of Connamaragh.” They would visit and celebrate into the early evening. Mom and Dad always loved having company.
This then was our neighborhood, and our world until the mid-50’s when we spread our wings and graduated to high schools around the city. It was American of course but very Irish at the same time. To me it was in some ways a little like an Irish village, American-style. I don’t profess to it having been perfect. There were the natural ups and downs of life. But we never felt we wanted for anything. There are so many memories of being given so much and we all thought it a great place to grow up. I still enjoy telling people that I’m from Jamaica Plain, born (at the Faulkner) and raised in J.P.
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Hamlin Garland was one of the great literary pioneers of America. The subjects of his best writing were the dirt farmers of the "middle border", that area between the land of the hunter and the land of established agriculture. In Garland's time, this was Wisconsin, Iowa and the Dakota Territory where he had grown up between 1860 and 1884.
Life was hard for his farming family, and he wanted to improve his future by becoming a teacher. A Maine minister passing through Ordway, Dakota convinced young Hamlin Garland that Boston offered more opportunities for study than did the Midwest, and Garland came to Boston in November of 1884.
After unsuccessfully trying to get into Boston University using the minister's recommendation, Garland began a period of self-instruction at the old Boston Public Library on Boylston Street, while staying in a cold, bleak room around the corner in Boylston Place. He lived in virtual poverty, slowly wasting away. In order to save the little money he brought with him, he daily spent only eight cents for breakfast, fifteen cents for dinner and ten cents on supper.
The next spring, he met the Maine minister at his home in Portland and received a recommendation to visit Dr. Hiram Cross in Jamaica Plain. The doctor had purchased some land in Dakota territory and the minister thought that Cross and Garland could talk about the West; the minister also hoped the good doctor would offer Garland advice about his frightfully run-down condition. And so Hamlin Garland took the horsehair "along winding lanes under great overarching elm trees, past apple orchards in bursting bloom... The effect upon me was somewhat like that which would be produced in the mind of a convict who should suddenly find his prison doors opening into a June meadow." The two men liked and trusted each other and Dr. Cross offered Garland a room with board for the summer at five dollars a week. Thus was Hamlin Garland installed in Dr. Cross' attic room at 21 Seaverns Avenue in Jamaica Plain.
During this time, Garland was studying and going to lectures regularly. After one talk, the speaker, Professor Moses Brown, owner of the Boston School of Oratory, asked him to give a summer course on literature. He happily accepted. The fortunate combination of a pleasant place to live and someone's confidence in his literary and speaking abilities inspired Hamlin Garland to begin to write.
His first major piece was prompted by the sound of the coal shovel beneath his window in Jamaica Plain. He said it reminded him of the sound of the corn-shucking shovel, and "The Huskin'" was accepted by American Magazine of Brooklyn, New York. The story's focus on life in the Midwest would mark Garland's entire career. For while the city made him articulate, Hamlin Garland wrote about the land he knew best.
His stories are remarkable for the realism they depicted. Garland contrasted the natural beauty of the land and the heroism of its families with the failures of the pioneer enterprise. He showed the life of a farmer in this stark region in America as unremitting labor amidst poverty and filth. Drudgery and hopelessness came with the unpredictable weather and the predictably mean spirit of the moneylender. His writings exploded the myths of the rural movement westward.
Garland saw his writing as the first wave of a true American literature, free from European convention. He believed that the local settings and realistic language of the Midwest was the basis of a future natural American literature. He also wrote extensively in support of Impressionist painting as the realistic art of the future. The writer insisted on using his stories to convey his ideas in social reform. Garland was a fervent believer in the Single Tax philosophy of Henry George, and campaigned personally for the People's Party of Iowa and the Populist Party in 1892.
The magazine stories he wrote at Seaverns Avenue were collected into his first book, Main-Traveled Roads, which is acknowledged by critics to be his best. Garland's reputation began to grow in Boston and spread throughout the country. He became friends with William Dean Howells, the Boston urban realist writer, as well as John Enneking, the impressionist painter from Hyde Park. The other writers in "honest" literature with whom he became friendly included Mark Twain, Walt Whitman and Rudyard Kipling, as well as Edward Eggleston, Joseph Kirkland and E.W. Howe.
By December 1890, he moved to 12 Moreland Street in Roxbury, and then established his home in Chicago during 1893, in order to be close to the new trends developing at the World's Fair. He married Zulime Taft, sister of the Chicago sculptor Loredo Taft, in 1899. His writings continued to be realistic and socially concerned. Then in 1919 he wrote his autobiography, A Son of the Middle Border, and its sequel, A Daughter of the Middle Border, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1921. These books capped his career with a return to his roots and are considered among the best American biographies ever written.
He moved to California with his daughters in 1929, and died on March 4, 1940 at the age of seventy-nine. A reformer who was at the start of the populist movement, a writer of a new American literature, Hamlin Garland's reputation traveled far from its beginning in Jamaica Plain.
Sources: Hamlin Garland, A Son of the Middle Border, New York, 1917; Jean Holloway, Hamlin Garland, A Biography, Austin, 1960; Current Biography 1940; Boston City Directories, 1884-1893. Photograph courtesy of Miami University and The Hamlin Garland Society.
Copyright © 1995 Michael Reiskind
As a senior at Notre Dame (Indiana) I enrolled in a course entitled “Literature of the American West,” a rare curricular offering at any college then and now. Among the books on the class syllabus were Willa Cather’s O Pioneers and Hamlin Garland’s Main-Travelled Roads.
After graduation I stayed on in the Midwest and taught American literature at a high school in Cincinnati. Here I assigned novels like Cather’s My Antonia and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. I noted the connections and contrasts between “the East” and “the West” in both books.
When I returned to Boston in the early 1970s I settled in Jamaica Plain and continued to read fiction, especially by American and Canadian writers. Years later – at a reading at Harvard Book Store in Cambridge – I learned about an annual celebration of the life and fiction of Willa Cather in her hometown, Red Cloud, Nebraska. I signed up for and attended the 2014 conference sponsored by the Willa Cather Foundation.
The keynote speaker at the Cather Conference, Lee Jenkinson, focused on Cather, of course, but as an aside near the end of his address mentioned a number of other now little-read “Western” writers, including Mari Sandoz (Old Jules), E.W. Howe (The Story of a Country Town) and Hamlin Garland.
His remarks caused me to pick up my old Signet Classic paperback edition of Main-Travelled Roads. In the preface Garland writes of his coming as a young man to Boston in 1884 after years of hardscrabble farming in Wisconsin, Iowa, and the Dakota Territory. Boston was the shining city on a hill for ambitious prospective writers like Garland.
At first Garland settled in a small rooming house on Boylston Place near the old Boston Public Library. Then a friend in Boston suggested that Garland meet Dr. Hiram Cross, a Boston physician with an interest in the West due to his recent purchase of a farm in the Dakota Territory. Garland decided to “risk a dime and make the trip to Jamaica Plains, to call upon Dr. Cross.” His half-hour trip aboard a little horse-car introduced Garland to a greener Boston with its “winding lanes under great overarching elm trees, past apple-orchards in bursting bloom.”
Dr. Cross lived in a “small frame house” at 21 Seaverns Avenue in Jamaica Plain, a home “in the midst of a clump of pear trees.” Soon afterwards – in late spring 1887 – Dr. Cross invited Garland to live in the attic of his home. Garland – hard-pressed financially and loving the country atmosphere of Seaverns Avenue and Jamaica Plain – was delighted to move to a more rural setting.
From fall 1887 to spring 1888 Garland wrote a series of what he called “sketches,” that became the short stories of Main-Travelled Roads, the book that established his reputation as a writer. Garland wrote that the book’s “composition was carried on in the south attic room of Doctor Cross’s house at 21 Seaverns Avenue, Jamaica Plain.”
William Dean Howells, a prominent novelist and literary figure of the time, hailed Garland as an important new voice in American literature. The aged Walt Whitman praised Garland as one of the literary pioneers of the West. In late September 2016 I journeyed to St. Paul, Minnesota, for a family wedding. The day after the wedding I joined a small group for a walking tour of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s St. Paul. From St. Paul I headed south – first to Northfield, Minnesota, where I toured St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges – and then travelled on to my second literary destination: the hometown of Hamlin Garland, West Salem, Wisconsin.
I learned to my dismay that the Hamlin Garland Homestead had closed for the season. West Salem is tiny with a two-block downtown. I noticed one store that seemed to represent an Easterner’s idea of Wisconsin – Le Coulee Cheese Castle – and walked in and met Nick Miller, the proprietor, who personified Midwestern graciousness. When he learned that I was a Bostonian wanting to see Garland’s home he picked up his phone and dialed the President of the West Salem Historical Society, 90-year old Errol Kindschy.
Errol lives in a grand Colonial house overlooking the downtown. His house doubles as an antique shop and used bookstore. Now hobbled, he lives on the second floor and uses the stairs once a day on orders of his physician. But hearing that a Garland reader from Boston was in town he came down the stairs a second time that day to greet and chat with me. I learned quickly that Errol is an expert on the life and works of Hamlin Garland and a raconteur of the first rank. He recounted stories for an hour about Garland, sold me a couple of Garland first editions from his book stacks, and made a phone call to arrange for the Garland Homestead to be opened for me! That is the beauty of small-town America. As I was departing, Errol asked me to join the West Salem Historical Society. I did so!
I walked over to the Garland Homestead, a two-story house on the National Register of Historic Places. There Norma Schmig, another member of the West Salem Historical Society, met me and provided a well-informed hour’s talk about the home and grounds. Hamlin had purchased the “two-story frame cottage” in the early 1890s for a retirement home for his pioneer parents. For both generations it was a return to Lacrosse County and the town of West Salem, where the best years of the Garland family had been spent.
I doubled back to Le Coulee Cheese Castle, thanked Nick, and bought a $1 ice cream cone and my first-ever bag of cheese curds. I drove by two other historical homes managed by the West Salem Historical Society, and then proceeded to Neshonoc Cemetery, where Hamlin and his wife Zulime (Taft) Garland are buried – a beautiful spot on a hill on the outskirts of town.
In late fall I sent Errol Kindschy a photo of 21 Seaverns Street, the site where Garland composed his first and best-known book. Later on in his career Garland wrote family memoirs, A Son of the Middle Border and A Daughter of the Middle Border (winner of the Pulitzer prize in 1922), that traced his parents’ lives as pioneers and his own life as a best-selling author, husband, and father of two daughters.
1. Garland, Hamlin. A Son of the Middle Border, Grosset &Dunlap, 1917. Quotes in the sixth and seventh paragraphs: pp. 337-338. Quote in the twelfth paragraph: p. 461.
2. Garland, Hamlin. Main-Travelled Roads, New American Library of World Literature, Inc., 1962. Quotes in the eighth paragraph: p. X.
Editorial assistance provided by Kathy Griffin.
By Walter Marx
Anyone interested in our local history soon comes upon Harriet Manning Whitcomb’s Annals and Reminiscences of Jamaica Plain, published in 61 pages at Cambridge in 1897. Its original form was a lecture given to the Tuesday Club in its clubhouse, the Loring-Greenough House at the monument. With the help of a photograph of Mrs. Whitcomb in the Bicentennial Room of the Jamaica Plain Branch Library and a letter in its files this erudite Yankee lady, looking much like Queen Victoria in her Widow of Windsor phase, can be seen more clearly.
Born Harriet Avis Manning on Joy St. on Beacon Hill in 1839, she was descended from the old Jamaica Plain May family, whose name graced this column last April in conjunction with the cleanup of the First Church Burial Ground by the Monument. The family soon moved back to the rural environs of its ancestry, and Whitcomb lived here in Jamaica Plain for 90 years. She was the first known person to be baptized in Jamaica Pond by the Rev. Dr. H. Lincoln of the First Baptist Church at Centre and Myrtle Sts. and was a member there for many years.
She later married Austin Fuller Whitcomb of Vermont, and the couple lived in a lovely house on Faulkner (or Green) Hill, lending their name to the street there when it was laid down in the early part of this century. Upon her death in 1941 at the age of 102 from pneumonia the house went to the Faulkner Hospital, which demolished it to erect an extension to their nearby Nurses’ Home which later yielded to Center House. Two magnificent trees on the corner yet remain from the Whitcomb era on the property still marked by its stone wall. The Whitcombs had three daughters, one of whom lived with her mother, widowed in 1892.
Being well situated, Mrs. Whitcomb was able and very willing to give herself to local affairs. She was a charter member of the Tuesday Club in 1892, and, having been on the Boston scene all her life and one of the oldest residents of the City at her death, was well prepared to share her memories and opinions in interviews or booklets.
She recalled meeting the famed singer, Jenny Lind, also known as “the Swedish Nightingale,” and shaking hands with the famed pre-Civil War Massachusetts senator, the legendary Daniel Webster, a friend of her father. She well remembered the Great Boston Fire of 1872.
Her pictorial association with the Widow of Windsor is very fitting, for when Mrs. Whitcomb received news of the death of her brother Charles on the day he was to have returned from Civil War action she suffered a stroke that left her lame for life.
Her house is still remembered as preserving the aura of the Civil War period for 80 years in tribute to the lost brother. Like that of her neighbor, Francis Parkman, the house abounded in flowers from a garden designed at the time of the war and never varied after that.
In a letter to the old Boston Transcript after Mrs. Whitcomb’s death, the writer noted her ever-alert mind, her indomitable religious faith, her readiness to help others, and her ability to have rapport with people of all ages. Once asked while overlooking the Arboretum if summer was the best season, Mrs. Whitcomb immediately answered, “I find beauties in all the changing seasons.” The writer felt her to be a truly remarkable personality and a model of perfection.
Photograph courtesy of Barb Vellturo, The Town of Stockbridge, Vermont
Henry Keaveney wasn’t thrilled when he failed woodshop in high school, but he’s not complaining. For one thing, he flunked that class 75 years ago. For another, his life is rich and full, in a round-about way because of that class. Keaveney, now 88 years old, sits at his dining room table in JP, his long hands resting on a red placemat. Taffy, Keaveney’s calico kitten, jumps on the table and purrs insistently, looking for company. Keaveney lets her stay.
Like many people his age, Keaveney wears a hearing aide. He has to struggle to hear people speak above background noise. These days he sometimes chooses not to attend meetings in JP because it can be difficult to pick out voices.
His memory, on the other hand, is something of a wonder. Keaveney is a rich repository of old-time JP history. He knows who served penny ice cream cones in the 1920s, and how train cars loaded with milk bottles sounded as they rattled out of the H.P. Hood plant.
He remembers the stink of the pig sty at Allandale Farm, and the flying sparks at Craffey’s blacksmith shop. He can tell you about local boys who swam in a brook next to the old Continental Dye House on Brookside Avenue. They came out dripping wet, their skin dyed blue, pink or green.
Keaveney was born on Ballard Street, just a quarter of a mile from his present home on Aldworth Street. He was an only child. “I was spoiled,” he says readily. “I didn’t have to fight for anything. Every time I yelled or cried I got what I wanted.”
Keaveney’s father worked for 25 years at the Allandale Farm greenhouse, earning $1.50 a day. Every two weeks he had a day off. Keaveney’s own lifelong career began when he flunked that famous class at Mechanical Arts High School, now called Boston Tech. It led him to quit school, but it may have been a blessing in disguise. Keaveney took a job as an errand boy at a print shop on McBride Street. Six months later he began travelling from shop to shop, learning all he could. In a short time he had experience in more than 20 Boston printing shops.
He was a prize, and the Boston Globe snapped him up. Keaveney worked in their composing room for 41 years. He was a “hand man,” designing advertisements, arranging layouts and marking up sizes. For eight of those years he worked the night shift. Keaveney remembers leaving work between 2 and 4 a.m. and waiting for the “owl car” out of Scollay Square. If he missed the trolley, Keaveney says, he walked the five miles back to Jamaica Plain in the dark.
At one time the Globe needed 400 people and a huge composing room to produce a newspaper, Keaveney says. The linotype revolutionized the newspapering business. “Hot metal,” he states. “You could produce the paper twice as fast, and with fewer people.” Now computers have revolutionized newspapers a second time. “You can put twice the paper out with half the help. If I still worked at the Globe, my job would be completely different.” Keaveney did learn once to type with both hands on a keyboard, but now he is back to picking at keys with one hand again when he types letters. He has never used a computer.
Keaveney has only good things to say about the Globe-owning Taylor family and his fellow typographical union workers. He is still a staunch union man. While telling stories about his life, he refers frequently to union activities and influences. Keaveney retired 23 years ago, just three weeks before his 65th birthday. He slowed down a tad, but his mind kept humming. Among other post-Globe jobs, he worked in the Harvard University library system, where he says he “got a lot of reading done.” Keaveney became the first president of the Jamaica Plain Historical Society. He was also a founder and first president of the defunct Jamaica Plain Senior Council.
He still has a seat on the Ward 19 Democratic Committee, and is a corporator at Faulkner Hospital. He also sits on the board of Southwest Senior Services. Keaveney keeps a small datebook with an American eagle embossed on the cover in his coat pocket, so he can keep track of meetings. These days, Keaveney says books and reading are what really make him tick. His study at home is lined with European biographies, books about U.S. presidents, history anthologies and short stories. There are also books about gardening and a selection of stories by Edgar Allen Poe. “I’m reading Truman right now,” he says.
He also loves music. A few years ago he “got the bug” and bought a second-hand banjo, but he never learned to play. “Piano fingers,” he says, looking down at his hands. “That’s what a piano teacher told my mother I had when I was a boy. But I never took lessons.” Keaveney’s wife, Margaret, was a Jamaica Plain girl when he met her at the Jamaica Plain News, one of many places Keaveney worked as a young printshop employee. She died at age 93. Now, in addition to his son, David, and daughter, Maureen, Keaveney has three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
The biggest surprise of his life, Keaveney says, is his longevity. He stills goes to a barbershop at the Globe to have his white hair cut. Once in a while someone asks him how he stays so vital. “I tell them I had good parents,” he says. “Good friends, good advice. I also stay out of the way of cars.”
And he can still tell a good story. Ask him about Jamaica Plain in the 1920s, and the country doctor who delivered him at home, or the sleigh bells on horses at Christmastime. Ask about Al Leonard’s restaurant, where everybody went at midnight to drink coffee and eat frosted lemon pie.
This article appeared originally in the November 6, 1992 edition of the Jamaica Plain Gazette and is used with permission.
Descendant of Plymouth Colony settlers, publisher of poetry and law books, Boston real estate and mortgage broker, journalist, friend and advocate of all seamen, photographer, newspaper and magazine correspondent, graduate of Boston Latin School and Harvard University, and 50-year resident of Jamaica Plain. The English name Chandler means “candle-maker.”
By Peter O’Brien, January, 2016
Horace Parker Chandler, A.B., A.M., was born in Boston, September 13, 1842. He was the son of Peleg Whitman and Martha Ann Bush (Cleaveland) Chandler. He traced his descent from Edmund Chandler of Duxbury in the Plymouth Colony. His father, Peleg Whitman Chandler, was born in New Gloucester, Maine and was a Bowdoin College graduate in the Class of 1834. He earned his L.L.D. from Bowdoin also. Horace’s mother was the daughter of the distinguished Bowdoin College professor, Parker Cleaveland.
Horace’s father, Peleg Whitman Chandler, had a long legal career in Boston and his many cases related to maritime, family and debtor’s law along with his significant role in the city’s development are documented in archives at the Boston Athenaeum, the Peabody Essex Museum and the Massachusetts Historical Society. He was the author of American Criminal Trials and served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the Governor’s Council. He maintained lifelong ties to Maine where he owned a hotel.
Horace prepared for college at Boston Latin School and was graduated with the degree of A.B. at Harvard University in the Class of 1864. He received his A.M. degree from the same institution in 1867. In the autumn of 1864 he moved to Chicago and began the study of the law, but poor health soon obliged him to give up his ambition to become a lawyer.
Publisher, poet and author
In June, 1865, Horace engaged in the publishing business associated with the firm E.B. Meyers & Chandler, Law Publishers. He remained in Chicago as a publisher until June, 1868, when he returned to Boston.
While living in Chicago, he was a regular correspondent of the Boston Daily Advertiser, in which paper his family had an interest for many years. After leaving college he wrote, more or less continuously, for the daily and weekly press and for magazines.
He also wrote for many years for the Boston Evening Transcript, over the signature of “Orac.” During the years 1884 and 1885 he edited and published Every Other Saturday, A Journal of Select Reading. During the years 1891-96 he compiled an anthology entitled The Lover’s Year-Book of Poetry. This was in six volumes, three series of two volumes each, published by Roberts Brothers of Boston.
In the summer of 1883, during an extended tour in the north of Europe as far as Finland and St. Petersburg, Russia, he wrote a series of letters that appeared in the Boston Daily Advertiser.
Horace and Grace Webster Mitchell were married on August 15, 1865, at East Bridgewater. She was the daughter of James Henry and Lavinia Hathaway (Angier) Mitchell and granddaughter of Judge Nahum Mitchell, the historian of Bridgewater, Mass. Grace died January 27, 1915.
About a month after obtaining his passport, Horace sailed for England on July 28, 1868. He remained abroad until November of the same year.
Friend of all seamen
From 1875 he was corresponding secretary of the Boston Port and Seamen’s Aid Society (Father Taylor’s Home), 11 North Square, Boston. Starting in 1899 he edited the Mariner’s Advocate, the Seaman’s Aid Society’s publication.
On January 1, 1869, he opened a real estate and mortgage broker’s office at 4 Pemberton Square, Boston. In 1873 the office was moved to 15 Devonshire Street and he continued there until 1916.
Jamaica Plain resident
Horace established his residence at 93 Forest Hills Street, Jamaica Plain, in 1869 and lived there until his death in 1919. The house presently at that location was built in 1940.
He was a member of the Boston Art Club, the Boston Athletic Association and the Boston City Club. He was a Republican in politics and Swedenborgian in religion.
The Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) has an archive of 51 photographs taken and collected by Horace P. Chandler. Subjects include interior views of houses, some views of the Western U.S, and Native Americans and unidentified commercial portraits of family and friends.
