Sunday, September 27, 2015

St Patrick Cemetery Tour, Saturday, Oct. 3rd 2015 @ 10 am

Today's team.
Join us for our annual cemetery tour this coming Saturday.  The tour starts at the cemetery office and lasts about 90 minutes.  For the last few weeks the volunteers have been cleaning the slate stones that record the early history of Lowell's Irish pioneers.  This may be your last chance to see the 21 shamrock stones that make St Pat's unique as something not done in other early Irish cemeteries.  After this year they will no longer be uncovered.  Hear the stories Stephen Castles shooting his gun into an unruly crowd, or Rev, McDermott being locked out of his church, and the sad story of David Roche marrying his sweetheart and dying shortly after at Gettysburg.

Today was our last cleaning day.  It was devoted to the Sisters from different orders who taught in Lowell.  Our trusty team of volunteers was able to complete the the first group of stones from the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur who came to Lowell in 1852 and opened St Patrick's and Notre Dame Academy.  The order still teaches are both schools today.  We also did all the stones for the Sisters of St Mary of Namur who operated Sacred Heart School.  Unfortunately that leaves many of the Sisters of Charity and the second lot belonging to the SNDs undone.

A little shout out to today's volunteers.  Many, many years ago when we first began cleaning and recording the stones 2 of the first volunteers were Jim McNamara and his daughter Mary.  Jim passed a number of years ago, but Mary came to close out the final year of stone cleaning.  We were also joined by folks we met on this summer's Lowell Walks.  Katie and Bonnie showed up with tools in hand and learned stone cleaning 101.  I don't know why, but Brenda has not tired of me bringing her week after week.  We're both frustrated archaeologists deep inside.  Lastly, guest blogger Rosemary Nunally drove an hour to help out. Rosemary even stayed after the rest left to try to get more stones cleaned.   We got a lot done today and it couldn't have been done without their help.  Of course if you do drive into the cemetery on a given weekend this fall, you just might see Walter and Karen cleaning off just one more stone. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

One Chapter Closes

Old photo
New photo
Dr. Eileen Murphy, Queen’s University (Belfast), joined us this week in completing this phase of our cemetery research.  Passersby may have taken a second look as Eileen, Brenda, Walter, and I walked about Yard One of St. Pat’s, Old English, and School St. Cemeteries.  Using the technique stone conservator, Paul Butterworth, taught us, we reshot dozens of stones as a permanent record of our slates before we allow them to be covered over once gain preserving them for the next generation of researchers.  We walked about the cemetery with large cardboard boxes to provide shade and with mirrors to aim sunlight at angles on the slate stones.  The result was amazing!  Comparing the photos we had from a few tears ago and using this technique really shows the difference.  Unfortunately we were able to do a few dozen stones when we know there are dozens of dozens that could be done.  

Eileen & Walter at work
Dr. Murphy’s work goes beyond taking photos.  She went about measuring stones to compare children’s   She is also looking for patterns such as who had shamrock stones?  Were they from the same region?  Did the same carver make all the stones?  Were Yankee stones any different than their Irish counterparts?  We also started analyzing the data in the Hanavor (burial) books.  What patterns do we see here?  Causes of death?  Ages?  By far children are listed in the books.  Cause of death is often listed as teething.  Women’s deaths were by consumption of during childbirth.
stones with adults’.

If you’re available this Saturday, it will be out last cleaning day before the tour.  We will be cleaning and recording data from the stones of the Sisters who served at St. Patrick’s, Notre Dame Academy (Lowell), Immaculate Conception, and Sacred Heart.  (The other orders who taught at different Catholic schools in Lowell had their own community grounds at other cemeteries.)  Any help, even for ½ hour would be appreciated.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Providence Lends a Hand

Cleaning Day 2-  The weather was perfect.  Having completed the 21 shamrocks last week, it was time to tackle the stones of some of the heroes (and villains) of our upcoming tour (Saturday, October 3rd).  The trusty team of four set about the task and once again. We uncovered the grave of Sam Murray, victualer and constable.  He was a friend of Hugh Cummiskey and one can imagine Hugh visiting the grave of the young man who may have been like a son to him.  Then there’s the massive, almost 4 foot stone of James Sacnnell who died on 1848.  No record could be found of his life but he obviously had money to afford a white marble marker of that size inscribed with the symbol of the Agnus Dei, cross, and angels.  One can imagine the gleaming, white marble standing tall amidst the grey slates in the morning light.  Mr.  Scannell wanted to be remembered.  John Sinett was another of those whose graves fill Yard 1.   The city directory lists him as a laborer.  His marker says he died at age 44.  A little more investigating found he “died from a fall.”  His young widow probably spent more than she should to have a granite marker (why not slate like his contemporaries and less expensive) put upon his grave.  And what happens to Mary after his passing?   She is listed as widow for a brief time, and then disappears from any records.  As the team uncovers each stone we ask questions like this.  

