Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Road Trip 2- St Augustine's Cemetery

Whenever I see a sequel for a movie being promoted, I always tend to shy away from seeing it.  The second time around can never be as good.  So I was a little weary of Road Trip Two to St. Augustine’s Cemetery in South Boston.  You might remember that Dennis Crowley would cart Lowell’s early Irish deceased from Lowell to either Bunker Hill Cemetery or St. Augustine’s so they could be buried in consecrated ground.   Not sure that Mr. Crowley would hit the traffic Walter and I encountered on 93, but he certainly took more than the 90 minutes it took us to get there.

The Cemetery is located in the densely populated section of Boston, known locally as Southie.  The tenements and houses are tight packed.  The tricolor is flown from several porch railings.  Store signs, pubs, and restaurants carry on the Celtic theme.  Much has been written about Southie, good and not so good, but you have to admire the tenacity of the people who have kept the chapel open with a full calendar of weddings, funerals, and weekly masses.

The chapel at St Augustine’s is the oldest Catholic structure in the Archdiocese and probably far beyond.  The burial ground was begun in 1818.  Boston’s City Fathers had finally given permission for the French and Irish Catholics who had immigrated to the city to finally have a burial ground of their own.  Anti-Catholic sentiment was running high and this meant that Catholics had made a permanent mark on the city landscape.  Father Francis Matignon, an immigrant from a rather wealthy family in Paris, was for a time Boston’s only priest and much beloved by the Catholic population.  His dear friend Bishop Cheverus had the chapel constructed in memory of him.
Fr. Mahony's Memorial
The Cemetery and chapel are surrounded by a large ornate metal gate built upon a granite base.  The large gates open to a meticulously groomed area that just a few years ago was overgrown and stones were falling over.  The keepers of the Cemetery have righted stones and cleared paths.  Today, the main gate actually opens to the rear of the chapel.  The stones face in an easterly direction.  There is an old practice that stones face east towards the rising sun, a symbol of the Resurrection.  On the exterior of the chapel wall are the marble stones of Fathers Mahoney, O’Byrne, and O’Flaherty.  Father Byrne was the circuit priest for a large area north of Boston.  He was stationed at St Mary’s in Salem and would make a monthly visit saying Mass at the site across from the Pollard Library today.  It is said people cried when he gave his sermon in Irish.  Father Mahoney was the first pastor assigned to St Patrick’s.  After his service in Lowell, he was assigned to Holy Cross Cathedral.  Father O’Flaherty was the speaker at the dedication of St Patrick’s in July of 1831.  How fitting these three lie side by side after serving together for many years.
Lowell Burial, O'Neil Family
The interior of the chapel has maintained its simple Gothic design and has been lovingly restored by neighbors and friends of the Cemetery.  The altar area has numerous marble slabs dedicated to the many priests who pioneered the beginning the Catholic presence in New England.  One really feels the sense of history and the sense of care and reverence which keeps this site open.  The chapel interior is simple in its wooden altar and tabernacle with small shamrock cut out.  Walter pondered the idea of this chapel very likely being built in a similar style to the original wooden, St. Patrick Church of 1831.  This seems quite possible since the connection between the two places was so close.

Our original intent in visiting St Augustine’s was to identify the graves of Lowell Irish who were interred there before St Patrick Cemetery opened in 1832.  When George O’Dwyer authored Irish Catholic Genesis of Lowell in the 1920s, he included a list of St Augustine internments.  Where he got the list from is uncertain and needs to be researched further. 
Walter w/ McDermott Stone
Most of the stones that are left standing are of marble and slate.  Needless to say the marbles are in deteriorating position.  Time, pollution, and acid rain have done their job.  Some of the iconography is just amazing.  For example we saw a beautiful crucifixion scene done in slate, not seen in other cemeteries.  There was also a slate with an hour glass, symbolic of time fleeing.  This is often seen in Yankee graveyards, but not common with Catholic symbolism.  After spending a good amount of time, we only located 2 names from the Lowell list.  One was especially interesting to Walter who is doing an in-depth study of Fr. McDermott’s family, whose roots are in Boston.