Additional MHS archival materials include business and personal correspondence, receipts, maps, transactions between Horace Parker Chandler and his father, Peleg Whitman Chandler and their interest in Swedenborgianism and its first church in Boston, The Church of New Jerusalem.
Many additional Chandler photographs are located in the Historic New England archives in Boston. Many pictures, thought to be Jamaica Plain locales, are unidentified and Historic New England seeks any clues to the people or buildings in their photos, including those shown here.
The photo of the house at Sigourney Street and Glen Road was owned by Mrs. George Wheelwright and had been built by her son, the noted architect, Edmund M. Wheelwright, one of New England’s most important architects. He designed many important Boston landmarks including Jordan Hall, Margaret Fuller School in Jamaica Plain, Longfellow Bridge, Larz Anderson Auto Museum, Horticultural Hall and many others.
Horace died in Jamaica Plain, June 7, 1919. Five children survived him: Cleaveland Angier Chandler of Brookline, Mass., Grace and Ellen Chandler of Jamaica Plain. James Mitchell Chandler of Philadelphia, PA., and Peleg Whitman Chandler of Brookline. Another son, Whitman Mitchell Chandler, died before his father.
He was interred, age 76, on June 10, 1919, in Section 16, Lot 1153, on Magnolia Avenue at Forest Hills Cemetery, Jamaica Plain. Waterman and Sons handled the funeral arrangements.
Compiled January, 2016:
The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, pp liv-lv
The Harvard Graduates Magazine, Volume 28, pp 130-131
The Harvard Alumni Bulletin, Volume 21, pp 768
Boston City Directories, various years
ArchiveGrid (a catalog of over 1000 archival record sources)
Historic New England
Forest Hills Cemetery
Special thanks to:
Heather Sanders, Office Manager, Forest Hills Cemetery
Jeanne Gamble, Library & Archives Specialist, Historic New England
Additional Chandler family material may be found at:
Harvard University Archives
Pennsylvania State University Library
University of Virginia; Social Network and Archival Context (SNAC)
University of California; Berkeley
Boston Public Library
Library of Congress
Folger Shakespeare Library
Maine Historical Society
Massachusetts Historical Society
Historic New England
Peabody Essex Museum
The Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center
An old house was built on Centre Street in 1797 under classical influence, and was the home of Horatio Greenough. It was called “Lakeville,” and its site has given one local street a name. The Greenough name should immediately bring to mind the Loring-Greenough House at the Monument, the only centuries-old house to survive in Jamaica Plain.
Five successive David Stoddard Greenoughs occupied Lakeville from 1785 until 1924. Horatio, along with 10 brothers and sisters, was born to David II in 1805. Of the children who survived infancy, five were artists, and three are usually seen in biographical reference books. If not in Boston, the family was in the Jamaica Plain mansion, where Horatio spent his teens. [See Editor’s note at end of article]
Pictured above: Rescue, a statue group by Horatio Greenough, 1853. It was later removed from the U.S. Capital steps.
His father did not hinder his family’s artistic bent but insisted on sending Horatio to Harvard, where he graduated in 1825 and where he met the famed American painter Washington Allston. Since childhood he had loved to shape things. While in college he submitted an obelisk model in a design contest for the Bunker Hill Monument. At his friends’ urging, after graduation he sailed to Rome to experience art first hand.
He became America’s first sculptor. For the rest of his life, he would spend only three years here.
Lodged on Rome’s Pincian Hill, Greenough studied composite and portraiture without slavish copying of ancient statues. Several busts were modeled, but by August 1826, due to driving himself too hard and his schedule, the young artist fell prey to malaria and depression. Though the malaria soon cleared up, the depression persisted, and in January 1827 Greenough set out for Naples for a change of scenery. There he suffered a manic fit, survived it, and decided to go home. On the trip back to Boston the depression lifted.
The rest of 1827 saw him back at the family mansion at Centre and South Streets drawing, modelling, reading and writing. At this time he modelled a bust of Mayor Josiah Quincy of Boston-the first of many that survive. His busts, of which many exist in Boston’s older institutions, are known for their strong likenesses. The new year saw Greenough in Washington, doing busts of President Adams and Chief Justice Marshall. He fished around for other commissions.
On returning to Italy in mid-1828 the Yankee stonecutter (as he called himself) settled in Florence with its better climate and artistic colony. Early on he did his first group statue and his first full-length portrait statue. Through his connections Greenough was able to get Lafayette to sit for him in Paris, whence came the bust of the Revolution’s youngest general in the State House. In 1832 he was commissioned to produce a full-length statue of Washington for the Capitol’s rotunda. This made him greatly sought after in Florence.
Greenough enjoyed child portraiture the most and did many busts of this kind while he waited a year for money for the Washington statue. He chose to portray Washington nude as the ancient Greeks had shown their chief god Zeus at Olympia. It was a strong national symbol in Greece, and Greenough reasoned that Washington in such a pose would be a fine American symbol in a new country where things Greek and Roman were treasured and copied.
In 1836, after Washington had been cast in plaster, Greenough visited America briefly to get a commission for a statuary group called “The Rescue” for the eastern facade of the Capitol. In Boston he visited his dying father and obtained more bust commissions. On board ship to Italy he met Louisa Gore of Boston and, with her, had three children after their marriage in October 1837. Once the Washington was finished (which Greenough considered his crowning work) despite the general horror over “a nude Father of the Country,” he went on to finish his group statue “The Rescue.”
In 1851 Florence became a hot point in the fight for Italian independence. Greenough and his family returned to America, making a home in Newport, Rhode Island. Characteristically, the artist plunged into events and urged statues of Cooper the novelist and Washington for Newport. He wrote essays and delivered lectures on art. His activity overcame his nervous system, and he was taken to McLean Mental Hospital in metropolitan Boston, where, after a few days, he died on December 18, 1852.
All of this brings up the question of “Lakeville” and its being owned by Horatio Greenough, whose name does not appear in the first real estate atlas (1872), though the house does. The “Yankee stonecutter” had been dead 20 years! Either the credit on the picture is wrong, or the solution may be that the stonecutter had a son, christened Henry, who took his father’s name and spent some of his life on ancestral soil unlike his father-but not 1872. His sister Mary died young, while his married sister Charlotte always lived in Switzerland.
[Editor’s note: David Stoddard Greenough II never lived in Lakeville. He only lived in the “homestead” now known as the Loring-Greenough House. Further, Horatio was not the son of David Stoddard Greenough II. He was most likely his nephew. Lakeville was later home to the Charles Beaumonts and was the site of the first meeting of St. John’s Episcopal Congregation; it is distinct from the Greenough homestead.]
Sources: Dictionary of American Biography; N. Wright, Horatio Greenough; H.P. Greenough, A Greenough Genealogy, 1967; Tuesday Club, The Loring-Greenough House Story.
Reprinted with permission from the Jamaica Plain Gazette, February 1993.
Copyright © Gazette Publications, Inc.
On May 22, 2007, Katherine Greenough contacted the Jamaica Plain HIstorical Society by e-mail and offered the following additions and corrections to this article:
In reference to your article on the sculptor Horatio Greenough (1805-1852), a distant relative, some major corrections are in order, as hinted at by the person editing the article at its end. Horatio was the son of David Greenough (1774-1836), a wealthy real estate developer in downtown Boston— not David Stoddard Greenough —and Elizabeth Bender (1776-1866). The family lived in downtown Boston until 1819, when David was in a financial crisis and Horatio was 14. At that time they did come to Jamaica Plain and were members of the First Congregational Society (then Unitarian). David Stoddard Greenough (1787-1830) and David Greenough were cousins. The family returned to downtown Boston, specifically, No. 2 Colonnade Row, in 1824. Horatio went to Harvard at age 16 in 1821. He spent most of his life in Italy and married Louisa Ingersoll Gore (?-1891). They had 3 children, but there are no male descendants of the couple.
My sources are a geneaology of the Greenough family prepared by my cousin Hamilton Perkins Greenough in 1972, and “Horatio Greenough, America’s first sculptor”, by Nathalia Wright, 1963. Also, concerning Horatio’s wife, Louisa Ingersoll Gore, I have found out that she was born in 1812, was the daughter of John Gore and Mary Green Babcock, and grand neice of Christopher Gore of Gore Place, Waltham, diplomat and Governor of Mass. She was appointed “Vice regent” and was active for many years as a very successful fundraiser for the Mount Vernon Ladies Association.
Francis Parkman’s neighbor across the ancient Perkins Street was Ignatius Sargent, a Boston merchant and banker. He received his business training with Perkins & Co., whose senior partner James built his summer house Pinebank on the Pond in 1806.
Ignatius rightly scented profits in the railroads that were just starting and added much to the already substantial Sargent fortune via the Boston & Albany Railroad. In his Brahmin family tree were Saltonstalls, Brooks, Winthrops and Everetts.
Boston & Albany Railroad station, South Framingham, Massachusetts.
Sargent began summering on the Pond in 1847 to be near the Perkinses, and by 1852 he lived there year round. He bought his first acreage in 1845, until by 1873 his estate of 130 acres straddling the Brookline/Boston line was completed. Among these was the 20-acre plot of the estate of Thomas Lee, who had in 1800 begun the trek of Bostonians to Jamaica Pond for rural retreat. Lee also began the tradition of simple rambling landscape, which the Sargents carried on.
Ignatius’ second son, Charles Sprague Sargent, was born in 1841 and grew up on the estate named Holm Lea - from the Norwegian/Swedish for ‘Inland Island Pasture.’ After a lackluster career at Harvard with no education in the natural sciences (though it was available) Charles graduated in the Class of 1862 and enlisted in the Union Army later that year. He saw service in Louisiana, was mustered out in 1865 and then traveled in Europe for three years.
Returning to Holm Lea, Charles Sprague Sargent had no idea of what he wanted to do and, for lack of nothing better took over the management of Holm Lea as its horticulturist - a calling then in its infancy. In this he was influenced by his cousin Henry and H.H. Hunnewell of Wellesley. With his money, self-education in botany and its application at Holm Lea, and his father’s business training, the younger Sargent used the estate as a springboard and training ground.
Holm Lea was sold after Sargent’s death in 1927 and cut up into luxurious house lots, and its former appearance faded. It had been described as a place tempting visitors under overhanging branches with lanes clothed with a profusion of trees and shrubbery. There were no flower beds, no gardens, no geometric schemes but rather nature under control, allowed to follow its way. If Holm Lea sounds like a description of the Arnold Arboretum, it is because both are the creation of the same man.
Visitors to the Arnold Arboretum walk past an expanse of Mountain Laure in bloom on Hemlock Hill. c. 1900. Photograph courtesy of Francis Loeb Library, Graduate School of Design, Harvard University.
By wondrous coincidence Harvard University finally decided to use the vast remainder of the Bussey bequest in Jamaica Plain for an arboretum in 1872. After a year as Professor of Horticulture at the nearby Bussey Institute on South Street (1871-72), Francis Parkman - never a healthy person - resigned and probably suggested his young neighbor as a successor. By the end of 1872 Sargent also became the first Director of the Arnold Arboretum (a post held until his death) and Director of the Botanic Garden in Cambridge (long since given up).
Sargent’s activities for Harvard in Cambridge and Jamaica Plain are easily found elsewhere, but Holm Lea remained among his activities as well. Before the Arboretum’s familiar Administration Building was erected in 1893, he kept the records at an empty house in Holm Lea. In addition, Sargent came of age as a dendrologist and published voluminously. His influence was felt nationally on the conservation of American forests (in particular the Catskills and Adirondacks). Locally he and Olmsted often teamed up, even for the tree pattern on Commonwealth Avenue.
John Muir, California’s noted naturalist, visited Holm Lea and noted: “This is the finest mansion and grounds I ever saw. The house is 200 feet long with an immense veranda trained with huge flowers and vines and stands in the midst of acres of lawns, groves, wild woods of pine, hemlock, maple and beech hickory. There are all kinds of underbrush and wild flowers, acres of rhododendrons 12 feet high and a pond covered with lilies. All the ground, hill and dale, waves clad in the full summer dress of the region and is trimmed with exquisite taste.”
Even by the standards of Boston society of the last century, Charles Sprague Sargent was unusual. Unlike his neighbors, the Quincy Shaws, he had nothing to do with local government and the social ills of his era. Like his father, Sargent was colder than cold roast-beef Boston society, a stern lord of his manor, and always at work during his waking hours. Yet his ways prompted keen loyalty in his co-workers, and his permanent legacy is the Arnold Arboretum for all to enjoy. If not a social lion in his lifetime, Charles Sprague Sargent spent his existence with an eye on the future.
In a ceremony appropriately held on the Arbor Day, after Sargent’s death Governor Fuller planted a white spruce on the grounds of the State House in Sargent’s memory, complete with a plaque. He remarked, “Professor Sargent knew more about trees than any other living person. It would be hard to find anyone who did more to protect trees from the vandalism of those who do not appreciate the contribution that they make to the beauty and wealth of our nation.”
Charles Sprague Sargent had definitely found his mark with an everlasting legacy, even if the Holm Lea he knew is no more.
Written by Walter H. Marx
Sources: Brookline Public Library, Sargent file; Encyclopedia of National Biography; S. Sutton, “Charles Sprague Sargent & the Arboretum,” Harvard, 1970; Arnold Arboretum, Sargent Papers, 14 boxes.
Reprinted with permission from the August 13, 1993 Jamaica Plain Gazette. Copyright © Gazette Publications, Inc.
Remembering Walter Marx
by Paul B. Gill
My earliest recollections of Walter Marx go back to first grade at the Mary E. Curley School. Walter and I tied for tallest kid in the class. In an era when pupils lined up by height for filing through the corridors, he and I always brought up the rear together.
Three years later, we rediscovered each other in fourth grade at the Agassiz. We enjoyed going to his house on Castleton Street after school and walking his dog, Tippy, at Jamaica Pond. Walter always found plenty to talk about during our excursions. Perhaps because each of us was an only-child, we thrived on the companionship.
One Saturday my mother invited him to join us for lunch. He sat at our kitchen table, articulately iterating one story after another about the fourth-grade experience. As part of his soliloquy, Walter revealed that I had had a serious dustup with the teacher a few days before. My secret was gone in a flash! How could he? I glanced at my mother, expecting the worst – but by then, Walter had gracefully moved on to his next vignette. My mother was so highly charmed by this loquacious and interesting nine-year-old that (fortunately for me) she all but forgot about my incident with the teacher.
Walter was an avid reader as a boy. He occasionally referred to his mother as “Marmee,” suggesting early familiarity with Louisa May Alcott’s writing. Through his reading he had become enamored of life in the nineteenth century. Walking home from sixth grade with him one afternoon, I commented on how lucky we were to be living in the age of automobiles and television. I looked back and found him frozen in place – horrified by my remark! He went on to explain why he would be much happier living in the elegance of the Victorian era. That fascination would stay with him for life.
Although I never remember Walter any way but slim, he was a boy who very much enjoyed food. He occasionally liked to try his hand in the kitchen. He had carefully observed his mother’s culinary efforts and had learned from them. One rainy afternoon when his parents were out, he baked a layer cake. I watched in amazement as he lifted each half from the pan intact and then artfully assembled and frosted his creation, of which we each sampled a generous and tasty slice.
Walter’s parents left distinct impressions on me. His mother (“Ellie”) enjoyed gardening as well as cooking, and I noticed that she undertook these endeavors quite seriously. Walter told me that she was born in Hamburg, Germany, and had come to the U.S. at the age of nineteen (c. 1930). In those early years she had apparently worked in the factory district of Jamaica Plain, alongside fellow German immigrants. By the 1950s she was employed as bookkeeper at Sherry Motors in West Roxbury. Before she left for work on summer-vacation days, she routinely assigned “Vahl-tuh” a set of household chores, which he always completed dutifully.
Walter Herman Marx Sr. was born in Massachusetts in 1906, the son of German immigrants. He grew up in Holyoke. In the 1950s, he was an insurance agent who often worked at home. The dining room table was covered with his documents, and he usually worked on them with a stubby cigar in one corner of his mouth. No one else was allowed near that table. It was a safe island for both his paperwork and his cigar fancy. I remember that he enjoyed verbally teasing us boys in a sarcastic but witty way.
On a Saturday morning in 1950, Walter and I (and fellow sixth-graders) appeared on the M-1 Safety Squad radio program. We kids had helped write the script, and our delivery was worse than silly. After the broadcast, as Walter and I approached the house on Castleton Street, we sighted the stocky frame of Mr. Marx up on the porch. He was grinning down at us, with his characteristic stubby cigar in place. “Oh, oh, I can tell he tuned in to the program,” whispered Walter, bracing himself for a sharp critique that would be heard all over the neighborhood. Mr. Marx removed the cigar and bellowed, “Hey, CBS called with a contract!” Walter exhaled – delighted that the comment was more humorous than acerbic.
One fall afternoon, I accepted an invitation from Mrs. Marx to stay for dinner. I vividly recall Mr. Marx enjoying a mug of German beer with his meal (a new notion for this young observer). Throughout dinner Walter again played the knowledgeable young raconteur, focusing this time on the subject of cuisine. I had little to contribute. To save face, I made some comment about how my mother roasts a chicken. The usually serious Mrs. Marx chuckled and shook her head in the negative. My comment caused her respect for Boston-Irish cooking to drop another notch. Feeling obliged to right a wrong, she carefully detailed for me the proper way to roast a chicken. I noticed that Walter was enjoying my plight a little too much!
As the two of us walked along Castleton Street one day, Walter pointed to a particular house and muttered, “They’re prejudiced against Germans.” The revelation embarrassed me because that family, like my own, was Boston-Irish. He explained that the son had “said things” of an offensive nature directly to the Marxes. Walter suggested that there were others around who had behaved similarly. Soon I learned the disappointing news that Walter would not be attending Boston Latin School with me but would be enrolling at The Roxbury Latin School, where his parents believed he’d be better insulated from this kind of injustice.
We saw each other much less while attending the different Latin schools. Our visits were usually in the summer and on school holiday weeks. I snapped this photo of him with Tippy during Christmas vacation when he was about 13 or 14.
A particularly memorable get-together took place in August of 1954 at the house on Castleton Street. The morning started off ominously cool and damp, so Walter decided to light the fireplace. When he opened the flue, a tremendous gush of wind created a blinding flurry of ash residues that settled all over the living room. What would his parents say if they came home to this? Frantic, he vacuumed all morning. On the WBZ radio noon news, the announcer described Hurricane Carol’s surprise visit to New England, with winds over 100 mph. As the newsman continued, his microphone picked up the crunch of the Channel 4 TV tower toppling onto the roof above him. Walter seemed relieved that somebody was having a worse day than he.
Walter and I went on to attend different colleges. Although we faithfully exchanged Christmas cards every year (his was always stunning), we rarely saw each other. I recall a chance meeting at the corner of Centre and So. Huntington in the early 1960s. I outlined my plans for graduate work in engineering. He, in turn, updated me on his studies in the classics. He was beaming about travel to Italy on a Fulbright scholarship.
In the 1970s his Christmas cards revealed that he was teaching at the Middlesex School in Concord, not far from where my wife and I lived. For some reason, neither he nor I made a gesture to get in touch. Perhaps we had gone our separate ways a bit too far. However, over the decades afterward I thought of him often.
Out of curiosity one day in 2005, I entered his name on an Internet search engine. It was then for the first time that I encountered the J.P.H.S. website. I pulled up the list of Walter’s articles and was thrilled to read them one by one. Then came the shock when I arrived at his obituary.
Walter was an unforgettable character. I’ll cherish my memories of our childhood experiences, and I’ll always regret having missed opportunities to reach out to him in adult life.
Walter H. Marx, 1939 - 1995
Founder, historian and linchpin of the Jamaica Plain Historical Society.
The impetus for writing this short biographical sketch followed by my reminiscences dates back to the Society’s Member’s Night at Doyle’s Café in Jamaica Plain on November 9, 2005. I was asked to offer spontaneous comments on the occasion of the dedication of a plaque honoring Walter, to be placed in the new archival files in recognition of his services to the Society since its inception in 1988. That previous February 2005 was the tenth anniversary of his death and it occurred to me that the Society had scant record of his achievements, both professional and “avocational”, particularly his role as Jamaica Plain Historical Society’s Historian. What follows, therefore, are my recollections of Walter’s education, accomplishments and unique contributions to Jamaica Plain’s recorded history.
I knew Walter only vaguely in his younger years, inasmuch as he was five years behind me at the Roxbury Latin School, from which he graduated in 1957. His early dedication to the Classics was evident in his tutorial sessions in Latin and Greek with fellow classmates. He also participated in the Soccer program and coached the school’s younger teams in that sport.
Walter continued his grounding in the Classics at Harvard University, receiving his BA (1961) and MAT (1962) in that discipline. His ambitious Master’s thesis tackled The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
His career as a teacher and Department Chair in the Classics led him to various locations from the early 1960’s through the mid 1980’s at: St. Stephen’s School, Austin, TX. (1962 - 1966), The Taft School, Watertown, CT (1966 - 1970), and The Middlesex School, Concord, MA (1972 -1983).
While at Middlesex, Walter procured a Vanity Plate with a modified version of the Roman Legions’ abbreviated motto, “S.P.Q. R.” (The Senate and the Roman People). Walter’s read ‘S.P.Q.C.” (The Senate and the People of Concord). This illustrates in a nutshell his immersion in the classical world and his attempts to make it more of an immediate experience for his pupils. In addition, he served as guide on numerous field trips to the major sites of Mediterranean Antiquity with those same students, demonstrating his deep hands-on involvement in his subject.
My later encounters with Walter were once again at Roxbury Latin School in the 1980’s where we both served on the Alumni Council. We also met frequently at gatherings of the West Roxbury Historical Society. These occasions led, quite naturally, to Walter’s recruitment of me as Treasurer of the fledgling Jamaica Plain Historical Society, only 10 months after its founding in late 1987. Up to that point, his German-born mother, Ellie, had tended to the Society’s financial duties. From that time on, I became closely acquainted with Walter’s activities with the Society.
The remainder of this essay will deal with my most vivid and lasting memories of Walter Marx; giving the reader an impression of what it was to know, work with, and hold with deep affection this immensely likeable man.
