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Lowell Round-Up: June 22, 2018

Mimi Parseghian shares her observations on the past week in Lowell:

It was a slow political week in Lowell but not in our country.

It has become difficult to have a civil discussion on immigration.  We live in the age where so many believe that they are entitled to their own facts, not merely their own opinions. (h/t Sen. Patrick Moynihan).

Here in Lowell we live in a city that was built by immigrants and today thrives because of the children, grand-children and great grandchildren of those immigrants along with newly arrived refugees and other immigrants.  I would think that if you are a descendant of an immigrant, you would find the compassion to try to understand why there are so many Central Americans knocking on our door.

What role did U.S. foreign policy play in the turmoil that continues to dominate Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador?

As a granddaughter of refugees and as an immigrant myself, I have a deep appreciation for all those countries that gave my family a home.  I am forever grateful that no one built a wall.

World Refugee Day was observed this past Wednesday.  According to UN figures today, there are 24.5 million forcibly displaced people in the world today.  That does not include the 40 million who are internally displaced; that is those who have been forced out of their homes and relocated somewhere else in their country.  Today, we have 10 million stateless people.  And which countries did the majority of the world refugees originate: South Sudan, Afghanistan and Syria.

There is a direct consequence for drafting policies that create turmoil. We should own it.

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Back to local issues.  On Wednesday, the Lowell School Committee passed a motion (4-3) that “Request Administration to present by the first School Committee in January 2019 a plan to rezone the district to ‘neighborhood’ schools – presentation should include est. transportation cost saving along with number of students and schools affected and what the new start and dismissal times will look like.”

We have not had neighborhood schools since 1988 when the federal government directed the Lowell Schools to assure that all students have equal educational opportunities.

This motion has already generated some discussion on social media.  I think it is a good time to review this issue. I do not know if six months is enough to gather the necessary data, analyze it and come up with effective recommendations.  Will the public be allowed to give their opinions as the Administration gathers the information or will we need to wait until the report is completed? Also, how will the 1988 ruling be integrated into this new system?

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Although the City Councilors did not have a meeting this week, they were quite busy attending so many public events.  If you are City Councilors you have two jobs; first your professional career and second serving on the Council.

Whether you agree or not with their individual approach and views, we should appreciate the time and effort that is put into participating in community activities.   The increase in cultural, social and philanthropic activities combined with social media has added to the necessity to be out and about almost every day.

Lowell in World War One: June 17, 1918 to June 21, 1918

This is the 59th installment of my Lowell in World War One series which commemorates the centennial of the entry of the United States into World War One. Here are the headlines from one hundred years ago for the past week:

June 17, 1918 – Monday – Austrians hurled back. Italians launch counter attacks and drive enemy across the Piave River. Cardinal at Camp Devens. His Eminence calls Army invincible. Exhorts soldiers to be true to God and flag.

June 18, 1918 – Tuesday – Austrians are stopped everywhere. Italian and Allie armies repel attacks of 1,000,000 Austrian troops and inflict terrible losses. New evidence in Nation-wide war contract graft plot. Thousands of letters containing proofs of elaborate system to mulct US on contracts. Vast sums involved. Hundreds of business offices raided. Boston men indicted. Commencement exercises at State Normal School.

June 19, 1918 – Wednesday – French check new Hun drive five miles from Rheims. Enemy launched attack on fourteen mile front but was repulsed everywhere with heavy losses. Sale of Thrift Stamps on the Midway. There will be a novelty at the South Common midway this year and that will be the sale of thrift stamps, which will be conducted by the Knights of Columbus, the Red Cross and the Red Triangle. Private James Wood of Lowell, formerly employed at US Cartridge Co, has successfully completed a course in advanced aerial work at Fort Worth, Texas and has been appointed an instructor in aerial gunnery.

June 20, 1918 – Thursday – Repeated Austrian efforts to advance sanguinarily repulsed by the Italians. Austrian pressure from Lake Garda to Adriatic grows weaker. Arrest Western Union agents. Postal inspectors also seize suitcases filled with messages filed for transmission by telegraph. The agents were carrying the messages by train, rather than transmitting them by telegraph. This practice, in operation by the telegraph company for some time, violates postal laws that prohibit anyone not officially connected with the postal service from conducting traffic in communications over regular post roads. Homestead experiment complete failure. Henry Charbonneau declared yesterday at the state constitutional convention that the homestead experiment in Lowell, whereby the state has built houses for workers, is a failure because of the small size of the houses, calling them “race suicide cottages” because they are not large enough for the average family.