REMINDER- Sunday, March 4, St Patrick Church, 10 am- Mass with readings in Irish and music accompaniment by Aine Minogue, world renown harpist.  Join us after Mass as we parade to City hall to raise the flag and remember those who came before us.  An Irish breakfast is served in the church hall after the parade.  Bring your family.  Bring your friends.  Share your pride.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

An Acre Memory- Celebrating the Saint's Day

Reunion Booklet, 1955
Saint Patrick’s Day is really one of my favorite holidays.  Sure there’s the big three: Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter.  Even Halloween and Valentine’s Day have their good points.  But March 17th is something special.  Once, when landing at Logan, a young business woman who was visiting Boston for the first time, randomly turned to me and asked what it was about St. Patrick’s Day and Americans.  Some might say it’s the search for identity.  Others might say it’s about the craic.  Others might think of it as the Irish form of “Festivus for the rest of us” (a la Seinfeld).  Today my family celebrates far differently than my parent’s time.  My wife and I took a trip down memory lane and reminisced on how the day was celebrated when we were kids in the 1960s.

Growing up when and where I did in Lowell’s Acre almost made St Patrick’s Day a holy day of obligation.  This wasn’t just a religious holy day, it was cultural as well.  Much like Advent prepares us for Christmas or Lent for Easter, once the calendar turned to March, arrangements began.  Certain foods had to be prepared, special songs were rehearsed and every item of green clothing had to be readied.  At Saint Patrick School, the annual reunion show was planned weeks in advance.  The show goes back to the late nineteenth century, if not earlier.  Records show that the Parish would have entertainments of various sorts put on by the different societies, grade school children, and parishioners.  The Parish Archives has copies of programs going back almost 100 years. 
Reunion Booklet, 1920
When I was attending St Patrick’s, about half the class had Irish surnames.  Most of the students were half Irish and half something else, like myself.  A few had no Irish in them, but still were required to sing, “Galway Bay.”  A friend of mine, with whom I am still friends these many decades later, surprised me when I asked if he remembered the old songs.  He confessed that he despised having to wear the green and to this day can’t stand the sound of “Oh the Days of the Kerry Dancing.”  I still do not understand that.

The show was the big event of the season.  The Sisters would walk the entire student body, about 400 kids, from the School to Market Street to Prescott to Merrimack and to the Auditorium.  We walked 2 by 2 the full 2.4 miles.  The show was always at 7 pm on March 16th.  If one can imagine the entire Lowell Memorial Auditorium was completely sold out year after year.  I’m not sure if it is even there today, but behind the maroon curtain and stage was seating for the entire school chorus dressed in white shirts with green ribbons for girls and ties for boys.  The Sisters, wearing a single green ribbon pinned to their habit, stood guard to ensure no shenanigans would besmirch the good name of Saint Patrick School. 

The show began the same each year with the pipes and drums of Clan McPherson Band from Lawrence.  The drum major in his tall bearskin hat would lead the pipers in with his silver baton flashing in the spot light.  The bass drummer wearing the leopard pelt would twirl his drum sticks.  You could feel the vibrations of the drum beats, not only physically, but in your very soul.  The pipers would all lift their pipes and march into the hall playing “Scotland the Brave.”  For you purists, remember we’re all Celts. 
School Children Prepare for Show, 1950s
Singers would sing songs from the auld sod like “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen” or “It’s a Great Day for the Irish.”  The audience would frequently chime right in with the singers, after all these were the songs we were raised on.  Little did most of us know that many of those Bing Crosby favorites were not from the auld sod and were not even written by Irish-Americans.  The genre at the turn of the century was an appeal for Irish type vaudeville music and every musician, no matter the background, penned Irish sounding tunes.  Those became the standards heard in every Irish-American home.  But the music did its job; it joined the crowd into one communal voice.

Part of the entertainment of the night was seeing the first and second graders do a little song and dance on the stage.  What would really tear up Nana and the crowd was that the girls wore little shamrock print skirts with aprons and dust caps.  The boys wore green, silk pantaloons with a cummerbund.  We had to go on stage and act out Mick McGilligan’s Ball.  I remember this well, because I still have my pantaloons.  I stole them.  But my clearest recollection is how silk pantaloons, that were homemade using a loose elastic band to hold them up, can very easily slide down as you dance around a stage.  And, how funny it is to see a 6 year old holding up his silk, green pantaloons in front of hundreds and hundreds of people.  Yes, I’m speaking from experience.