If we could define the working culture of the Jamaica Plain Historical Society early on, it was permissive, freewheeling, and thus very creative. Initially, Henry Scannell served as Archivist and he regularly produced interesting archival items from Jamaica Plain’s past. Somehow, we managed to organize lecture meetings, outdoor birthday parties and picnics, and hold annual elections.
Walter was very much involved in all our activities. He kept the spotlight focused on the Society through his countless articles in the local newspapers and by writing pamphlets such as “Jamaica Plain’s Streets”, which traces the historical roots of J.P. Street names. He conceived the idea of reprinting an 1890 bird’s eye map of Jamaica Plain. He and our current president, Michael Reiskind, served as “Ambassadors-at-Large” in the community, constantly immersing themselves in the important issues of the day and always advancing the Society’s concerns for what was best for Jamaica Plain.
Gradually, in addition to the regular meetings, there emerged the equally regular Newsletter, which is now a popular quarterly event. Happily, this served to increase our membership base from an original fifty souls to its present size of more than 150.
Through his contact with Richard Heath, a local historian and champion of preservation in his own right, Walter established contacts with the Forest Hills Cemetery and its President, Bud Hanson. From this liaison, informational walks in the Cemetery, led by Richard Heath, were developed. Walter’s association with the Cemetery was instrumental in planning and executing the dedication of the John Eliot Grove. This project memorialized “The Apostle to the Indians” and founder of the Roxbury Latin School. (Eliot is also memorialized in the present-day Eliot Street and the school bearing his name, located on Eliot Street, near Jamaica Plain’s Monument Square.)
Walter and Richard Heath were also instrumental in the restoration and beautification of the John Francis Parkman Monument located at the south end of Jamaica Pond.
Another noteworthy achievement was Walter’s scheduling of a visit to the Roxbury Latin School immediately following our dedication of the Eliot Grove. At the School we viewed various historical artifacts and souvenirs of John Eliot’s English period and saw the School’s original copy of Eliot’s translation of the Bible into Algonquin. This “Eliot Bible”, printed in 1663 was the first Bible printed in the Colonies in any language.
On several occasions, the Cemetery’s Trust opened the Chapel to the Jamaica Plain Historical Society meetings; notably, our Ghosts of November evening that recalled prominent historical persons interred in the Forest Hills Cemetery.
Another tradition established under Walter’s aegis and carried forth for several years involved Memorial Day Ceremonies. Not only were the Civil War and subsequent conflicts remembered, but also a long absent focus was thrown on the rich Revolutionary War local heritage in a ceremony near the Monument; at another located off Mendum and Walter Streets in Roslindale and at a Colonial burial plot known as Westerly, on Centre Street in West Roxbury.
When the historic Shirley-Eustis House was refurbished and reopened in the early 1990’s, Walter immediately became involved and emerged as Chief Docent and Tour Leader on the House’s august historical premises.
A further example of his unique talents as a researcher and popularizer of History was his “New Bern Caper”. He had researched the history of Newbern Street in Jamaica Plain for his publication on the neighborhood’s streets. He discovered a connection with the port city of New Bern, in North Carolina. The city, under Union control, had come to play a critical role in the interdiction of supplies to the Confederate Army. It had been captured early on in March 1862 by Federal forces and remained a Union garrison throughout the war. Walter decided to make New Bern a major port of call on one of his history excursions and he was able to identify various Union soldiers from Jamaica Plain who served there. Naturally, he later contributed extensive commentaries on his trip in the local paper.
I was privileged, along with a friend, to join Walter on what he would have termed his “General Knox’s Cannon Expedition”. On this trip we traced, in reverse, the course of the transfer of cannon by Revolutionary Army General Henry Knox from Fort Ticonderoga in New York, to Dorchester Heights in Boston. The plan was conceived in late 1775 and carried out in the late winter of 1776. This “mission impossible” enabled the Colonials to control Boston Harbor and all British Naval movements in the Boston theatre of operations. Walter was concerned in making an inventory of the monuments along the Knox route and we recorded their number and condition. We then filled out our weekend with a tour (which Walter had meticulously researched) of the palatial residences of the American plutocracy of the late 19th - early 20th century along the Hudson River. Of course, many articles and stories followed which kept the Jamaica Plain Historical Society in the eye of our audience.
I’d like to finish my reminiscences with what I call the “Walter Marx Loaves and Fishes Caper.” We could also think of it as “How Walter Marx Pulled the Rabbit Out of the Hat” This event occurred in the late 1980’s when we were grasping for issues and venues to create interest in the Jamaica Plain Historical Society. At the time, The Boston Beer Co. had just renovated the former Haffenreffer Brewery’s premises and began producing Sam Adams, “America’s Premium Beer”. A great deal of publicity was generated, since the product had been winning numerous annual International awards as the champion of beers. Amidst all this hoopla, Walter managed to convince the Boston Beer owners that it would be to their great advantage to sponsor a Jamaica Plain Historical Society meeting in the Oktoberfest Season (At the time, we had perhaps 70 - 75 members in good standing; none of them big spenders). He waved his wand again and somehow engaged the Community Hall of Our Lady of Lourdes Church, for our mid-week meeting. As the final touch in this miracle of Lourdes, the prohibited element of alcohol appeared in the form of “samples” of Sam Adams Lager. Thus, we succeeded in flying under the radar of the city and clerical authorities without untoward consequences. Incidentally, the sample size was 12 ounces, with no limit in quantities. Naturally, attendees remember, with a warm and hazy glow, that lecture on Sam Adams and the rebirth of beer brewing in Boston.
It would be difficult to conclude without recording a few personal impressions of my association with Walter Marx. The common experience that bound us closely was our attending Roxbury Latin, albeit a few years apart. There, we shared the school’s classical curriculum, in the course of which we studied under Gerhard Rehder, the school’s History Master for nearly thirty years. In his courses, Walter (and I) learned the maxim that any presentation, to be cogent, should be articulate (of course) but above all should have a discernable beginning, middle and end. I would daresay that Walter’s work in his teaching and with the Historical Society met this test. I hope my musings have come close to doing so as well.
How do I picture Walter now? He’s at his desk or on his couch somewhere in his beloved Elysian Fields, his lanky 6’4” frame hunched over his 1950’s typewriter, he is absorbed in cleaning the keys preparatory to writing yet another Gazette article. Beside him stands his humidor brimming with cigars, waiting to be plucked one by one after a day well spent. On his reading table await copies of Livy, Tacitus, Herodotus or Homer, all in the original, awaiting to be re-read and enjoyed along with a glass of lemonade by the “friendly talented giant” who was Walter Marx.
Edward L. McGowan
Treasurer, Jamaica Plain Historical Society
June 5, 2006
WALTER H. MARX
Walter and I came to know each other through my relationship with his father, who also bore the first name of Walter. We served together as board members of the Roxbury-Highland Bank for many years, and it was not uncommon for young Walter to accompany his Dad to the annual meeting of the bank. It was quite obvious that young Walter possessed a great love of history and, given his educational experience, he excelled in both the written and spoken word.
I shall share two occasions, which come to mind in remembering Walter. The first occurred on Memorial Day of 1993 when Walter delivered a scholarly treatise on “Civil War Monuments in Massachusetts”. The event took place at Forest Hills Cemetery to commemorate the magnificent Roxbury Soldiers’ monument on the 125th Anniversary of its dedication. A large crowd of young and old listened to Walter’s eloquent treatise on this and other monuments, dedicated to those who lost their lives during the Civil War, that adorn so many of our city and town squares.
The second was an equally scholarly treatise held at the Civil War Monument on Centre Street. Newly restored and replaced bronze plaques were proudly unveiled as Walter put in perspective the importance of Jamaica Plain’s most important monument.
To reflect on Walter H. Marx is to reflect on a man well suited to have been prominent in the Jamaica Plain Historical Society. He was truly a personification of erudition and a perfect gentleman.
Erling A. Hanson, Jr.
Former President, Forest Hills Cemetery
May 30, 2006
Memories of Walter H. Marx
I’m not sure exactly when I first met Walter Marx. I do remember the first time I became aware of him when he talked to me as if we had already known each other for some time. I remember wishing I had met him earlier, partly because he was so helpful to me in my research of the history of Jamaica Plain and partly because knowing him helped make the business of researching fun.
I do not think he was one of the representatives of the newly founded Jamaica Plain Historical Society who back in the spring of 1988 invited me, along with Carol Kennedy of the Boston Landmarks Commission, to speak at the James Michael Curley mansion. It is possible I met him at the event itself, although it was so crowded-thanks to the lure of the Curley house, which was usually closed to the public-I might not have remembered clearly if I had met him there or not.
Yet it is more likely that whenever we did first meet, Walter simply ignored the inconvenience of the absence of previous acquaintance and acted as if we had known each other for years. That would be like the man. Always on the lookout for people who shared his enthusiasms, Walter didn’t so much start a conversation as dive into the middle of a topic and swim vigorously for the other shore.
Walter’s appearance made a strong impression, that’s for sure. He was very tall, with yellow-white hair that fell in a few thick strands across his forehead, thick glasses, and usually had a cigar, lit or unlit, in his hand or mouth. He was somewhat awkward in his movements. Add to that his deep voice and articulate manner of speaking-he liked to drop in the occasional Latin phrase-and it is hard to believe anyone could meet Walter without marking the encounter.
For all his eccentric appearance, however, Walter was truly engaging. He enjoyed conversation, including a good laugh-whether over some strange historical coincidence or the human comedy. Whenever we met, we would have a good talk that ended only when one of us realized we were in danger of completely derailing the day’s business. Then Walter, who usually had a long list of things to do-an article to write or other business-would wave his cigar with a wide smile and stride hurriedly down the street.
Walter was a generous and trusting soul. When I had reached the stage of looking for historic images of Jamaica Plain to go into my book, Local Attachments: The Making of an Urban Neighborhood, 1850-1920, Walter declared that he would help solve the problem by loaning me the Jamaica Plain Historical Society’s picture collection to see if there were any I might wish to copy for my book. Without asking for any guarantee or collateral, he delivered the spiral notebooks whose plastic sheets held the old photographs and postcards. As I pored over the sheets of little visual treasures, I thought of Walter-both his generosity and also his tobacco habit-as the notebooks’ vinyl pages reeked of cigar smoke. Yet, never one to hog the glory, Walter also steered me to Suzanne Presley, a prodigious collector of old postcards, and he spent much time thinking about what other sources for pictures might be available.
Indeed, Walter was not only gregarious; he also genuinely liked people. Somehow he kept track of everyone even remotely connected to Jamaica Plain’s history and quite a few others. For him, it seems to me, history was the record of people gone but who would have been most interesting to know.
A little of Walter’s flair for life, friendliness, and busy pursuit of history-not to mention, sympathy for the downtrodden-is reflected in a note he sent to me on April 19, 1988. The previous day we had crossed paths in Harvard Square, although I can no longer remember, if I ever knew, why Walter was there. One side of the paper was a photocopy of British stamps from Jamaica and a type-written paragraph, apparently written by Walter, about the origins of Jamaica Plain’s name, which he argues came from the Algonquin word, “kutchemakin.” On the other side, Walter wrote the following:
Good meeting you in the Square! Had I known that was to occur, I’d have handed this sheet to you which comes from A Concise Guide to the Streets of Jamaica Plain, which the society will feature. This seems to be a final word on the term Jamaica Plain. I must say I heartily endorse it, for I’m a great Indian cheerleader & the English were not nice to them. Fortunately, John Eliot was a fine exception. All this comes from a Citizen article I’m doing on Jamaica Plain aborigines. We must not dismiss them so easily, although ‘tis so easy.
His cheerful way of sharing history was one of Walter’s many charms and one reason that those of us who knew him, miss him, and remember him fondly.
Alexander von Hoffman
Joint Center for Housing Studies
June 4, 2006
For more than four years, since the Jamaica Plain Gazette began in February 1991, Walter Marx provided the paper and its readers with a fresh account of Jamaica Plain History-making page two one of the most popular pages of the newspaper.
His tales from the past of this neighborhood entertained and edified a cross-section of local residents who became loyal fans of “Looking Back.” He never turned in an article past deadline, and he never missed an issue, except those times when he graciously allowed others to write in his place.
Last week, Walter became part of the neighborhood history he loved so much. When he died he left a void, not only in this newspaper, but also in the community he served. Walter not only wrote about history, but he also helped make it. As the historian and a founding member of the Jamaica Plain Historical Society and as a member of the Jamaica Pond Association he worked tirelessly to see that pieces of the neighborhood’s past were preserved and protected. Just last month he persuaded the state to fix a monument on Kelley Circle that had been defaced.
Walter was history in action, tramping through wetlands, traveling to North Carolina and Maine, visiting libraries-all to get the story. Even though he wrote about the past, he probably conducted more current investigations than any other staff member. Walter Marx put his personal energy into everything he did. Approaching the Gazette office, if you smelled cigar smoke and heard a booming voice, you knew that Walter was around, copying documents, discussing events of the day while he joked with the staff.
Walter was such a vivid presence; it’s hard to imagine him gone. In a way, he is not. His writings and efforts to preserve Jamaica Plain’s history will be with us forever.
Editor, Jamaica Plain Gazette
He was just in my house only two weeks ago. He called as usual excited over an historical find and he wanted my help in identifying it. That was just like him: Walter loved facts and was always willing to share information. He loved whatever would teach him more about the city of his birth, but especially about Jamaica Plain. And he couldn’t wait to rush into the Gazette to tell everyone else what a famous place Jamaica Plain was.
Walter was educated as a scholar, a teacher and writer. He attended Roxbury Latin School and Harvard. Walter was never afraid to stretch his learning. He would call and ask me some clarification or he would give me copies of something he found or some photograph. His enthusiasm for the life of history was rare. For Walter the past made the present possible. I take pride that I led him to think about new things-especially about the significance of Roxbury history as the beginning of learning about Jamaica Plain. He and I loved the historic landscape. We shared a love and admiration for Francis Parkman, our mutual patron saint. Once, Walter sent me a map showing where all the trees were in the Arboretum that came from Parkman’s Jamaica Plain Pondside house.
Walter was a doer. He spent countless hours cleaning up and unearthing the secrets of the Eliot Street burial ground behind the Unitarian Church. Just before he died he rescued an obscure marker at Kelley Circle. Walter, Martha and I planted bulbs at the Parkman Memorial, and he would often go there alone and clean-up the site. He wrote the words to the plaque that honors John Eliot at Forest Hills Cemetery. His enthusiasm and energy helped make it happen. The Parkman Memorial will be Walter’s, too, for me. He loved the Shirley Eustis house and devoted thousands of hours to it over the years as a guide.
Walter did not suffer fools well. He suffered those who would destroy Jamaica Plain’s heritage with even more scorn. He could not understand the tortoise-like speed of government. He spent years trying to get the plaque replaced at the Monument. He loved Ward’s Pond and Nickerson Hill and the parkland behind the Kelly Rink, and he hated until the day he died its shabby condition and the way government ignored this precious park. Walter did not live in the past, but he didn’t want the past forgotten because the past was the only anchor he had. History-that straight line that ties us all together-was the spirit of Walter’s life. He was proud of where he lived and where he was born and he wanted everyone to be proud that they lived in Jamaica Plain too, because that pride would make us all better people. Better residents.
He didn’t want that steamroller of urban change to destroy the memories of the people that came before us. That’s why he loved plaques; Walter would have had a plaque for something or some event every sixteen feet in Jamaica Plain. That’s why he had to write history. Because he was afraid that people would forget and then they would lose their anchor. History ties us all together. It was the one thing that stopped the chaos that Walter saw all around him, from the changing landscape to the vanishing values.
Walter was unique. He was the soul of Jamaica Plain, the keeper of its treasures, the protector of its heritage. Above all else, he was a teacher. He would have been revered in Puritan Roxbury. His histories were not those of Plutarch or Livy-the Latin scholars he loved to read and quote, whom he admired along with the other ancient sages. His histories were for the common man and woman, girl and boy to read and learn and remember. But above all else, to be another ring on the anchor that would link us together as neighbors in Jamaica Plain. The past made the present possible.
Walter was my friend and Martha’s friend too. We will miss him. We will see his spirit at the Parkman Memorial. His like will not be seen again in Jamaica Plain.
Contributions by Sandee Storey and Richard Heath are reprinted with permission from the February 24, 1995 Jamaica Plain Gazette. Copyright © Gazette Publications, Inc.
By Walter Marx
The recent sale of the shamrock-shuttered home of James Michael Curley has rightly drawn the attention of a new generation to this legendary mayor’s long residence in our area. Many residents have stories about the house in the Curley era: clients who came to the door in the morning for help (as seen in the Curley novel, The Last Hurrah), the long line of mourners at the double funerals of his children, Mary and Leo, in 1950, and the famous people who visited 350 Jamaicaway over the years.
Though His Honor lived in the house from 1915 onwards, this longest-serving mayor of Boston (16 years in all) did not die there. He and the second Mrs. Curley moved out of the big house with so many memories to a small house at 9 Pond Circle on Moss Hill in 1957. After her husband died a year later, Mrs. Curley’s brother moved in with her, and there she died quietly in 1980. Mayor Curley was not the first Boston Mayor to reside in Jamaica Plain.
Since our area joined Boston in 1872 (Boston has had almost 50 mayors since 1822), five chief executives of the city have lived here. Of most recent memory John Collins (Mayor, 1960-66) lived in a modest home at the curve on Myrtle St. He was a prime mover in the re-development of downtown Boston – in particular the Prudential Center and the New City Hall – and is still active in urban affairs. Polio paralysis in midlife kept this World War II veteran in a chair, but not from pursuing a career in public service before and after his mayoralty. This leader of the “New Boston” – his term coined for his city’s image – was given an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by Harvard University – unique among all of Boston’s mayors.
Of World War II memory, Maruice Tobin, who lived at 30 Hopkins Rd. on Moss Hill, was Boston’s only mayor who went on to top-level posts in the state and the nation. The youngest member of the Massachusetts House in 1926, he served as mayor at the Depression’s end and the war’s start after defeating his mentor Curley in the bitter election of 1937 and again four years later. These were times of austerity, but with federal help the Huntington Ave. Subway was completed. The tall and handsome “magnificent Maurice” grew more popular and captured the State House as governor (1944-46). His backing of President Truman and his knowledge gained in the New England Telephone Company won him the post of Secretary of Labor. Tobin died only six months out of office in 1953 on the Scituate golf course.*
Malcolm Nichols who lived in the big gray house on the corner of Hathoway and Centre Sts. beyond the Monument, was Boston’s last professed Republican mayor (1926-29). A Maine native, Nichols was educated at Harvard and turned to public service at city and state levels. A short, stocky, jovial, friendly man, he finally became mayor after several tries and defeated Curley. Nichols was a strong believer in the metropolitan Boston concept and, as such, backed the Quabbin Water Project. A public and private building boom occurred during his sound fiscal administration, for example the Sumner Tunnel. Unable to succeed himself by law, Nichols stood aside and watched the third Curley mayoralty. He did run again in 1933 but lost his bid. Mayor Nichols lived until 1951, watching many of his pet projects finally flower.
Jamaica Plain’s first mayor of Boston was Andrews Peters of an ancient family here of the Arboretum area, where Peters Hill is named for the family that owned it in earlier times. Peters was a Harvard-trained lawyer who entered politics in 1901. Of stern jaw and executive mien he served on state and federal levels as a Democrat in heavily Republican districts. He was married to a descendant of John Philips. Boston’s first mayor from Jamaica Plain lived in a rambling old home atop Asticou Rd. and South St. by the Arboretum. He was elected mayor in 1917 over Curley after the first administration ended like Nichols’ did later. Also like Nichols, Peters favored the metropolitan Boston concept. He was mayor during the Boston police strike of September 1919, when the State Guard took up barracks in the old G.A.R. Hall on Thomas Street. Peters’ commitment to the city’s fiscal health was disgraced by some subordinates, and he left City Hall a disillusioned man, dying in 1938.
Thus of the nearly 50 men who have sat in the mayor’s chair, four have lived here while mayor, and one lived here all his life. Each administration had a flavor all its own, each with some color to broaden the swath cut by Boston’s most colorful mayor, James Michael Curley, whose bronze standing and sitting statues are rightly in the shadow of a City Hall he never new.
July 28, 1988
*Note: We have since learned that Tobin died in Scituate six months after leaving office of a heart attack. He did not die on the golf course; He was in bed next to his wife, Helen reading the paper.
Remembering 120 McBride Street, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts
I am sure there are many people out there with wonderful memories of growing up in Jamaica Plain and experiencing all the diversity it had to offer. I have compiled some of my memories of Jamaica Plain and to this day in 2007 (47 years old), I believe Jamaica Plain was the best education I ever got about life, gut instinct and dealing with people.
My earliest memories of Jamaica Plain were my close surroundings and the streets I grew up on like McBride, Lee, Carolina, Child, Hall, Boynton, and South streets. There were very good people living there, all working hard to get by. The people were the most interesting aspect for me in regard to how I feel. I saw the tail end of an era of how people watched out for each other in a neighborhood.
Murphy Playground in the spring and summer was the best place in the world for a kid to learn about baseball and life. I remember Murphy Playground before the new Agassiz School populated the top field and clubhouse. There were always basketball games going on in the upper section over on the Carolina Street side where most of the older kids played, and there were always pick-up baseball games going on in the lower and upper fields.
When Little League started each spring, that is when you saw the personality of the neighborhood come out, and all of the parents would watch an innocent game on a hot night under the lights swapping stories. Back then everyone played and all we got was a tee shirt and hat, usually sponsored by one of the locals — Doyle’s, Bob’s Spa or Blanchard’s Liquor.
Curtis Hall could not have gotten any better in the 1960s. With all the transition going on in the country this was a safe haven to be a kid and have fun. I remember swimming for a nickel and you brought your own towel and soap. If I remember right there was a boys’ day and a girls’ day for swimming.
Upstairs in the gym was a life lesson and I learned about competition and that famous game of dodgeball, or as we called it, “Bombardment.” All the kids from Jamaica Plain used Curtis Hall and you learned at a young age there were a lot of tough kids in Jamaica Plain, and a lot of kids worse off than you, another life lesson.
