Nuns as Nurses in the Civil War ~ With a Lowell Connection

Our friend Dave McKean has another interesting post on LowellIrish. In writing about nuns – specifically the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul – who nursed the wounded, the sick and the dying during the Civil War, Dave brings the story home to Lowell.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Lowell’s Civil War Nuns

 
Sisters at Saterlee Hospital, Philadelphia

You can barely make them out.  Along the edge of Yard 4 of Saint Patrick Cemetery is a series of stones.  They are small, all similar, and quite plain in keeping with their owners’ way of life.  This lot belongs to the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, the Sisters who served St. John’s Hospital from 1867 to 1961.  Their habit made them quite memorable with their large winged headpieces, reminiscent of the Flying Nun TV series of the 1960s.  The markers have become overgrown with grass clippings and sod and are slowly sinking into the ground.  It is almost metaphorical to the work the Sisters labored at for decades; few remember their ministry of healing the sick.

Though no words mark their deeds, three of the stones draw special attention.  Sisters Matilda, Amelia, and Frances all have a special place in the history of our country.  They are three of the 600 Sisters who served as nurses during the Civil War.

There were not many life opportunities for women in the 19th century.  The great majority knew that their lives would be spent as farmer’s wives, bearing children and spending endless hours doing chores, often dying in childbirth or meeting an earlier death than their male counterparts due to exhaustion or disease.  A few women were able to learn a trade or become teachers, but they were few and far between.  Some women sought the religious life as a way of breaking out of the norm.  Religious women were often in places where other women could not be; hospitals, administrators, or traveling to places outside their homes.

A number of Catholic orders trained their religious to become nurses, a job often looked down upon for the type of work they would be asked to do.  When the Civil War broke out the Sisters took it upon themselves to use their services for both sides of the conflict, often bringing contempt upon themselves from both sides for aiding the enemy.

Not everyone appreciated the work of the Sisters.  Anti-Catholic sentiment was ripe during this period, especially in the South.  Some doctors refused to have Sisters as nurses.  The great Florence Nightingale was so anti-Catholic she would not allow Sisters in her wards.  Others recognized the work of the nuns.  Secretary Stanton and even President Lincoln requested Sisters to work in military hospitals.  Often they were better trained than their civilian counterparts and worked endlessly when civilian nurses would refuse certain duties or leave when met with the brutality of war.

When the battle of Gettysburg was over a group of Daughters of Charity left their mother house about 20 miles away in Emmitsburg, MD and went to work with the wounded from both sides.  Though the Sisters were offered wages, they refused them requesting only medicine and supplies for their work.

All three of the Sisters at the cemetery served as nurses at the Satterlee Military Hospital in Philadelphia.  At one point the hospital held 6000 patients, though built for 4500.  Sr. Martina was born in Maryland and worked in the tents that were set up around Satterlee to meet the overflow numbers in the hospital.  She spent many years as the night supervisor at St. John’s Hospital in Lowell before her death in 1926.  The daughter of a barrel maker, Sr. Amelia was born in Pennsylvania.   She worked in a number of Southern schools before the war and then did nursing at Satterlee.  She spent her final years working at St. John’s spending 60 years as a nun and dying at the age of 80.  Born in County Sligo, Sr. Mary Frances was the daughter of an Irish farming family.  The war years prevented her from taking her final vows but it did not stop her from also nursing in Philadelphia.   She too spent decades serving at St. John’s and upon her death her funeral was held at Immaculate Conception church with burial at St. Patrick’s.

Though application for veteran stones were made out for the 3 Sisters in 1928, no veteran markers were ever placed recognizing the service the Sisters gave to their country and their God.  Today’s regulations for a veteran stone demand that a direct descendant must apply for the stone meaning they will not be given the  recognition they deserve.

As usual Walter must be given credit for finding the original requests for markers which started our story.  Photo credit belongs to Daughters of Charity Archives, Province of St Louise.

“A Tale of Two (Hood) Smokestacks…”

This is a cross-post from Dick Howe’s blog.Given the recent lightning strike that hit the iconic Hood stack in Lowell, LHS Board member Eileen Loucraft did some research and made some interesting connections…

A Tale of Two (Hood) Smokestacks

Thanks to Eileen Loucraft for sharing the following about the Hood Smokestack on Thorndike Street that was damaged by lightning over the weekend:

Since the lightning strike in Lowell last night damaging the Hood smokestack on Thorndike Street at the former C.I. Hood patent medicine plant I thought I’d explain the connection with the Hood Milk smokestack in Charlestown, MA.

 

Hood Milk Stack in Charlestown

Harvey Perley Hood was born in Chelsea, Vermont on January 6, 1823. He founded Hood Dairy in Charlestown, MA and expanded throughout New England. The family sold the company some years ago. The Hood Milk smokestack in Charlestown can be seen by all who drive into Boston from Route 93. It is quite noticeable right before the Bunker Hill Monument. New Englanders have been buying Hood dairy products for years (milk, cream, ice cream and Hoodsie cups).