The high point of the evening were the Irish step dancers.  Step dancing had been a tradition at St Pat’s School for decades.  My mother-in-law attended St Pats and took lessons back in the 1920s.  When my time came around, it was common for boys and girls to go to the school hall each Saturday with their ghillies (soft shoes) and brogues (hard shoes) and Jim Madden would put them through their routines.  Jim was a task master, but his mother (from Ireland) was a bit more brutal.  When my own kids took part in competitions, at their first feis (competition) who was there but Jim Madden, a bit older, but still with perfect posture.  The crowd at the auditorium always listened to see if the girls made their clicks with their hard shoes.  Their green dresses with simple gold braiding seem plain compared to today’s outfits.  (One of my daughter’s dresses cost $1500 and had to be imported from Ireland.)  At that time, dancers could wear their medals won at feisana (competitions) and to see the medals all lift and fall to the beat of the music was part of the thrill.
Brenda in Step Dance Costume on Suffolk Street
At the end of the evening the pastor would always walk out and declared the news every school child had been waiting to hear- there would be no school the next day.  That did not mean you could sleep in the next morning.  Mass was at 9 am, not just Mass, but Solemn High Mass.  The celebrant wore the gold cope with the embroidered image of Patrick on the back.  The opening song was “Hail Glorious Apostle Selected by God” and the closing would be “Hail Glorious St Patrick, Dear Saint of Our Isle.”  Every seat in the church was filled.  It was like Christmas when folks you hadn’t seen all year would show up.  They were coming home.

And then there was the feast, or so some say.  Personally I can’t stand corned beef.  I want to be very careful here when we talk about corned beef.  Every Irish American talks about the sainted grandmother’s recipe for corned beef and cabbage she carried off the boat from Ireland.  The debate about this can cause whole families to stop speaking to each other.  Corned beef is not the most traditional of dishes in Ireland.  At the time of our ancestors beef was pretty expensive.  When they came to America beef was more accessible and corned beef fit right into their price range.  So maybe Nana’s recipe isn’t so Irish.  In my house, corned beef was served but it was more likely to be a boiled ham shoulder with cabbage, turnips, and boiled potatoes.  Hey the Irish have great humor, literature, music, and poetry.  No one ever said they had haute cuisine.  Then there’s the debate over soda bread.  With caraway seeds or without?  With raisins or currants?  Let’s not forget the green beer too.  To round off this Irish meal, my French mother would make cupcakes with green frosting, and then remind me that St Joseph Day was only 2 days away. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Grand St. Patrick’s Day Parade – 1904

Edison Film, 1904

Each year after the opening Mass for Irish Cultural Week a few hardy souls brave the usually, frigid, often snowy, frequently windy weather that March throws at us and parade down Suffolk Street to Merrimac Street to City Hall.  The procession is made up of members of the AOH and LAOH, members of St. Patrick’s Parish, representatives from the Lowell Police and Fire Departments, and some folks who wish to preserve the Irish tradition.  At City Hall, speeches are made, anthems are sung, and the Irish and American flags are raised.  As the years pass it seems the numbers have decreased.  What many don’t realize is that they are carrying on what their ancestors began over 175 years ago in Lowell.  After their arrival in 1822, it did not take long before the Irish began celebrating their patron’s feast day. 

As the numbers increased so did the festivities, even causing problems in the mills with Irish taking unpaid leave to celebrate with Mass, entertainments, and toasts reaching far into the night.  The day was almost considered a holy day of obligation with every Catholic church having special liturgies.  Of course Saint Patrick’s, being the mother Church, would be filled with parishioners and those who returned to the family roots.  Mentioned is made in accounts through the 19th century of parades being formed and later more formal processions with bands and social groups being formed.  The mother of all these parades was held in 1904.  Days before the newspapers built excitement with posting of the routes and the many organizations that were to take part.  Court was even closed early so all could be part of the day.  Individual citizens and groups took it upon themselves to decorate street signs, store fronts, and homes with bunting and cloth flowers.
Edison Film, 1904