Besides going to the library just about every day and studying or goofing off or just checking out girls, the chestnut tree outside was a memorable experience. Every year we would wait for the chestnuts to drop in those armored spiked green shells. We would toss them at each other and when we were done goofing around we would open them up and see that beautiful dark chestnut. We collected them or carved out the centers and made toy pipes (no, not crack pipes, just play toy pipes).
I could write a book about Bob’s Spa and all the stories, personalities, and families that used and relied on Bob’s Spa. Back in the 1960s this is where you got your day-to-day items for the most part. Friday night grocery shopping was at Stop-n-Shop on the V.F.W. Parkway, but the day-to-day was at Bob’s Spa. As a kid you have a very innocent perspective of things, and I thought Bob’s Spa was great. Where else could you get such a great candy selection or sit at a soda fountain stool? Bob’s also had great deli sandwiches and I loved how they added up your bill on the brown paper bag in pencil. My greatest treat was that I used to return all the Coca Cola bottles for my Aunt Betty, and back then they were in a heavy wooden case that held 24 bottles. I would load a couple of empty cases into my wagon and cart them up to Bob’s. Back then it was two cents a bottle and I would bring the money back to Aunt Betty and she would give me a nickel tip, and guess where I spent that?
120 McBride Street; this was home for me, a very safe haven and a wonderful environment. Once again, as a kid I grew up pretty naive and looked through the glass most of the time with glee. Our house was a two-family and the upstairs was where my Mom, Dad and brother lived with our own attic (my playground). On the first floor was a cast of characters like my Aunt Betty, Uncle Bob, Aunt Nancy, and from time to time everyone else like Uncle Al, Tom, Dan and Uncle Martin.
These are some of the finest people I will ever know and I have learned so many life lessons and a good portion of my personality was carved out of these times. Joy came simple back then whether you were out on the streets with your friends exploring the neighborhood or waiting for the produce truck to come down McBride Street so Betty could buy grapes, or just playing in what I thought was the biggest back yard in all of Jamaica Plain.
I will always love this street, neighbors and the times it represented. We lived right next to the Boston & Maine Railroad tracks when the Boston Gas Company used to be there. This was home.
Even though I went to public school and I am glad I did, St. Thomas School had a strong hold on me. From Sunday Mass with Father Kelly or the Sunday paper you could buy out front this was a great place. The fondest memory of St. Thomas was the St. Thomas parking lot across the street where the Band practiced. Growing up as a kid and walking up Child Street to hear the Band get louder was a great thing. The color guard used to practice out there as well.
CCD was quite a life experience and I learned a lot about the church, the crazy nuns who loved that wooden ruler, or how much religion was like a woven fabric in the community.
Where do I start about the Agassiz School? This was a microcosm of a world that I lived in. The students represented every aspect of Jamaica Plain, from the rich to the poor, white and black. There were two buildings that we called the old and new Agassiz, and when I went there in the 1960s I think they were already about 70 years old.
The teachers were fantastic; to this day I love Mrs. Manning, the third-grade teacher and principal of the old Agassiz. The new Agassiz was not much newer and I will never forget the boys’ urinals. There was a slate wall with water running down it into a trough and you would pee on the wall (this is too good to make up.) We had music class and wood shop and had very few amenities. You got milk at lunchtime and everyone brown- bagged it and hung their lunch on the hook in the coatroom.
Recess was a fun time. We played famous games like one-two-three-red-light, handball, and pimple ball. We flung baseball cards and coins up against the wall for keeps. The Agassiz’s roof had a large overhang, and that is where we hid during an air raid (birds flying over). You learned early to duck for cover, and I swear those birds enjoyed it.
These are some of my memories of Jamaica Plain, and I would have to say from time to time I miss those days, but I believe you cannot go back in time and you have to take the good from it and keep moving on.
I have included some family names that I grew up with: the McCormacks, the Donovans, the Maloneys, the Baronies, the Walshes, the Englishes the Genovese, and the Sloans, to name a few.
Our family moved away from Jamaica Plain in 1973, because at the time there was going to be a state road coming through, so the state took our house by eminent domain. The house at 120 McBride Street was eventually torn down. My family had lived there since the 1940s.
I will always cherish that time and that era in Jamaica Plain.
nhliving [at] yahoo.com
This article originally appeared in the Boston Daily Globe on July 27, 1919.
When President Eamon de Valera of the Irish Republic stated the other day that it was his intention to pay off the bonds of the Irish Republic, which were issued in this country in 1866, it is recalled to the minds of some of the people here that they had invested in these issues.
Patrick J. McManus, who lives at 28 Eggleston St., Jamaica Plain, and is one of the best- known Irishmen in the city, had one preserved carefully in his home for years. In fact, he had several, but they were lost, and the one he retains now is a keepsake.
"We Irishmen, who bought the bonds in 1866 are not looking forward to getting rich from them now," he said. "They served their purpose at the time, for the money raised kept the Irish question before the minds of the people everywhere and so they were worth what we put in.
"The bonds were authorized by the Fenian Brotherhood, at the head of which was James Stephens in Ireland. The bonds issued here were signed by John O’Mahoney and Daniel Sullivan. They were in issues of $5, $10, $20, $50, $100, and $500. I think there were enough issued to raise more than $100,000.
"A number of well-known Bostonians bought some, and they were not all Irishmen, either. The Civil War was ended and out of the ranks of civil life stepped officers and men trained thoroughly to fight. So the Irishmen figured out they would try to do something for Ireland.
"England had meddled so much in the war on the side of the South that the soldiers under Grant were sore. And the Alabama Incident, particularly when the English yacht rescued the officers, made the sailors anxious to get a crack at England.
"Money was needed to send men and munitions across, and to plan for an invasion of Canada. And the bonds brought in some of it. But bonds were not needed to finance any campaign because the cause had backers enough throughout the country. Still, it was thought advisable to give some sort of legality to the raising of funds.
"Stephens was arrested, but like De Valera he made his escape from prison in Ireland without any difficulty because in the Fenian movement there were men who held positions in the army, navy and other offices where they kept in touch with all that was going on.
"While the Fenian plans were not successful from the point of view of bringing independence to Ireland; yet they were not abortive, that is entirely. For today the Irish can point to what took place in the late 60’s as one of the evidences that Ireland never accepted the Act of Union any more than did Wolf Tone, Emmet, O’Connell, Mitchell and other leaders since Pitt and Castlereigh stole the country’s liberty.
"Looking back now we can see how our movements from time to time worried England as the Irish Campaign is worrying her diplomats today. As a matter of fact, when we planned the invasion of Canada in President Grant’s time it became noised about that as long as the Alabama Claims were unsettled a Union General was not going to be so particular about the fine points of neutrality. And there came a speedy settlement.
"When they talk so much about religious differences in Ulster, I know that much of it is not true. I was born in the north of Ireland and lived there as a lad. And some of my best friends were Protestants. They are today. It is the brewers, the lace and linen makers who keep the agitation alive. And Carson is doing a good job for them as their attorney.
"But the people are reading the papers more these days, and they do their own thinking. Look at the elections in Ireland and England of late. Carson and Lloyd George are both getting licked. That shows the trend of events. The elastic band that England’s aristocracy is trying to snap around the world is stretching to the breaking point. And America will break it by backing away from the tangle they are trying to get America into."
The $10 bond that Mr. McManus owns has pictures of Wolf Tone and Emmet on it. There is a red seal in the center at the bottom, at the left of Mr. O’Mahoney’s name. At the top in the center is a woman typifying justice, and a young man is reaching down to pick up a sword that has fallen from her hand. It is printed in green and even today, 53 years after its issue – Feb 2, 1866, it is dated – it is in a good state of preservation.
The first tour site was the home of Marie Zakrewska at 6 Peter Parley Road, a neatly painted white house one block off Washington Street. Smoyer said Zakrewska came to the United States from Germany in 1853 hoping to practice medicine. But when she graduated from Western Reserve Medical College in 1862, not a single hospital would hire her or even rent her office space. "Female doctors," Smoyer said, "were considered off the beaten track." Zakrewska solved the problem by founding her own hospital. The New England Hospital for Women and Children, which hired only female doctors, served only female patients. The hospital later opened a nurse's training school and graduated America's first trained nurses.
Margaret Fuller, the second famous Jamaica Plain woman on the tour, was also frustrated by the limits imposed on women. Tour assistant Emogene Gilman, standing in front of the Margaret Fuller School on Glen Road, described a brilliant-minded but "lopsided" young woman. Fuller, born in 1810, was an academic whiz with a great head on her shoulders but few domestic skills. She found herself starved for stimulating intellectual employment. Men were decidedly not interested in her.
Engraving of Margaret Fuller.
From 'A Portrait Gallery of Eminent Men and Women of Europe and America, with Biographies' by Evert A. Duykinck. 1873. Used with permission of The Noel Collection.
Frustrated by social and economic restrictions, Fuller met the challenge. At 29 years old she created the first of a long series of feminist conversation groups. They were attended by the best-educated women in the area who met to discuss women's role in society. Fuller, also an author and critic, became a leading thinker of her day. Her thoughts, considered quite radical, were based on a belief in creativity, intuition and the human spirit and made their mark on the times.
Julia Oliver O'Neil
The tour group crossed back to a spot across from Green Street station to hear about Julia Oliver O'Neil. Born in 1909, O'Neil was the mother of ten daughters and two sons. She became famous for sewing smart matching outfits for her children to wear in Boston's annual Easter Parade. Photos of the children, lined up tallest to shortest, were printed all over the world. O'Neil's seventh child, Ginny, told tour participants that fan mail came to her mother from as far away as Australia.
Mother Mary Joseph Rogers
At the Bowditch School at 82 Green Street, Smoyer described the life of Mother Mary Joseph Rogers, who founded the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic in 1920. Rogers set up an unusually democratic order, where the sisters shared equally in all seminary work and received extensive professional training.
A few blocks east and around the corner is the former site of the former Gordon Hotel, where Elizabeth Peabody lived the last five years of her life. Peabody, who lived from 1804 to 1894, was the mother of the kindergarten movement in America. An intellectual and author, she owned a bookstore at 16 West Street and published "The Dial," a radical literary magazine. Peabody, also the first woman publisher in the United States, published Thoreau's famous essay, "Civil Disobedience."
Pauline Agassiz Shaw
After a stroll over the hill to the intersection of Thomas and Centre Street, Smoyer told tour participants about the life of Pauline Agassiz Shaw, who devoted her life to supporting education.
Shaw, born in 1841, opened the first kindergarten in 1877; five years later she was supporting 37 of them. The Jamaica Plain feminist also founded day nurseries, the pre-cursors of day care centers, which later became settlement houses.
Susan Walker Fitzgerald
Around the block at 7 Greenough Avenue, the tour group paused in front of the former home of Susan Walker Fitzgerald, the first woman Democrat elected to the Massachusetts State Legislature in 1922. She served one term, and then turned her energies to work with the General Alliance of Unitarian and Other Christian Women. Fitzgerald was a feminist, Smoyer said, who shocked all of Nantucket in 1909 by lecturing on women's rights in her bathing suit.
Emily Greene Balch
In front of the Loring Greenough House and across the street from the Unitarian Church on the corner of Eliot and Centre Streets, Smoyer told the story of Emily Greene Balch, an economist, pacifist and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Balch, born in Jamaica Plain in 1867, was recognized for her work with the International Women's League for Peace and Freedom. She taught at Wellesley College for twenty years, teaching economics from a women's perspective and included the writings of Karl Marx. Balch also focused on immigration issues. "She tried to refute the idea that the best way is the old English Brahmin way," Smoyer said. But Balch was considered too radical. She was dismissed in 1919, became a Quaker and spent the rest of her life working for peace.
Ellen Swallow Richards
Smoyer ended the historical tour at 32 Eliot Street, home of Ellen Swallow Richards. Richards founded the home economics movement. The first female student at M.I.T., she also became the first professor of sanitary engineering in the country. Richards, a chemist, conducted pioneering work in the testing of water and food and used her Eliot Street home as a laboratory. She developed cleaning and cooking techniques that dramatically altered the nature of housework in the United States.
Written by Susan Meyers. Reprinted with permission from the August 30, 1991 Jamaica Plain Gazette. Copyright © Gazette Publications, Inc.
By F. Washington Jarvis
The following article is from the April 2008 edition of the Newsletter of The Roxbury Latin School and is used with their permission. James Drummond Dole, the subject of the article that follows was the son of the Rev. Charles Fletcher Dole (1845-1927). Reverend Dole served for more than forty years as pastor of the First Church of Jamaica Plain. His work for peace and free speech influenced Nobel Peace Prize co-winner Emily Greene Balch (recipient 1946) among many others. The Dole family home stands at 14 Roanoke Street.
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of James Drummond Dole, Class of 1895. More than a century after he pioneered the growing, canning, marketing, and distribution of pineapples in Hawaii, his name still lives in the annals of American business and on supermarket shelves across the world. He was a daring innovator, a tenacious entrepreneur, a trailblazer in employee relations, and an exemplary citizen.
Dole was a member of one of the School’s most memorable classes, and graduated in the 300th Anniversary year in the heyday of Headmaster William Coe Collar. Alas, his records at Roxbury Latin and Harvard are missing from the respective files of both institutions. Tripod reports that he was pole-vaulter, and that he came in second (at 5’7”) in the high jump to his classmate Ford Holt’s 5’8” – which set a new school and New England record at the Interscholastic Meet in the spring of his Class I year. The results of his college examinations – also published in Tripod – were undistinguished (including failures in German and logarithms), but he was nonetheless admitted to Harvard.
Two Men of Influence
Both his parents came from Maine. His father, Charles Fletcher Dole (1845-1927), was pastor for forty years of the First Congregational Society of Jamaica Plain. This parish had, in fact, become Unitarian, and Dole was a “progressive” not just in theology but on social issues such as women’s suffrage, Negro rights, and pacifism-and, when he graduated from seminary, had a hard time finding a church that was willing to hire him. After teaching Greek for a time at the University of Vermont, he was called by the Jamaica Plain church. He was prolific writer of books and pamphlets.1 He often expressed the hope that his son would enter the ministry.
Charles’ first cousin was Sanford Ballard Dole, (1844-1926), son of the Reverend Daniel Dole, who had gone from Maine as a missionary to Hawaii. Daniel was the first principal of what is now Punahou School, where Sanford was born – making him a native Hawaiian. Sanford eschewed the ministry and became a lawyer, devoting his life to modernizing Hawaii – first forcing a constitution on the decrepit and corrupt monarchy, then overthrowing the monarchy and becoming the new republic’s first president, and finally taking Hawaii on its first steps to statehood by persuading President McKinley and Congress to accept it as a territory – of which he was appointed the first governor in 1900.
Sanford’s influence on young Jim, as he was called, appears to have been stronger than his father’s influence. While at Harvard, Jim concentrated on agriculture and horticulture, something that was then possible by arrangement with the Bussey Institute (now subsumed in the Arnold Arboretum). Dole’s love of farming had grown out of his boyhood experiences at the family’s summer home in Southwest Harbor, Maine. His summer chore was to take care of the family’s vegetable garden. What would have been a burden to most boys was a delight to Jim, and he gradually concluded that his “calling” was not the ministry but “the land.” His other summer delight was sailing, something he had to forego when he finished Harvard. Years later, he wrote nostalgically: “The summer of 1899 was my last summer of navigating the wonderful waters between the Camden Hills and Point Schoodie, in the days of sail and white ash breeze.”²
Innovator and Entrepreneur
Selling his beloved sailboat for $94, Dole made his way to Hawaii with his total savings of about $1,500, intent upon making his fortune. Having just turned 22, this 5’11½”, 120 pound Harvard graduate landed in Honolulu on November 16, 1899. At first he lived with his cousin Sanford. “Within two weeks I found the town quarantined for six months by an outbreak of bubonic plague. During the winter I saw the fire department, with the timely aid of a stiff wind, burn down all of Chinatown (the intention being to disinfect in this thorough manner only one or two blocks).”3
The Hawaiian economy was dependent on a single product, sugar, and its fortunes bobbed up and down with the fortunes of sugar. Efforts at broadening Hawaii’s economic base by growing rubber, coffee, and fruits and vegetables had all failed. Dole wrote: “I first came to Hawaii…with some notion of growing coffee – the new Territorial Government was offering homestead lands to people willing to farm them – and I had heard that fortunes were being made in Hawaiian coffee. I began homesteading a [64 acre] farm in the rural district of the island of Oahu, at a place called Wahiawa, about 25 miles from Honolulu.”4 Dole had only the meager funds he had brought from Boston and had to borrow almost three times his savings to acquire the land. “On August 1, 1900 [I] took up residence thereon as a farmer – unquestionably of the dirt variety. After some experimentation, I concluded that it was better adapted to pineapples than to [coffee,] peas, pigs or potatoes, and accordingly concentrated on that fruit.”5
Previous growers had tried to ship pineapples as a fresh fruit, but pineapple does not travel well and they did not prosper. Dole’s intention was to distribute pineapple in cans – also an endeavor at which others had failed. Undeterred, he planted about 75,000 pineapple slips on twelve of his acres, and simultaneously, with no knowledge of canning, he started a small cannery. “The people of Honolulu scoffed when, in December 1901, 24-year-old James D. Dole founded the Hawaiian Pineapple Company…”6 The Honolulu Advertiser labeled the company “a foolhardy venture which had been tried unsuccessfully before and was sure to fail again.” 7 In another editorial, the paper said, “If pineapple paid, the vacant lands near the town would be covered with them….Export on any great or profitable scale is out of the question.”8 The Hawaiian business community had little interest in another fly-by-night pineapple company, so Dole was forced to return briefly to Boston where he raised a meager $14,000 from family and friends.9 Critical financial support came the following year, however, from San Francisco’s Hunt Brothers, who were impressed by the young man’s passionate vision and vigor.
Thirty years later – in 1930 – the company (popularly known as “Hapco”) had well over a billion plants in the ground and was packing 104,515,025 cans of pineapple a year for world-wide distribution. The pathway to this phenomenal success had been strewn with obstacles of every sort. Dole had no money of his own and he was forced to make frequent trips to the mainland to secure the necessary funds to purchase land and equipment. He had to find just the right type of pineapple plant (Smooth Cayenne), and then come up with innovative methods of growing it. Fertilizer had to be applied first, then strips of asphalt-treated paper “mulch” were laid out; then ”slips” of pineapple were planted which grew through holes in the paper, which prevented the growing plants from being choked by weeds; finally, the crop had to be sprayed regularly. Dole also had to develop efficient canneries to process the pineapples (by the mid-1920’s, Hapco had the largest cannery in the world), and to find means of transporting the cans to the mainland. Each endeavor involved gargantuan difficulties and required new financing. Interestingly, one of his strongest backers was his Roxbury Latin classmate Philip Melancthon Tucker, whose gift of $100,000 in 1927 made possible the building of the new schoolhouse in West Roxbury.10
Dole’s prospectus of 1901 had said his object was nothing less than to “Expand the market of Hawaiian Pineapple to every grocery store in the United States.”11 When production began to outstrip sales by 1907, Dole gathered together all the Hawaiian pineapple growers and devised the first successful nationwide advertising campaign on the mainland to make consumers aware of pineapples – still a largely unknown fruit. As sales increased exponentially, Dole needed to improve the efficiency of his canning operation – by mechanizing what was being done slowly and expensively by human labor. In 1911, he hired Henry G. Ginaca, chief draftsman of the Honolulu Iron works, and by 1913 Ginaca had invented and perfected a machine that could core and peel 35 pineapples – after the bugs were worked out, 100–per minute. This expansion, of course, led in turn to the need to purchase new lands (he bought the entire island of Lanai in 1922 and turned it into a 14,000-acre plantation), build new canneries, organize new transport, advertise more widely. By 1932, Hapco, after much experimentation, discovered how to make pineapple juice – opening up still new markets.
But that same year, the Great Depression devastated the Hawaiian pineapple industry, and resulted in staggering losses for Hapco. The board, on which Dole had never had a controlling interest, forced him out of management into the honorary role of chairman. The company was “reorganized” by larger conglomerates and gradually recovered – largely on the sales of the new pineapple juice.
Many years before, in 1910, Sanford Dole had written to Jim: “The more I think about it the less I like the proposition of using the Dole name for your enterprise. It is a name which has long been associated in these islands with religious, educational, and philanthropic enterprises…I think it would be regrettable to give [the name Dole] an association of such a commercial character that would adhere to it if made a trade-mark or part of the business name of a corporation.”12 Jim Dole adhered to his cousin’s wishes while he controlled Hapco, but the leaders of the reorganized company soon began exploiting the Dole name in labels and advertising. And after James’s death, Hapco was renamed the Dole Food Company – its name today.
For the rest of his life, Dole continued working on innovations such as exchangers for removing impurities for the sugar industry and the development of natural-flavor apple juice. At his 50th reunion at Harvard in 1949, he wrote: “I am devoting much of my time to certain food and food equipment developments which seem to merit attention. I am distressed at the parlous state of the world….and at the apparent lack of human capacity to organize mankind for the safe and humane guidance of atomic energy. I should like to stick around this human turmoil a while longer and have a finger in the game.” He did so – hardworking to the end – dying in 1958 at 80.
His Father’s Son
“We have built this company on quality, on quality, and on quality,” wrote Dole of the principles on which the Hawaiian Pineapple Company was founded.13 He believed in product safety long before it was mandated, and the company earned a worldwide reputation for quality.
Dole was hands-on manager and knew his employees by name. He frequently left his office to make the rounds. Even when the employees numbered in the thousands, he would introduce himself one-on-one to those he didn’t know. He always believed that those who did the actual work were likely to have the best ideas about how to improve production and quality, and he was always eager to listen to what they told him.
