Friday, January 31, 2014

Lowell's Other Catholic Cemetery: St. Peter's (Part 1)

1906 City Atlas: Lowell Hist Society

St. Peter's Cemetery:1900 – 1913
This week's post was written by historian, Walter Hickey.

I suppose the individual responsible for this little tale is David McKean.  Invariably on one of his tours of St. Patrick's Cemetery he would mention St. Peter's Cemetery, tell us it was short-lived, and that legend had it that there was talk of 'irregularities' in it's administration, but that a lot of research would be required if the whole story be told.  This is the beginning of that story.
2013 was the year we decided to do something about that.  Dave had collected some news articles which he passed along and those provided a start.  The cemetery was created by two real estate agents, Edward R. Donovan and John J. Gray, who purchased 20 acres from William Manning on April 30, 1900 for $1000 an acre (Northern Registry 318-311).  The land was in the rear of St. Patrick's Cemetery and was bounded by Boston Road, Spencer Street, and Court Street.

By 1900, there were only two acres remaining for burials in St. Patrick's Cemetery and it was fairly obvious that additional burial space would be required.  This was part of the planning of Donovan and Gray.  As an incentive to purchase the prices of lots were considerably less that those charged by St. Patrick's Cemetery.  In St. Patrick's, a 7x8 lot (56 square feet) cost $60. In St. Peter's the lots were all 10x10 (100 square feet).The price was either $10 or $25, depending on location.

Father Michael O'Brien, of St. Patrick's Cemetery, had earlier tried to buy the land from Manning but he offered such a low price that Manning would not even listen.  One day, when both Donovan and Gray were overseeing the work being done, Rev. Michael O'Brien called to them over the fence and offered to buy the land for $10,000 over the price they had paid Manning.  His offer was refused.

The Lowell Sunday Telegram of Dec. 9, 1900 wrote:
“Examination of the plans, deeds and prices set forth by the proprietors of the new cemetery, and realization of the liberality shown therein, give evidence that the Catholic people of Lowell are to be greatly benefited by this addition to their mortuary privileges.  The land that has been prepared by Messrs. Donovan and Gray at great expense is a sightly tract of at least twenty acres, laid out with walks, drives, and wide avenues.  There are now ready about 4000 lots just as level as a floor.  Every lot is high and dry, and is perfect for burial purposes. 

The cemetery opened ...with room for thousands....but in the next 13 years fewer than 800 burials took place.  Finally, on December 26, 1913, the city council repealed the order authorizing Donovan and Gray to use the land for burial purposes and the cemetery became part of St. Patrick's cemetery as the Archdiocese of Boston had purchased the land from Gray.  (Gray's partner, Edward R. Donovan died in 1904, and was buried in St. Patrick's Cemetery – NOT St. Peter's.) 

Several years ago, St. Patrick's Cemetery computerized their records and those are now available online ( for burials after 1894.  BUT...those buried in St. Peter's Cemetery are not in that database. One Sunday morning, Karen, Dave and I drove to the Cemetery (doesn't everybody spend at least one weekend day in a Cemetery?) and took names of several graves and checked them against the database of St. Patrick's burials.

NONE, 1900 – 1913, were in that database.  This meant that the cemetery had no record of all those buried in the old St. Peter's Cemetery.  It appeared to us that a) the burial records had not survived, and that all were 'lost records”.  Burials dated 1913-1914 were in the database as it was then by St. Patrick's Cemetery.

The issues quickly became WHO is buried in St. Peter's Cemetery? and How do we find out?

The answers lay in the records of the Lowell City Clerk.  The actual death records through 1904 are available on and death records after 1904 are on as well as

It was determined that it would be possible (if not a little insane) to compile a list of burials by looking at each death record 1900 – 1913.  Accordingly Karen and I proceeded to look at each record looking for Place of Burial: St. Peter's Cemetery.  When finished we had a list of 730 individuals. A few are dated after 1913 as the undertakers indicated “St. Peter's” as the place of burial.  At last, there is a list of those interred in the old St. Peter's.  That list is available at the St. Patrick Cemetery office.

