Friday, March 28, 2014

Benjamin Day's Workshop

Map- Lowell, 1850
Lowell Street (now Market Street) was a busy place in 1830s Lowell.  The arrival of the first Irish in the 1820s spurred a commercial boom in the area.  It wasn’t long before the tents and shacks of the first arrivals were being replaced by the shanties and ten-footers of the ever growing Irish population.  Soon alleys and makeshift walkways began defining the Acre neighborhood.  Lowell Street was at the heart of the hustle and bustle.  More and more hopefuls were arriving from all over and even across the sea in need of work.  With those increasing numbers, came the need for good and supplies. 

Lowell Mercury, 1830
Right on Lowell Street was Stephen Gale who sold stoves.  And there was Willard’s West Indies Dry Goods Store specializing in “pure and choice wines.”  You could have your clothes made at Hobb’s Clothes Ware-House.  Bethuel Cross sold crockery and China ware on Lowell Street.   The Exchange Coffee House, owned by Owen Donohoe, was a busy place for Irish and Yankee alike.  Mrs. Rice had a cottage just off of Lowell St. where she offered her nursing services.  Richard Walsh had his Catholic bookstore right across the street from the Rev. Mr. Blanchard’s house.  (Was it intentional that Walsh made it a point to advertise his Catholic business was located across the street from a Protestant minister’s home?)  There were a myriad of livery stables and harness shops as well.  Hugh Cummiskey, in partnership with Samuel Murray, had a West Indies Dry Goods Story on the corner of Lowell Street and Cummiskey Alley.  Almost all were Yankee businesses in these early days, but the Irish did have a sort of monopoly on one certain business.  Grog shops abounded in every basement along Lowell Street and all the little alleys in between.  On the weekends it was known that local living rooms transformed into saloons. At least that was the opinion of the local constabulary. 
If you kept walking down Lowell Street the shanties became fewer and father apart.  Heading towards the river, you might have heard the sound of stone being cut and carved.  You would have come across the workshop of Benjamin Day, stone carver.   Day had probably arrived in Lowell to set up shop as early as 1830 and started advertising his trade in the Lowell Mercury.  Previous to Lowell he established himself in Salem, MA.  His work could be found throughout Essex and Merrimack Counties.  Day’s workshop would have been on the corner of the present Salem and Decatur Streets.  Grieving families, looking to purchase a grave stone, would have gone to his shop and seen stacks of slates that had been precut, many with the iconic willow and urn pattern of Yankee New England, already carved.  The stones lay there awaiting the names and dates of the deceased to be added.  Day’s price also included delivery and setup at the cemetery.  With his shop within the Irish district, it’s not surprising a number of his stones can be found at St. Patrick’s Cemetery.  One can imagine families walking by his workshop day after day going to work or to shop.  At the time of a loss they might find a familiar face with Mr. Day, their neighbor. 
John Bork's stone w/ Day signature
Each carver had his particular style that he would call his own.  Stones can be identified by certain borders, finials, and stippling.  The earliest stone in Saint Patrick Cemetery is that of young John Bork carved by none other than B. Day.  Bork’s simple, small, slate stone with willow and urn design is typical of Day’s carving style.  A number of stones, slate and marble, have the name Benjamin Day name carved at the base, as was typical of his style.  The sad part is that most of the early slates have been snapped to lay flat in the ground and the signature of the carver is missing.  Even sadder is that the many shamrock slate stones in the cemetery, show great similarities to Day’s style, but cannot be proven to be his work. 
As the city grew other carvers such as David Nichols and Theodore Warren joined in to fill the need.  Benjamin Day kept his shop going for many years.  As historian, Marilyn Day states, Benjamin Day bought a lot at the Lowell Cemetery, but ironically no stone marks his grave.
For a great read on a history of Benjamin Day read Ms Day’s account . 
I must add here that like many of you I walked Market and Salem Streets (Lowell Street) many times in my youth.  I was always struck by the old store fronts with the large glass windows.  They reminded me of a time past, and I wondered what shops had first sold their goods here.  Many of these businesses still retained the old entry to cellar ways in the middle of the sidewalk that were used to bring goods into storage.  A misstep could send you flying.  .  The storefronts had advertisements for fresh black olives and windows filled with pyramids of cans of olive oil from Greece.  Tournas’ had their trays of baklava and barrels of peanuts.  The neighborhood Hugh Cummiskey had known was transformed to one that represented those that came after him, and would change hands yet again.  When I got to the corner of Salem and Decatur there was an empty lot.  I often wondered about that lot.  After doing research for this article I found this was the site of Benjamin Day’s workshop.  I remember an old garage being in the rear.  Was this part of Benjamin’s shop?  Was the lot empty because of the stones left behind by Benjamin?  It’s nice to think so.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Tale of Two Daniels

One of the goals of this blog is to collect stories of Lowell's Irish past.  It's one thing for me to write little vignettes of happenings from generations past or my own Acre memories, but it is far more important we collect yours.  There have been folks who have shared their own stories, or stories from their families, but they are not as many as I hoped.  Everyone says they'll get to it at some point, but rarely does that happen.  Soon there stories will slip away and will be lost to the next generation.  We have a duty to preserve them.  Our recent documentary, shown during Irish Cultural Week, was made up of several folks who just shared a few moments of their time, yet added to our Lowell Irish history.

