Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Road to Emmitsburg

The road to Emmitsburg is the iconic pastoral scene.  The road begins at Gettysburg center and continues into Maryland.  The white painted fences separate the wheat fields, orchards and farmlands that make up the panorama before you.  The low hills that rise and fall paint a scene straight out of an artist’s sketchbook.  The white framed farmhouses with their bright red barns stand as reminders to the area’s agrarian past.  This is also the road where much of the fighting and dying occurred on three days of July, 1863.  It was the job of the 16th Mass Infantry to defend the Emmetsburg Road. 

James and Jane Roche and their 6 children probably left Ireland about the time of the famine and found employment and housing in Lowell.  When their son, David, was old enough he got a job as an operative in the mills.  The family lived on Suffolk Street and seems probable that their life resembled that of the many thousands of other Irish living in the Acre.  When the call came up for volunteers after the Riots in Baltimore, David Roche, like many Irish, signed up, and was given the commission of Lieutenant.  Before the 16th Mass left Lowell, they attended Mass at St Patrick’s Church and marched to the trains that would carry them to war. 

The 16th Mass had a full record of encounters in the early years of the war.  As 1863 dawned, now Cpt. David Roche, was given a furlough and traveled to Lowell to marry his sweetheart, Margaret Harrington, before returning to the war.  The 16th had just finished the battle at Chancellorsville when they were ordered to Gettysburg.  By day 2 of the battle it was apparent Lee was going to try to take the road.   It is said that the artillery the two forces engaged could be heard all the way to Washington.  It wouldn’t be until 8 days later that Roche’s family would be notified that their son was shot in the head during the fighting.  Cpt. Matthew Donovan, anther Lowell Irish who enlisted into the 16th, made sure that his comrade’s body was quickly buried under a tree and a marker placed for future identification.  Back in Lowell, James Roche, David’s father, hired Alonzo Quimby, a local painter, to retrieve his son’s body.  Bringing the wounded and dead back to their homes became a new business as was advertised in many newspapers.  Ads also began appearing in the Lowell Courier for women’s black woolen shawls.  The ads noted how the capes were in great demand and supplies were being replenished as quickly as possible.  The young widow may have taken advantage of the sale.
16th Mass Monument on Emmitsburg Road
Mr. Quimby’s mission was successfully accomplished, and a full military funeral was carried out at St Patrick’s Church.  “The services were very appropriate and interesting.”  The procession was lengthy with several military companies represented as well as City officials.  It would be remiss not to state that the Courier was filled with such sad stories on a daily basis recounting the deeds “of the brave soldiers who sleep their last sleep.”  Such accounts went on for the entirety of the war.

Standing by the monument, taking a photo for this entry, I noted a small grove of trees and wondered if this was where Cpt. Roche was hastily interred.  The only sound that could be heard was the wind through the tall grasses.  The tranquility of the Emmitsburg’s Road today masks the horrors of 150 years ago.
Crowley & Roche Monuments at St Patrick Cemetery

Sunday, April 22, 2012

On Location - Gettysburg

One Who Did Not Come Home

2nd Mass Monument at Gettysburg
He was his mother’s only son.  Maybe Patrick was the reason why the family came to America.  They likely emigrated from Ireland about the time of the famine.  Thomas Hoey, his wife Ann, and their three children came to Lowell.  By 1855 Thomas lists himself as a laborer with the future looking hopeful.  Ann dies about 1859.  Then the war began.  The mills closed, and jobs were lost, including Patrick Hoey’s job as carder in the mill.  Maybe this is what drove Patrick to enlist in the 2nd Mass.  Or maybe it was what all the other young men were doing in Lowell after hearing of the Riot in Baltimore and what happened to the 6th Mass and the boys from Lowell.  He participated in the Battle of Antietam and was promoted to Corporal.
Patrick Hoey's Grave at Gettysburg
In July of 1863 the 2nd Mass found themselves in Pennsylvania in the little town of Gettysburg.  On the second day of fighting the 2nd Mass found themselves at Spangler’s Spring.  Some say the opposing forces spent the evening sitting by the spring exchanging stories while filling their canteens.  But the next morning the slaughter began.  On the rocky ledges of the spring the 2nd Mass was engaged and overpowered.  Twenty year old Patrick Hoey fell.  Only 13 of the 35 soldiers under Cpt. Francis’ command escaped unhurt.  Many of the Lowell boys were among the casualties.  Patrick would not be returning home.  His remains were put in a hasty grave and days later exhumed to be interred in the new National Cemetery to be dedicated by President Lincoln.  Today he is in Section 19, Row B, Number 14.
Spangler's Spring at Gettysburg
I’ve been to Gettysburg a dozen times before, but never with the connection that I have now.  It is one thing to read about the Civil War and collect a bunch of facts.  It’s quite another to put names and families with the thousand of stones that surround you.  To visit the spot where he fell, and to see where he now rests is just a little honor to the sacrifice he and so many others made. 

