Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Rum Hole on Market Street

Patrick Cummiskey Jug
James Gallagher owned a shop on Market (Lowell) Street that sold clothing and accessories.  That was by day, by night Mr. Gallagher had another profession, rum dealer.  In 1845, upstanding citizens who had taken the pledge asked, “Is there no way Mr. City Marshall that this breathing hole of hell can be stopped?  The rum hole in question was known to openly sell even on the Sabbath!

The history of temperance in the 19th century had its ups and downs in the city and the state.  To point out Mr. Gallagher as “the” rum hole on Market Street is unfair.  There were untold numbers on Market Street and throughout the city.  As soon as one was closed down another would open.  The Acre and along Central Street were the most notable places to find them.  There were waves of hundreds even thousands of individuals in Lowell taking the temperance pledge, followed by periods of quiet tolerance of imbibing.  Fr. James McDermott of St Patrick and later St Mary churches was a promoter of the pledge and was noted by Protestant clergy as a model for his people.  It’s interesting to note that one of Lowell’s premier Irishmen, Hugh Cummiskey, took the pledge and donated money to purchase temperance medals to be distributed to oath takers.  Yet a short time later Rose Cummiskey (Hugh’s wife perchance?) is caught selling liquor.
The term “drunkard” was used multiple times on a daily basis for decades in the local papers, often attached to an Irish surname.  Trying to a keep a tally of the numbers arrested and the $2 fine often attached to it became laborious.  In any given month there weren’t just dozens, but dozens of dozens.  Males were not the only perpetrators.  Females were listed as well, sometimes being found passed out in alleys or having to be dragged out of rum holes.  Mrs. Ryan was one of the female operators of one such establishment in the Acre.   Repeat offenders could be given a higher fine ($3 or $5) and others were sent away.  A sad case in the 1850s was that of a father and son repeatedly being arrested for drunkenness and petty crimes.  The writer said the son was a “chip off the old block.”
Those who frequented such places had to be on guard since there were many occasions of patrons being beaten and robbed.  Even innocent citizens passing by had to be aware of who was loitering near such places.  Gangs would assault men beating them and removing their “purses”.  The perpetrators were often identified as being Irish “ruffians”. 
What did the citizens of Lowell think?  Was this an example of prejudice against the Irish, or the reporting of a problem of society at large?  There are a number of articles noting the lack of temperance in the city, almost to the point of outrage.  Some of these articles do point to the Irish population directly and the decline in the city’s morals with their increasing number.  On the counterpart there are voices that speak out about the good work being done by the likes of the Fr. Mathew Temperance Society and other organizations.  Added to that there are voices that speak of the problem belonging to society as a whole and ask how to solve the conditions that could bring about such conditions.
How would we have reacted living in Lowell and seeing such conditions?
The Parish Archives contains a number of ceramic jugs and bottles from this period.  One of our prized possessions is a ceramic jug from Patrick Cummiskey’s store at 83 Market Street (probably a nephew of Hugh).  We’re always looking to increase our holdings.  If you have photos, printed items, or artifacts that tell the story of Lowell’s Irish or the Acre, drop us a line. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Girl in the Window at Pilling Shoe, the Acre