June 21, 1918 – Friday – Americans hold 38 mile battle front in West. Italians defeat Austrians on Mentello Plateau. American aviators are active on Piave front. Labor trouble at gas plant may affect gas supply. Unless the 12 men who left their work yesterday at the School street plant of the Lowell Gas Light Co return to work today or tomorrow, it is feared that the supply of gas now on hand will be exhausted by tomorrow night. It is understood that the men left work without the sanction of the Firemen’s Union and that they are acting entirely on their own. A company official said that the dispute is not between the company and the workers, but among the workers themselves, however, if they don’t soon return to work, the city’s gas supply will be exhausted.

Kerouac Park: Renewal Planned for 30th Year

Next Monday marks the 30th anniversary of the dedication of the Jack Kerouac Commemorative in Kerouac Park on Bridge and French streets. On the dedication day, some 200 people gathered for the celebration, joined by journalists from the Sun, Boston Globe, New York Times, New Yorker magazine, CBS-News TV, and international media outlets. Since 1988, the Kerouac Commemorative has become a destination for literary pilgrims of all kinds, from locals across the river in Centralville to travelers from Ohio, Japan, and many other places. Every October, organizers of the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! festival meet at the park to remember the author and his writer-friends. Now, in this anniversary year, the City of Lowell and its partners intend to make improvements at the park and produce more events to increase the vibrancy of this special place. The drawing of the sculpture and park below is by Janet Lambert-Moore, well-known Lowell artist. 

 

The City is seeking $25,000 in donations to match a grant from MassDevelopment, a state agency, which would yield $50,000 for improvements. Follow this link to make an online donation. Checks for Kerouac Park can also be made out to the Greater Lowell Community Foundation and sent to the City of Lowell Cultural Affairs Office, JFK Civic Center, 50 Arcand Drive, Lowell, MA 01852. Please consider donating. The deadline is June 30.

Following is an essay of mine that appeared in the Sun a few days before the dedication. The first name of the park was Eastern Canal Park, later changed to Kerouac Park by the City Council. —PM

Honoring Jack Kerouac

On Saturday, June 25, a large crowd is expected to gather on the fresh green lawn of Eastern Canal Park downtown to hear speeches and readings that will mark the dedication of the Jack Kerouac Commemorative. By their presence, people will be saying that they are pleased and satisfied to see a permanent remembrance of the author Jack Kerouac. They will be voting with their feet. His family, friends, and fellow artists, along with admirers, the influenced, and the curious will be in the city.

The Jack Kerouac Commemorative, created by Ben Woitena, a sculptor from Texas, breaks new ground in the way we publicly recognize the achievements of American writers. Those who have worked on the project have not seen anything like it anywhere. Typically, a birthplace is preserved or a street is renamed for an author. The Kerouac sculpture is carved into the landscape of Eastern Canal Park, designed by Brown & Rowe landscape architects of Boston. Eight triangular columns of polished granite are inscribed with excerpts from ten of Kerouac’s books. The opening paragraphs from his five novels set in Lowell and On the Road are on the perimeter of a plaza, while chunks of text more metaphysical in nature appear on the stone panels towards the center of the space. The pavement and granite benches form circle and cross patterns. The literature is presented in the open air, sandblasted into the reddish-brown granite. The sculpture is a portrait in language. For an artist who so loved the American landscape, it is appropriate that the Kerouac Commemorative is of the American earth. The granite was quarried in South Dakota; the stones were cut in Minnesota; West Virginian graphic designers worked on the text; and the sculptor is a Texan who studied art in Southern California.

Lowell was a wellspring of experience for Kerouac. He came back to this place, these people, time and again for his writing and personal sustenance. It is right that his Lowell books are so large a part of the new sculpture. Pawtucketville, Centralville, South Common—the words are there. But the world is also there on the granite panels: baseball, Hemingway, freedom, Homer’s Iliad, Los Angeles, Buddha, God, New York, the road.

In the 1950’s, Jack Kerouac added a new voice to the country’s literary mix. His language was American speech, delivered in a rush and rhythm that sent readers into a spin. He wrote about worlds that were not usually found in mainstream novels, be it the ethnic, working-class culture of Lowell in the first half of this century or young artists, railroaders, street people, jazz men, and adventurers on the fringes of society. His books continue to speak to people seeking answers to the big questions, like “What are we all doing here?” His writing is direct and honest, full of passion and excitement.

Readers want to know Jack Kerouac; they come to Lowell to touch a part of what he was. They want to see the places he described in gutsy, lyrical prose. Much of Kerouac’s Lowell remains; the Lowell High School of Maggie Cassidy; the river of Doctor Sax; the St. Louis de France church of Visions of Gerard. Much is gone as well, but visitors fill in the gaps. Many pilgrims stop at his grave in Edson Cemetery—some leave a rose or a wine bottle.