As usual many thanks to Walter for doing the research while I get to walk the battlefield.  Slowly, but surely, the story of Lowell’s Irish is being recorded for those who will follow us.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Working Girls Home

St Patrick Calendar Magazine, 1899
Who knows how many tens of thousands left the homes of their mothers and fathers and made their way to the mill cities of New England?   During Lowell’s Golden Age, company housing was provided for the single women.  Their boarding house had strict regulations and was overseen by a matron who was there to ensure that the corporation’s reputation remained intact.  Lowell was not about to become another Manchester, England.

As the decades passed and more mill towns began sprouting up, the utopian ideal of the perfect mill town began to fade away.  That did not stop the number of females who made their way from foreign lands and small farms seeking mill jobs in the big cities.  But what would happen to them without the boarding house and matrons?  The newspapers were filled with horror stories of young girls coming to the city and being lost in the potential dangers with which they were confronted.

The solution was the Working Girls Home.  In the latter half of the 19th century, religious institutions, social organizations, and some individual philanthropists began finding homes where girls new to the city could find housing and where a clean bed, good meals, and a safe environment would help with the transition.  Lowell was no exception.  As the corporation boarding houses closed one after another, the need for such a home became evident.

In 1896 the priests of the St. Patrick parish took it upon themselves to purchase the property next to the church on Cross Street.  It was the old Moran’s Yard and everyone in the neighborhood knew what went on there at all hours of the night.   The architect was none other than the famed, Patrick Keely, the same architect as the church.  The four story brick structure would have granite window sills and doorways.  The 50 rooms would allow light to fill the building and make it an inviting home to those in need.  

The financial undertaking was massive.  The ladies of the parish sponsored a bazaar to help defray the cost.  The event went on nightly for two weeks and was held at the American House.  The grand prize was a diamond stick pin.  Other awards included a barrel of flour, a lemonade set, a print of St. Cecelia, “and a handsome writing desk.”  There was no grand opening to note, but the house filled up quickly.  Fifteen young ladies were the first guests.  It was decided it would be open to women of all faiths and would include those too old to care for themselves.  Even three years later, the Parish was still paying off the debt.  That is when Fr. Michael O’Brien gave a personal purse of $40,000 towards the mortgage.  This was money given to him in honor of his ordination anniversary.  It’s interesting to note that for many years the Fathers O’Brien would routinely make trips back to Ireland and bring back friends and family to find jobs in Lowell, some of whom would make the Working Girls Home their first home.