Paul at work
Today Providence paid us a visit.  Paul Butterworth called to say he was on his way.  Paul has been on the cemetery and Acre tours a number of times.  My memory, being what it is, forgets names easily.  Then it hit a bell.  I had contacted Paul a number of years ago when we sought permission from the cemetery officials in Boston to repair some of the broken stones.  Paul is a professional stone conservator and was willing to save  We had raised the money to do the work, but Boston denied us permission.  Let me note that was a decision made by Boston, not the cemetery office.  Today Paul arrived ready to work; many of his own family rest in St. Pat’s.  But I had other ideas.  Paul was kind enough to walk the cemetery with Walt and myself.  He saw the damage done to the stones, and I asked the question.  What do we do?  Paul noted that we have uncovered hundreds of stones, recorded their info, and done what we could to photograph them for posterity.  Our work is done.
some of our treasured shamrock and other historic stones.

For years we have had some wonderful volunteers who have given of their time and labor to preserve the history of our Irish forebears.  We thank you in their name most sincerely.  Even though they may not have been your own family graves, you have paid homage to their lives.  With all the help we’ve been given, and again we could not have done it without each one of you, even if you just did one stone, it is time to end our yearly cleaning.  The four regulars, Walter, Karen, Brenda, and I can do no more.  We are all at the point where we help each other stand up after kneeling for hours.  We have to admit that doing this for almost 20 years has taken its toll.  We are going to allow the slates to be covered over with grass clippings and sink back into the ground becoming shadows once again.  We have done our job and maybe someone in the next generation will pick up where we left off.  

If you haven’t seen the shamrock stones, this year’s tour will be your last chance.  We may continue doing tours after this, but we will be focusing on the standing monuments.  Change is good.   After saying all this, a reminder we still have alumni day on Saturday, September 26 at 9 am.  We will clean the stones of the Sisters who served in Lowell’s Catholic schools. 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Cemetery Clean UP - Day 1

Little did the superintendent of St Patrick's Cemetery realize what future generations would think of his idea.  In order to modernize the cemetery he quite literally snapped hundreds of slate and marble markers and laid them flat.  Over time they were covered by clippings and have sunk into the ground. It wouldn't be until 1995 that a team of volunteers resurrected (excuse the pun) the stones so their inscriptions could be recorded for future generations.  That has had its good points and bad.  While the data has given local historians and genealogists a wealth of information never known before; it has exposed them to the elements and modern technology (giant lawn mowers being driven over them).

For the past 20 years we've given tours of the cemetery.  It seems there's great interest in hearing the stories of the first generation Irish pioneers and deciphering the iconography on the stones.  Why do many of the oldest stones use Yankee symbols?  Why does the Cusack stone have pagan-like designs?  Why do some of the stones have shamrocks and not others?   Are any written in Irish? Folks ask all kinds of questions.  Some we know; some we're still finding out.

One drawback of doing all this is that each year we have to go to cemetery weeks before the tour and
remove the clippings and sod from the previous year.  Many stones are almost invisible to the naked eye because of a year's growth of crabgrass.  This year was THE banner year for crabgrass!

The treasure of St Pat's are our shamrock stones, all 21.  Today's work was to clean and record all 21 stones.  It's imperative that this be done.  Damage to the stones increases every year.  They sink deeper and deeper and that makes mowing more difficult and hazardous to the stone.  So this year we recorded the location of each stone, cleaned each using soft brushes and plastic utensils, and photographed each as best we could.  Yard 1 is full sun all day making photography difficult (and hot).  Each stone was photographed dry and then with a mist of water to highlight lettering.  When I got home I found the 200 photos we took rather poor so waited until late afternoon and returned to photograph in the shade.

Today's volunteers were Brenda and Donagh McKean, my wife and daughter.  No, I did not force them to volunteer (too much).  Donagh even came back for trip #2.  Of course Karen and Walter Hickey were there so early they already finished a stone before anyone else got there.  Though Walter is our senior member, he worked nonstop.  A new volunteer who arrived was Caitlin, a blog reader, who heard the call.  I hope we have not scared her off, but seriously thank her for the help.  Every stone counts.

Next week's (Saturday, Sept 12) cleaning will be shorter and focus on some historic personages. We'll have 10-15 stones to do.  Saturday, September 29 will be alumni day where we ask those who attended St. Pat's, Notre Dame Academy, Sacred Heart, or Immaculate to come and even clean one stone of a Sister who worked in Lowell and is buried at St. Pat's. 

One last thought, as we finished up Walt and I thought that the cleaning and photographing was especially important this year.  This may be the last time we're able to take on such a task, which means we need to think about doing future tours.  (Of course we say that each year.)