Charles Ira Hood was born in Chelsea, Vermont December 11, 1845. He founded Hood Laboratories and moved to Thorndike street in 1883. He made patent medicines sarsaparilla, tooth powder and lots of advertising.  He also had a large farm in North Tewksbury where he raised award winning Jersey cows. Anyone coming into Lowell via the Lowell Connector and taking the Thorndike Street exit will notice the 100 foot smokestack. He was married and lived on Andover Street but did not have any children.

Seeing that they were both born in Chelsea Vermont seemed to be too big of a coincidence.  Come to find out they are second cousins as their grandfathers are brothers. The Hood family can be traced back to early America and even the Salem witch trials.

Hood’s Medicine Stack in Lowell

 

Hood Stack in Lowell showing lightning damage

Remembering Arthur L. Eno, Jr. ~ Past President of the Lowell Historical Society

This is a cross-post from Register of Deeds Richard Howe’s personal blog. Dick has written his memories of the late Arthur L. Eno, Jr.. They were fellow lawyers although of a different generation and both were past presidents of the Lowell Historical Society – Lou in the mid-70s and Dick in the early 90s. May Lou rest in peace.

Attorney Arthur L. Eno, Jr., 1924 – 2014

Atty Arthur L. Eno Jr. in 1986

Attorney Arthur L. Eno, Jr. – Lou or Louis to most member of the Lowell Bar – was laid to rest today after a classy and dignified committal service at the chapel of St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Chelmsford, an institution he helped create. The priest who performed the service in his eulogy cited Lou’s obituary as “a mine of information” – which it certainly was – and so I urge everyone to read it on the Martin Funeral Home website. I also wanted to share my own thoughts about Lou.

When I became an attorney in 1986, Lou had already had been practicing law in Lowell for nearly 40 years. He was always extremely generous in sharing his expertise in real estate law with lawyers (like me) who would seek it, usually when they had exhausted all other resources. In other words, Lou was the person to whom you turned when you had a real estate law problem you just couldn’t solve. My reticence in turning to him except in time of crisis wasn’t because he was stingy with his time. Quite the contrary: he was unfailingly helpful. You just had a sense that everyone called him so you didn’t want to burden him with your problem until you had nowhere else to turn.

Lou’s reputation as a statewide expert on Massachusetts real estate was corroborated by a book he co-authored.  Back when I was practicing law, most lawyers had in their law libraries an invaluable collection of maroon colored books called The Massachusetts Practice Series, a set of Massachusetts-specific textbooks for lawyers divided by subject area. One of the books (actually it was in two volumes), was Real Estate Law with Forms, Third Edition by Arthur L. Eno, Jr. and William V. Hovey (West Publishing Co., St. Paul, Minn. 1995). The publisher’s promotional material described Real Estate Law as follows:

This work presents a modern comprehensive discussion of the principles of law and their practical application to all essential aspects of real estate transactions in Massachusetts. These Real Estate Law volumes set forth the necessary legal steps that must be taken in varied types of real estate transactions and gives through legal advice on all problems that might arise from both the side of the buyer or seller or lessor or lessee.

When I was elected Register of Deeds in 1994, I was delighted to be able to turn to Lou, one of the foremost authorities in the Commonwealth on Massachusetts Real Estate Law, for advice on operating the registry. Within a few days of me requesting it, Lou provided me with a multipage list of suggestions that might improve the registry. I treated it like a “to do” list and implemented many of his idea early in my tenure. Over the past two decades, countless attorneys and researchers have benefited from that list Lou shared with me back in 1995.

Louis Eno speaking with me at the Registry of Deeds in 1995

I also came to know Lou in his capacity of Lowell Historian. Although our time on the board of the Lowell Historical Society never overlapped, we collaborated on several “Lowell in the Civil War” projects in the late 1980s and always found time to talk about the city’s history any time our paths crossed (often at Barney’s at lunchtime, I seem to recall).  And Cotton Was King, the history of Lowell edited by Lou and published by the Lowell Historical Society in 1976 has always had a prominent place on my bookshelf.  More than anyone except perhaps my dad (Richard P. Howe Sr.), Lou early on inspired me to take on Lowell’s history as a vocation, something for which I will be forever grateful to him.

While we always had a cordial and warm relationship, I wouldn’t say that Lou and I were particularly close. Yet he influenced my life profoundly in two separate areas: real estate law and Lowell history. I suspect there are hundreds of others who could share similar stories. His own accomplishments benefited Lowell directly in countless ways. But when you add in the indirect benefits to the city from untold others like me who were so beneficially influenced by Lou, you have to conclude that Arthur L. Eno Jr.’s contribution to the city of Lowell was immense.