Dole’s philosophy of business was directly influenced by his father. He remarked, “I come from stock, which measures things mostly by the golden rule. At least father did. Of course, being a minister, he wanted me to be one. But he didn’t urge it when he saw I wasn’t keen for it. However, he did counsel me to choose a calling which had in it some element of service to others.” 14 His father noted that”[Jim] knows that business demands more than capital and is not measured by profits: that it is founded on the lines of thoroughgoing cooperation, and is interwoven with mutual respect and kindliness.”15 He cared about his employees and believed their welfare was interwoven with the company’s. “I have been particularly interested in trying to organize our business in such a way that every employee, so far as possible, may feel that his interest is that of the company and vice versa. I don’t claim to have reached this point, but the recipe seems obvious: the Golden Rule…”16 He was committed to “the payment of good wages and providing safe, healthful and morally wholesome conditions for the work in the factory and on the plantations.”17 By 1915 there was workman’s compensation plan in place, by 1920 a generous pension plan, by 1921 a stock ownership plan had resulted in employees owning 31% of the company, by 1922 the company had built housing and “model village” amenities for its field workers, by 1924 the cannery had lockers, dressing rooms, a cafeteria, a medical dispensary, and athletic facilities, and by 1928 the company had a profit-sharing plan. During the entire time Dole ran the company there was never a strike.
Dole’s generosity, in fact, is probably what cost him the management of the company in the Depression. But another factor was Dole’s generosity towards his Hawaiian competitors. He could have used the Ginaca machine, for example, to put his competitors out of business, but he sold it to them at modest cost, and shared with them all of Hapco’s other innovations. He believed that a company should do its collective civic duty, and the company gave the city of Honolulu land for the expansion of Queen Street at a price way below the market. His youngest daughter Barbara says that her father told her the president of the reorganized Hapco thought he (Dole) was a Communist.18
Dole’s commitment to civic duty was nowhere more spectacularly – or tragically, as it turned out – attested than his backing of what came to be called the Dole Derby. After Lindbergh’s 1927 solo flight across that Atlantic, the governor of Hawaii and the editor of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin approached Dole and asked him if he would – for the good publicity Hawaii would garner – sponsor an air race to Hawaii. On May 25 of the “Summer of Eagles” Dole announced: “Believing that Charles A. Lindbergh’s extraordinary feat in crossing the Atlantic is the forerunner of eventual Transpacific air transportation, I offer $25,000 to the first flyer and $10,000 to the second flyer to cross from the North American continent to Honolulu on a non-stop flight.” ($25,000 is equivalent to $292,000 in 2007 dollars, and the prize money came out of Dole’s own pocket, not the company’s!) Burl Burlingame evaluates the challenge this way: “The 2,400-mile distance from San Francisco to Hawaii was 1,200 miles less than Lindbergh’s distance. But the distance over water was 600 miles further, and Lindbergh had been aiming for France, which is somewhat bigger than Oahu…Only four planes [in the race] had radios; only two could send as well as receive.”19
Arthur Goebel, 31, won the prize, arriving at Honolulu’s Wheeler Field, watched by a crowd of 75,000, in 26 hours and 17 minutes. Martin Jensen, 26, finished second in 28 hours. But the race had a tragic dimension. Time Magazine reported: “Eighteen airplanes entered for the prize. Eight started [the oldest pilot was 32]. Two crashed; two turned back; two disappeared; two finished.”20 Three of the eight pilots died. While others chalked up the loss of life as “the price of progress,” Dole was deeply affected and offered $20,000 to anyone finding those who were lost on the way; none was found.
Dole’s early “dirt farmer” years in Hawaii were a time of unrelenting labor and of almost non-existent social life. But when his sister graduated from high school, she persuaded her parents to allow her and a friend, Belle Dickey, to travel to Hawaii to stay with her brother. Dole forthwith fell in love with Belle and in 1906 they were married by Dole’s father in his church. Returning to Hawaii, the couple had five children in quick succession. They built a beautiful home which was staffed by a plenitude of servants, and they attended the Congregational church founded by their New England forebears. But Dole’s total immersion in the company meant that the upbringing of the children fell largely by Belle. Returning home exhausted, he could at times find the children irritating, and could be quite critical of them. He also tended to be rather too quick with long-winded advice – he was, like his father, a preacher. Nonetheless, both the marriage and family seem to have been happy, and his children loved and respected their father.21
The year before Dole died, Henry A. White, speaking at the Newcomen Society, summarized Dole’s achievements thus: “In every way…James D. Dole has won for himself the honor and title of Pioneer. In laying the foundation of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company and of the pineapple industry, he was a man of foresight and tenacity, early recognizing the possibilities of an almost unknown food product when few others shared the vision. In shaping the destinies of the company, he was a man of daring in taking the calculated risks necessary to the establishment and expansion of the firm and its products. Ever seeking new and better ways of growing and processing his products, he was a man of inquiring and curious mind, always welcoming innovation. And throughout his lifetime he has been a man of the highest business and personal ethics. Foresight, tenacity, daring, curiosity and integrity. These are surely the attributes of a true pioneer, and these have been the qualities of James D. Dole.”22 – F.W.J.
Several photographs that accompany this article, courtesy of Roxbury Latin High School, may be found here.
Editor’s Note: Please visit the Hawaiian Historical Society’s web site for other points of view on the role of the Dole family in Hawaiian history.
1. Roxbury Latin, of which he was a trustee from 1894 to 1919, has 17 of his books!
2. Harvard 25th Reunion report, 1924
4. Tripod, vol.44, no. 1, October 1931
5. Harvard 25th Reunion report, 1924
6. Henry A. White, James D. Dole, Industrial Pioneer of the Pacific, Newcomen Society, New York , 1957, p. 13
7. Richard Dole and Elizabeth Dole Porteus, The Story of James Dole, Island Publishing, Waipahu, HI, 2004, p. 34
8. White, Dole, p.14
9. In August of that year his brother Richard – who had struck out in his own way by joining the merchant marine – died of dysentery in Shanghai. One can imagine the thoughts of James’s parents as their only son now departed again for the uttermost arts of the earth.
10. Tucker, who committed suicide in the Depression after losing his fortune, was, by amazing coincidence, the great uncle of Charles T. Bauer ’38, who gave the school’s new science and athletic facilities and refectory at the end of the 20th century.
11. Harvard 50th Reunion report, 1949
12. Honolulu Advertiser, November 7, 1981 with correction November 12, 1981
13. Richard Dole and Elizabeth Dole Porteus, Dole, p. 76
14. Elise Theodore, “The Man Has Made Millions Out of Pineapples, Success Magazine, date unknown, circa 1926-27, p.64
15. Charles Fletcher Dole, My Eighty Years, E. P. Dutton, New York 1927, p. 274
16. Richard Dole and Elizabeth Dole Porteus, Dole, p.78
18. Ibid., p. 79
19. Burl Burlingame, “The Dole Derby,” Honolulu Star Bulletin, December 29, 2003
20. August 29, 1927
21. Robert Dole and Elizabeth Dole Porteus, Dole, p.84-85
22. White, Dole, p. 27-28
F. Washington Jarvis
The first night I sat down with Ronald Reagan in the White House, the president wanted to hear all about James Michael Curley. The same was true of Jimmy Carter, and just about every other politician I’ve ever known. - Tip O’Neill
I hope that Tip didn’t try to tell the President the story about how Mr. Curley obtained license plate #5. Mr. Reagan, coming from a state that has long since loaded up every licenses plate with a jumble of letters and numbers, couldn’t even begin to grasp why Mr. Curley (or anyone else) would go to such lengths over a license plate.
Versions of the story differ, but the simplest one is that Curley fancied #5 for his own car, that he plotted a campaign of terror against the rightful bearer of that number (a prominent Republican), and that his henchman finally trumped up a charge against the poor man, revoked his automobile registration, and gave the license plate to their boss.
The story always made perfect sense to me. I grew up in the Boston area in an immigrant family and I watched my father and his father struggle to get a “good” license plate. And yet I had to wonder-knowing how people tended to exaggerate the misdeeds of Mr. Curley-was the story about #5 completely true? And when, exactly, did it happen? Who was the other fellow? I decided to see what I could find out. But before I get into the story I have to give a bit of background about the social dimension of these lowly embossments in Massachusetts.
“Father of the American License Plate” is probably not how Henry Lee Higginson would choose to be remembered. “Founder of the Boston Symphony Orchestra,” perhaps, or “Civil War hero” would be more to his liking. But in fact it was Major Higginson, the prominent banker and philanthropist, who first recommended that the state put a numbered plaque on each motor vehicle.
Higginson hated the automobile. As the twentieth century dawned in Boston he was in a state of high complaint about the rudeness of the unlicensed “automobilists” whizzing past his front door at 190 Commonwealth Ave. (in both directions on both sides of the avenue). At his summer home in Manchester, Massachusetts He even arranged to set up an elaborate network of timing devices in order to prove that over half of that town’s motor traffic was routinely exceeding the speed limit of 15 miles per hour. But how to determine the identity of the offending motorists?
It was to address this question that Major Higginson submitted a petition to the Massachusetts legislature in January of 1903 “Relative to licensing Automobiles and Those operating the Same.” Since Higginson was perhaps the most influential private citizen in the Commonwealth at the time, his petition was sure to get prompt attention.
Sitting in one of the back rows of the legislature that year was a scrappy, 29-year-old rep from Roxbury named James M. Curley. Son of an immigrant laborer, champion of the Irish underclass, Mr. Curley was already staking out the epic boundaries of a career in urban politics that would take him to the mayor’ office four times (in four different decades) and twice to prison. In the 1950s he achieved legendary status with the release of the film “The Last Hurrah” (Spencer Tracy played him), which was loosely based on his life.
But back to 1903. Major Higginson’s proposal was approved by the legislature in June and the license plates hit the streets in September-the first state-issued license plates in the country. (New York had mandated numbered license plates one year earlier but left it up to motorists to make their own.)
Those first license plates in Massachusetts bore the unmistakable mark of that grant program of civic improvement that the Yankee elite felt was their sacred trust. In the first place the plates were made of high-gloss porcelain enamel, which far outshined the home-made license plates of the Empire State. Secondly, they bore a legend of self-importance: “MASS. AUTOMOBILE REGISTER.” The word “register” was seen to have the same connotation as it had in the “Social Register,” i.e., a list of the people properly located in society.
Indeed, when the first auto registration list was published in the fall of 1903, it was easy to see from the names that it was a system of registration by and for the Yankee aristocracy. More than 97% of the automobile owners came from the WASP upper and middle classes. This at a time when more than 60% of the population of Massachusetts was “of foreign parentage.” Those porcelain plaques quickly took on a totemic quality-they not only uniquely identified a motor vehicle, they also attempted to indicate the social caste of the vehicle’s owner.
The Irish, who were locked in a bitter battle for social respect with the Yankee establishment at the time, were conspicuously absent from the registration list. Only 15 Irish surnames appeared among the first 1000 registrants. Not that Major Higginson had saved all the low numbers for his pals. No. Except for a man named Frederic Tudor receiving #1 and #99, there is no evidence that favoritism played a part in issuing the numbers. (Mr. Tudor was an automobile enthusiast, coincidentally Higginson’s nephew, who had been working with state highway officials on other matters.) The failure of the Irish to register automobiles in that period was simply a function of their low economic status. While there were plenty of Irish chauffeurs around in 1903, there were not many automobile owners.
As for Mr. Curley, he didn’t need a car that year anyway because he had to go to jail. In December of 1902 Curley had been caught impersonating another man at a civil service exam. (“I did it for a friend,” he said.) Convicted,—the first Massachusetts legislator ever to be found guilty of a crime-and sentenced by Judge Francis Cabot Lowell to 2 months in jail, Curley would have seen his political career go off a cliff in normal times.
But, by playing the ethnic card, Curley was able to turn his disgrace into an advantage. Claiming persecution at the hands of the Protestant power structure, he announced that even while incarcerated he would be a candidate in an upcoming citywide race for alderman (the equivalent of city councilor). A convicted criminal campaigning from jail for high office. The walls of Indignation swept over Beacon Hill like a March blizzard. But there was nothing that Curley’s opponents could do. With his supporters delivering speeches written by him in jail, Curley easily won his seat on the Board of Alderman, finishing third in a field of 26.
Meanwhile, a man’s love affair with the motorcar had created a demand for license plates in Massachusetts far in excess of original estimates. By the end of 1907 almost 24,000 pairs of them had been issued. Then in 1908 the plates were redesigned and the words “AUTOMOBILE REGISTER” were dropped. With the average citizen rubbing hubcaps with the Peabodys and the Gardners, automobile ownership had lost its exclusive character.
However, a new kind of exclusivity was taking shape during these years-the possession of a low registration number, especially one with four digits or less. For the Yankee upper class, who shunned vulgar displays of wealth, it expressed their aura of entitlement in just the way they preferred, so quietly. Just a little reminder of who had belonged at the front of the line back in the beginning.
But there was a problem. From 1903 through 1910 there was no provision for motorists to keep their plate numbers from one year to the next. While some people appealed directly tot he Highway Commission for continuity, many did not bother. For example, Lowell businessman Paul Butler, who held plate numbers 6 and 7 in 1908, was bumped to 3078 and 3079 the following year. But if Lady Luck frowned on Mr. Butler, she had nothing but smiles for some of Boston’s most prominent citizens. In 1909, for example, Frank Peabody son of the founder of Kidder, Peabody, picked up #61 and #62; Christian Scientist Mary Baker Eddy got #225, and #80 went to a fellow who had just moved to town from Maine. He was William H. O’Connell, Boston’s new archbishop.
But all of these preferments paled before the one granted to a man I shall call, pseudonymously, Charles T. Appleton. He was chairman of the board of the Shawmut Bank and one of the largest landowners in the inner suburb of Brookline. In 1908 he was well back in the pack at #9960 but in 1909 he was issued two single digit license plates, #4 and #5.
All this preciousness about one number and the next was causing such a headache at the Highway Commission that in the following year, 1911, the “reserve system” was put in place. The new system allowed anyone with a license plate number below 5000 to keep that number automatically upon re-registration or to transfer it to a relative. The system has been expanded over the years and now includes all numbers of five digits or less.
Massachusetts is the only state to have held to such a far-reaching reserve system. In some other states (New York, Vermont, etc.) all the low numbers were withdrawn and redistributed as political favors, but here the people in charge seemed to realize that a whole takeaway would cheapen the very thing that others were trying to gain-prestige. So much better to pick off the low numbers one at a time, when someone died without heirs or moved out of state. This way, the newcomers would be able to mingle with the old money. To put it another way, when John A. Volpe, Jr. (#365) and Edward M. Kennedy (#202) take to the road with their coveted license plates, they want to know that the Converses of Marion (#52) and the Saltonstalls of Dover (#600) still have theirs. The so-called “immigrant” classes may love to mock the Yankees, but they love to imitate them too.
James Michael Curley, meanwhile, enjoying the benefit of ethnic bloc voting, went from alderman to U.S. congressman to mayor of Boston. Then, in the fall of 1934 he won his greatest victory and gained his only statewide office-governor. The boy who had spent 8 years at the reins of a horse-drawn delivery cart could now ride out the Great Depression in the back seat of a 12-cylinder Lincoln limousine with license plate “S1.”
Curley’s 2 years in the State House, 1935 and 1936, saw a personal extravagance on his part that was almost surreal in the context of the times. When he went on a golfing trip to Florida he took along state policemen as caddies. A routine trip across town in the governor’s limousine (which was known simply as “S1”) became a motorcade with sirens screaming. At his daughter Mary’s wedding reception at the Copley Plaza he laid on 2000 pounds of lobster and 6000 glasses of wine to quell her guests.
But if the Depression era had taken Mr. Curley to the peak of his power, it had put Charles T. Appleton II on a different road, a road to ruin. He was the grandson of the banker who had received license plates #4 and #5 back in 1909. The younger Mr. Appleton, who had inherited the license plates as well as the name from his grandfather, began his career in 1920 in the faltering New England textile business. In 1928 he left that to join the Boston brokerage firm of Gurnett & Co. Like many brokers, Gurnett allowed its clients to buy stock “on margin,” that is, with money that was pledged but not actually remitted. This method worked wonders when prices were rising but when the stock market crashed on October 29, 1929, Gurnett’s clients could not meet their margin calls and the firm was wiped out.
The fall of Gurnett coincided with the breakup of the great Appleton estate in the Coolidge Corner area of Brookline, and by 1930 Mr. Appleton was living with his father in a more modest part of town. The full extent of his finances is not known (he may well have had some trust income) but in 1931 the town assessed his total personal property, including real estate, as $1100. The irony was that those two pairs of license plates, which once had been a mere token of the Appleton wealth, were probably his most valuable possessions.
Somewhere between 1930 and 1933 he sold #4 to a wealthy lumber dealer named George E. McQuesten. At least this is what friends and family on both sides of the deal remember. It’s hard to see any other reason why Mr. Appleton would surrender such an heirloom to someone outside the family. If it were simply a case of him giving up one of his automobiles, he could easily have transferred the other set of plates to his younger brother, who was living in the western part of the state at the time. In any event the plate appeared as early as 1934 on Mr. McQuesten’s Rolls-Royce sedan. Precisely what Mr. McQuesten paid for the right to use #4 will never be known, but it is safe to say, given the lowness of the number and the needs of Mr. Appleton, that it was the most money ever to change hands over a license plate in Massachusetts. (The price might be inferred from an incident that occurred recently in Delaware, where the history of the registration of the automobile has some similarities with Massachusetts. There, in 1994, the right to use a single digit license plate was auctioned, legally, for $185,000.)
Anyhow, the worse seemed to be over for Mr. Appleton. He caught on with another brokerage firm and then in 1935 he bought a Ford beach wagon and moved with his wife and children to a rented house in Cohasset, a coastal community on Boston’s South Shore. And of course he still had his #5.
Appleton and McQuesten, both lifelong Republicans, didn’t know it at the time, but they were lucky to have finished their license plate business before 1935, because in that year they would have had to bargain with James Michael Curley. In fact, one of Curley’s first acts as governor was to fire the registrar of motor vehicles (the man had made the mistake of suspending the driver’s license of his son, Paul) and install his old friend and crony, Frank A. Goodwin, in that post. Through his registrar, Curley enjoyed, as has every Massachusetts governor since 1911, total control over the awarding of the reserve plates when they become available due to death, dislocation, or other reasons.
In Curley’s day it worked like this: every month a list would be delivered to his secretary, Eddie Hoy, showing which numbers had been vacated. The governor would then send the list back, after matching the numbers up with friends and “contributors.” A few of the lucky ones were Curley’s son Leo (#292), his son-in-law, Edward Donnelly (#176), his chauffeur, Charles Manion (#518), and Congressman John W. McCormack (#409).
No one, however, could match the ease of his only daughter, Mary, in commanding the favors of His Excellency. Since Curley’s wife had passed away in 1930, Mary became the stand-in First Lady of his administration. While still governor-elect Mr. Curley ordered for her a custom-made V-12 Cadillac Fleetwood “Town Sedan,” the original purchase order of which is on file at the Historical Services Office of the Cadillac Motor Division in Warren, Michigan. The maroon vehicle, which featured among other extras, a matching monogrammed lap robe, was mounted with the “S2” license plate, indicating a state-owned vehicle, but it was also listed at the registry as her personal vehicle with private passenger plate #350. Why 350? Simple, it echoed the address of the mansion her father had built (with “donated” materials) at 350 The Jamaicaway, Mr. Curley, who understood so well the power of words, also knew the magic of numbers.
But what about a license plate for the governor himself? This question was asked even more breathlessly in 1936 when Curley decided not to run for a second term as governor but instead to challenge Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. for a senate seat. He lost that election (the only Democrat in the country to lose a senate race in ‘36), meaning that he would again be a private citizen in 1937. The man who held the keys to the vault, the vault that once held Higginson’s enameled registry, was not going to give himself any old top-of-the-pile license plate. No. He was going to penetrate deep within the reserve system before he left office. But how low could he go?
That question was answered in the wee morning hours of May 29, 1936. At 2:40am a Ford beach wagon passing through the town of Weymouth was stopped by police and the driver charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. On the car was license plate #5. At the wheel was, yes, Charles T. Appleton II. This much I have seen for myself on an ancient Weymouth police blotter.
But was Appleton fairly accused? The evidence says yes. The key point is that the arresting officers were not registry police or state police, which might have lent some credence to the “cops outside the barroom door” theory, but ordinary town patrolmen. Moreover, a week after the arrest Appleton appeared in Quincy District Court, pleaded guilty, and paid a $50 fine. So there was nothing to distinguish the affair from a typical Memorial Day weekend drunk driving conviction.
What happened next is a matter of some guesswork. (There are no records of the case at the registry.) Mr. Appleton’s daughter remembers that her father’s driver’s license was suspended for 6 months, and it is probably safe to assume that his registration was revoked as well, technically vacating his license plate number. Whatever the exact chain of events, there is no evidence that Appleton ever publicly protested any of these reversals. To have done so would, of course, have exposed him to much messy publicity about his earlier misadventure.
January 7, 1937, Mr. Curley’s last day as governor of the Commonwealth, was quite a day for him, even in his Homeric career. The morning began with a nuptial mass to mark his marriage to Gertrude Dennis, a woman 20 years his junior. It was the second marriage for both. The wedding couple left the church in the governor’s “S1” limousine and arrived at the back door of the State House around 11:20am. The Incoming governor, Charles F. Hurley, was to be sworn in at noon. This gave Curley a chance to do some last minute politicking. He met with Mr. Hurley briefly and gave him a Bible. Then, as the noon hour drew near, Curley made his way to the front door.
By longstanding tradition, the outgoing governor was required to exit the building as the new governor was taking the oath of office, walk solitarily down the front steps and continue on across Boston Common. On this day, however, tradition would take a back seat. Outside was a brass band and a noisy throng of 3000 well wishers waiting in a cold rain to see the Curleys off on their honeymoon.
At the edge of the crowd, awaiting Curley on Beacon St., were three things that he would take with him on his next campaign. (He would serve one more term as congressman and one more as mayor, in all, he ran for public office an incredible 32 times.) The first was a new Lincoln Limousine, a “gift” from his staff. The second was his bride, Gertrude, perched radiantly on the running-board in a lynx-trimmed wool coat. The third was a pair of license plates on the car showing the number 5.
