Friday, May 31, 2013

The Costello Monument at St Patrick Cemetery

There is a sort of timeline that runs through St. Patrick Cemetery.  It begins with Yards 1 & 2 that run along Old English Cemetery.  The slate stones gradually end as more marble stones appear as one enters Yard 3.  By the end of the 1800s Yards, 4, 5, and 6 were added and the marbles turned to granite.  With the advent of technology and the rise in the economic status of the growing Irish population, the stones became more elaborate.  The simple slate stones with names and dates are often forgotten in the shadow of what is erected in the office area.  These stones too have their stories to tell.  While the slate stones are often stories of hardship and leaving home, the grander monuments tell of financial and social success.
Many folks who drive by Gorham Street cast an eye as they pass to take a look at one of the most prominent monuments in the cemetery, that of the Costello family.  The story of the monument is just as fascinating as the story of the family who built it. The following is a post written by Kim Zinino from the Lowell Historic Board and fellow gravestone enthusiast.
One of the most fascinating structures in the St. Patrick’s Cemetery is the Costello Chapel. This chapel was commissioned by prominent businessman Thomas F. Costello around 1905. With a very successful plumbing fixture business in Lowell, he had the chapel built for his son, Rev. Fr. George A. Costello, who served as the pastor of St. Bridget’s Roman Catholic Church in Lexington until his death in 1915. Thomas Costello passed away in early 1906.
Often mistaken for a mausoleum, the chapel was designed for performing Mass and the only burials are in the Costello family plot in front of the structure. Designed by the prominent Swiss-American ecclesiastical architect Franz Joseph Untersee, the classically designed chapel was built of stone from the Vermont Marble Company of Proctor, Vermont. The structure has bronze entry gates and a painted copper roof. The interior of the chapel has had some conservation issues, as the marble-covered walls have been failing and pieces have been falling onto the altar and floor of the chapel.
What makes this chapel so amazing is that it one of only a handful of Guastavino domes left in Massachusetts. Rafael Guastavino was a successful architect and builder in Spain when he immigrated to America in 1881 with his young son, Rafael Jr. In 1885 Guastavino Sr. patented a type of structural tiling in the U.S. called the “Tile Arch System”, in which interlocking terra cotta tiles and layers of Portland cement combined to create self-supporting arches and domes. The Guastavino Fireproof Company was founded in 1889 and was responsible for designing the tile ceilings of many historic landmarks, including the Boston Public Library, two Vanderbilt family estates, and the ceiling of the Registry Hall on Ellis Island. They are also responsible for designing dome at the Grace Universalist Church (1896) in Lowell, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Memorial Day and St Patrick Cemetery

St. Bridget Chapel
Tomorrow morning my wife and I will drive into Lowell to make our annual pilgrimage to the cemetery.  Memorial Day had a different meaning when I was younger.  In the morning we would usually walk from our tenement on Broadway to Merrimack Street to watch the parade.   World War II was still fresh in many people’s minds, and veterans would stand at attention and salute as each flag passed.  Rows upon rows of soldiers marched in formation, and the vibrations from the bass drums could be felt as the bands passed by.  The afternoon would mean a drive out to the cemetery. 