Among the Artifacts: The Wooden Stake

As Lowell Historical Society curator Ryan Owen continues to guide us through the Society’s collection, making things orderly, noting his finds and preparing for new donations, he offers this treasure from the archive – the wooden stake. Of course there’s a story!

From the Curator’s Desk: The Wooden Stake in our Collection

During these last few weeks, we’ve been busy at the Lowell Historical Society. As we near the end of our 2013-2014 year, we had our annual meeting last weekend at Lowell’s Pollard Memorial Library where our society’s Vice President Kim Zunino spoke about some of the fascinating finds she’s encountered in the attic of Lowell’s City Hall. With our new year, we are also welcoming a new member, Kathleen Ralls, to our board.  And, last, but never least, we continue to work feverishly on integrating new collections and artifacts into our archive. Look for more on that soon!

Naturally, as we move into the future, we continue to study the past. And in processing, organizing, and better cataloging our collection, we find some pretty intriguing items.  Take this one, for instance:

This wooden pin was once part of the Central Bridge.

At first glance, it looks like an old wooden stake, rounded, with some fire damage evident at its edges. The stake looks old, feels old, but still retains just a hint of a smoky, burnt wood sort of odor.

But, before you ask. . . No, it’s not one of the last surviving wooden stakes left over from the Victorian vampire epidemic rumored to have hit Lowell in the 1890s. It’s actually a wooden pin retrieved from the ruins of a fire that ravaged Lowell’s Central Bridge on August 5, 1882. Although largely forgotten today, the fire caused quite a stir in Lowell back in those days.

Much better known today as the Bridge Street Bridge, the span connecting Lowell’s Centralville section with its downtown mainly goes unnoticed these days, except for the occasional traffic jam which gets it into the news.  These days, when the cars begin to back up, you can drive your car along the river for a couple of extra minutes, and cross the Merrimack River at the Aiken Street Bridge, or at the Hunts Falls Bridge.

A section of an 1882 atlas showing the vicinity surrounding the Central Bridge, Lowell.

But, when the Central Bridge burnt down on that August night 130 years ago, folks who found themselves on its Dracut side had a real worry. How were they going to get to work?

In a time before vacation days, workers who walked the Central Bridge to earn their bread in Lowell’s mills watched in disbelief as flame consumed the bridge in 1882. The first of them noticed the fire in the quiet of a summer night, just a few hours before sunrise when the first flames were seen at the south end of the Central bridge, the section closest to downtown.

When he saw the flames, he ran and told the nearest policeman, who ran to the nearest fire alarm. The fire brigade came soon after, but their progress wasn’t fast enough to prevent the spread of the fire beneath the bridge. As they made their valiant efforts to put down the fire on top of the bridge, the flames spread nearly half its length underneath.

The men slung the fire hoses across the bridge, and also battled the flames from the nearby Boott mill.  Another hose carriage fought the flames from the Centralville side.  The fire kept advancing, though, and just an hour later, flames were engulfing the entire span of the bridge, and lighting up the night sky.

Central Bridge, 1882

From the downtown end of the bridge, the firemen made one last push to save the structure, climbing into the burning bridge, and trying to put down the fire.  They fought until the end, until the bridge itself failed and fell into the river below, throwing five firemen into the dark waters with it.

– James Halstead, foreman, Hose 4
– Edward Meloy and William Meredith
– William Dana, Steamer 3
– James McCormack, Hose 6

A sixth man, Capt. Cunningham, who had been fighting the flames from the roof of the bridge, caught onto the cross bar of a telephone pole as he fell and clung to it until he was rescued.  All of the men survived, but several sustained injuries.

As the bridge failed, spectators on both sides of the bridge watched a gas pipe explode in a blinding flash as firemen called out to their brethren in the dark waters below. They feared for the men flailing about in the water.  They also feared that the Boott or the Massachusetts mills would be next. They shuddered as their watched the windows of the Boott mills smolder, and then ignite.

During the fire, and the days and weeks following, all speculated on what might have caused it. The going theory was that it had been caused by the sparks thrown off by some machinery used by the Boott mills. Some even came forward to say that they had seen the bridge catch fire a few days before, and that workmen from the mill had put it out.

In the end, though, it didn’t matter. The bridge was a total loss, leaving more than 8,000 Centralville residents cut off from Downtown Lowell and their livelihood.  Those with horses, the wealthier in Centralville, were able to go a few minutes out of their way and enter the city by the Pawtucket bridge, but most of the people who depended on the bridge walked to work.  And they were out of luck.

The only way left across the river appeared to be by boat, which harkened back to the days of Bradley’s Ferry, before the bridge was built.  In the days following the fire, the City Council discussed and approved plans to lay a footbridge across the ruined bridge’s span. It was quickly put into place, and Centralville residents were thankful – even if it didn’t have a cover, which drew a little bit of ire among Centralville residents.  By March of the following year, townspeople were known to remark that the builders of the old bridge knew what they were doing when they made it a covered bridge.

