This is a story about one of the four Masson children who lived at 76 Boylston Street, Jamaica Plain. The children were Clara, Edwin, Carl and Walter Masson. Carl Masson’s five years of daily diary entries describe a Depression-era life of a tireless and ambitious young man. Born in Jamaica Plain on October 14, 1905, he lived for 95 years, passing on December 15, 2000, in Walpole, Massachusetts, at Harrington House Nursing Center. His wife, Evelyn (Belcher) Masson, preceded him on February 3, 1998, at 85 years. They were married in 1935 in the Methodist church in Winthrop and moved to 75 Lincoln Street in Dedham, just a short distance from the Endicott Estate, in that town. Their ashes were put in the sea in Winthrop, Evelyn’s hometown.
Life in Jamaica Plain
The Masson family lived in a handsome Queen Anne triple-decker at 76 Boylston Street, at the corner of Danforth Street. It was from this apartment that Carl recorded his comings and goings in five years of daily diary entries. Those diaries provide a look at life during some of the worst Depression years: 1930 to 1935. Cataloguing all of Carl’s activities during those years would require a full-length book. Instead, here are some snapshots of what this man found the energy to do, day-by-day, after long hours of work during those dismal years.
He was a regular walker, circuiting Jamaica Pond several times a week and occasionally walking the Jamaicaway to Brookline Village, or in the other direction, to the Arnold Arboretum. He maintained a leadership role in his Central Congregational Church at 85 Seaverns Avenue. In addition, he attended functions at Eliot Masonic Lodge, above the Jamaica Plain Department store at 670 Centre Street, on the corner of Seaverns Avenue. That store was later known as Gale’s Department Store.
Carl attended the Agassiz school. He is shown in the front row, fourth from right end, in this 4th grade picture, ca 1915. He had to drop out of high school because of the financial pressures on his family. Despite the lack of a high school diploma, he went on to seven years of night school at Boston University where he studied Advertising and Journalism. He received an Associate’s Degree upon completing the four-year Journalism course.
At 12, Carl’s paper route paid him $1.25 a week. It entailed twice daily deliveries on weekdays, and once on Sunday mornings. Around 1920, while still in his teens, he and his younger brother, Walter, opened a tiny print shop at 66 Boylston Street in Jamaica Plain printing invitations and stationery. The shop was just a few doors away from their home.
At 22, Carl went to work in the shipping department at the Quinby Company on Atlantic Avenue, Boston. He went on from there to work in the advertising department at Jordan Marsh, where he became assistant advertising manager by December 8, 1930. In 1943 he became advertising manager at America’s oldest furniture company, the century-old Paine Furniture Company at 81 Arlington Street, Boston. Carl held the Paine’s advertising position until 1957 before returning once more to Jordan’s, to become a branch store’s advertising manager. He retired from Jordan’s in 1971 after a productive 41-year career in advertising in Boston’s very competitive department store market. In the 50s and 60s, Carl demonstrated his long-time gratitude and esteem for Boston University by teaching Advertising at its night school.
Entertainment during the Depression
Carl enjoyed the new ‘talkie’ movies at the Jamaica, Egleston, Uptown and Paramount theatres. In addition to the movies at the Egleston Theatre, Carl regularly attended stage plays there, performed by the Galvin Players Stock Company. While not mentioned in the diaries, Carl had a dance band while living in Jamaica Plain as shown on his business card. No records of dance engagements for that band have been found, but his daughter remembers their Dedham bungalow ringing with music and laughter after church on Sunday mornings as spontaneous piano/banjo duets filled the house with song.
The Lantern Press
The major hobbies in Carl’s life were photography, creative writing and his hand operated 6 x 9 Kelsey Victor side lever printing press. The press cost $59 in 1928 ($870 in 2018 dollars). He also had a 100-year old set of moveable metal type. The 6 x 9 dimension defines the size of the type holder. This press is now located at the Museum of Printing, 15 Thornton Avenue, Haverhill, Mass. The Museum graciously provided the photo of the press. Carl’s daughter, Evelyn, remembers to this day the musical sounds of her dad’s press and how every time he pulled the press handle on a commercial printing job he’d say to her, “another dollar for your college education!”
Carl’s father bought him his first press when he was a boy which triggered Carl’s life-long interest in printing. That first press cost $12 ($157 in 2018 dollars). He also had a lithograph press and an etching press. That first press earned most of Carl’s spending money in the eighth grade at the Agassiz School in 1918.
In 1930 he set up his printing enterprise at 76 Boylston Street. He printed his church’s programs and bulletins as well as private printing jobs, including, for example, the programs for the Senior Dramatic Club at the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood House. He also set up a dark room for his photography work in the cellar at 76 Boylston.
Religious and Fraternal Life
The original Central Congregational Church was destroyed by fire on December 27, 1934. Construction of the handsome new church building was started immediately. Carl was very active in this church, serving on several committees including the Executive Committee, teaching Sunday school, serving as Boy Scout leader, involved in minstrel shows, publishing and printing the Central Courier, the church’s newsletter, and serving as publicity chairman and editorial writer for the Boston Christian Endeavor Union, an interdenominational Christian youth society. Carl received many commendations on his Sunday school teaching methods. The Congregational church is now called Hope Central Church, at 85 Seaverns Avenue.
Many alive today will remember the despair felt during the Depression. Sadly, it took a World War to end it for many of us and that brought a whole new set of hardships and sacrifices. Yet, our subject, Carl Masson, passed through it all without losing the optimism and never-say-die attitude that kept him going for 95 productive years.
Special thanks to:
Evelyn (Masson) Malm for all documents related to her father’s story.
Mark Bulger for the early picture of Central Congregational Church.
Hilda George, Charlie Rosenberg, and Kathy Griffin for editorial assistance.
Laurie J. Hartman, the Museum of Printing, for photos of Carl’s press.
By Peter O’Brien