I'm reminded of Jack Flood, recently deceased.  He called me to sit with him so some of his stories could be preserved.  Smart man.  How about you?  Drop me an email.  I'd be glad to sit down and chat with you.  I'll do all the work, you do the talking.  If that's too much, send me your story.  It doesn't have to be long.  If you like we'll publish it.  If you don't we'll just put it in the archives.

This week's entry is one sent in by a reader, Rosemary K. Nunnally.
Google image

Young Daniel Lawn, Jr. left County Donegal with his mother Mary and siblings Elizabeth, Michael, Mary Ann, Sarah and James.  They arrived in New York on October 11, 1880.   They traveled on to Lowell, MA to join the head of the family, Daniel Lawn Sr., who was working as a laborer.  The family settled on Summer St. with other Irish immigrant families.

During the cold winter months, the children of the city entertained themselves with coasting, sledding on the South Common and on the streets of Lowell. The sleds they used were referred to as double runners. They were heavy and held several people. The sled could be difficult to steer with riders dragging their feet or jerking the sled sideways. Stopping the sled happened when it had played out its run at the bottom of the hill.
Ten year old Daniel enjoyed coasting. He left his home on a Friday afternoon in January of 1884 and made his way over to the South Common.  He probably went down the hill several times, walking back up to the top to start over again.
As the afternoon darkened into night, a terrible accident occurred. Daniel was hit by a sled. He suffered injuries which ultimately ended his life the next morning, January 26, 1884.
The Lowell Sun reported on the accident on the front page of the newspaper with the heading “Boy Killed By A Sled”.  The article went on to state “Daniel Lawn, residing at 25 Summer St., was run into by a "double-runner" sled on which boys were coasting on the South Common at 6 o'clock last evening, and died shortly before 6 o'clock this morning, notwithstanding the almost constant efforts of Dr. Phelan.”  Dr. Arthur Q. Phelan had his home and office at 4 Summer St. not far from where Daniel lived.

Daniel’s accident was also reported in the Boston Journal and Boston Daily Globe.  Both newspapers had a brief sentence explaining that Daniel had died from the effects of injuries from a coasting accident on the South Common.  Though there is no record of it, Daniel was most likely buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery.  Daniel’s father, Daniel Lawn Sr., was buried there in yard 5F in 1902 and his mother Mary in 1912.

One hundred twenty-four years later in 2008, Daniel Lawn Jr.’s great great grandnephew, Daniel, went out sledding in a friend’s yard in the Belvidere section of Lowell. This Daniel also had a sledding accident.  Thankfully, due to improved medical care, the outcome of his accident was different. Though he had serious injuries to his face and mouth, Danny made a complete recovery. Separated by over one hundred years in Lowell, two young Daniels, two sledding accidents, and two stories to tell.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Acre Forum & Anam Cara Awards

Made in Lowell, a film
by Bob Rafferty & Dave McKean
A new film, Made in Lowell, produced by Bob Rafferty made its debut last night at the Lowell National Park Visitor Center last  to a standing room only crowd.  Bob has helped the Parish archives by digitizing dozens of oral histories on cassette tapes and films on VHS tape to have a permanent record for future generations.  Bob combined these with films taken by Fr. Supple in the 1920s and current footage that Bob took to tell the story of the growth of the Irish community in Lowell's Acre. Plans will now have to be made to see how the film can be distributed for  a wider audience distribution. 

The 2nd annual Anam Cara (Soul Friend) awards were presented to 5 honorees.  The awards are meant to recognize those in the Lowell community who foster and promote Irish culture through their sharing of time, treasures, and talents.  This year's honorees were: Dr. Molly Sheehy for her 20 years working with Wider Horizons, a group that brought Catholic and Protestant students from Ireland to Lowell to work together.  Bob Rafferty for his work with preserving audio and visual archival materials and producing his new documentary, Made in Lowell.  Dr. Robert O'Neill, former head librarian of the Burns Library at Boston College, for his ongoing support and presentations of the library's resources such as the facsimile of the Book of Kells.  Also Dr. O'Neill was responsible for bringing President Mary McAleese to St. Patrick's this past fall.  And to Angus MacDonald and Jim Campbell who kept Irish culture alive in Lowell through their 20 years of the Sounds of Ireland radio program on WLLH and WCAP and reorganizing the local chapter of the AOH. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"Happy Days" Casey & the St. Patrick's Day Parade

CA. 1850 6 July 1942
Lowell Sun image, 1928
Thomas Casey was born in Ireland – date unknown – place unknown.  He kept that information to himself. He came to Lowell in the 1860's and worked as an expressman. He acquired his nickname at a picnic in the 1890's when he offered that toast. That was the end of Thomas – now he was “Happy Days”.
 With his horse and wagon, for 30 years Irish laborers, mill workers, teamsters and their children contacted “Happy Days” when there was a chest or trunk to be moved.  When one disputed his Irish birth, he would invariably tell that person something of his or her family back in Ireland, which would leave that individual dumbfounded – HOW could he know that!?” –  and never again doubt Casey's Irish origin.  He was known for his long white hair and full white beard. 

