Friday, August 29, 2014

St. Patrick Cemetery Tour - Saturday, September 27, 2014

St. Bridget Chapel, St. Patrick Cemetery, Lowell, MA
Please join us on Saturday, September 27 for our annual tour of St. Patrick Cemetery.  The tour starts at 10 am at the front office and takes approximately 1 hour.  The Cemetery is located at 1251 Gorham St. Lowell, MA. Wear comfortable walking shoes.

St. Patrick's Cemetery was started in 1832 by the pioneer Irish who settled in the Paddy Camps of early Lowell.  Those who could afford it were able to erect stones in memory of their loved ones which reflected their culture and  faith.  The earliest stones, made of slate, have some of the most unique iconography in any early Irish graves found in this country, a series of shamrock stones.  As the population grew and flourished, the slates were replaced by marble and later granite stones.  The tour will include stories of Irish Civil War veterans and the high crosses and sculptures from wealthy Irish business owners of the later 19th century.

The tour will follow the Irish in Massachusetts Conference being sponsored by UMass Lowell September 24-26.  Read more about it here:

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Ship Fever!

The headline in bold type must have stunned the citizens of Lowell.  If you lived in 1847 you probably knew that more than half of those who contracted ship fever never survived.  The disease made no preference as to gender, age, or economic status.  It took whomever it met, and its effects were swift and agonizing.  It would first appear as a rash on the chest accompanied by a high fever, often reaching 102 degrees.  As it progressed victims would fall into delirium and most often death. 
The disease was transferred so quickly by means of the common body lice.  In the 19th century lice were common to many people, but it was also known to be found more so in places of crowded conditions and poor hygiene.  If there was one group that could be pointed at as those spreading the contagion it was the Irish.  The disease was more appropriately known as typhus, but to use the terminology of the day it was better known as Black Irish Typhus.  The term would ensure that those immigrating on ships and the Irish population would be associated with squalor, disease and death. 
The year the article appeared, 1847, was no accident either.  In the Irish diaspora, 1847 was better known as Black 47, the worst year of the famine.  Between 1835 and 41, the port of Boston saw about 10,000 emigrants from Ireland.  Just in the year 1846 there were 65,000 entering the same point.  Cities like Boston and Lowell saw the effects of such an increase in the population.  Many of the ships which would carry those escaping the Famine were not meant to carry passengers.  They were converted freighters where profit was based on how many souls could be fit into a limited area.  Often planks were placed just above the bilge water giving a breeding ground to all types of germs.  The crowded conditions, unclean water, and lack of food made for a perfect storm.  They became known as Coffin Ships.  Those who were able to obtain passage on a ship leaving Great Britain were not guaranteed a successful journey.  It is estimated that approximately 5% of those who crossed the Atlantic died at sea, and a full 16% of those who crossed died shortly after from all types of diseases, ship fever being among them.
A moving account was published by a British lady who was on such a ship.  With him we endured a trip of four months from Queenstown to Castle Garden, and with him we endured three, months' quarantine for ship' fever in New York harbor. Halfway over we stood with him, a lad often with his little brothers and sisters, about the body of the poor mother who had succumbed to the fever leaving her five babies alone in mid-ocean. With him, we looked curiously at the unrecognizable figure secure in its canvas wrapping, a bag of sand tied to the feet. It lay on a plank, which supported by two sturdy seamen, rested on the gunwale.  With him we heard the droning voice of the captain reading the burial service, and like the little lad failed to realize the full significance of the proceeding until we, too, hear a splash in the water below. For moment the mother's body bobbed u and down on the waves, then obedient to the bag of sand attached to the feet, sank. A few bubbles, a little heart-rending cry of “Mamma! Mamma!" from the eldest sister who stood with her baby brother in her arms, and all was over.   The orphans turned their eyes westward to this Land of Promise, and the old wooden vessel with its flapping sails proceeded on its way.

When the headline appeared in the Lowell Courier it was very clear to the reporter who was to blame.  Surely it was because of the great influx of immigrants which has taken place in Lowell.  There was even a case of Lowell’s Mayor finding an infected person on his doorstep, and another case of an infected man being stranded alone in his home by his own family when hearing of the diagnosis.  To demonstrate the deep fear people had of ship fever the reporter wrote of a supposed visitor to Lowell who stopped at a local hotel on his way to Boston.  Having heard of fever in the city, he reportedly left the next day after hearing a funeral pass by the hotel every ten minutes.  The funerals were merely carts removing night soil (waste) during the hours of darkness.

There were attempts to curb the illness by quarantining ships for up to 20 days to stop the spread of new arrivals infecting the population.  Places like Grosse Isle, Quebec with their 5000 burials and Deer Island in Boston Harbor with 1000 Irish burials were built for such a purpose.  In Lowell the plan was to use the pest house on Chelmsford road.  Typhus, as Ship Fever is really known, was not new to Lowell.  There were waves of it before the Famine Irish came and waves for many years after until living conditions improved.  Earliest records record the disease passing through entire families and neighborhoods.  Through burial records, it can often be traced moving down streets taking its victims.  Though reports of its occurrence continued through the rest of the century, nothing would parallel Black 47.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Lives of Service- the Plunkett Family of Lowell

The Plunkett Family
County Mayo, Ireland to Lowell, MA
Rosemary K. Nunnally
Many are aware of the large, high cross on the path to the chapel of St.Patrick Cemetery.  Each marker tells a story of someone's life, their times of joy and sadness, beginnings and ends.  The Plunkett family of Lowell represent a life of serving their community and honoring their heritage.  This week's blog is another story of a life to be remebered by guest blogger, Rosemary Nunnally.