That is all I can tell you about the transfer of #5. The facts leave much of the blame away from Mr. Curley. The rumor about Curley terrorizing the Appleton family was probably a face-saving attempt on the part of the Appletons. To my mind the story is interesting now not because it lifts the veil on a great scandal but because it highlights this curious concupiscence that afflicted Mr. Curley and continues to afflict generation after generation of Massachusetts motorists. License plates as objects of desire. Quaint, isn’t it?
In 1944 Mr. Appleton left Massachusetts for good and moved to Chagrin Falls, Ohio. He died in 1960, two years after Curley. License plate #5 is now with Mr. Curley’s stepsons, and #4 is with a nephew of Mr. McQuesten, who passed away in 1975.
Written by Kevin Burke. Reprinted with permission from Antique Automobile. All rights reserved.
By Gerald F. Burke
At 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday November 15, 1956, 50 years ago this month, George Sawyer, buyer of old books at Lauriat’s bookstore on Franklin Street in Boston was commencing the sale of approximately 1,500 old and rare leather bound volumes, most of them autographed by the authors, from the personal library of former Governor James Michael Curley.
Across town, at his residence at 350 Jamaicaway, the Governor had awakened to the prospect of a busy day. Today would be moving day, and he was already overseeing the packing or personal items for removal to the new residence at 9 Pond Circle, in Jamaica Plain.
Possessions including oriental rugs, collections of ivory, exquisite jade, Irish silver, crystal and numerous paintings were either to be sold or transferred to the new residence. Many valuable paintings and objects of art that had been acquired over the years were catalogued and put in secure storage to be sold subsequently as circumstances dictated.
The Governor was in a good mood as the movers went about their business. He granted interviews to old friends and newspaper reporters and stated that although he was sad to leave the mansion after forty-one years, it was simply too large a responsibility for him and his wife Gertrude to continue to undertake. The house with the shamrock shutters, built by Curley in 1915 during his first term as Mayor of Boston, which had served for decades as the symbol of the Irish ascendancy in Boston had been sold to the Oblates of Mary, a religious order, for $60,000.
Of all the possessions he was forced to dispose of, the contents of the library were the most painful. He managed to retain approximately 400 volumes, mostly classics, that he could not part with. The library at the mansion served as the nerve center of his activities over the years; a place of retreat, study and reflection. He was never happier than when he was in his library.
As the Governor oversaw the removal of the contents of the house he stepped outside to have his picture taken as he left for the last time, he had no knowledge that two years to the day, November 15, 1958, his funeral cortege would pass by this very spot on its way to his final resting place at Old Calvary Cemetery in Mattapan. Across the Jamaicaway from where he now stood, the park would be filled with mourners from the neighborhood.
They longed to see “Their Jim” pass the house one last time. It was to be, and remains, the largest funeral in the history of the City of Boston. The Solemn Requiem Mass, at the Holy Cross Cathedral in the South End, was presided over by Archbishop Richard J. Cushing and said by the Governor’s son, the Reverend Francis X. Curley, S.J.
There were very few people who lived in the first half of the twentieth century in the City of Boston who could deny that Jim Curley did not assist their family in some way. To this day his name is mentioned with reverence by those who are aware of what he had accomplished for the people of Boston. He particularly enjoyed being referred to as “The Mayor of the Poor.” Although he enjoyed the appellation, he did not want to be of the poor himself and went to great lengths to garner every dollar he could, by any means necessary. His quest for personal economic stability guided his every move. There was always something in it for Jim. A product of the Roxbury slums, he vowed – because of his boyhood experience – that he would do everything in his power to elevate himself and the conditions of the poor he chose to serve.
Often referred to as the man with the golden voice and the brass touch, Curley was despised by some but loved by many. A child of extreme poverty, growing up in Roxbury close to the raunchy, stinking mud flats, he vowed at an early age to rise above his meager surroundings, become a learned man, achieve high political office and assist those in similar circumstances of deprivation, poverty and despair. He chose to do this by measures that those of inherited wealth would decry. He had a particular dislike for those Boston Brahmins whom he claimed possessed “an air of ancestral superiority” and delighted in antagonizing them.
However corrupt Jim Curley might have been, he was certainly competent. Recognized nationally as a very effective chief executive, he would never countenance slipshod workmanship or design in his many public works projects, most of which have withstood the test of time. His last project, the building of the George Robert White Schoolboy Stadium in Franklin Park, is still as solid as the day it was dedicated in September of 1949.
One will never be able to estimate how much money Jim Curley took from the public coffers, but a goodly amount of these monies that he received was given to those citizens in need of assistance. Every morning at the mansion, and all day at City Hall, he gave to the needy citizens most of what he may have taken by purloin. Although most of what he took was given away, he kept a comfortable amount for his own use. As he explained to Jimmy Roosevelt, the son of President Franklin Roosevelt, “If you’re going to look after the poor people, you have to look after yourself.”
His accomplishments speak for themselves. Elmer Davis, the preeminent social observer of his day, wrote in Harper’s Monthly Magazine in 1928 while Jim Curley was out of office, “Citizens who used to damn Curley when he was mayor, now wish they had him back again. The City is at present enjoying a “reform” administration … but people who count the merit of an administration by what it accomplishes even if the accomplishment costs money, point to a long list of public improvements that were put over by Curley. Much has been said against Curley, and many excuses have been made for the lesser accomplishments of other mayors; but the fact remains, as far as an outsider can discern, that with all his faults Curley saw what Boston needed and got it done, more successfully than any other mayor of recent times.”
Growing up in Jamaica Plain in the 1940s and 1950s one was aware of the presence of James Michael Curley by what they heard at home, in school, and on the street. His handsome stature was overwhelming. It was always a treat to visit the home at 350 Jamaicaway on Halloween and receive a silver dollar from the Governor himself. When he finally moved from the mansion in 1956, I saw much more of him as he now attended mass at Saint Thomas Aquinas Church on South Street, parish lines being very strict in those days. He would attend the 11:45 a.m. Sunday morning Mass, accompanied by his wife.
At 11:43 a.m., “Himself” would arrive and walk down the main aisle with Mrs. Curley to the first pew on the right, assuring that those in attendance have time to see him. Although out of office at the time for six years, he was still more widely known and admired than any office holder in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. After Mass he would linger to talk, receive the acknowledgement of all, and then walk up Child Street to the parking lot and be driven away in his Buick Roadmaster, Massachusetts registration number 5.
Jim Curley was an intense, deeply committed member of the Catholic faith and practiced it fervently. A realist who took his share of plunder in public life, his personal life was exemplary and above reproach. After the death of his first wife in 1930, he built the new Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Jamaica Plain and caused the main alter to be dedicated to her memory and the side alters were dedicated to those children who had predeceased him. By 1956 he had not only buried Mary Emelda, his first wife, but seven of his nine children. His faith had been tested repeatedly over the years and only a deeply religious individual could have survived the terrible experience he endured. In order to show his unshakeable faith several years earlier, he presented to Archbishop Richard J. Cushing a monstrance containing the Curley family jewels in memory of his first wife, Mary Emelda Curley and his daughter Mary Curley Donnelly, to be used in daily exposition at the chapel of the Joseph P. Kennedy Junior Memorial Hospital in Brighton.
Although he carefully cultivated the illusion of poverty after he left office in 1950, members of the household staff, old friends and retainers would tell of plentiful food and supplies and a generous amount of necessities at all times at the mansion. There was never any shortage of resources at hand. Many people to this day believe, as Jim wanted them to, that he died broke. Although he only left $3,768 in personal property this was a man who was President of the Hibernia Savings Bank for over twenty years, never had a checking account and always dealt in cash or barter. Jim Curley was far removed from any impoverished condition. Even a cursory look at the record would indicate that Jim was very comfortable in his declining years.
During Curley’s six months in Danbury Correctional facility in 1947, Temporary Mayor John B. Hynes only acted upon necessary matters that would not admit of delay. Upon Curley’s release from jail, over forty million dollars worth of contracts were awaiting Jim’s approval and signature. At one half of the customary rate of ten percent, the cut for Curley, the take would be a staggering two million dollars.
In his last year in office in 1949 abatements to assessments ran to over ten million dollars or 11.6 percent of the total tax levy for the year. This practice flourished during his last term when over twenty million dollars in abatements were granted. Curley’s moneyman, Peter Allen, a graduate of Princeton University, who had been appointed by Curley to the position of Chairman of the Board of Assessors, would arrive at the mansion with pillowcases full of money from grateful petitioners. All assessing records at that time were kept in pencil. The entire process was extremely secretive.
Following his defeat by John Hynes in November of 1949, Curley let it be known through his minions that the city was for sale. Following a lifelong pattern of plunder on the way out the door, two and one half million dollars in abatements were granted in November and December alone. Transfers and promotions in various city departments were expedited during this short period. Contracts for rubbish and garbage removal were granted at exorbitant prices to those willing to pay the appropriate amount to Jim. One of the main issues of the campaign of 1949 was the controversy surrounding the granting of permits for erection of outdoor amusement theatres in the city. Curley, in a campaign statement, unequivocally stated that the granting of such permits would not occur as long as he was the Mayor of Boston. After his defeat, permits were promptly granted to establish a drive-in theatre in the Neponset section of Dorchester and one on the VFW Parkway in West Roxbury. To sweeten the deal in West Roxbury, Jim’s family was allowed to operate a nursery on the grounds. The family that the permits were given to is now one of the giants in the entertainment industry of the world.
In October of 1950, while gearing up for the mayoral election of 1951, the coffers were full and a mayoral run would garner at least $150,000 of which Jim, after expenses, could secrete $100,000. Although he was considered a long shot, anybody doing business with the City of Boston and knowing Jim’s vindictiveness was well advised to donate to his election effort. This pattern was repeated in the run-up to the mayoral election of 1955 and achieved the same results.
The years 1950 to 1955 went gently by, and Jim was still very much in demand as a speaker at functions around the state where he was always welcomed cordially. Regarded as one of the most effective orators of his day, Curley lectured at the Staley School of the Spoken Word in Boston and in 1952 traveled to New York City to the Speech Arts Studio to record six of his most memorable addresses which he successfully sold. The record album and the printed addresses were carried by an assistant to all his appearances and were available for purchase. As an orator he had few peers and to agree to engage in debate with Jim Curley would be similar to agreeing to enter the ring against Joe Louis.
In the spring of 1956, with no more hope of raising significant amounts by running for mayor, the still comfortable hoard of cash beginning to be slightly depleted and the exposure of Jim Curley becoming somewhat diminished, along came a savior by the name of Edwin O’Connor with a best selling novel entitled “The Last Hurrah.” Loosely based on the life and last campaign of Jim Curley, it received favorable review in the New York Times Book Review and was included in the May 1956 Reader’s Digest Book of the Month Club. The notoriety of this splendid work brought Jim Curley back into the spotlight for which he so eagerly yearned. O’Connor’s book, and the subsequent movie starring Spencer Tracy, put Jim back in business and the ever wily Jim, the acknowledged master of the hold-up, sued the producers of the movie and was able to squeeze $46,000 out of them for full release of all his claims.
The spring of 1957 would see the newly inaugurated Governor Foster Furcolo appoint Jim Curley to a $7,500 a year sinecure at the State Labor Relations Board. The average annual income in the United States in 1957 was roughly $4,900. Shortly after this appointment, his autobiography, “I’d Do It Again,” was published and went through six printings. The notoriety produced by these two books, plus the movie; brought Jim Curley renewed popularity and many invitations to speak. He was interviewed by Edward R.Murrow on his nationwide television program “Person to Person” and proceeded, book in hand, to talk about his autobiography “I’d Do It Again.” Anybody witnessing that interview which took place in the new home at Pond Circle could tell by the elegant surroundings that Jim Curley was living in anything but impoverished circumstances.
Death came to Jim Curley on November 12, 1958 and the City of Boston paused to mourn the death of this giant of a man. Over a million people visited The Hall of Flags where he was waked at the Massachusetts State House, and hundreds of thousands paused to view his funeral cortege. It was a spontaneous, genuine send-off to this remarkable man.
Boston will never see another Jim Curley because times and circumstances have changed. But let us not forget that it was he who built this town in the first half of the twentieth century. For those of you reading this today, he did it for one purpose: to raise the stature and living conditions of those who came in the great waves of migration of his day. For this legacy we owe a lasting debt of gratitude. Today he would be in the forefront in assuring equality for all the newer arrivals to Boston in the past four decades.
The house on the Jamaicaway is now owned by the City of Boston, through the intercession in 1988 of then Mayor Raymond L. Flynn and then City Councilor Thomas M. Menino who mounted a very effective “Shutter the Thought” campaign to thwart any effort to turn the ownership of the mansion and grounds to private ownership. It is presently being used sparingly for receptions, community meetings and private parties. It is not being utilized effectively and has been the subject of occasional acts of vandalism.
On the fiftieth anniversary of Jim Curley’s departure from the mansion it would be appropriate that the beloved building be better utilized than it is at present. I propose that the mansion, the symbol of the immigrant experience in Boston, become the residence of the next duly elected Mayor of the City of Boston. The Mayor of Boston has the most difficult position of any elected official in New England. I contend that it would be a fitting tribute to the memory of James Michael Curley to have his former home become the official residence of the Mayor of Boston and that it would be a small “Thank you” to the occupant for assuming the burdens of the position of Boston’s Chief Executive, a position that requires due diligence and a hard shell to repel the slings and arrows of critics who have no idea of the problems confronted by a mayor of such a huge and complex city.
Reprinted with permission from the November 2006 issue of the Jamaica Plain Bulletin. Copyright © 2006, The Bulletin Newspapers, Inc.
By Julia Spitz, The MetroWest Daily News, Saturday November14, 2009. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Judy Garland sang for him, and President Kennedy once pulled a prank
on him in church.
Confidante Louella Parsons chronicled his Beverly Hills parties. He
was on the set when Shirley Temple practiced dance steps for
He plunked out some of his biggest hits on a piano he got from George
Gershwin. Dean Martin’s daughter was his godchild.
Yes, James “Jimmy” McHugh, subject of a newly released biography, “I
Feel a Song Coming On,” and composer of such standards as “I’m in the
Mood for Love,” ran with a star-studded crowd. Still, “I never really
thought of him as a celebrity,” Dorothy Brooks said as she looked
through photos in her Milford home Thursday afternoon.
“He was … my uncle, and he was always there for us.”
When Brooks, her late brother Jimmy Kashalena of Medfield, and sister
Judy Kashalena of Brookline, were growing up, “he’d call all the time
and ask how our studies were. He wanted to know how we were doing.
“One of the things I do remember was he wanted me to take piano
lessons. I said, ‘I’d like to, Uncle Jimmy, but I don’t have a piano.’
” It wasn’t long before “a big truck came with a big crane” to her
family’s apartment in Brookline “to put it up through the third-story
window.” With a piano from her uncle, there were “no more excuses,”
she said with a laugh.
“He came at least once a year” to visit the extended family.
On his last trip home, he visited the Beaver Park Apartments in
Framingham, where Brooks was living in 1968.
“All my life I wanted to go to California to see my uncle,” Brooks
recalled. She finally made the trip three months before his death in
Last month, with the release of the biography by Alyn Shipton, Brooks,
her sister and their California kin had a chance to recall some of
their favorite stories about McHugh.
They also got a glimpse at the glamour that was once part of his life.
While in New York for an October concert in McHugh’s honor and
book-signing event, “we were treated like royalty. … We went to
Sardi’s” with Shipton, a music critic for the Times of London, and
McHugh’s youngest granddaughter “hired a stretch limo. We went all
over, looking for places where my uncle, when he was struggling,
worked, lived and played.”
The music man
Before he made his way to New York, where he teamed up with lyricist
Dorothy Fields - for whom Brooks is named - and where he would
encourage the Cotton Club’s managers to hire Duke Ellington in 1927,
McHugh made a name for himself closer to home.
Highlights included playing piano at the Boston Opera House, working
as a song plugger for the Boston office of Irving Berlin Publishing,
and rubbing elbows with James Michael Curley when the future composer
and the future Bay State political juggernaut were delivery boys.
Born in 1894, he was the eldest of the five children James and Julia
McHugh raised in Jamaica Plain.
It was assumed he’d follow his father’s footsteps into the plumbing
trade, and the musical gifts nurtured by his mother would be merely a
hobby, but McHugh had other ideas.
He arrived in New York in the 1920s and was soon composing for
entertainers at hotspots such as the Cotton Club, where he was the
house composer, and for Broadway shows. He and Fields had made their
way to Hollywood before parting company in 1935.
“I don’t think I actually met her,” Brooks said of the woman who
shares her name. “I remember getting presents from her” as a child.
“I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” one of the many standards that
bears both Fields’ and McHugh’s names, was inspired by watching a
young couple outside Tiffany’s in New York. “On the Sunny Side of the
Street,” “Diga Diga Doo” and “Exactly Like You” were also products of
their collaboration, as were songs for the movies “Cuban Love Song”
and “Dinner at Eight.”
In Hollywood, McHugh worked with Johnny Mercer, Frank Loesser and
Harold Adamson to create “I Feel a Song Coming On,” “I’ve Got My
Fingers Crossed,” and “I Couldn’t Sleep a Wink Last Night.” During
World War II, his “Comin’ In on a Wing and a Prayer” spent 21 weeks on
“Your Hit Parade.”
He staged his own nightclub acts in the 1950s, performed for Queen
Elizabeth II, and was instrumental in promoting competitive swimming
His Boston Irish ties cemented his affection for the Kennedy clan. He
wrote “The First Lady Waltz” for Jackie, and saw President Kennedy
during the commander-in-chief’s trips to California. During one such
visit, McHugh was surprised to see Kennedy place an inordinately large
donation in the collection plate during a service at the Church of the
Good Shepherd. It turned out Kennedy had folded a $10 bill to appear
to be $100 as part of a prank.
McHugh’s siblings, including Brooks’ mother, Helen, went to California
to be part of a “This is Your Life” tribute hosted by Ralph Edwards.
Brooks said her uncles, Larry on drums and Tommy playing the horn,
joined their brother for a jam session on the TV show.
“My mother’s family, every one of them played (an instrument) and
sang,” said Brooks. “That’s how they entertained themselves,” and it
was a tradition that continued when the family got together in later
Carrying the torch
When she was young, “we got to go to some of his shows when they
opened in Boston or Connecticut,” said Brooks, who is retired from
Natick Labs. “Every time my uncle released an album, we got a copy.”
She recalled McHugh’s “wonderful smile. He was a charmer,” and is glad
the music he made is still performed in shows such as “Jersey Boys.”
Jimmy McHugh III, son of McHugh’s only son, and Lee Newman,
great-grandson of McHugh and also Eddie Cantor, keep the legacy going
with Los Angeles-based Jimmy McHugh Music. They also maintain McHugh
sites on MySpace, Facebook and Twitter.
He is credited with more than 500 songs, and “I like them all,” said
Brooks, but, “I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love With Me,” well,
“that’s one of my favorites” and “Don’t Blame Me” is “a beautiful
She’s happy her uncle’s life caught the attention of the British
author who has also written books on Fats Waller and Dizzy Gillespie.
“It’s such a wonderful tribute to a wonderful, wonderful man.”
And also a chance to recall a time when a kid from Boston could end up
living a dream in the midst of stars.
(Julia Spitz can be reached at 508-626-3968 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Check
metrowestdailynews.com or milforddailynews.com for the Spitz Bits
By Walter H. Marx
Nestled on the back of Sumner Hill are a band of streets with names related to Civil War events. Among them is John A(lbion) Andrew – a name that is also seen above one of the arches on the Monument and in the Civil War camp memorial stone at Brook Farm in West Roxbury, inscribed “1861-1865, Second Mass. Infantry, recruited, mustered and drilled on the grounds known as Camp Andrew, left here for the war for the Union.”
Along Charles Street at the foot of Beacon Hill (once the watery west side of the Back Bay) is a plaque identifying the site of Andrew’s home, and atop Beacon Hill in the Doric Hall of the State House is the marble statue of a short, stocky man by Thomas Ball. Once near the battle flags of the Massachusetts Civil War regiments, the statue was erected as a memorial of affectionate regard for one of the Commonwealth’s most beloved Governors. Who is this well-memorialized man?
Although born in Windham, Maine, in 1818, and raised in that state (that freed itself of Massachusetts in 1820), John A. Andrew was the first of his family to be born outside of what is today Massachusetts, for the family had settled in Boxford in the 1600s and then Salem. In a happy family, in comfortable circumstances, he graduated from Bowdoin College in 1837 in the lower part of his class, mostly because he insisted on his own voracious reading program centered on current literature and politics. He was an anti-slavery and reform activist of the Unitarian persuasion. Andrew was not so much interested in rising to the top of his profession as he was in helping the widest possible band of people that he could. Never idle, he was a man of wide interests and was always ready for political discussions.
Johnny Andrew, as he’s known to Jamaica Plain residents, studied law with a Boston lawyer and was admitted to the bar here in 1840. He became noted for his efforts in defending poorer clients and was noted for his wit and anecdotes.
His career of public service began when he became a local organizer of the new Republican Party. He became a member of the House of Representatives in 1858 and was elected Governor in 1860. He was at the Chicago Convention that nominated Lincoln. As the Civil War inevitably approached in 1861, such were Andrew’s foresight and persuasive powers that militia regiments were recruited, armed, and trained (at Brook Farm and Readville among other places) so that Massachusetts furnished the first volunteer regiment to reach Washington and continued to do so during the War for a total of 146,730 men.
A man of intellect, enthusiasm, firmness, courage, and faith, Johnny Andrew served two terms as governor (1861-1865). He pushed for formation of black regiments, finally realized in May 1863 with the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry under Robert Gould Shaw of West Roxbury. Its story is finally being told in the current film “Glory”, a fine supplement to the memorial opposite the State House. Andrew also kept a firm hand on state affairs and vetoed twelve bills.
He departed Beacon Hill on January 5, 1866 after delivering a successful valedictory address to the Legislature. Perhaps nothing made him so proud as governor as when he presided over the Return of the Flags in December 1865. Andrew returned to practicing law, but died suddenly of a stroke on October 30, 1867. He was first laid to rest in prestigious Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, but now rests with wife and children in the Old Ship Church Burying Ground in Hingham where he had lived before 1855.