There was one day of the year, however, when he put on a quite distinctive appearance.  That day of course was St. Patrick's Day.  He would don his best cutaway coat and top hat with of course a touch of green in his lapel.  That took care of his attire and appearance.  He would then go to the stable and properly adorn his horse.   After saddling his horse, “...with affectionate hands he would further embellish the silvered trappings with everything green that he had laid his hands on over a period of months – green and gold.  Across the horse's long nose would be found the Harp of Erin, rescued from a Hibernian's discarded sash.  The animal's mane would be trimmed carefully in braids of green silk.  There's even a large bow of silk on the flowing tail.” (SUN 7 July 1942)  Thus equipped and adorned, he was off to join the parade leading such groups as the Meagher, Wolf Tome and Sheridan Guards through Lowell.  St. Patrick's day did not end for Happy Days when the parade was over.  He, and his horse, then went on a 'tour' of several drinking establishments.  When he entered, he was mounted on his horse, and fittingly asked for a beer for his horse as well.
Casey' Grave, St. Pat's Cemetery

During one St Patrick Day parade, Mary O'Malley described him thusly to a group of boys, ''There's Happy Days Casey, he's St. Patrick when you look at him in summer, and Santa Claus when you look  at him in the winter. Wouldn't you wonder, now, whether the man was ever born, but just came here from nowheres?'' (SU N 7 July 1942)   Happy Days was a beloved character such as we shall not see again.  He was struck by a bus on 6 July 1942 and died that day.

I am indebted to two articles which appeared in the Lowell SUN: 14 July 1928, and 7 July 1942.  Both have a photo of Happy Days with his wagon and horse. Submitted by Walter H.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Irish Cultural Week Mass and Parade

Jimmy Latham sings "Galway Bay"
Maybe it was the weather, or maybe the spirit of the day, folks showed up and showed their pride.  The LowellIrish Facebook page (  has lots of pics, but I had to add my own.  Don't forget to check out the week's events!
Fr. Terry O'Connell OMI

Seamus joins the parade!

Sean's family has been at St. Pat's for decades

Friday, March 7, 2014

"The Day We Celebrate" - Saint Patrick's Day in Lowell, 1833

St Patrick Church, 1880s
So begins the opening line of the first recorded celebration of St Patrick’s Day in Lowell. The Lowell Mercury of 1833 gives us a picture into the past. They were all there at the Mansion House. Mr. Blanchard, the owner of the establishment, served a fine supper. He was known for his oysters and setting a fine table. They were a close-knit group, a tight band of“native sons” who were making new lives for themselves. Of course there was Hugh and Eugene Cummiskey. Hugh’s close friend and business partner, Samuel Murray, was also there. At the head table would be Charles Short. He seemed to be involved in everything in the Paddy Camps, land dealings, business arrangements, and even causing the Bishop some grief with choosing a new Pastor. But that won’t be for a few months. The Campbells came in, one a tailor and the other a laborer for the Corporation. They were among the growing number of businesses in the Acre. Most of the crowd, being solely men, made their way over from Lowell (Market) Street and Fenwick Street. Most were part of Lowell’s growing Irish middle class. There were teamsters, carpenters, real estate agents, stable owners. They were here to show their fellow Irish countrymen that America had much to offer.

Lowell Directory, 1833

After the table cloth was removed the musicians, and they were a fine group by all accounts, started up their tunes. Of course the first was St. Patrick’s Day. They slapped their hands on the tables and prepared the first round of toasts. “The day we celebrate- may its memory be celebrated in the breast of every Irishman.” The glasses were lifted, another jig was played and the sentiments continued. They remembered their homeland and those left behind. They remembered their heroes and cursed their oppressors. They lifted their glasses to O’Connell and the Irish harp. Over and over again they remembered their new home: President Jackson, Democracy, the Constitution, the Merrimac River and to the owners of the loom. They sang Adeste Fideles when they recalled Bishop Fenwick and sang Yankee Doodle. Music and poetry filled the room. As the night drew late someone reminded the crowd that it was a Saturday and the next day was Mass. And so some made their way to their hacks and others bundled up and walked out into the March night to return to their homes.
In the words of James Campbell, “May the Sons of Old Hibernia celebrate the festival of their Patron Saint, with mirth, cheerfulness and convivia."