We’re uniquely fortunate that there is actually moving film of the parade itself.  (The Library of Congress has preserved the film at American Memory http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKzcjKDgxHY )  Thomas Alva Edison had begun sending crews around to record American events.  The clip is only 3 minutes long, but says so much.  The parade began by St. Michael’s Church down by the mills, hooking onto Suffolk to Broadway to City hall, to Merrimack, to Central, to Sacred Heart Church.  There were over 1500 marchers.  The city’s fire alarm sounded once to let the citizens who thronged the streets know the marchers were on their way.  The City police forces led the way many of them on horseback with the horses festooned with green carnations.  It was also noted the numbers of bouquets that were carried by many of the marchers, the city had not seen so many flowers before.  The officials of the parade rode in carriages.  Three full divisions followed the marshals.  Division after division of Hibernians from Nashua, Lawrence, Haverhill, and Chelmsford made up the first division.  Bands and fife and drum corps played patriotic and Irish airs.    “The Harp That Once Thru Tara’s halls” was a favorite of the crowd.  Drum majors threw their batons in the air stirring the crowd.  Military and veteran groups marched in formation dressed in full uniforms and carrying rifles.  Mr. McEvoy’s jaunting cart, direct from Ireland, was a must see.  The oldest Irish organization in the city, the Irish Benevolent Society, marched proudly as they had since the first parades in the 1840s. 
Edison Film, 1904

Saint Patrick’s Church’s fire in January of that year necessitated a move to Sacred Heart Church where everyone gathered for Mass following the parade.  (Die-hard parishioners still gathered in the basement of the church to carry on the tradition that began since the first Irish arrived.)  Following Mass, marchers and spectators alike filled every hall and tavern in the city to sing their songs and recite the deeds of their ancestors.  They promised themselves that the tradition would continue year after year.

When I read the account from 1904, I thought of how Lowell celebrates the Saint’s day today and how our culture will continue.  I recalled last year’s flag raising and the hearty souls who showed up.  I imagine what it was like 100 years ago and ask myself what our ancestors would say of us. 

This year’s flag raising will follow the 10 am Mass at Saint Patrick Church on Sunday, March 3rd..  We’ll march to City hall flying the flags of the U. S. and Ireland.  We’ll sing the anthems and raise the flags.  Then we’ll bow our heads and remember those who came before us. Please join us.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Join us on March 13th and March 17th

Digging Up Lowell's Irish Past

Date: Tuesday, March 13th
Time: 7 pm
Place: Lowell National Park Visitor's Cntr.
            Merrimack Street, Lowell, MA

The archaeological dig that has taken place for the past 2 summers on the grounds of Saint Patrick Church has brought forth new research regarding the early Irish pioneers that settled the Acre.  Walter Hickey from the Natl Archives and Dave McKean from St Patrick Parish will share the fascinating facts that have come to light.  Learn of the shanty that once stood on Suffolk Street, find out about life on the paddy Camps, and revisit Hugh Cumiskey's home back in County Tyrone.

Walking Tour of the Acre

Date: Saturday, March 17th
Time: 10 am
Place: Lowell Nat'l Park Visitor Cntr.
           Merrimack Street, Lowell, MA

Take a walk through history and find out about Lowell's Irish routes.  Join Dave McKean of St. Patrick Parish as we walk the sites of those first Irish immigrants.  Visit where the original paddy camps were located and tour historic Saint Patrick Church.  Tour lasts about an hour and wear your walking shoes.

Friday, February 10, 2012

His Honor Jeremiah Crowley

The newspapers said it was probably the largest funeral the city had seen to date (1901).  The lines outside the family home on Mt. Washington Street had not ceased since the news of his passing.  His suffering had been long, four or five years some said. The cause was listed as Bright’s disease.  Police officers were called to help with the crowds making their way to Saint Patrick’s Church for the funeral.  The church was filled to capacity, clearly over a thousand mourners.  The many societies to which he belonged filled the places of honor along the main aisle.  His fellow politicians with whom he served for decades sat in front.  In the sanctuary over 20 clergy members sat waiting for the requiem to begin.  The Bishop of Mobile, Alabama sat upon his throne.  The 60 choir members prepared to chant the De Profundis as the casket was borne up the steps of the same church his parents brought him to be baptized 69 years before.  Due to the crowds, the funeral began late.  Finally, his nephews carried his remains up the aisle and place the flag draped casket with a spray of flowers on the catafalque.