Kerouac wrote more than twenty books of prose, poetry, dreams, scriptures, and essays. Aside from imagination and intelligence, it takes tremendous concentration to write a book. Kerouac didn’t spend his life on the road or at a party. He had good times and bad times, but he also had working time, and plenty of it.

The Kerouac Commemorative is now part of the Lowell streetscape. The sculptor hopes it will be a space for reflection, rest, and play. It can be thought of as a secular sacred place that embodies the breath of a man who was on a spiritual quest. One realizes that after reading the words on site. Kerouac’s characters seek truth, joy, and the ultimate ground of being—at times through contemplation on mountaintops, at other times through reckless physical indulgence. And sometimes his characters are sweetly even.

The new sculpture takes its place with others downtown as the city’s public art collection grows and begins to link up in series of visual commentaries on the Lowell experience—an urban, industrial culture that is very much the experience of our time. Kerouac was a writer of his time. His fiction foreshadowed major cultural shifts that altered our society in the 1960’s and ‘70’s. He never denied his roots and branched farther than he might have guessed. The painter James McNeill Whistler, who did not claim Lowell as his native town, but whom we wisely claim for his genius, has his birthplace preserved as an art museum. It’s about time Jack Kerouac had his day.

—Paul Marion, June 23, 1988

Lowell Places: Superior Courthouse

Middlesex Superior Courthouse, 360 Gorham Street, Lowell

“Lowell Places” is a new category of blog posts that will appear from time-to-time to tell the story of buildings, parks, bridges and other structures of historical interest in Lowell, Massachusetts.

Incorporated as a town in 1826 and a city in 1836, the rapid growth of Lowell brought an increase in legal matters originating in the city. To obtain space for a new courthouse, Middlesex County purchased a 106,380 square foot parcel along Gorham Street on Chapel Hill from James Dana of Charlestown, and Thomas Nesmith and Andrew Wheelock of Lowell on May 4, 1847. The purchase price was $11,032 and the lot ran 550 feet north along Gorham Street from the intersection with Elm, then 150 feet easterly to Linden Street; then 466 feet along Linden to Elm; then 280 feet along Elm to Gorham.

Lowell Superior Court in 1850

Designed by Amni Burnham Young, whose previous work included Boston’s Custom House and additions to courthouses in Worcester and Cambridge, the was completed in 1850. The local media called the Romanesque Revival-style building “the finest in the state” and “one of the handsomest courthouses in the country.”

Changes came quickly. In 1855, the legislature created the Middlesex Northern District Registry of Deeds to maintain custody of land records for the communities of Billerica, Carlisle, Chelmsford, Dracut, Dunstable, Lowell, Tewksbury, Tyngsborough, Westford and Wilmington, with the registry occupying quarters on the first floor of the courthouse, where it remains today.

On September 4, 1860, Middlesex County carved from the courthouse lot a $16,439 square foot parcel north of the contemplated street from Gorham to Linden (which street is now called Hobson Street) and conveyed it to the Trustees of Donations to the Protestant Episcopal Church on the condition that it “be always used as a Protestant Episcopal Church.” St. John’s Episcopal Church was soon constructed on this new parcel. It remains in use as a church today.

As Lowell continued to grow, so did the amount of litigation that arose in the region. In 1894, the Middlesex County Commissioners voted to expand the courthouse. Rather than add on to the rear of the existing building which sat right along Gorham Street, the Commissioners instead chose to move the 1850 building 60 feet backward and build the addition – in the form of a completely new building – in the vacated space.

Superior Courthouse from Hobson Street, showing the original 1850 building (left) and the 1898 addition (right)

To move the three-story red brick building, workers dug underneath and propped it up on heavy wooden beams supported by 800 jacks. Other jacks, placed perpendicular to the side of the excavation, pushed the entire structure backwards. The building moved one inch each hour. According to a contemporary newspaper, “. . . so little is the movement perceptible that work goes on in the registry of deeds office just the same as usual. The project took four years to complete with the new building being formally dedicated on September 12, 1898.

From the outside, little appears to have changed in the 120 years since the opening of the “new” Superior Courthouse. One exception came in 2011 when an elevator was added to make the building more accessible. An elevator shaft was constructed outside the south wall of the 1850 building. The shaft’s brick walls, windows and molding match almost exactly their much older counterparts on that side of the building.

Inside the building, the main walls, hallways and stairs are much like they were a century ago, however, more recent updates to heat, electricity and plumbing make the building habitable by twenty-first century standards.

A year from now, all of the occupants of the Superior Courthouse will move to the new Lowell Judicial Center and the search will begin for a new use of this grand old building.

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