Remains of Castlemore House, Co. Mayo
The Plunkett family has a very, very long history in Ireland.  The family has been documented back hundreds of years in the book Irish Pedigrees by John O’Hart.

 In about 1825 in County Mayo, Joseph Plunkett of Castlemore House, Ballaghaderreen married Frances French, the daughter of Edward French, Esq., of Bella, near Frenchpark, County Roscommon.  Joseph Plunkett was a Justice of the Peace and proprietor of Castlemore House.  During the 1830’s and 1840’s the Plunketts had several children: Walter, Joseph Jr., Francis Charles, Arabella, Frances, Ann and Mary.  It appears they led a comfortable life.

As with many Irish families, some event prompted several members of the Plunkett family to leave their home and come to the United States.  Perhaps it was the death of Joseph Sr.  Between 1855 and 1865, Mrs. Plunkett and her children Fanny (Frances), Mary, Joseph, and Ann Cavendish along with granddaughter Agnes Cavendish were living in Blackstone, MA.  Joseph and Ann worked in the mills there.  Daughter Arabella remained in County Mayo, married to Dr. A. Dillon.  Francis Charles also stayed behind attending medical school.

The Plunkett family had relocated to Lowell, MA by 1865.  Joseph and his sister Ann again worked in the mills while 65 year old Mrs. Plunkett stayed home with grandchildren Agnes Cavendish and
Joseph McGinnis. 
Several members of the Plunkett family chose a medical profession.  Francis Charles Plunkett, born 1844, studied at The Schools of Surgery, Royal College of Physicians in Dublin for medical training.  Francis apprenticed with his sister’s husband, Dr. Andrew Dillon.  When Francis completed his medical training, he came to the United States.  From 1859 to 1862 he was an apothecary while he was a private with Co. A, 2nd Battalion, NY Volunteer Infantry.  In 1862 he opened an account with the Emigrant Savings Bank in New York.   Francis worked in Washington D.C. as an acting hospital steward and apothecary at Camps Barry, Duncan and Meagher.  He became involved in the fighting of the Civil War in November of 1864 and was an Assistant Surgeon with the 183rd Ohio Volunteers.   After a year of service, Dr. Plunkett went to a hospital in North Carolina and then the Invalid Corps in Washington, D.C.   In 1866 he came to Lowell to join his family members.

Dr. Francis C. Plunkett started as an apothecary and quickly built up a medical practice.   He was on the original staff of St. John’s Hospital in Lowell.  He married Alice Martin in 1869.  She died a few years later.  Francis remarried Mary Ann McDuff in Nova Scotia in 1876.  They had a son Harry and two daughters Frances and Florence. In most newspaper accounts and records he is referred to as “Dr. F. C. Plunkett.”

Along with his steady work as a physician, Francis was involved with the Lowell community.   He was active in public and charitable affairs.  He was a member of the Board of Aldermen, president of the North District Medical Society and a member of the City Hall commission.   When Charles Stewart Parnell, President of the Irish National Land League, came to Lowell in 1880 he stayed at the home of Dr. Plunkett.
Chief Marshal of the Columbus Day Parade
Joseph Plunkett first worked in the mills of Lowell as a wool sorter. When Dr. F.C. Plunkett came to Lowell, he was an apothecary (druggist). However within a few years, Joseph was now the apothecary in the family.  Maybe Francis turned this business over to Joseph as he became a leading doctor in Lowell.  Joseph was a well-known druggist for over twenty years.  His shop was on Dutton Street at the corner with Market Street.  Joseph did not marry and lived with his mother and later with his brother on Worthen Street.

As opposed to his civic minded brother, Joseph did not participate in that aspect of life in Lowell.  His obituary in the Lowell Sun on May 18, 1897 said “He was not identified with any societies and considerable of his time was spent in travel.”  Joseph’s funeral at St. Patrick’s Church was largely attended.  He was buried in the family grave at St. Patrick’s Cemetery.  He was 62 years old.

 Francis Plunkett suffered a stroke in 1894.  Though he could no longer go out to make house calls, he kept part time hours with patients coming to see him at his home and office at the corner of Worthen Street and Broadway.

In August of 1899, Dr. Plunkett put a new monument on the family grave in St. Patrick’s Cemetery. The Lowell Sun put a drawing of the stone on the front page of the newspaper.  The Sun commented that it was “a very handsome monument …. The Celtic cross is very pretty and the workmanship perfect”.  Sadly in just three months, Dr. F.C. Plunkett passed away and was buried under this cross.
Lowell Sun Sept. 2, 1899                      
Dr. F.C. Plunkett’s funeral was held at St. Patrick’s Church on December 1, 1899. The Lowell Sun reported the following – “All day yesterday and last evening people from all parts of the city visited the house of mourning at the corner of Broadway and Worthen streets to look for the last time on the face of the deceased, for whom they held the highest respect…. The funeral was very largely attended by sorrowing relatives and friends of the deceased.”  The Journal of the American Medical Association, Volume 33, 1899 reported “With the death of Dr. Plunkett there passes out of view one of the most remarkable physicians ever known in Massachusetts. Though not known as a writer, on account of the demands of an enormous practice, he was a man of deep culture and versatile accomplishments.”

Dr. Plunkett’s son, Harry B., was born in Lowell on September 3, 1877.  He followed in the footsteps of his father and uncle and chose medicine as his profession.  Harry attended Fordham University and graduated in the class of 1906 from Kentucky University School of Medicine. He was a staff member of the hospitals in Lowell.  Later he was a doctor at the Tewksbury State Hospital specializing in tuberculosis and psychiatry.  Dr. Harry B. Plunkett died on February 10, 1950 and is buried in the family plot at St. Patrick’s Cemetery.