Following the quartet singing “Nearer My God to Thee, “ the remains of the Honorable Jeremiah Crowley were brought to the Catholic Burial Ground.  The plot chosen was right up front near the new entrance, next to the Office.  The floral tributes were a sight to be seen.  His fellow brothers from the AOH had sent an arch over 4 feet high with clasped hands.  The police sent one about 6 feet high labeled, “Our Friend.”  When Fr. McHugh said the last prayer, the undertaker took the time to arrange the remaining flowers.  The September sun began lowering in the sky. 

Jeremiah Crowley was the ideal of the American success story.  Born of immigrant parents, educated in public school, serving his country during the Civil War, passing the Bar, becoming politically active and rising to the office of Mayor, Crowley represented what America had to offer.

This week’s guest blogger is Eileen Loucraft.  Her work with the recent census of Civil War burials in St. Patrick Cemetery greatly helped with identifying veteran burials.  She maintains her own blog- Lowell Doughboys http://loucraft.blogspot.com/  Here is her entry-

Jeremiah Crowley was one of the early successful Irish politicians in Lowell. Not that he won every election but boy did he run a lot!

He was born January 12, 1932 in Lowell to Dennis and Mary Connelly Crowley, one of the earliest Irish families. At the age of 13 he left school and worked for the Lawrence Manufacturing Corporation. In 1860 he entered the law office of his cousin, Timothy A. Crowley as a law student. In April of 1861 he answered Lincoln’s call to defend Washington and joined the Massachusetts 6th for three months. He tried to re-enlist but was rejected due to a leg injury. He worked during the Civil War at the Watertown Arsenal until Lincoln was assassinated.

After the war he worked in the law office of John F. McEvoy, Esq. where he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1868. A long record of public service as a democrat followed. He was on the Board of Alderman 1873, 1874, 1877, 1878, 1884, 1886, 1893, 1896 and was chairman 1874, 1877 and 1886. He was a State Senator in 1881. His most notable service was Mayor of Lowell in 1899 and 1900.

For many years he was indentified with the cause of temperance. He was a true believer in total abstinence. He was President of the Ernina Temperance Society, Matthew Temperance Institute, Archdiocesan Temperance Union and the Lowell Reform Club.

He was a member of the Lowell Irish Benevolent Society, Ancient Order of Hibernians, Young Men’s Catholic Library Association, Post 42 G.A.R., Knights of Columbus, Franklin Literary Association, Martin Luthers, former President of the Irish Land League and Lowell Trust Company.

He died September 22, 1901 at his home, 52 Mount Washington Street in the Acre of Bright’s disease. He died surrounded by his second wife, Johanna Lyons Crowley and his adopted son Robert. His first wife Kate Dorris predeceased him. An elaborate funeral that was largely attended was held at St. Patrick’s Church. His eight pall bearers were all nephews Sergt. John H. Crowley and Daniel Crowley of Lowell; James T. O’Hearn, Fred Crowley, Lorenzo Crowley, Charles Crowley, all of Boston; and James B. and Timothy A. Crowley of Nashua, NH. Burial was at St. Patrick’s Cemetery.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Every Picture Tells a Story

St. Patrick Church, stereoview

Oops, I meant to add this to the previous blog entry.  Mea culpa.

Sometimes when folks think about donating a photograph, they just toss it in the trash believing it has no historical significance.  Take a look at the stereoview.  Walt and I sat at my kitchen table with magnifying glasses (I know, we're old school.) noting details that might not seem important at first glance.  Notice the rectory with the Mansard style roof.  That is not the current rectory telling us the photo is pre1925 when the current rectory was built.  Then notice the roof of the church, no clerestory windows.  Aha, this was before the 1904 fire!  Look a little closer.  The fence is part granite and part iron.  There were small remnants of this left through the 1960s, but no one has ever seen how the fence originally looked.  Now we know. The Working Girls Home is not there.  Hmmm, before 1890s then.  Here's the kicker, the brick wall that the Sisters of Notre Dame had around the grounds is missing.  Walter also noticed, because of his personal memories going back decades, that the chapel is not there. 