January 11, 1990
Jamaica Plain, MA
The matter of Hancock's house here is easily set to rest. John Hancock, first governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, rightly deserves recognition as a Founding Father and is forever immortalized in current Boston like Sam Adams, since his name and signature are featured by a leading insurance company, which has carved his head above the main entrance to its building on Clarendon St. and features a larger-than-life statue of him in its lobby. A modern monument on the left side of the Old Granary Burying Ground downtown prominently marks his burial place, and a bust of him exists in the State House's Doric Hall.
The inscription below the bust in Doric Hall mentions Hancock's presidencies of the Provincial and Continental Congresses and the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention as well as his signing the Declaration of Independence first and his position as governor twice. A wealthy merchant before the Revolution and essential to the American cause, he was the reason that Revere and colleagues were sent riding to Lexington on April 18, 1775. Rich and fussy, Hancock was not always easy to work with, as a reading of his biography by Northeastern's Professor William Fowler, The Baron of Beacon Hill, shows.
Hancock's connection with JP began like that of so many others in the 18th century. The Pond offered a delightful oasis from downtown Boston - even Beacon Hill, of which Hancock was chief owner. Thus in 1784 after leaving Congress, he purchased a lot with a house bordering on Centre St. beyond the Third Parish (the church at the Monument). This cottage was a story and a half tall in the West Indian style like the Penney-Hallet House at the corner of Orchard St.
Although generous to the Third Parish, Hancock did not escape the fierce eyes of ardent Whig parson, Rev. William Gordon (see March 1989 column). The old Scot, an Overseer of Harvard College, asked Hancock what he was doing about his handling of the finances of Harvard College as its treasurer - something never successfully unraveled - and Hancock left JP in a typical huff. This did not deter his nephew Thomas from residing in JP. He stayed on to demolish his uncle's place and build a grander house on the site in 1800.
Later, Thomas Hancock sold the house to the eminent Boston merchant, Nathaniel Curtis, of the ancient family in our area. When Drake wrote his Town of Roxbury in 1878, Mrs. Curtis still lived there (see map). A JP native thus described Hancock during his stay here: "Though only 45, he had the appearance of old age. He was severely afflicted with gout and was nearly six feet in height but of thin person. His manner was very gracious, and his face had been very handsome.
"His equipage was splendid - and such as is not customary at this day. His apparel was handsomely embroidered with gold and silver lace and other decorations fashionable among men of fortune at that period, and he rode on public occasions with six beautiful bay horses, attended by servants in livery. He wore a scarlet coat with ruffles on his sleeves, which soon became the prevailing fashion." All this quite agrees with John Singleton Copley's portrait of him in the Museum of Fine Arts.
November 8, 1990
Photograph of painting at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston by John Singleton Copley, 1738-1815. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.
Serge Alexandrovitch Koussevitzky was born on July 26, 1874 in the small town of Vishny Volotchok between Moscow and St. Petersburg in Russia. He came from a musical family, with his father earning a living as a klezmer violinist, his mother being a pianist, and his brother Adolf becoming a teacher and conductor. After picking up some training in piano and cello in the small town, Serge made his way to Moscow at the age of seventeen, and tried to enroll in the Moscow Conservatory. Since it was after the term had started, Koussevitzky was denied admission and he tried the recently formed School of the Moscow Philharmonic Society. Refused admission there as well, the young musician changed his application to the double bass for which a scholarship opening was available.
Koussevitzky became a masterful player of the double bass, eventually known all over Europe for his richness of tone and the fluidity with which he played this usually stolid instrument. He developed an international solo career and soon started composing music for the double bass. In 1905, he married Natalya Ushkov, daughter of a wealthy tea merchant and they moved to Berlin to advance his professional career.
For four years, the new multimillionaire couple entertained within the music circles of the German capital, and Serge began a new dream of becoming a conductor. During 1910-11, in an unusual process, Serge Koussevitzky taught himself conducting by attending concerts and studying the conductors' techniques. He even hired for himself a student orchestra for two years of private rehearsal. Then in January 1908, he made his conducting debut with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in an all-Russian program, and was an immediate sensation. For two more years in Berlin and London, Koussevitzky conducted his innovative programs with passion and dramatic flair. He returned to Moscow a success.
From 1909 on, he went from triumph to triumph. He conducted a series of concerts in Moscow and St. Petersburg, chartered a ship and orchestra for concerts on the Volga River, and even formed his own private orchestra through auditions to perform a series of innovative concerts in Russia's main cities. In 1920 after the revolution, he decided to leave the country permanently to work in Paris.
Concentrating on Russian composers like Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Scriabin, he produced the Paris Russian Music Festival and gained the attention of the European music world. His "Concerts Symphoniques Koussevitzky" at the Paris Opera became the very latest fashion for the smartest French audiences. His musical reputation was worldwide when, in 1924, the Boston Symphony Orchestra Trustees offered the post of conductor to Koussevitzky.
After its formation in 1881, the BSO had developed into a world famous orchestra under the leadership of brilliant conductors such as Wilhelm Gericke and Arthur Nikisch. But the Boston Symphony Orchestra had been declining since World War One. Serge Koussevitzky arrived as the savior. With his flowing cape, perfectly tailored clothes and European air, he moved into 122 Pond Street in Jamaica Plain with Natalya, her niece Olga Naoumoff, a secretary and two servants. The house was rented from Isaac and Emma Harris for two years and had a view of Jamaica Pond through a curtain of trees.
Koussevitzky used to walk his dog, Drole, at the pond in the morning before being driven down to Symphony Hall by his valet Ivan. There he began the work of changing the Orchestra to his vision. After two brutal years, he had reformed the BSO into an ensemble that responded to his unique talents, and he had introduced a distinctively modern repertoire to Boston audiences.
In 1926, he moved to the house with the broad stonewalled patio at 39 Lochstead Avenue. It had been owned until recently by Edric Eldridge, president and founder of the Jamaica Plain Trust Company. From the Lochstead Avenue house, he worked on the Symphony programs with his secretary, Dr. Slonimsky. The musical seasons at Symphony Hall became more exciting as the conductor's love of music and his passionate way of conducting transferred over to the orchestra and the audiences. His intensity became a legend and a sense of magic came to the BSO.
In 1929, Koussevitzky rented the Conry Mansion at 50 Rockwood Street on Moss Hill. The large home was approached through a large stand of pine trees, reminding him of the Russian forests of his earlier days. Joseph Conry was the Russian Consul in Boston, and naturally had met the Russian expatriate. Conry moved next door to 60 Rockwood and became his neighbor on the hill. Koussevitzky had now successfully established himself at the front rank of American conductors, along with Stokowski and Toscanini. But he still considered himself a transient in America, an aristocrat passing through until his next appointment. To him, his rented houses in Jamaica Plain were winter residences; the Koussevitzkys' considered their French house their home. He never tried to learn English well, and many stories are told about Koussey's fractured communications to his musicians. But his musicianship and innovation covered all his faults.
He moved out to yet another rented house in Brookline in 1931. During the 1930's, he expanded the Boston Symphony Orchestra season into the summer with the Berkshire Music Festival at Tanglewood. In 1940, he opened the Berkshire Music Center as a music summer school and purchased his summerhouse "Seranak." (It was named after him and his wife.) He was beginning to put down roots in America. His wife, Natalya died in 1942, and he started the Koussevitzky Foundation in her memory to commission and perform modern works.
Just before he retired, he purchased his first Boston area home. When he died in 1951, he was as an American citizen with two American houses. He chose to be buried in Lenox, Massachusetts alongside his wife. Serge Koussevitzky, the international virtuoso and musical legend, had finally found his home.
Sources: Moses Smith, Koussevitzky, New York, 1947; Harry Ellis Dickson, "Gentlemen, More Dolce Please!", Boston, 1969; Dictionary of American Biography; Boston City Directories, 1925-1950.
Written by Michael Reiskind. Photograph courtesy of Library of Congress, Serge Koussevitzky Collection. Photograph by Arthur Griffin.
Copyright © 1995 Michael Reiskind
By Walter H. Marx
Sky watchers in the American West often report cloud formations in the shape of mounted cowboys, and indeed their ghost riders in the sky have made their way into song. The unseasonably warm night of Wednesday, April 18, 1775, in Massachusetts, seems to have produced more phantom riders on each succeeding anniversary. Even the most famous rider was veiled in obscurity until 1825. When Longfellow came across Paul Revere’s account of his ride in 1863, he made it into the subject of a ballad that makes Revere’s name live forever. Other riders became more ghostly, since they left no written reports except in their families.
Many different men rode out as news of the British marching into the countryside to seize colonial arms reached Roxbury-raised Dr. Joseph Warren after dark on April 18.
In Revere’s words, “Dr. Warren sent in great haste for me and begged that I would immediately set off for Lexington, where Hancock and Adams were, and acquaint them of the movement.” Thus began Revere’s northerly ride across the Charles through the towns there. A little while before William Dawes of Boston also began to take a southerly route (four miles longer,) toward Lexington through Roxbury, Brookline, and Harvard Square - in case Revere failed.
Besides bearing a letter, these men roused the country folk to arms, as neatly portrayed by Grant Wood in his surrealist 1931 painting The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. Both riders arrived at the Lexington parsonage within a half an hour of each other, after midnight. They decided to go on as far as Concord to give alarm, since most of the colony’s arms were still there. They joined Dr. Samuel Prescott, “a high Son of Liberty” and proceeded to ride to Concord. Before the Lincoln-Concord line they were stopped by the British at a spot now well marked on Rt. 2A, but Prescott escaped to get the word to the center of Concord.
He then went on over the Old North Bridge to West Concord, Acton, and Stow. In Lincoln, Prescott already had sent Nathaniel Baker to South Lincoln; in Concord, he dispatched Josiah Nelson north to Bedford; in Acton, he stopped at John Robbins’ farm and sent that farmer all around his own town.
The total number of rides triggered by Dr. Warren on that fateful night may never be know, but it is a matter of fact that our area had its very own messenger sent out by Dr. Warren - perhaps with special concern for his birthplace. Without doubt Ebenezer Dorr was a “high Son of Liberty,” having served on the Roxbury Committee of Correspondence since the Boston Massacre of 1770. He was a 36 year old leather dresser, who lived between Eustis and Vernon Streets. In those days the town of Roxbury included Jamaica Plain.
All accounts state that Dorr left with Dawes over Boston Neck for Roxbury after 10 p.m. - both in the guise of peddlers with saddlebags on jogging horses- just before the Neck was closed by order of General Gage. They proceeded along the present Washington St. to Dudley St. to Eliot Square, giving the alarm. At this point Dorr’s activities grow fuzzy, some saying he went without Dawes to Cambridge, or eve Lexington. This confusion could be due to similar names. To make the truth more difficult to learn, Dorr is not an easy man to find in accounts of the start of the Revolution.
Some historians (probably more correctly) picture Ebenezer Dorr as the Paul Revere of the southwestern Boston area, taking the alarm throughout Roxbury and beyond. Given the roads in Revolutionary Roxbury, Dorr could have easily thundered down the Dedham Turnpike, whose terminus would later be Washington’s choice for a rallying point if the British ever sallied forth from their Boston blockade and overthrew the American camp in Roxbury. As suddenly as he plunged into history, Dorr became a ghost.
Yet what a fine picture of him with Dawes at Boston Neck: mistaken by English guards as a country bumpkin but carrying a message that would toss the British out of the area in less than a year! As Revere has made room for Dawes (whose family has commemorated him in Harvard Square) so the two must add Ebenezer Dorr to their spot in history. If alive, we may be sure that they would, these fellow ‘high Sons of Liberty.”
The Old Manse in Concord, intimately involved with the events of April 19, 1775, has featured a map showing additional known riders to further outlying towns after Dr. Prescott arrived with the alarm in Concord about 2 am. Strangely, Israel Bissel’s five-day ride from our area to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia has never been given full public honor.
Editor’s note: Dawes, Dorr and Warren were all from Roxbury. Warren lived on Warren Ave and Dawes lived in Eliot Square area. Dawes rode along Centre Street but then took the road to Cambridge (not to Dedham) perhaps along the edge of modern Jamaica Plain. Dorr, however, might have lived in the Jamaica End of Jamaica Plain although his exact address is not known. Conventional wisdom holds that he rode the Dedham Turnpike (Washington St) through Jamaica Plain.
Dr. Zakrzewska founded the New England Hospital for Women and Children, the first American hospital with a school for nurses. The hospital is still with us, but is now doing business as the Dimock Community Health Center near Egleston Square. The old hospital's venerable buildings speak of more than one hundred years of service to our community. Sadly, most residents have forgotten the groundbreaking innovations that occurred there. From the New England Hospital came America's first trained nurse, America's first woman's medical society, America's first Afro-American trained nurse, and the first hospital social service department. Its founder was a remarkable doctor.
Marie Zakrzewska (pronounced Zak-SHEV-ska) was born in Berlin of Polish background in 1829. By the time she was 22, she was director of the prestigious Charite Hospital for midwives in Berlin, but her youth and gender led to resentment from the male doctors there. She came to the United States in search of more equal opportunities in medicine. In New York, she became friendly with Drs. Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell, and with their help traveled west to enter Western Reserve College in Cleveland. Study must have been hard; because she had not learned very much English, but her European training became her advantage- Prussia was then one of the most advanced medical countries in the world.
When she graduated with her M.D. degree in 1856, she became known as "Dr. Zak" because no one could pronounce her name easily. She immediately returned to New York and helped the Blackwell's start the New York Infirmary for Women and Children (1857), the first hospital staffed by women in the United States. Dr. Zak stayed there without pay for two years, working as resident physician and superintendent, and trying to raise funds in New York and Boston.
Her contacts in Boston led to an appointment in 1859 as Professor of Obstetrics at the New England Female Medical College, which had been founded in 1848 as the first medical college for women in the world. Dr. Zakrzewska's dream was to open the medical profession to women. But the promises of the College were not fulfilled. Her attempts to change it from a midwife training school to a mainstream medical school with practical clinical training were opposed by the owner and trustees. Dr. Zak resigned and began work to found the New England Hospital for Women and Children, a center where women physicians would treat women patients.
Marie Zakrzewska's hospital opened in 1862, at 60 Pleasant Street in Boston, as a training hospital of the highest possible standards that would allow women to enter the best medical colleges in the world. Irregular physicians, such as homeopaths, phrenologists and magnetists, were not allowed to associate with the institution. It was the only hospital in Boston to provide obstetrics, gynecology and pediatrics, as well as a complete medical ward and surgical wards. Dr. Zakrzewska's expertise in science and sanitary conditions made the hospital a leader in preventing contagious fevers and assured the success of the enterprise.
Two generations of women physicians were trained at the New England Hospital and spread throughout the world on their careers. Mary Putnam Jacobi became the leading woman doctor of the late 1800s. Sophia Jex-Blake led the fight for women physicians in Great Britain, and Susan Dimock went to Zurich and returned as the finest surgeon on the staff. Dr. Dimock reorganized the nurses' training school. This school graduated Linda Richards in 1873 as America's first trained nurse and Mary Eliza Mahoney as the first Afro-American trained nurse in 1879. Other pioneer doctors spreading the seed were Anita Tyng of Rhode Island, Mary DeHart of New Jersey, Mary Thompson in Chicago and Eliza Mosher at Michigan. Nevertheless, these professionals were repeatedly refused admission to the Massachusetts Medical Society and they formed their own society in 1878 with Dr. Zak as president.
In 1872, the New England Hospital moved to its present site near Columbus Avenue and continued its expansion. The area had recently become a part of Boston, and the suburban neighborhood was ideal for recuperation. Transportation was good, and the area's German population would have appealed to the good doctor. Dr. Zakrzewska moved to Jamaica Plain in 1890 and her Peter Parley Road home became a center of medical discussion, as well as feminist and abolitionist sentiments. William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips and Karl Heinzen became her close friends.
Dr. Marie Zakrzewska died in her Jamaica Plain home on May 12, 1902, three years after her retirement from the hospital she loved. The graceful buildings remain, but even more importantly, so does the legacy of forty years of women she trained to become the leaders in American medicine.
Sources: Walsh, Doctors Wanted, No Women Need Apply, New Haven, 1977; Drachman, Hospital with a Heart, Ithaca, 1984; Abram, Send us a Lady Physician, New York, 1985; Dictionary of American Biography. Photograph of Zakrzewska Building, Dimock Community Health Care Center, by Idris Bilal, courtesy of National Park Service.
Copyright © 1995 Michael Reiskind
Mr. Curley was a lifelong Democrat, but his distancing himself from Al Smith of New York when Smith sought the presidential nomination for a second time in 1931 is well known, though he had heartily supported Smith in his bid against Herbert Hoover in 1928. Both of Curley and Smith were ardent Roman Catholics, but the Boston mayor was very sophisticated politically and probably knew well that the spectrum of the United States populace in 1928 or 1932 was not yet able to elect a Catholic president, however well qualified. This ability to read this spectrum made Curley turn his support to the ambitions of another Democratic governor of New York.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was an Episcopalian of the New York City and Hudson River Valley aristocracy, schooled at Groton and Harvard. It is hard to believe that Curley, the man from 350 Jamaicaway, could have supported a man of such background, given his well-publicized ethnical stereotypes. Yet there they were in 1936 together on the platform of the Harvard Tercentenary. His Honor supported FDR early on before his presidential nomination in Chicago in opposition to most other Democrats in Massachusetts.
Early in his own career Curley had been in Washington in the Wilson years with FDR and knew the power of the Federal government. Curley served as mayor (1930-34) for the third time and as governor (1936-37). All these machinations began soon after His Honor was elected mayor in 1930 upon his return from a European trip that had included Ireland and Italy (complete with a visit to his hero Mussolini).
Determined to get a prime seat on the Roosevelt bandwagon, for 18 months, Curley was in the fervor of presidential politics with Boston's mayoral duties in second place. By then he could do mayor's job in his sleep, says his most recent biographer. Though he did not in his solitary pro-Roosevelt stance deliver the Massachusetts primary to FDR, the Commonwealth went to the New Yorker in November 1932.
Given his strong backing in a pro-Smith state from day one and his appearances for FDR at the Chicago convention as a delegate from Puerto Rico when the Massachusetts delegation froze him out, something was going to be done for His Honor. Probably the story of FDR offering at an initial meeting "anything you want" as told in "The Purple Shamrock" is purple prose. Initially, on the cabinet level Curley hoped to succeed Charles Francis Adams as Secretary of the Navy just for the sake of ethnic contrast. That bubble of seeming commitment burst at the funeral of President Coolidge in January, 1933, when FDR's son informed Curley that the deal was off, but an ambassadorship was possible.
Rumors of other presidential appointments included Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, Governor of Puerto Rico, or Governor-General of the Philippines. On the state level there might be an appointment to fill the senior senator's seat if the current holder was made an ambassador. Ah, that ambassador business! Curley was said to be in the running for Dublin or Rome. City Clerk Joe McGrath was ready to succeed him as mayor.
During his presence at the March inauguration, the shoe dropped. Curley had steadfastly acknowledged that the only man who knew was FDR, though His Honor's choice was the lovely palazzo on Rome's Via Veneto. The events during the Washington stay are much obscured by accounts in "The Purple Shamrock" and elsewhere, published after the Curley-Roosevelt relationship had soured, though they had never been too sweet. In any event the Italian story seems to have an air of unreality about it.
Curley's rejection of the Dublin post (when the Italian one still seemed possible) was fortunately lost in the clamor of His Honor's rejection of Warsaw. Thankful, but with full knowledge of Curley's reputation as a flamboyant Boston brawler, the President sent Curley's name up to the Senate on April 11 as ambassador to Poland with a wry remark to his intimates: "What is there for him to steal?"
Three days later the Boston mayor declined the appointment in a meeting with FDR. "The Purple Shamrock" enlarges the interview with Curley finally telling the President, "If it's such an interesting place, why don't you take it yourself?" In 1951 Curley stated that he looked FDR in the face and said "You double-crossing, two-faced SOB!" This was the start of a revenge motif Curley felt and described in his autobiography. This was not his last disappointment nor his last hurrah; his whole life is a study in these. The governorship of Massachusetts lay just around the corner, but so did his imprisonment, and more.
The Roman post was to be tricky once Mussolini earned America's enmity by plunging the sword into France and became a full member of the Axis Powers. Curley believed that Il Duce was only a New Dealer on a fast track. The later aggression in Ethiopia could have made Curley what Ambassador Kennedy was in London: a believer in appeasement. So it was back to Boston, where so recently he had buried his wife Mary Esmelda and his namesake son.
Until the recent administration of Ronald Reagan there was no ambassador to the Vatican. Until then, the Ambassador to Italy had also served as a link to the Holy See and had never been a Roman Catholic until the Truman administration to avoid any idea of dual loyalty. This alone could have axed Curley's appointment, while others claim he was ousted by Mussolini or Boston's Cardinal O'Connell, a powerful man here and in the Vatican. The whole tale will never fully be known now with all its luscious ingredients. Suffice it to say that an historical twist has brought a Curley student to Rome, and we await his mark there.
Sources: J.M. Curley, "I'd Do It Again," chaps. 17-18; J.F. Dinneen, "The Purple Shamrock," chaps. 15-18; J. Beatty, "The Rascal King," chaps. 7-8
Written by Walter H. Marx. Reprinted with permission from the July 16, 1993 Jamaica Plain Gazette. Copyright © Gazette Publications, Inc. Photograph of Mayor James Michael Curley, 1914. Courtesy of the Forsyth Institute.
DM: Doctor Arthur Nicholson Broughton delivered me at the Faulkner Hospital January 22, 1918. He took mother and me to the hospital in his sleigh. He lived on Eliot Street. He later had an office at 319 Longwood Avenue. A fine man, he was a combined psychiatrist, psychologist, gynecologist, and obstetrician, and everything else. He was a great big bull of a man who drove Buicks with 2002 on them, very fast. We lived there on Newsome Park until May 1923 when my parents bought the last of the three Seaverns' houses. The original Seaverns house was located in the old Boy Scout building which is now a health clinic on the corner of Prince Street, Orchard Street, and Centre Street. It was one of those beautiful south Caribbean houses a story and a half with Gothic windows, as I remember it, and that's where the superintendent of the Arnold Arboretum lived. Behind it was the gray mansard-roofed house on Orchard Street, the back of which came right out into Prince Street. Then there was an open lot, and our small shingle-style house was built by one of the Seaverns. It's still there, 35 Prince Street. My parents remodeled it to the neo-colonial which I would have done at the time, but I wouldn't do today. But they had a wonderful time doing it.
