Thursday, October 17, 2013

A History Mystery- the O'Brien Monument

O'Brien Monument, circa 1880
There are lots of little mysteries when doing a history of Lowell’s Irish.  Such as, why didn’t Hugh Cummiskey have a headstone?  Or, what happened to the tapestry that hung in the rectory until about a dozen years ago and simply walked away?  Even, what happened to Stephen Castles after he shot a boy on Lowell Street in 1849?  Some answers will never be found.  Others might have their solution with readers of this blog!
Right now I’m trying to figure out what was on the O’Brien monument in front of St. Patrick Church.  Oh, I don’t mean the granite slab that is their today, but the original monument.  When Rev. Timothy O’Brien, the brother of Pastor John O’Brien, passed away in October of 1855 the sense of loss to the community was great.  It was immediately decided to bury Timothy in the front yard of the newly constructed church.  Within a year an upright granite monument was erected over the grave.  Soon Father Timothy was joined by his brother, John, in 1874. The last to be interred under the monument was their nephew, Fr. Michael O’Brien, in 1900. 
The few photos that survive show the monument was a good size.  How were the bodies placed under the monument?  One small reference uses the word “vault.”  Were there stairs leading down?  A tunnel from the basement of the church to the vault?  There are no records to let us know. 
The last photo we have of the monument is from 1946.  It’s a graduation photo.  How many families took First Communion, Confirmation, May Procession, or graduation photos at this same spot?  Yet no others survive.  Our photo shows the obelisk had marble inserts.  There appears to be a Chi Rho symbol and the words Ioannes O’Brien.  The rest of the tablet is filled with unintelligible text.   What did it say?  What did it look like?
At some time around 1956 the monument was taken down.  The pastor at the time, Msgr. Hyder, made the decision believing that its age made it unsafe.  Not all parishioners agreed with him and questioned other motives.  When it was proposed that it be moved or even petitioned of by one parishioner to buy it, they were all refused.  Before anyone knew about it, the monument was ground into rubble and replaced by the current stone.  Those who can recall the monument are fewer than before.  And, so far, no one has added to its story. 
My earliest memory was that the stone was used by newspaper boys to sell the Sun on Sunday mornings after Mass.  They would stack their papers on the stone and stand on it calling out to those leaving the church to get their papers here.  Today few know it is the final resting place of three men who are responsible for much of the story of Lowell’s Irish.  It needs a good cleaning, and there are always plans to do some sort of landscaping or improvements.  Someday.
If you have any info on the O’Brien or have a story to share drop us a line.  We need to hear from you.

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