Because of the Archives, we have a copy of the Sisters Journals going back to 1852.  Your trusty blogger has read it through several dozen times (I know, how boring), but I recalled an entry about the wall.  The Journal of the Sisters mostly said how many rosaries were recited and the number of students in the school.  From time to time little vignettes of convent life were brought to light.  In 1876 the Sisters said that a plan was being made to take down the wooden chapel and build a brick one.  (The one that Walter recalled.)  Another entry says that in 1881 a brick wall around the convent was near completion.  Prior to this time the Sisters sat with the congregation, but the Superior had just ordered the Sisters to become semi-cloistered and remove themselves by building a wall and attending Mass behind doors, away from the public.  So we have narrowed the dates of the stereocard to between 1876-1881. 

There's more to see as well.  The trees on the front lawn.  No one knew those existed.  Also take a look at the canal rubble along the Western Canal, interesting and worth more investigating.  So those pictures you think have no value, think again.  Let the history detectives take a look.  Hey, maybe Walt and I can have our own program.  PBS watch out.

Take a look at your own photos.  No date?  Is there a calendar on the wall?  A magazine cover?  The Name of a movie on a billboard?  Don't know where it was taken?  Look at the buildings in back.  Is there a street sign?  Store sign?  If you watch CSI, you probably have a bit of Sherlock Holmes in you.  It's all elementary, Watson.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Archives of Saint Patrick Parish

St. Patrick Church, ca 1880
Decades ago when I was a mere youth, St. Pat’s celebrated its 150th anniversary.  At the time I was teaching in the parish school.  Committees were formed for social, religious, and historical events.  On a Saturday afternoon the school hall had a reunion of former parishioners and a small photo exhibit.  Out of curiosity I took a walk over and that was the beginning of a small worm that began crawling around inside my head.
There spread out on cafeteria tables were photos, certificates, ribbons, and booklets.  It was a time line of the one hundred fifty years of the people who made up Saint Patrick’s.  It was the first time many of these object had been exhibited.  Almost all were private possessions from families who could trace their beginnings to the Acre.  When the gathering was over the items were returned to their owners and some into the refuse pile (from which I dove in to rescue items).  Little importance was placed on preservation.
Saint Pat’s is proud of its position of being the oldest Catholic Church in the city and the Merrimack Valley.  It is also one of the oldest in the Archdiocese and New England.  With this proud pedigree one wonders why there was never a collection that would tell the story of what happened here.  But there wasn’t.  Why?  Probably the best answer is that Saint Pat’s in its entire history is a working class parish.  The goal was to support and serve the people who were arriving and settling in the Acre.  History was secondary.
I’ve read time and again of important historical works becoming missing from museums and major universities only to turn up in some historian’s home.  There’s a little switch in some academics where they feel they must protect the item and steal it.  I must admit the little devil sitting on my shoulder as I was viewing the exhibit was saying, “Take it.  It’s ok.”  Catholic guilt kept me from committing theft, but I knew something had to be done.
Soon after, we started the Archives of St Patrick Parish.  We now have hundreds of photos, booklets, and all types of artifacts that have been collected over the years.  Most have been donated by families who want to see the items preserved.  Too often I hear of items being discarded by family members who don’t recognize their significance.  Then there are items I wish I could find.  Parish records speak of a portrait of Father James McDermott, now lost to time.  Then there’s Father O’Brien’s vestment collection that was imported from Europe and saved from the fire of 1904.  The reliquaries, monstrance, and tapestry that were given to the church and mentioned frequently in documents have not been seen in decades.
Our most recent acquisition actually came from Ebay!  The Archives now has a stereo card of the church from the late 1870s or early 1880s.  This makes it the oldest known photo of the church.  A stereo card was a photo taken with a special device and 2 pictures were placed side by side.  When viewed with a mechanism it gave a 3-D effect to the viewer, much like your View Master when you were young.  It is a real find and gives us insight into the neighborhood almost 150 years ago. 
I know that many of you out there have your roots in the Acre and St. Pats.  That photo of Grandpa might be more than just that.  It might show us the houses and layout of Adams St.  The ribbon you kept from Nana with the medal of Mary might be a “premium” given out by the Sisters.  You never know.  Look around.  Drop us a line.  Save some history.