At that time Weld Park started directly at the end of Centre Street, and it had a six-decker, as I recall, a three-decker and a two-decker and there was a wood lot right there. The changes of the Arborway in the 1930's obliterated Weld Park, but it was there at that stage of the game. So you virtually could say that we lived right next to the Arboretum.
My parents did not have live-in help, but had a variety of people coming in to do the washing on Tuesdays, the ironing on Wednesdays, and cleaning on Thursdays. Out of this came a marvelous little red-headed Cockney lady by the name of Helen Harrison whose husband was a British Naval enlisted man. She had survived the big explosion in Halifax in 1919, and her daughter had survived but the daughter was very badly burned. I've always been fascinated about that explosion ever since because of Mrs. Harrison's telling us about it. There are marvelous books about it which anybody can get. Dr. Broughton went up with the Harvard doctors and saved lots of lives there because they had a major snowstorm and no windows or heat for two days.
Mother was a stay-at-home person all her life. Father was a vice-president and a minor stockholder of a company on Magazine Street in Roxbury at 100, called the E. Van Noorden Company. It was started by a gentleman from Terre Haute, Indiana who came to Boston to make his fortune after the 1873 Boston fire as a tin knocker or shop metalworker, and he made this fortune. This became the biggest of the sheet metal companies, so he was quite successful.
Father, Carl L. Mittell, Jr. was born in Jamaica Plain in the big square building on Boylston Street, on the corner of Chestnut Avenue, the southwest corner. Father was brought up at 29 Wyman Street. His father worked for Colonel Pfaff, the right-hand man, and when Colonel Pfaff had to go off with Teddy Roosevelt in 1898 to Cuba, my grandfather had to keep the brewery going while he was gone for three or four months. The Pfaff Brewery was where the college is on Columbus Avenue now, and the mansion is up on Parker Street if anybody wanted to have a look at it. Father went to Mechanic Arts High School which is where the Prudential Center is now, right on the railroad tracks, and did not take his admission to M.I.T. because his father had died, and that's how he eventually got with the Van Noorden Company.
Mother came from New York, and they met in Plymouth in the 1890's, and some ten or twelve years later they were married and came here. They first lived at the Robinwood, a high-class boardinghouse, one of the very big houses on Robinwood Avenue. A lot of young marrieds lived there, and, my oldest cousin lived there as a small child. Apparently this is what people did before they took an apartment or a house. Then they'd move out, and that's when my parents moved to Eliot Street.
The daily ritual those years of getting food was a lot of fun. I can hear my mother picking up the telephone and calling, "0-0-3-2," and saying, "Mr. Oakes, what's nice today?" And he'd say, "What do you want, Mrs. Mittell?" "Well, I thought I'd like a small broiler. Are they nice today?" "Yes, they are." "Well, why don't you send two of them up Mr. Oakes?" Oakes had the butcher shop on the corner of Thomas Street and Centre Street, the out-of-town corner, and that is where the work was done. Then Mother would call Robert Seaver & Son, the ancient grocery store where the liquor store is today, still in relatively the same building, and she'd give an order. Very often Connolly would be delivering the order with horse and team, just as we were getting out of the Agassiz School and we little urchins would jump up on the tailgate and get a ride home.
There was a stable in back of those stores between Thomas Street and Burroughs Street where the parking lot is now essentially. This was behind the school, the grammar school that I attended, which was the Agassiz School which had a primary school which was built about 1860 - and in the 1890's, fourth grade through eighth grade - a wonderful school, wonderful teachers, some tough, some of them had to be tough to handle some of the rougher kids who came to that school from all over Jamaica Plain. I don't regret it.
My older brother went to Miss Seeger's School on Eliot Street, which was about the fourth house on the right-hand side going away from the Pond. The house has been remodeled back to its original farmhouse style, but it has earlier been remodeled into an amazing neo-colonial. I have pictures of the graduating class at Miss Seeger's class in 1923, if anybody wants them, with names and so forth. It's said that Miss Seeger was either a sister or related to Alan Seeger, the famous World War I poet, the "I Have a Rendezvous with Death" poet. That school survived until 1936, when my brother's wife was the kindergarten teacher. It just died, I suppose, because of the Depression.
Mrs. Harrison came in among other people, and did the laundry on Tuesday and ironed on Wednesday, and cleaned on Thursday and Friday, and became a sitter for us whenever my parents had to go out. My aunt was in New York, and my grandmother was in New York, and so they did go off sometimes. This worked very well.
I think it's interesting to note that I was never allowed to have a haircut in Jamaica Plain, but was taken to the fancy place in the basement of the Hotel Vendome on the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Dartmouth Street, where all the "nice" little boys got their hair cut. My father was a haircut snob, and he did the same thing every two weeks, and believed that a gentleman had to have proper grooming, and that the old "bowl over the head and clippers up to the bowl," which a lot of the kids at Agassiz School had, he didn't approve of at all.
I have to say that it's suggested that I should talk about clothing. We used to have woolen hats that could be worn without a woolen strap that came down and protected your face in the jaw. Other than that, I don't think there were great differences. We wore corduroy knickers, which always smelled unpleasant when it rained. And we had to have knickers. Actually I went to Roxbury Latin later, and the seventh grade boys were not allowed to wear long pants, and if one came in long pants, they got taken off and pulled up the flag pole. So it was knickers until eighth grade, at least at that school.
I walked all those years from Prince Street to the Agassiz School with my chum across the street, Jim McLaughlin. They were a wonderful family. Grandfather Cotter was a successful storekeeper, I believe, in Roxbury or Dorchester, and he was successful enough to build three wonderful two-deckers for his three daughters. One who lived on Spring Park Avenue, did not get a new three-decker. I remember seeing that little gentleman when he was about 95 in 1925 or 1926, and that family that he started has just done very well. The first generation, one of the sons became a doctor out of Boston Latin and Harvard and Harvard Medical School, and did a lot of remodeling in Jamaica Plain; he was the one who turned the gingerbread house on the corner of Elliott Street, opposite the church, opposite the Greenough House around on its side, and that's where he had his office. And he built those brick stores that are on the corner of Elliott Street and Centre Street. They were a fine family although there was great opposition to either his or somebody else buying the Loring-Greenough House in the 1920's, and tearing it down to build more stores. That's another story which has been recorded elsewhere.
For fun, we used skate at Jamaica Pond in the winter. Mayor Curley had to get the fire department to spray the crowd to get them off the ice one night of a carnival on Jamaica Pond when the temperature went up to 60 or 65, and it seemed unsafe to go on with the carnival. In those years, there was a hockey rink over by the Parkman Memorial, and Jamaica Plain High School, and some of the other schools practiced hockey there. Most of the skating was done to the east, if I have my direction correct, of the landing where the boats are. Beyond that, we pretty much amused ourselves.
My father was on a baseball team called the Eliots, which won the city championship in 1897, if I have the year right. They beat everybody. They beat all the high schools and all the club teams. Their pitcher, Otto Deiniger, went up to the big leagues; and the catcher, (I think his name was Devine), went up to the New England league. The first base man was Harry Fitzsimmons, who became an orthopedic physician, lived on Centre Street near Aldworth Street. One of them became a funeral director down halfway to Plymouth on old 128. I've told you about Father. Deiniger's brother, I think, went up to the New England league, but that was a lot of fun.
But I was not allowed to go to the Carolina Avenue playground in the 1920's because it was a little too rough for a little boy from around the Pond. I did go my last year at Agassiz School and went down for one afternoon, and then the next year I went to West Roxbury, to Roxbury Latin School which is an independent school as everybody knows. But a lot of my friends did go to Jamaica Plain High School. Some other friends went to Boston Latin School which was as great in the 1920's and '30s, as it is today, in educating kids.
I was a tennis player. My father helped start the Loring-Greenough Tennis Club with that one court about 1923 or '24, when the Noanett Club, I believe, which was on Dunster Road was confiscated for private houses. Father went to Mr. Greenough and asked if they fixed up the court, could they use it. The club is still active today.
At home, for entertainment, Father was very musical. He had something like eight or ten songs published. Piano songs with words published between 1900 and 1925. I have copies of these. "Let Me Live in a House by the Side of the Road" was one of them. So he was on the piano, and of course, early on we did get a radio - not a very good one, but we did get a radio and we could listen to the Army-Navy game if we wanted to, and did - and listened to "Amos and Andy" and some of those soap opera programs that were on in the evening. Everything went silent - ours was in the dining room and everything went silent, and everybody listened to these programs. They were somewhat more innocent than what we have today.
As far as theaters were concerned, there was the Jamaica Theater in Hyde Square, but again I wasn't allowed to go to that. (I did get to the old Howard a few times when we were quite a little older). Mr. English, who lived in the big house, the red-roofed house on the corner of Prince and Centre and the Arborway, had a chauffeur, and his name was Dennis McNamara. "Denny" would take me and the younger son, Milton. I remember seeing the first talking movie. I can't remember the name of it, but it was at the old Metropolitan Theater, which is now the Wang Theater; and Denny drove us in a long Packard limousine. The Englishes were very generous this way. They were the ones who bought the Seaverns estate. Mr. English was the one who tore down the original, beautiful little white house that was there. He held it for two or three years, and nothing happened. Of course, once that happened all those houses from Centre Street to our house went in there. I suppose there are ten or twelve houses on what was on Professor Sargent's original nursery. There was a grass place there for growing flowers and various things like that, and all the vegetables there. They just moved it up Centre Street, and I think it's just been moved again further up Centre Street.
Summers, we went to the Cape Playhouse. And of course, we went to Chatham summers, which is on the elbow of Cape Cod, and we did go to the Cape Playhouse which started in the mid-'20s, and of course, the Orpheum Theater in Chatham showed silent movies. We used to go once a week when the movie changed, but in the city we didn't do it as much. I will have to put in here a colorful episode which happened in Chatham. My grandmother used to board in downtown Chatham. She was deaf and she loved the silent movies, because they didn't give her any trouble. She went in one night and in the mid-'20s when bobbed hair had just come. And a young lady in front of her - a lady, I say - combed her hair back toward my grandmother, and my 75 year old grandmother tapped her on the shoulder, and said, "Please don't do that. I don't want them on me."
First we went to Plymouth to the old Hotel Pilgrim, which has been torn down on the bluff on Warren Avenue. But about 1923, we went to a much smaller hotel in North Chatham, and for the next 15 years, we either rented a house there, or stayed in the Old Harbor Inn which was run by Rufus Nickerson, who is a direct descendent of William Nickerson, who was given Chatham in 1660 or something like that. It was a great experience.
We had to go to New York because my aunt and her family were there, and Mother's cousins were there. We went to New York by train or by car. It was pretty painful to go by car, but we did it. It was a long, long, long, painful trip for little boys. We went down the old inland roads, and it was a six-hour trip or a five and a half hour trip. We'd go down through Stafford Springs and through Hartford, and then on down to the coast - down through Windsor and New Haven, but we did it. It worked not too badly. Father always drove Buicks, except for the first one which was an Oldsmobile, and it was such a clunker that he swore he'd never drive it again if he could get it home from Plymouth one day. His friends were driving Buicks, and he drove Buicks until the Depression when he deteriorated to a new Ford, but it wasn't that bad.
We should talk a little about the Depression, because this was a pretty terrible, terrible, terrible time. We were very lucky. The Company that father was with had been very conservative and were able to keep going during the Depression. While income was cut down to something like 60% of what it had been, and it bought a lot in the 1930's. But this was a very frightening time. Mother called Thomas Campbell, who was the rector of St. John's Church where Father was a vestryman, and said, "Mr. Campbell, there is a poor family in our church." "Yes! The name is Stoltz, and they live down in a three-decker on Washington Street about two houses from the old Boston Elevator storage yard there." So Mother got up a Thanksgiving basket, turkey, everything for three children. Husband was up in Rutland in the tubercular sanitarium because he was gassed in World War I. We went down there in a long Buick which still had a 124-inch wheel base as I remember it, with all the fixings on it. We went up one empty floor, and a second empty floor, and on the top floor was this poor woman with three small children, and delivered this basket. I can honestly say I did smell poverty - there just was no question about it, it was frightening, and this was 1933, I guess, when I was 15. It was a terrible time. In Father's company, the superintendents went back to "tin knocking" - they had about six or seven superintendents, they went back to just being "tin knockers." The tin knocker made a $1.37 and a half cents during the Depression, and that doesn't sound like much, but it fed the family. And they were very lucky when they could be employed, which wasn't all the time.
Mother never learned to drive a car. She tried and she smashed one up in Chatham in 1929, so we always used the streetcars. She preferred down South Huntington Avenue, and in town that way. When I got freedom enough at 12 or 13, to do this, we much preferred to walk down to Green Street and take the rattler in, which was much quicker. But I do remember those streetcars, including the one that went up over the hill in Roxbury across Columbus Avenue, and into Dudley Street. You changed there for the elevated rattler.
CR: The rattler is the old Orange Line, the elevated?
DM: That is correct.
CR: Do you remember what the fare was?
DM: Ten cents. Now, the five-and-dime store that was always there, and next door to - and you know, that was fun, on the corner of Seaverns Avenue and Centre Street. Next to it was my brother's wife's grandfather's drugstore, a "Rexall Store." Next to that was Schafer, as I recall it was Shafer's eyeglasses store, and then it was the Jairis, Caliope Jairis was in my kindergarten, and she vomited the first day of school. This is a clear memory that I have of Mr. Kelly, the custodian, coming in and cleaning it up.
CR: Do you recall the businesses that closed during the depression?
DM: Let me just think - well, of course, Father's big Buick was bought from a Buick agency, which was in one of Dr. Cotter's stores there, on the corner of Eliot Street. I would think that most of the small merchants managed to keep going in the Depression. I just happened to be looking at an old Roxbury Latin magazine the other day, and here was Rose's Corset and Gift Shop which was in the Jamaica Pond Garage Building, which is directly opposite Burroughs Street. You know, Shea the Florist was there next to Seaver's grocery store. There was a German fellow who sold guppies and gold fish on the corner of Thomas Street.
You know, one thing that we must remember that old town hall on Thomas Street which was torn down for the parking lot was sort of everything. I believe it was originally a high school; then it was a veterans' building. I remember I had to register for the draft there in 1940, and it was kind of a handsome old building. Yumont had a hardware store on the corner of Burroughs Street across from Roger's Drugstore which everybody knew.
Mr. Rooney had a shoe store just toward the monument from Roger's Drugstore. Beyond Yumont's was another hardware store down beyond the fire station, Harvey's Hardware store. I mentioned Salisbury's Drugstores. It seems to me there was sort of a general dry good store in the old Masonic building on the in-town corner of Seaverns Avenue.
Down beyond Green Street, there was a man who had an automobile repair and paint shop, and he painted one of my Model A Fords.
I have written, as you know, a long report on Miss Margaret Souther. Those of us who grew up on the Pond side of Jamaica Plain went to her dancing school. So I'll not go into detail, but I think this sort of indicates that Jamaica Plain was divided into three parts. There were the big estates up on Moss Hill and over toward the Brookline line. Then there was the flat land area from May Street through to Lockstead Avenue, all those streets, all those lovely streets like Burroughs Street and Eliot Street and Myrtle Street and so forth. Then there was a real line; Centre Street sort of divided the more well-to-do people on the Pond side from the poorer people on the other side.
By the time that I came along, it would be my impression that the German area which grew up substantially in the 1880's and 1890's and 1910's had been pretty much taken over by more Irish families. Certainly this was true of the area towards Forest Hills and toward Green Street, and let's say, the area from around St. Thomas Aquinas down to Our Lady of Lourdes and Blessed Sacrament. So there really was a division. Jimmy Graham used to stand out on the corner of Burroughs Street and let all of the kids, who lived on that side of Centre Street, get safely across the street. He did this for 30 or 40 years, and did it rather successfully. I don't think that there were any accidents there.
But there was a real division. Some of these kids were real poor in the public schools. Some of them were pretty tough, but the teachers were able to handle them. And of course a lot of them went on and went to Boston Latin or Mechanic Arts or Boston English High School, and had very successful careers. But it really was a divided town, and it is today but not as much. It seems to me it's come together much more.
I met my wife in 1939 at a party in Scituate. While I went to all the parties at Eliot Hall and so forth and so on, nothing really took until then, until I met Mary Louise. We were married in 1941. We did not go to dancing spots, although my brother and his bride went to Totem Pole Ballroom out in Auburndale. It died after Word War II.
As far as musicians were concerned, my brother inherited some of my father's musical skills - not to the degree that Father had it, because Father had absolute pitch. He wrote quite a few songs for yacht club shows and so forth. As a result of this, my brother and I were given a portable Victrola. In the late '20s, he was the one who first discovered Bing Crosby when he was still with the Rhythm Boys, with Paul Whiteman out in California; and he was the one who discovered Glen Gray and The Casa Loma orchestra. Both of these led up to the big bands that came in the late '30s and during World War II.
Another place that my brother used to go that I didn't was the Hotel Brunswick on the corner of Clarendon Street and Huntington Avenue - had a room downstairs. I don't remember the name of it, but they had music there. He and his bride-to-be (seven years later) used to go in there often. I would say he had a more typical Jamaica Plain youth and growing up than I did. I sort of got attracted out of town.
There weren't many good restaurants, or any that I can think of. There was Mamigon's and it seems to me there was another small one somewhere there on Centre Street between Thomas Street and Burroughs Street. But we would get in a car and go to a restaurant over in Newton at the New England Peabody Home. They did this to make money for taking care of their crippled children. That was another place we'd go. We'd used to go to another place in Newton, Madame Vineo. (I never saw it written so I'm guessing.) But we also used to go to Sunday dinners sometimes at The Elms, which was a great Victorian building where the Rectory of the Congregational Church is, on the corner of Elm Street, but this was just a good boardinghouse, and so we'd go there. We used to go in town to the Hotel Canterbury which is on Charlesgate West at Newbury Street. We used to go the Boston City Club where Father was an active member and on committees. This was up behind the State house on Ashburton Place, I believe.
We did go out to dinner most Sundays. We'd go as far as Norwood. There was a restaurant in Norwood that we used to go to. There was one in West Roxbury in the old tavern that was there, which has been torn down to build a new library. But we didn't go very often in Jamaica Plain except for The Elms, and I would have to say that - and my parents did not like Mamigon's at that stage of the game - right on Centre Street. I think it's still there. It's across from - halfway between Thomas Street and Burroughs Street.
CR: Not one of the taverns?
DM: Yes, the one like Costello's. My parents were old, so they didn't get into World War I. Father was 37 in 1917, and had children. When I was a little boy there was a Bridle Path that came from downtown, out the Jamaicaway, out the Riverway, out the Arborway into Franklin Park. Some of my older Bostonian acquaintances tell me that their fathers and grandfathers used to take horses from downtown and ride out there. If you look carefully at the Arborway today, you can see that there is one very wide centerpiece, and that's where the Bridle Path went.
As I said earlier, Connolly from Seaver's grocery store used to deliver our groceries with a horse and team, and Oakes would do the same. Then, of course, I would suppose the early 1930's, the horses were basically gone. There was still a stable on Orchard Street right in back of our house, two or three houses over, between there and Aldworth Street. And there was one down on Williams Street -until 1990 or 1995. But gradually, gradually it turned to automobiles, and of course, we of the automobile age couldn't wait to get our hands on a car.
My first car was a well worn out 1929 Ford two-door, painted blue, that my brother had pretty well taken the good wear of. That lasted about six months, and for $50 more I got a nice blue touring car, a 1929. That lasted about eight months, and for about $25 more with a trade-in, I found one of the '25 convertibles in West Roxbury. That lasted a year, and then I found a perfectly wonderful roadster one that had been owned by an old man. It only had 10,000 miles on it, and that was a little more money. That got me through two or three years of college, before I swapped it in Scituate for a green 1932. But you had to have at least - I had to have a car in any case.
CR: Did you have a job during high school?
DM: No, no, I was spoiled. I did not work during high school. No, I had a lot of fun. I learned how to play tennis better - bang the ball against the back wall of our cement garage, and Father was a member of the Longwood Cricket Club. We used to go over and watch the great players in the 1920's, and '30s, and '40s. So I could emulate Tilden or Richards on the court, I hope. But that was a lot of fun. We were lucky that we did - if you looked in that garage, you'd still see a target that my brother painted up there; and I painted a net up there. I spent hours out there, hitting tennis balls.
CR: Some of the other boys and girls of your age, were they working?
DM: In general, they didn't work. My playmates on Prince Street, the McLaughlins went to Eleventh Avenue in Scituate. The Englishes had a big house at Second and Cliff in Scituate. The Faunces who lived, until 1928, over on the Arborway had a wonderful place on Hatherly Road in Scituate. So when we were in the city in the summer, I virtually had no playmates. The Witherells up the street had a family preserve in Ossippee, New Hampshire. These are just some of the ones that I can think of quickly that went elsewhere. I would say that the people who lived in that part of Jamaica Plain, mainly single houses, a few two-families, went somewhere in the summer - Green Harbor, or Fieldston, in Marshfield, or further down the Cape.
CR: You had mentioned that the Plath family lived down the street from you on Prince Street. Did you know the family?
DM: I've done quite a little research on Sylvia Plath because my daughter is a poetess in her own right, and it terribly interested in Plath. I've watched programs on Channel 2 on this. We've documented it pretty well that she lived on the first floor of the Crosbys' house at 24 Prince Street. But now this was in the early '30s, and the late '30s, I was as Roxbury Latin and gone all day long. Then I was at college and gone all week long, so I was not that aware of what was going on at the house diagonally across the street. We took time to go out and find the house that she lived in in Wellesley Fells, which is the far part of Wellesley just before you get into Natick because we had a house there in the early '40s, and we knew that area quite well. We identified t