On Tuesday, December 11, 1900, Edward R. Connor became the first to be interred in St. Peter's Cemetery.  Now, the question arose:  “WHERE is his grave?”

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Bradt's Crackers- an Acre original

Image from
Thursday nights were food shopping nights when I was growing up in the Acre.  We’d get in our 55 Ford and head down Broadway to the Giant Store.  It had a big ramp that led up to the food store, or you could take the stairs and go down to look at the toys.  When you were done grocery shopping, they’d put your brown paper bags in a metal bin and send it down a long set of rollers, which led outside in order to load at your car.  I always wanted to take a ride along that conveyor, but I digress. 
One of the items that was on our weekly shopping list was a box of Bradt’s crackers.  They came in a long, white rectangular box with blue lettering that said “Bradt’s Soda Crackers.”  The crackers were snow white with little air pockets that made them “crispy, but not brittle” as was advertised on the box.  I remember they were on a shelf near the ice cream, and I’d have to climb up on the freezer to reach them to put in the shopping cart.  There was always the warning of not dropping the box and breaking them before we got them home.  There was always a little anxiety to pull out that perfect cracker without breaking it, and then snapping it along the little perforations that would divide the square into quarters. 
The company was a Lowell original being manufactured on Whiting Street (between Fletcher and Salem Streets).  Today the parking lot for the new UMass buildings completely covers where the small wood and stone factory once stood.  My friend, David, lived just steps away from the factory.  You could smell the crackers baking in the oven as we played in back of his house.  The white-aproned men would often keep the doors and windows open to escape the heat or sneak outside for a smoke.  From time to time they’d give us a few of the broken crackers.   The wooden floors of the factory were almost snow white with crackers that didn’t meet quality control.  Occasionally, farmers would pull up to haul away the sacks of broken pieces to feed their hogs.
City Directory, 1890
Since my dad had ulcers they were a staple of his diet whenever they flared up.  My Mother used them in her stuffing, as I think every Lowell mother did.  They were great on meatless Fridays with butter or peanut butter.  Probably every family in the area had a box of Bradt’s in their pantry. 
The company had deep Lowell roots.  It was started by David, Gerrit J(Garrett), and David Bradt in 1833.  The Bradts originally worked for Mr. Pierce’s bakery.  In just a couple of years the brothers opened their own bakery on Whiting Street and built a home.  They acquired tracts of land that make up parts of Bowers Street.  Through the years the company took on several names; Bradt’s Soda Crackers, Bradt’s Soda Biscuits, and Bradt’s Common Crackers.  The family did well enough that they became involved in real estate and banking.  The founder, David Bradt died in 1892, leaving the company to various relatives and slowly declining over the years.  He was buried in the family plot in the Lowell Cemetery.
The company was sold off to Oswald Turcotte in the 1930s who tried to re-energize it by broadening the selling area to outside of Lowell and a new advertising campaign.  Ads appeared in the papers using the theme “crispness without brittleness.”  Mr. Turcotte assured his patrons that they were keeping the original recipe and quality of the 100 year old product, while expanding the line to include oyster crackers  and saltines.  As November rolled around the ad campaigns showed up in the Lowell Sun.  One was a “telegram” by grandchildren reminding Grandma they were coming home for the holiday and her stuffing made with Bradt’s crackers.  Another was a personal endorsement by a Mrs. Edna Riggs Crabtree who used them at her cooking school.  The company even had a quite successful bowling league in the 1940s and 50s competing against the likes of Laurin Morticians and Turcotte Wines. They were still advertising for employees in the Lowell Sun up to 1970.  The actual date of closing is unclear. 
Today we buy water biscuits at outrageous prices at specialty stores.  Yet nothing today could compare to a Bradt’s!