Pilling Shoe Advertisement
It’s about this point in summer vacation in the 1960s that we as ten year olds would start getting bored.  There are only so many trips down to the river to look for fish swimming around, or walks over to Burbeck’s to look at the list of different flavors declaring which one we’d get the next time we had some money.  There were only so many times you could make your way over to Francis Gate and throw a stick into the canal then run across Broadway Street and watch it reappear on the other side of the bridge.  We’d walk the streets looking to find Coke bottles we could return to the store for 2 cents.  When we were really desperate we’d go through garbage cans looking for empties.  A few empty tonic bottles would award us with a visit to Ovie’s or Charlie’s, the 2 competing stores on the corners of Broadway and Walker Streets to get mint juleps or peach stones.  Peach stones were the best buy- 3 for a penny.
On a list of things to do would be a trip over to Shaffer Street to go to the Pilling Shoe factory.  The brick building was flanked by tenements and small houses along Shaffer Street and the Pawtucket Canal and Tyng Street on the other.  I’m not sure when the downsizing happened, but by the time we hung around Shaffer Street the shoe business was about gone.  I do recall stories of workers throwing shoes out the windows.  If you knew the right person a young woman could darn well end up with a new pair of high heels.  Just know what was coming off the line, be at the right window at the right time, and be able to catch pretty well and they were yours.  I think a lot of romances began and ended at the windows of Pilling Shoes.
By the time I stood outside those windows, shoes weren’t being thrown.  The building had been chopped up into smaller businesses.  Old shipping docks for the millions of shoes made on site were now part of a fruit and vegetable distributor.  The bottom floor was a small book store.  I went walking in one day looking for comic books and walked out with a new world opened to me.  The young clerk handed me a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.  It was the first real novel I ever read and was hooked from that point on.  The rest of the old shoe factory had been rented to a printing business.
One day in the early 60s a group of us made our to Shaffer Street.  All the windows were thrown wide open in the July heat.  Looking up we saw guys in t-shirts and work pants manning the presses.  Some of the workers were sitting on the window ledges trying to get what breeze they could.  Others were sneaking a smoke and throwing the butts out the window.  Our little group yelled up to a group of women leaning out the window.  They were packing notepads into cartons.  My friends whistled and cat called up to them.  They  begged for a few notepads to be tossed down.  They pleaded and cajoled, knelt on the ground blowing kisses up to them.  I bashfully stood on the side.  The girls loved it and threw little notebooks out from the third floor.  My friends scrambled to the sidewalk taking away all they could.  One young blond woman with her hair tied back with a yellow scarf yelled out, “Hey kid, this one is for you.”  Down from the third floor window floated her gift to me, a small white notepad.  It was like Juliet on the balcony.  I kept that notebook for the longest time safeguarding it, like a knight’s favor from his lady.
But I digress.  The Pilling Shoe factory had quite a past.  Lowell is well known for its cotton manufacturing history, but the story of shoe production is almost important. Lowell was once one of the nation’s leading producers of shoes, and Pilling Shoes boasted being the seventh oldest such business in the US.  The factory on Shaffer Street was built in 1890 and had had a number of additions since its opening.  John Pilling wanted more than to produce shoes.  He prided himself on making a quality product and providing his employees with a decent wage and proper work environment.  Each summer an annual outing to Canobie Lake Park was sponsored by Mr. Pilling.  And each winter Mr. Pilling would clear out the bottom floor of his factory and give his employees an evening’s entertainment by putting on a “hop.”  The walls were lined with white cloth so oil from the machinery would not soil the ladies’ dresses.  Crates were also covered to provide makeshift benches for the revelers.  The high point of the evening was a grand march and a cake walk.  In 1899 the prizes were an umbrella for the gentleman and a feathered fan for the lady.  John Pilling once decorated a tree on Pawtucket Blvd with 1000 one dollar bills to prove to a friend of the Yorick Club that money did grow on trees. 
At the beginning of the 20th century there were whispers of unions making their way into the shoe industry.  Mr. Pill wanted nothing of this and announced a 10% wage increase immediately.  When the rumors resurrected again a few years later workers walked out of Pilling Shoe.  Mr. Pilling again announced no union would be allowed at his factory, but welcomed all back without fear of repercussion.  The notice in the Lowell Sun also included the announcement of another wage increase.  
The sounds of the lasting and tacking machines filled the neighborhood during work hours, and then there would be a sense of silence as the shift ended.  A writer talking about Pilling Shoe said that once you were employed you had a job for life.  Multiple members of the same family and even multi-generations of the same family worked for Pilling.  But like many factory jobs they would find cheaper labor and resources in other places.  By the 1970s Pilling Shoes was converted to elderly housing and remains so today.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Irish Doctor

A number of physicians' names reoccur from time to time in the few records of Lowell's Irish.  One of them was a Dr. Green, a Yankee who ministered to the needs of the early irish community.  As time passed other names began appearing as well.  But Arthur Quinn Phelan was one of their own.  Here is his story brought to us by guest blogger, Rosemary K. Nunnally.  We greatly appreciate her contribution to recording the story of the Irish in Lowell and invite others to submit their stories as well.  Every family has a story.  What is yours?