My father’s parents were buried in the flats section of St. Pat’s near the back gate.  Most of the year, it looks a little sad.  There is little if any landscaping and many of the stones have been overgrown with sod and grass clippings.  I always thought of this area as the workers’ section; those who spent their lives in the mills and factories and could not afford the grand marble or sculpted granite crosses.  But on this one weekend of the year, many if not most of this section would become a field of red geraniums and potted plants.  All along Gorham Street were flower stands where vendors would charge what they could to those who wished to say their dead, “We remember.”  Every now and then, a small American flag would be stuck in the ground to mark the grave of those who served their country.   My mother’s side of the family, being French, was buried at St. Joseph’s Cemetery (Cimetiere St. Joseph).  Each year we cleaned the marble marker.  I would walk around trying to translate the French inscriptions, and ask my mother what each meant.   We would light candles at home or at church to remember those who went before us; a practice my wife and I continue.
Today there are far fewer visitors on Memorial Day.  The fields of flowers that would transform the yards of stones into gardens are sparser than they used to be.  The traffic that would clog the entry ways into the cemetery don’t happen much anymore.   We’re busier today.  Our belief systems have shifted.  Traditions have been forgotten, or maybe they are just dormant for a while. 
O'Connell Family Monument
One annual visitor to St Patrick’s Cemetery was Cardinal O’Connell.  He was a regular celebrant of the annual Mass at Saint Bridget Chapel in the 1920s.  His first act would be to visit his parents’ grave near the office area where his limo would drop him off.  He’d kneel at the gravesite where he’d say a silent prayer and then proceed to the Chapel.  Some locals recalled that as soon as Mass was over he would be whisked out of town back to Boston and the “palace” he had built for himself.
Our NEW CEMETERY TOUR on JUNE 8th at 10 a.m. will tell you more about the Cardinal and the interesting story of his family’s plot.  (Why were they moved?)  The Office area has some of Lowell’s most notable politicians and businessmen of Irish decent.  Lowell’s first Irish mayor. Undertakers.  Liquor dealers.  A rubber heel maker.  And a local legend remembered for celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in an unusual way.  This new Spring tour will focus on the front Office area.  Our Fall tour will remain focused on Yard One and the Chapel area.  Let us know if you think you might attend.  Invite your friends. (See also Sept. 18, 2012 blog entry for a history of St Bridget Chapel)

Saturday, May 11, 2013

What's in a Name? The story of Connaught Lane

Now that Walter can be called what was referred to as in the 19th century as a "gentleman" (aka retired),  he has been able to do a little digging and who knows what he will uncover.  Here is a recent find that adds another piece to the puzzle of what we call the Acre

Everyone 'knows' that the nineteenth century Irish identified with their county of origin, if not also with the province in which that county was located.  This also carried over to Lowell in the early nineteenth century as shown in the 1849 riot wherein the men and women from southern Ireland, the “Corkonians” fought a vigorous battle with the “Far Downers” of Connaught.  This was occasioned by some old country rivalries which carried over to Lowell.  However, the story of that riot is for another occasion.  Today is a far different, 'fun' discovery.  

O'Dwyer in the Irish Catholic Genesis of Lowell (1920) states that there are two plans in the Registry of Deeds dated 1832 and 1838 showing two intersecting streets in the “Acre” named Cork and Dublin streets.  Later these would become Marion and Lagrange streets only to have the original names restored several years ago.  This section of the Acre was largely settled by people from those counties. 

Across the Western canal. In the area bounded by Lewis, Dutton and Lowell (today Market Street) streets, were people from some of the counties in Connaught, and Ulster provinces, the “Far-Downers”

No streets were named to mark their presence unless one counts Commiskey's Alley between Merrimack and Lowell (now Market) streets, but that is named for an individual, not a place.
Recently, however, in the course of researching something completely unrelated I came across this little 'gem' from The American Citizen, 09/25/1854.

This is the first (and only) such place name found other than Cork & Dublin streets.  It is also the only reference I have been able to find.  Connaught Lane was located at the first “E” in Street between the buildings of Barrett and Little.  Today it is the parking lot of the Olympia Restaurant, abutting the wall of the Green School property..