The relics of the old bridge quickly became popular. A January 1883 Lowell Sun article recounted how City Marshal McDonald was presented a ‘finely finished white oak club’ made from the timbers of the old bridge, which had been under water for 54 years.  The novelty of the ruined bridge wore off quickly, though.  Lowellians grew impatient with the builders as the months following the fire wore on. By September 1883 a Lowell Sun writer stated that ‘whoever drew up the contract between the bridge company and the city of Lowell for the bridge’s iron work ought to create a new one, and then tie a handkerchief around his eyes and jump into the river.” The writer went on to say that the delays had hurt Centralville residents and city traders, and that the contract offered the city no recourse in addressing the delays in the construction of the bridge with the builders of the bridge.

In the end, though, the bridge reopened.  It took almost a year, but a new iron bridge reopened in the old wooden bridge’s place.  That bridge stood for over half a century, before being washed away in the Flood of 1936, and replaced by the bridge that still stands today.

Wooden Pin Label, 1882

And that’s the story of the wooden pin in our collection, contributed and tagged so long ago.  (The tag itself is almost as interesting as the pin itself.)  The pin is just one of the items in the collection that we’re currently researching.

Watch here for future updates on other items we find in the collection.

A Celebration ~ Lowell Festival ’81 had a “Victorian Ball”

Here is a cross-post from Dick Howe’s blog bringing the Lowell Historical Society on a trip down memory lane…

History, Lowell

Lowell Festival ’81 had a “Victorian Ball”

Here’s a photo to compliment Paul’s “Lowell Festival ’81″ post.  As part of the celebration that weekend in May, 1981 – the Lowell Historical Society held a “Victorian Ball” in the newly restored Memorial Hall at the Pollard Memorial Library. This photo from my archive shows three handsome young men in “appropriate dress” as requested on the invitation. The photo was taken on the grand stairway leading up to the Hall. Pictured are Bob McLeod (LHS Vice-President) and Lew Karabatsos (a former LHS President) along with my son Billy Sweeney. I was the LHS President at the time. I’ll keep searching for other photos… this one I think was in the Lowell Sun…

Photo: Over on Dick Howe's bog we like our trips down "memory lane"... and fellow blogger Paul Marion has posted a poster touting the "Lowell Festival '81" - a weekend event in May 1981 meant to celebrate Lowell's rebirth. As part of the celebration the Lowell Historical Society held a "Victorian Ball" in the newly restored Memorial Hall at the Pollard Memorial Library. This photo from my archive shows three handsome young men in "appropriate dress" as requested on the invitation. The photo was taken on the grand stairway leading up to the Hall. Pictured are Bob McLeod (LHS Vice-President) and Lew Karabatsos (a former LHS President) along with my son Billy Sweeney. I was the LHS President at the time. I'll keep search for other photos... this one I think was in the Lowell Sun... Please post any you might have of that event. Here the link to Paul's post: http://www.richardhowe.com/2014/03/29/lowell-festival-81-2/

More from Among the Artifacts ~ Remembering Lowell’s Hi-Hat Roll-a-way

 

The Lowell Historical Society’s curator Ryan Owen is on a roll (sorry just had to write that!).  His latest collection “forgotten find” is affectionately called “Hi-Hat Man.” Learn about him and the iconic entertainment venue – Lowell’s Hi Hat Rollaway in Ryan’s “Forgotten New England” post.

March 11, 2014

Among the Artifacts:  Remembering Lowell’s Hi Hat Rollaway

Hi Hat Guy - From the collection of the Lowell Historical Society.  Photo by Author

Hi Hat Guy – From the collection of the Lowell Historical Society. Photo by Author

We call him Hi Hat Guy, at the Lowell Historical Society, after the name of roller skating rink that is lettered across his red tie.  To the modern eye, Hi Hat Guy looks a little like Phil Dunphy, at least at first glance.  He’s the father figure played by Ty Burrell on ABC’s Modern Family.  Hi Hat Guy also looks like a lot of bobble-head dolls – well, except for the fact he’s hand-carved from wood . . . and over 40 years old.  Hi Hat Guy has been sort of a mystery.  According to our accessioning paperwork, he dates from 1969 and was carved by one W.L. Bemis.  He entered our collection in 1994.  Unfortunately, his paperwork doesn’t tell us much more, like who he might have been modeled after, or where he might have once been at the Hi Hat.  So, we’ve made Hi Hat Guy our next artifact to research.  And any research on Hi Hat Guy has to be research into the Hi Hat Rollaway itself.  There are few defunct businesses so iconic to Lowell as the Hi Hat.  Some close rivals that come to mind are the Bon Marché  or Record Lane or maybe even the Giant Store.  But, the best chance to get to the real story behind Hi Hat Guy rests with researching the institution he represents.