Arthur George Phelan from the report on his funeral.
Published in the Lowell Sun on August 23, 1897.
Irishman Arthur Quinn Phelan, M.D. ministered to the needs of the citizens of Lowell, MA in the later part of the 1800’s.  His obituary in the Lowell Sun on January 11, 1890 said this: “Dr. Phelan was a gentleman generally beloved and respected. He was modest and retiring and relied entirely upon his worth as a gentleman and a physician to build up his practice. To know him was to respect him.”  What was the story of this good doctor from County Cork?
The newspapers of Lowell were filled with stories of the accidents and difficulties that befell the working families of the city.  Several of these articles mentioned Dr. Phelan as the physician who assisted the sick or injured person.  On July 8, 1882, the Lowell Sun reported that Alexander Reed, aged 8 years, died Thursday night from the effects of a concussion caused by an exploding rocket on the South Common, during fireworks that evening.  Dr. Phelan, who attended him, gave his opinion that the death resulted from fright.  In 1884, seventy year old Mrs. Hannahan fell while leaving St. Peter’s Church.  Dr. Phelan assisted with her fractured thigh though it was doubtful she would survive the shock.  Mrs. Ganley was shot in 1886 and Dr. Phelan attended her.  On January 8, 1887 the Lowell Sun told the story of a boy named Rolly who had his hand caught in the gearing in the Prescott.  One of his fingers had to be amputated with Dr. Phelan doing the service.
Arthur Quinn Phelan was born to Lanford and Mary Phelan in County Cork, Ireland in 1848.  He came from an affluent family.  Arthur’s uncle Robert Swanton was a landowner in West Cork.  Mr. Swanton was killed in 1881 after obtaining an eviction decree against a tenant during the Land War.  Arthur’s family was able to apprentice their son to Dr. O’Callahan, a leading physician in Cork.  Arthur went on to Dublin and passed the examination for the College of Surgeons of Ireland and was a pupil of Dr. Baxter for two years.
It is not known why Arthur Phelan left Ireland.  He came to Lowell in 1868 possibly with members of his family.  In the 1870 census, twenty-two year old Arthur was living with his mother and sisters, Ann and Elizabeth.  Arthur worked for Joseph Plunkett as an apothecary, a pharmacist, for a few years and then studied medicine with Dr. F. C. Plunkett.  Arthur next enrolled in the College of Physicians and Surgeons at the University of New York, graduating after 12 months on Feb. 15, 1876.
Dr. Phelan returned to Lowell and opened an apothecary shop at the corner of Summer and Gorham streets.  He was so successful in his practice of medicine that he sold the apothecary business and opened a medical office in his home on Gorham Street.  Arthur enjoyed a busy life with his wife Mary Malloy and three children – Arthur G., Mary and John.
As a dedicated physician, Arthur was on call for his patients all day, every day; in all conditions; for all ailments and illnesses.  In the winter of 1889 – 1890, the inhabitants of Lowell were suffering with “the grippe”, today called influenza.  Dr. Phelan’s services were in such great demand that he could not rest, even when he contracted the disease.  He showed signs of pneumonia.  Four days later, another physician was called.  Arthur Phelan died that afternoon on January 7, 1890 at age forty-two.
The Lowell Sun reported on Dr. Phelan’s funeral at St. Peter’s Church. The church was almost filled with the friends and relatives of the deceased.  Over 100 members of Court Middlesex Ancient Order of Foresters attended along with delegates from Division 2, Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Massachusetts Medical Society.  The funeral cortege was quite lengthy.  Arthur was buried in the Catholic cemetery, St. Patrick’s in Lowell.

Following Arthur’s death, his wife and daughter carried on as pharmacists in Lowell for over twenty years.  Arthur’s son, Arthur George, died of tuberculosis at age 22 in 1897.  Son John became a civil engineer.  By 1920, the census recorded daughter Mary married to James Monaghan and living in Waltham, MA with her mother in the same household.  John Phelan was living in Washington D.C. and worked for the War Department as a civil engineer.  He had married Emily Matter and had a son John J. Phelan, Jr.

St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Lowell has only a record of son Arthur George’s burial in 1897.  However there must be other family members also buried there.  Dr. Arthur Phelan bought the large plot in December, 1873 presumably for his mother who died in January of 1874.  There is no stone on the large grassy space.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

"Killed by a Blast" Patrick Tiernan July 4, 1840

Patrick Tiernan's stone,
St. Patrick Cemetery
How you prepared to celebrate the Fourth of July probably had a lot to do with the kind of family you came from.  Many of Lowell’s citizens made their way to rum shops to fill their stoneware jugs in order to toast the day.  On the other extreme was the Cold Water Army who had taken the pledge and had chosen non alcoholic beverages as their drink of choice.  Those who were more interested in politics were reminded to wear their Harrison badges to any festivities.  Many of Lowell’s citizens were taking carriages to Concord’s sacred battleground to see the giant parade, hear the Declaration of Independence being read, and then partake in a free supper.
Those who stayed in the city had to find their own ways of celebrating.  While many would spend that Saturday gathering with family and friends, others created their own entertainment.  Some liked to celebrate by firing off pistols or firecrackers.  One tragic victim of the day was Patrick Tiernan.  The next day’s newspaper recorded the events.  A few boys and men got together and brought along a small cannon.  As youth would do, they loaded it with a double charge.  The cannon exploded and the shrapnel flew into the 16 year old’s face.  As period newspapers would do, the details were rather gruesome.  Half the boys face was torn off.  The eye socket and nasal area were exposed.  He lingered until the next day and died at noon.  He was taken to the Catholic Cemetery (St. Patrick) and was interred.
That is about all known about Patrick or his family.  Trying to find the rest of his family’s story has proven futile, not too amazing for anyone else trying to locate Lowell’s Irish in this period.  Interestingly his stone tells us most about him.  He was born in County Longford and was just 16 years of age.  He is one of the few to have a slate stone, most internments were either unmarked or marked with a wooden cross or marker.  Just as interesting, is that his stone is one of the few shamrock stones in the cemetery.  This leads one to believe his family must have had the means to purchase such a stone.  Adding to his family’s tragedy is what is included to the stone’s inscription.  Patrick’s 24 year old brother, Thomas Tiernan, died in New York just one week later.  No other details were added or are known.

NOTE: When we first started doing cemetery tours almost 20 years ago, Patrick's stone was in very good condition.  Unfortunately today it is broken into a dozen pieces with no hope of restoration due to cemetery policy.