The Franciscan Sisters of Allegany were put in charge of the home.  They oversaw the physical and spiritual needs of the girls and took gentle care of the aged and infirm.  The girls paid a small stipend of what their take home pay would be.  Those who could not afford it paid nothing.  As the years passed, fewer and fewer young women saw the need for such a facility.  Eventually the home became “the old ladies home.”  By 1967 the building was showing its age.  Newer facilities were opening.  The government was providing better resources and there were fewer vocations to those who would give their lives serving the aged.  The building closed and remained empty until it was torn down around 1970.
A Franciscan Sister of Allegany
A personal note.  The Working Girls Home was where we’d run between the alley ways after school.  As we walked by we’d sneak a look into the wooden paneled and ceramic tiled foyer.  The Parish helped support the home for many years, but the Sisters who ran the home would annually go door to door seeking donations to support their mission of serving the poor and infirm.  I know this because each year for many years they would knock on our door on Broadway Street before beginning their rounds.  How it started I don’t know, but our home was their first stop.  It seemed they always chose the hottest day of the year to do their begging.  There would be a knock on the door, and they’d walk into our kitchen.  They would be carrying heavy, leather briefcases filled with their little religious magazine.  Our house was their rendezvous point.  There were always two of them, the Superior and a younger nun.  Throughout the day they would come back to the house to replenish their magazine supply.  The annual subscription was $3.  They would return to our tenement about 3 pm and wait for my father to return home so he could drive them back to the Home on Cross Street.  They would sit in the kitchen in the full Franciscan habit in the summer heat.  A white hanky would appear from a hidden pocket and wipe her face.  My mother would offer ice tea, but the Sisters only would drink water.  The older nun had a very heavy Irish accent.  I always wanted to ask where she was from, or why she was here, but my parents knew enough not to ask a nun about her life before receiving the habit.  The older Sister had a young face, but her hands were reddened and knuckles swollen.  She would sit there in the kitchen under the multiple layers of her habit with those heavy black shoes that had walked how many miles that day.  The younger Sister never said much, just sat their quietly waiting to go home.  The Sister would then collect the $3 from my mother, and in typical nun style, would ask if she wanted to make an extra donation. 
Right at four my father would come home for the half hour he had to eat supper before leaving for job number 2.  He’d see the nuns and immediately put out his cigarette.  The Superior would declare that they were ready to be driven home.  My father would cast a sideways glance to my mother, and my mother would return with a silent nod.  There was no escape.  The Superior would then announce, “The boy will come with us.”  Later I would learn the Sisters could not be alone in a car with a man.  The nuns would gather their goods, the older Sister holding tightly to her little purse filled with one dollar bills. The Sisters would say their goodbyes to my mother and assure her of their prayers.   In the car, the radio would be turned off for the drive.  Once again they’d tell my father that a place in heaven was made for him.  Then they would enter the aging brick building probably to work the night shift.  I often wondered why they did what they did.  Each month the little magazine appeared at our door; then they stopped.  There was no more Working Girls Home, and the Sisters went on to their next mission. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Easter - 1896

Today's season of Lent varies greatly from a century ago.  At that time the mandatory dietary restrictions were far more severe.  There was abstinence from meat on Wednesdays as well as Fridays. and even included eggs and butter.  Marriages could not be performed.  Many parishes had extended parish missions which required the faithful to often walk through ice and snow to keep their Lenten promises.  On Holy Thursday was the visitation of the 7 churches.  Secretly each competed with its neighbor to who could have the most candles and flowers.  On Good Friday were the 3 hours of silence from noon until 3.  At the Exaltation of the Cross service the clergy would walk in barefoot and lie prostrate on the altar area.  Early on Holy Saturday was the blessing of the Easter water.  Crowds would line up to bring the water home to bless their houses.  The churches would close after the Saturday morning service, and at St Patrick's the Sisters of Notre Dame were in charge of decorating the church.  This practice stopped when the Sisters became semi-cloistered.  The job was taken over by the young ladies of the parish.  But Easter is the major Christian feast, and on Easter the Church calls us to share in the Resurrection story through song, liturgy, and the beauty of Creation. 

Taken from the Lowell Sun, 1896

The principal Easter service at St. Patrick's church yesterday was indeed grand and impressive. At every mass the church was crowded but at the celebration of the solemn high mass the attendance taxed the seating capacity of the magnificent edifice. At 10.30 sixty sanctuary boys gowned in cassocks of black and white surplices emerged from the vestry to the main altar preceding the priests dressed in their vestments of gold and yellow.
From the white marble altars sparkled hundreds of lighted candles while the sweet fragrance of flowers which decked the altars, permeated the church. The celebrant of the mass was Rev. Fr. Leonard with Rev. Fr. Burke deacon, Rev. Fr. Gleason, sub-deacon and John J. Sullivan master of ceremonies. The venerable pastor, Rev. Michael O'Brien, occupied a seat in the sanctuary.
The sermon was preached by Rev. Fr. Burke. The musical portion of the service was under the direction of E. P. Faulkner, and nothing equal to it has ever been heard at St. Patrick's. A choir of 60 voices, accompanied by Hibbard's orchestra and Mr. M. J. Johnson, organist, rendered the mass with the utmost precision. Every solo was sustained in excellent style, and the difficult portion of the mass was handled in a masterly manner by the grand concert.
At the evening service the altar was one perfect blaze of lights. The incandescent effects were grand. Over the main altar extended strings of numerous incandescents in semi-circular shape, formed a brilliant arch over the altar.