Phil Dunphy, from ABC’s Modern Family (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Researching the Hi Hat is a lot like researching the Bon Marché.  The Hi Hat has such a long legacy, stretching some six decades.  Where would one ever find a wooden bobble-head doll in over 60 years of history?  Well, like so many of Lowell’s iconic memories, there’s a Facebook page dedicated to the Hi Hat’s memory.  The folks of the Hi Hat Skating Club Facebook page fondly remember the Hi Hat, and have formed a close-knit community dedicated to reminiscing about the Hi Hat, its history, and its many personalities.  Surely, the story behind our Hi Hat figurine must be captured somewhere in their memories.

The Rochette Years 

Mo Rochette, at the Hi Hat (Photo Credit:  Hi Hat SKating Club Facebook Group)

Mo Rochette, in the rear kitchen of his diner. (Photo Credit: Hi Hat Skating Club Facebook Group)

By 1969, the year Hi Hat Guy was carved, the Hi Hat was owned by Maurice Rochette, or Mo as he is fondly remembered by the Hi Hat skating community on Facebook.  Mo also ran Lowell’s famous Rochette’s diner, and was well-known for the food he prepared.  While hired managers oversaw the roller skating rink, Mo made his signature tomato soups, grilled cheese sandwiches, and lemon meringue pies.  But the most Facebook chatter surrounds memories of Mo behind his snack bar, serving up his french fries, the gravy, and famous Rochette beans.  Mo Rochette was a veteran of the Lowell restaurant scene, going back decades to the WWII years.  It seems, at least in his later years, that Mo was hard of hearing.  Many fondly recall placing their food order only to see Mo lean closer, cup his ear, and ask them to repeat what they had said.

Hi Hat Guy - From the collection of the Lowell Historical Society.  Photo by Author

Hi Hat Guy – From the collection of the Lowell Historical Society. Photo by Author.

So, we went to the Hi Hat skating club on Facebook to see if they could give us the identity of the wooden bobble-head dating from 1969. And, where the trail had run cold on who he might have represented, or where he might once have stood within the Hi Hat, the digital age of social media actually presented its helpful face, allowing us to solve at least part of the mystery.  Not two days after I posted my original question about his identity to the Hi Hat’s Facebook group, we got our answer.  The bobble-head,  held by the Lowell Historical Society for some 20 years, represented none other than Mo Rochette himself, in his younger years.

Even though the bobble head doll may look like Phil Dunphy, the father on ABC’s Modern Family, he actually represents the man behind Rochette’s Diner, and the most recent and last owner of the Hi Hat Rollaway.  But, the bobble head doll also represents, through the white lettered ‘Hi Hat’ prominently painted into his red tie, the Hi Hat itself, its days of roller skating, and something that was lost to the Lowell scene when the rink finally closed around 1990.  To so many, the Hi Hat holds a piece of their youth, and maybe even a window into a different time, perhaps simpler and more peaceful.  One member of the Hi Hat Skating Club Facebook group summarized the sentiment of many in the community with her comment:  ”Young love was everywhere at the Hi-Hat!”

There are many Hi Hat memories posted to the Facebook group, some of first loves, and others of first kisses shared (or stolen) in the booths at the Hi Hat Rollaway.  Today, even though condos occupy the site once held by the Hi Hat, maybe just a little of its memory lives on in the roller-skating figurine carved in the image of Mo Rochette, its last owner.  It so easy to drive by the Hi Hat’s former Princeton Boulevard location without even realizing that it once stood there, for six decades.

Related Articles:

Coming in the next installment of Forgotten New England:

Did you know that the Hi Hat’s history dates all the way back to the days of Prohibition, in the early 1930s?  In its long history, not everyone was a fan of the Hi Hat, or viewed its brand of entertainment as light, safe, respectable fun.  Even a former Lowell mayor complained that she’d never ‘let her daughters set a foot inside’ and mingle with boys who wore untucked shirts with dungarees, and girls who wore short shorts.  

Lowell Sun Interviews Our LHS Curator

Don’t miss the interview in today’s Lowell Sun! Katie Lannan writes about the Lowell Historical  Society’s newly appointed curator Ryan Owen and his charge and goal to wade through the vast collection and fill-in the blanks. The society was formed in 1902 from the 1868 Lowell Resident’s Association. Its collection has been acquired and accumulated since those days. From the ancient mummy’s foot – which former president and longtime board member Pauline Golec says is a “must” for any historical society worth its salt – to the letters, clothing, furniture and mysterious boxes, the collection offers a window into the lives of Lowellians.