Google maps

Thursday, May 2, 2013

An Acre Memory: May Devotions

Grotto, 1890s
There are certain memories that are embedded in your very soul when you attend a parochial school, especially in the pre-Vatican II period.  There were First Friday Masses, novenas to the Saints, Parish Missions, 40 Hours Devotions.  You could add to the list yourself.  Maybe it was the sun that drew me outside to walk the backyard.  I looked at the lilac bush and the very first buds hinting of what to come were just showing themselves.  For me lilacs have an immediate connection to May, and if you went to a parochial school that meant the May Procession. 
I have friends who swear their time in parochial school put them into years of therapy.  Maybe they’re right.  I also see that many very successful people probably gained a firm foundation by “doing time.”   
Having gone through St. Patrick School with the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur one can easily understand their instilling great devotion to Our Lady.  The history of the May Procession goes back to the earliest days of the school into the 1850s.  The tradition continued into the 1960s when I was there.  Devotion to the B.V.M. even flooded into the home.  Many Catholics wore the brown scapular and recited their daily rosary.  My mother at times would walk over and turn the TV off announcing it was time for the rosary, often in the middle of the Flintstones or I Dream of Jeanie.  Home May Altars were another custom associated with this time of year.  My grandfather would take old religious statues and repaint them.  To be honest he probably was not the greatest artist.  Often his artwork would give them haunting eyes that would follow you around.  Somewhere in the corner of the TV room would be set up a card table covered with a table cloth on which were arranged  plastic flowers, candlesticks, and the statue of Mary with Little Orphan Annie eyes.  The scene was carried out in homes of families and friends, sometimes with a note of competition.  One cousin had a mammoth set of rosary beads that had belonged on a nun’s habit.  If there was a winner, this was the gold medal. 
Back at school plans for the big procession started right after Easter.  Everyone knew that an 8th grade girl would be chosen to crown the statue of Mary.  This led some girls to be a little holier than thou in hopes of being among the elect.  Maybe they wouldn’t get to crown Mary, but possibly be part of the court that would dress in long satin robes and carry signs with the titles of the 15 Mysteries of the Rosary.  Each girl would wear a crown of plastic flowers.  There was quite a bit of campaigning going on for the honor.  Some girls would volunteer to carry Sister’s school bag or maybe drop a hint of a possible future vocation to the Oder.  They’d do anything to grab that crown.
In our classroom Sister Margaret Paul announced we were having a contest.  We were each to build a May Altar and bring it into class to compete for a very special prize.  In preparation for the big day, we were all corralled into the school hall to watch the 1950s classic, The Song of Bernadette on an ancient 16mm projector.  You could see the smiles on the Sisters’ faces while Bernadette was in the throes of her visions.  I was mesmerized by the old projector and watched the film go from one spool to the other.  The best part was when the film would split and you could watch it melt right there on the screen.  (Full disclosure:  I own a DVD of the Song of Bernadette and have to admit to secretly watching it.)
The night before the May Altar competition was due, we were at my Aunt’s house.  That’s when I announced to my parents I needed to go home and build and altar.  What????  Ok, even back then I waited until the last minute to do anything.  Luckily my cousin Armand had a tiny statute of Mary I could use.  (I still have the statue if Armand wants it back.)  We flew home in the ‘61 Ford.  My Dad took out a roll of Reynold’s Wrap and began constructing a tin foil grotto.  He then took my Easter eggs, ripped off the fancy foil (ate the chocolate), and created a backdrop.  A few cotton balls around Mary’s feet and voila!  It was done.  I don’t know what they got so bothered about. 
May Procession, 1953
On the way to school the next day I added a few dandelions for affect.  The classroom was heady with all the bouquets of lilacs kids had brought in.  Along the window sill were the 30 or so home-made May Altars.  Some were works of art.  Sister looked at mine and said, “Put it over there.”  My tin foil grotto was banished to the back of the room, after all my hard work. 
As the day wore on, one by one students’ heads began hitting the desks.  We were being drugged by the smell of lilacs like Dorothy and the poppies in the Wizard of Oz.  Sister banished the lilacs to the outdoors.  Mary would have to do with plastic flowers.  Of course the winner of the classroom competition was Sister’s pet who had given her a new Miraculous Medal as a bribe.  There’s one in every crowd.  I wasn’t too disappointed when I saw the big prize was a prayer card with 350 day of plenary indulgences attached to it.  But soon it was time for the grand procession.
There were about 300 students in the school at the time.  We were all lined up 2 by 2 to form a column that would march around the block to the church.  We were instructed that one person would begin the Hail Mary and the other would give the response.  The idea was great, but the reality was that as soon as Sister walked past, you started talking about something else.  For a few, rosary beads became weapons being used like helicopter blades spinning around your finger.  As soon as Sister would turn around you’d hear, “Holy Mary, Mother of God…….”
Our demeanor changed as we processed into the church alight with candles and the smell of incense.  As the voices of 300 children sang the strains of Immaculate Mary the tiny crown of flowers and ribbons crafted by one of the Sisters was placed upon the head of the statue.  How many generations of school children had carried out this same devotion gazing upon this same image?  We were a link in a chain that had traversed time continuing what our parents and theirs before them brought to this place.  Ave Maria.