Boulder at Kelley Circle Reveals History


Kelley Circle at the foot of Jamaica Pond marking the junction of the Jamaicaway and the Arborway had been planned as the subject of an article for years when just before Thanksgiving its commemorative boulder was covered with a coat of vivid green paint and Greek letters (probably from some ill-conceived fraternity prank.)

Any reporter must visit the scene of a story, but getting onto Kelley Circle, through constantly moving traffic, is no mean feat - not quite like getting to Paris' Arc de Triomphe, but close. This risk component must have been a rich incentive to the unknowns with their paint pots last fall. All-hiding night must have been the time of the pointless attack on an initially defenseless stone, which commemorates William F. Kelley, yet this disrespectful act produced interesting results.

My visit to Kelley Circle yielded his birth and death dates and the knowledge that Kelley was a member of the Board of Park Commissioners. This was novel information, since any bet was that Kelley Circle was named for a Jamaica Plain veteran like Murray Circle above it. The best source of further information was Kelley's obituary and then the appropriate city departments.

William Kelley was born of Irish parentage here on September 14, 1893 and was a fine representative of the many thousands of Irish immigrant families who came to Massachusetts' shores and made good. He served his country during World War I and entered the ranks of the New England Telephone & Telegraph Company.

At the time of his death, Kelley was vice-president and business manager of Local 1 of the International Brotherhood of Telephone Workers. He had risen through the same ranks as Maurice Tobin, who branched out into politics to become mayor and governor. Indeed, Tobin's name appears on the plaque as mayor of Boston at the time. Kelley was sworn in as a member of the Board of Park Commissioners, on May 27, 1938, under the aegis of chief commissioner, William Long, fabled in Jamaica Plain for his particular care of Olmsted Park all the way from the Arboretum to Leverett Pond. In those days half a century ago prominent and interested citizens sat on the board as unpaid advisors. According to Park Department records Kelley never missed a meeting, but discussions were not recorded.

Kelley sat in these meetings with Jamaica Plain beer baron Theodore H. Haffenreffer (l880-1956), whose presence on the Park Commission from 1930 to 1956 caused granite tablets to be placed by the main gates of the Boston Public Garden. The connecting pathway over the lagoon bridge was dubbed "Haffenreffer Walk" during the administration of James Michael Curley's successor, John Hynes, in the late 1950's. The tablets' last lines proclaim Haffenreffer's "Lifetime of dedicated service to his native city" in a rare tribute to the many, many German immigrants who have passed through the City of Boston and in particular through its southern neighborhoods, including Jamaica Plain. A familiar text might have been applied to Kelley's plaque, but rather the prosaic, "May he rest in peace," ends the text before the names of the mayor and his fellow commissioners.

The quick ending is probably explained by the shock felt at the unexpected death of Kelley of heart attack on October 17, 1943 at age 50 at his home at 3 Glenburne Road in West Roxbury He was buried at a Solemn High Mass of Requiem at Holy Name Church with the mayor, the chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court and the president of the New England Telephone & Telegraph in attendance.

The obituary, brief as it is, tells much. The Kelleys had no children, but Mayor Tobin soon appointed a brother, Frank, to succeed the board. Frank later became chief commissioner with a fine office in the Parkman House, where the Parks Department was headquartered.

After a visit, the life of William Kelley had gotten illumination, but there was still the besmirched boulder. Who would clean it up in an area of double administration? A visit to the Department of Veterans Affairs turned up that Kelley's birth and death dates, cause of death and place of burial were on file with an invitation being issued to lay the whole matter out to the commissioner in a letter.

Among other things, Veterans Affairs makes sure that signs erected to veterans at intersections all over the city stay up. Those omnipresent small memorials are fitting reminders, in an age of peace, of veterans' sacrifice for a way of life we all take for granted. Could this office assume responsibility for a plaque once erected by the Park Department now on MDC traffic control and cut through the various Gordian Knots of jurisdiction?

In less than a month a letter in full sympathy at "the horrendous action" praising a citizen's publicity of such a matter was received. Disrespect for property is bad enough but dishonoring a person's name, especially one who has served his country in perilous time, carries with it no redeeming feature. The commissioner himself visited the site of the vandalized boulder and went beyond the call of duty to arrange for cleaning both stone and plaque.

The memorial stone is now clean again and looking surprisingly better than ever thanks to the Veterans Affairs Commissioner. He made a bit of the landscape more honorable and caused a lifetime to be commemorated.


Veterans Affairs Dept.; John Ruck of Parks Dept.; Obituary in Boston Globe Oct. 19, 1943

Written by Walter H. Marx. Reprinted with permission from the February 10, 1995 Jamaica Plain Gazette. Copyright © Gazette Publications, Inc.