A mummified foot, believed to be of Egyptian or South American descent, is one of the oddities on display at the Lowell Historical Society.SUN/Ashley

A mummified foot, believed to be of Egyptian or South American descent, is one of the oddities on display at the Lowell Historical Society. SUN/Ashley Green

Read more here: http://www.lowellsun.com/news/ci_25263232/his-job-is-filling-blanks-lowells-history

Among the Artifacts: The Licensed Newsboy Badge

As the Lowell Historical Society’s Curator – Ryan Owen – continues his work with the Collection, he will report on the oddities and curiosities that one finds in a collection as old and diverse as this Lowell collection. He’d welcome your comments! Here’s his latest find… (originally posted on his own blog “Forgotten New England)

Among the Artifacts:  The Licensed Newsboy Badge

Lowell Licensed Newsboy Badge, ca. 1940. (Photo Credit: Tony Sampas, Archivist, Lowell Historical Society)

Lowell Licensed Newsboy Badge, ca. 1940. (Photo Credit: Tony Sampas, Archivist, Lowell Historical Society)

My fingers first brushed across the small metallic oval a few weeks ago. It was right next to Officer Lee’s Lowell PD badge.  This very different badge was light, too old to be plastic.  I figured it was probably aluminum.   As I slid out the drawer at the Lowell Historical Society’s archive, the flourescent overhead lights flashed across its shiny surface, and caught the lettering of the circle of text within.  It was a licensed newsboy badge. The diaper pin clip on its reverse looked old, ancient, but it was in remarkable shape. And it carried a name that looked quite familiar to the Lowell political scene – Poulios.

A newsboy selling newspapers in Rochester, New York, abt. 1910; (Photo Credit: Lewis Hine, via Library of Congress.)

Having delivered newspapers myself in the eighties and into the nineties, something called a newsboy license and issued by the Lowell School Committee seemed really interesting. By the time the 1980s rolled around, we didn’t need newsboy licenses. But, this badge looked more like something a kid hawking papers on a street corner might have had, as in the “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” variety of newsboy.  Not the type who slipped the paper under your door on some Thursday evening before dinner and the Cosby Show.

This badge, according to the rules published by the Lowell School Committee, was required to be worn by any minors under the age of 14 before they could sell newspapers on any street or public place within the city of Lowell.  And it came with conditions.  Newsboys, for as long as they continued to be licensed, were required to attend ‘every session’  of classes at one of Lowell’s schools, unless properly excused from such attendance.  Newsboys were not allowed to sell, lend, or give the badge to anyone, or to give any of their newspapers to unlicensed minors to sell for them.  The newsboy himself was not allowed to sell newspapers in or near street cars, before six o’clock in the morning or after nine o’clock at night.  Lastly, and clearly visible on the badge, newsboys pledged to exemplify behavior becoming of a young citizen, and were not to smoke, gamble, or do anything to jeopardize their image of good behavior.

This newsboy license looked to be early 20th century to me, and had a name attached to it – Athanasios Poulios.  These things usually make our artifacts easier to research.  And it listed the school that young Poulios attended – the Bartlett.  That was slightly less helpful, since the Bartlett school, named for Lowell’s first mayor, traces its roots in the city to 1856 right up to today.  Athanasios Poulios’ address, at 9 Whiting Street in Lowell, proved valuable too.

The 1940 Census Listing for 9 Whiting Street, Lowell.

Partial 1940 Census Listing for 9 Whiting Street, Lowell.

One good rule of thumb when researching the arts and artifacts of the Lowell Historical Society is ‘never assume anything’.  During 1992 and 1993 – about the time I was delivering the Lowell Sun to homes in the city’s South Lowell district, Tarsy Poulios was mayor.  But, did the badge belong to him?  Without a specific year on the badge, I couldn’t be sure.

Using the address on the badge, 9 Whiting Street, I found the Poulios family living there during the enumeration of the 1940 US census.  With a quick process of elimination across his four brothers, I was able to confirm that Tarsy was a nickname for the ‘Athanasios’ whose name was printed on the front of the badge, and in the census.  I already knew that the badge couldn’t have belonged to one of his sisters since, among the many rules attached to these newsboy licenses by the Lowell School Committee, one specifically stated that ‘licenses shall not be issued to girls, nor to boys under the age of ten years.’

A Lowell Sun photo of Tarsy Poulios from his days with the AMNO in 1977

A Lowell Sun photo of Tarsy Poulios from his days with the AMNO in 1977

All of that dated this newsboy license to the late 1930s or early 1940s, meaning that the badge represents one of Tarsy’s first jobs.  It dated to a time long before his two-year run as Lowell’s mayor in the early 1990s, and before he joined Lowell’s City Council in 1987.  Tarsy wore the badge decades before he even began his political career as a neighborhood activist with the Acre Model Neighborhood Organization, and the Community Development Block Grant Organization before that.

When he died in 2010, Tarsy was recalled as gruff, adept at defending his arguments, and very proud of his roots in the Acre neighborhood (he called it ‘God’s Acre’) and in Lowell’s Greek-American community.  He was elected to City Council on his platform of improving Lowell’s neighborhoods, and had a specific focus on removing abandoned cars from city street, something that Lowell struggled with during the 1970s and 1980s.

A few years after Tarsy was selling newspapers, he graduated with Lowell High School’s class of 1943, and went on to serve his country during World War II when he entered the US Army and saw combat action in Japan, the Philippines and Korea.  He was honorably discharged as a Sergeant in 1946.  When he first came home from the war, he attended an electrical school in Boston, but left when his father died and returned home to Lowell to work in the Merrimack Mills to support his family.  By the time the Merrimack Mills closed in the 1950s, Tarsy had moved on to become a letter carrier, a job he held until he retired in 1984.

Lowell Licensed Newsboy Badge, ca. 1940. (Photo Credit: Tony Sampas, Archivist, Lowell)

Lowell Licensed Newsboy Badge, ca. 1940. (Photo Credit: Tony Sampas, Archivist, Lowell Historical Society)

As Lowell’s mayor in the early 1990s and throughout his career as a public servant before that, Tarsy most enjoyed helping his constituents who he fondly called Joe and Joan Sixpack, whose parents he delivered mail to for over thirty years, and whose grandparents he sold newspapers to, way back in the 1930s, at the very start of his storied career.  His newsboy badge has held up well, in the 85 years or so since he wore it, selling newspapers in the city he would one day lead.  Its vintage-looking clip looks as if it could still hold the badge to someone’s coat.  And its shiny metallic holder looks much more valuable than the 25-cent replacement fee that Tarsy would have had to pay in order to get a duplicate badge, had he lost it all those years ago.

 

Forgotten Finds ~ A Heart Box of Cinders

 

As the Lowell Historical Society’s newly appointed Curator – Ryan Owen – continues his work with the Collection, he will report on the oddities and curiosities that one finds in a collection as old and diverse as this Lowell collection. He’d welcome your comments! Here’s his latest find…

From the Curator’s Desk: Odd Old Things – The Box of Cinders

At the Lowell Historical Society, we sometimes get the question:  ”Hey, what’s the strangest thing you have in your collection?”

That’s a tough question to answer. The Lowell Historical Society has been around for a long time. I’m reminded of this each time I visit our archive. Just this morning, I found a book, one of those old official-looking volumes with the word ‘records’ embossed on its side, that contains minutes from a few decades of our board meetings, starting from 1943.  And then, just next to that, was a stack of correspondence with donors from 1973.  All of this is impeccably preserved.

But the Society’s collection is much older than that.  Its history dates back to its founding in 1868.

That’s a lot of time to collect odd things, that have since become old.

When I stumble upon these, I often think of the question: ‘If you didn’t know to ask for it, how would you ever find it? Or even know it exists?’

This is exactly the case with our Box of Cinders.

The Box of Ashes, from the Collection of the Lowell Historical Society.  Photo by Author

The Box of Cinders, from the Collection of the Lowell Historical Society. Photo by Author

Yes, the cinders, or ashes, are in a heart-shaped box.  As we’re currently in mid-February, I suppose that’s sort of seasonally appropriate.  The note attached to the top of the box, which probably accompanied the donation some ninety-ish years ago, identifies the remains within the box not as . . . some long-lost loved one, but as what one Charles C. Swan, a retired shoe dealer, found on his lawn one Friday morning on June 4, 1926.  The note actually provides a lot of information, which is great.  What’s sadly lacking is some explanation as to why the ashes were put, and kept, in a heart-shaped box, for these last 88 years.  This informational  gap is perhaps one of the greatest tragedies in our collection.  Some questions just don’t have a satisfying answer.

The Box of Ashes - Top, with Explanatory Note

The Box of Cinders – Top, with Explanatory Note, which reads:  ”CINDERS – Found on lawn on 452 East Merrimack St. Friday morning June 4th 1926.  Came from Pollard Fire June 3rd 1926.  Charles C. Swan

Most folks, after finding something on their lawn one morning, probably wouldn’t think of donating it to their local historical society, but Charles C. Swan must have been a bit of a visionary.  And he was the treasurer of the Lowell Historical Society at the time.  So, he understood the significance of historical events when he saw them unfold.

pollard 1944Charles C. Swan probably saw the flames consuming Pollard’s Department Store the afternoon before, maybe from his home a mile away, at 452 East Merrimack Street.  Or maybe he was downtown as the chaos unfolded late that afternoon.  Maybe he saw the firemen arrive, first from the Lowell Fire Department, then from the surrounding towns of Billerica, Chelmsford, and Dracut.  Firemen from as far away as Lawrence came to join in the fight to save one of Lowell’s largest department stores.  No one died, but several firemen were overcome by the billowing smoke or cut by flying glass.  Four hours later, the fire was history.  But, so was Pollard’s Department Store, which traced its roots in Lowell to 1836.  Only its walls remained.  In the eyes of many, including Charles C. Swan, it truly was a Lowell institution, whose loss would be keenly felt.  Mr. Swan probably couldn’t imagine Lowell without it.

Charles C. Swan must have been overcome at that moment, the next morning, when he found a piece of that history on his lawn.  When he picked it up, and held it – maybe even as the smell of the smoke that had consumed Pollard’s still hung in the air.  So, he found a box in his home on East Merrimack, the heart-shaped box, and saved that little bit of history for posterity by donating his find to the Lowell Historical Society.

Merrimack Street - Lowell - in Fall 2011. Pollard's was once housed in the brick building at the immediate right of the photograph.  Photo by Author

Merrimack Street – Lowell – in Fall 2011. Pollard’s was once housed in the brick building at the immediate right of the photograph. Photo by Author

And it worked too.  Those ashes, which otherwise would have likely blown away in the next spring breeze, or melted into his lawn with the next spring rain, way back in June 1926, are still carefully held and preserved by the Society today.  They’ve survived Charles C. Swan, who died a few years later in 1929, and even the great Pollard’s Department Store, which subsequently rebuilt and reopened, but then closed its doors for good in 1969.

Sometimes the most fragile relics are those which survive the longest.

 

St Peter’s Cemetery Part 2: The Little Black Book

This is a cross-post from LowellIrish researched by the Lowell Historical Society’s Genealogist Walter Hickey and Karen Hickey. More of Walter’s sleuthing will be presented on Saturday March 29, 2014 with his program on “Crime and Punishment in 19th Century Lowell”. More details coming.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

St Peter’s Cemetery Part 2: The Little Black Book

This concludes the story of St. Peter’s Cemetery as researched by Walter and Karen Hickey.

There is such a book entitled “St. Peter’s Cemetery”, and we thought this would provide the answer to the locations of the graves. That expectation was relatively short-lived. The book is a record of lot owners.  In addition to the name of the purchaser, it provides the date of purchase, location of the lot, price paid, and sometimes the name or relation of the deceased.  All too often, the name of the decedent is not listed.  Instead, there is simply a notation “Opening grave” and the charge for that.  We are not told for whom the grave was opened.
 In the spreadsheet compiled from this book, there are 365 entries.  Of these only 165 have any notation of who is buried in that grave.  The remaining 200 have no decedent listed.
 Another problem is that the book seems to have been compiled after the fact as the purchases are not in chronological order.  The first burial was that of Edward Connor on 11 Dec 1900.  One would expect that this purchase would be the first listed in the book.  Instead it is listed on page 147 (of 176)
 From his obituary we know that the lot was purchased by his brother-in-law, Charles S. Little, and that this was the first plot sold.
FIRST INTERMENT
Edward C. Connor at rest in St. Peter’s Cemetery
 The first man to buy a lot in the new St. Peter’s Cemetery was Charles S. Little of 59 Boynton street.  The lot he bought was one of the most desirable in the cemetery, 10 feet square, with room for eight graves, and the price was $25.  The first body interred in the new cemetery was buried in this lot on Tuesday.” 11 Dec.]  (SUNDAY TELEGRAM, 12 December 1900; 5:2)
 If it were not for that obituary providing the name of his brother-in-law, Charles S. Little, we would have no way of knowing where Mr. Connor was buried.  The purchase record indicates the lot was purchased on 10 December and opened for Edward C. Connor, the lot being at Section “D”.  #1.
 
 The first purchaser listed is Mrs. Bridget Murphy. Who bought the lot on 20 October 1902.  The first, and only, interment was on 5 March 1907.  There is no name of the decedent.  A check of all Lowell deaths, 1-10 March 1907, showed no one by the name of Murphy.  There were interments in St. Peter’s cemetery but there was nothing in the obituary or funeral notices to indicate any relation to Mrs. Murphy.  It is also quite possible that the person did not die in Lowell.
 
 Also on Page 2, listed below Mrs., Bridget Murphy:
 
James Devaney purchased Lot 24, Sec “B” on St. Cecelia’s Walk on 25 April 1903.
 Like the Murphy record, the record does not tell us for whom the grave was opened.  In this case, however, by looking at the record deaths in Lowell ca. 25 April 1903, we learn that the deceased was Bridget Devaney, nee Morris, daughter of Lawrence Morris and Margaret Carey, who died 24 April and was buried by undertaker Rogers in St. Peter’s Cemetery.
 The next challenge in the tale of this little cemetery will be to determine if we can match those coordinates with existing graves and locations in the present yards.  We can wait for the snow to melt!
 The information contained in the purchase book has been entered into a spreadsheet.  There are two printings.  The first is in alphabetical order and the send in page order.  These, as well as the burial spreadsheets are in the office of St. Patrick’s Cemetery.