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Calling out Trump’s web of lies is just Step One by Marjorie Arons Barron

The entry below is being cross posted from Marjorie Arons Barron’s own blog.

This was the speech many have been waiting for for months: the President standing in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol and speaking the truth about the democracy-defying January 2021 insurrection. Conciliatory softness would just not do for the first anniversary of the lethal violence when a mob, incited by the former, defeated President, tried to overthrow an election and subvert the U.S. Constitution.

Did he change any minds among Donald Trump supporters? Probably not. But the American electorate needs to know how imperiled our democracy was on that day – and how it remains even more so today. We are at an inflection point in history. We must work to protect the right to vote, a foundational commitment in our national narrative, the theme uniting Lexington and Concord, Gettysburg, Seneca Falls and Selma, Alabama.

Biden painted the picture, revealed in testimony before the Special Committee to Investigate January 6th, of the former President sitting in the White House dining room contentedly watching for hours as hundreds of enraged and lethally armed rioters breached the walls of Congress, attacked the Capitol Police, invaded the Senate and House chambers and offices, drove members of Congress away from the process of certifying the election results, and caused multiple deaths and 140 injuries. As President Biden reminded us without naming Donald Trump, the former President’s bruised ego was more important to him than the will of the American people and the security of the country.

Yet, here we are, a year later, with most Republicans still believing and perpetuating Trump’s Big Lie, that the 2020 election was stolen. Even potentially reasonable Republicans in Congress are cowed into silence, fearful of Trump’s efforts to destroy their political careers if they speak the truth. Appropriately, Biden detailed the events around that “most scrutinized” election in American history, replete with recounts and audits, none of which proved any cheating that would have changed the outcome, all legal claims rejected by the courts.

So the “battle for the soul of America,” which Biden first evoked in reaction to the August, 2017 murder by truck at the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA, endures to this day. The fight for voting rights protections as drafted in the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom to Vote Act is on life support. Because of uniform Republican opposition, the only hope lies in a carve-out of Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster rule requiring 60 votes to pass it. Elements of proposed rules changes vary, and there’s also room for negotiation on some of the proposed legislation. This may be the most important challenge the Democrats face because failure to act could lead to the result Trump and his minions sought in 2021.

Biden’s challenge ahead includes persuasive messaging. The man who stood today before the American people was not the weak, aged, even senile President that Fox News like to paint. It’s not hyperbole to acknowledge that American democracy is under greater threat today than at any time since the Civil War. If we are to meet that challenge, the President who spoke today is the one who must show up as the leader of a renewed and sustained movement to get the people to understand what’s at stake. The fact that we have survived serious crises in the past is no reason for complacency. COVID, climate change and China are real issues, but – long term – none is more important than saving our democracy, the noble experiment launched by our Founding Fathers – which Benjamin Franklin extolled as “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Chillin’ with Dylan by Steve O’Connor 

Bob Dylan in Lowell, c.1975


Chillin’ With Dylan

by Steve O’Connor

I’ve been hanging out with Bob Dylan quite a bit over the last few years. We’re pals. He’s always delighted to see me because he enjoys my company immensely. Generally, he comes by at about 3:00 am, though it’s hard to say because I don’t have a clock near the bed. And generally, I’m asleep. In the interests of accuracy, I’ll amend that. I’m always asleep. Last night, or this morning, I found myself at a crowded party eating a donut. The donut was tasty, especially since in waking hours I have not eaten a donut in thirty years. I had only taken two bites when the familiar freewheellin’ figure came surging through the crowd toward me. “Hey, Bob,” I said, and handed him the rest of the donut, which he stuffed into his mouth gratefully. He gave me ‘great to see ya,’ ‘thanks for the half-eaten donut’ kind of slap on the back and a quick one-armed hug and we began to catch up.

Now in my dreams, as, most likely in your dreams, anything can happen, and I’m never terribly surprised. My parents are alive again. I may have a conversation with my dog or play the piano or fly a plane. All of it seems quite normal. But even in a dream, I’m more than a little amazed that I’m chillin’ with Dylan.

A few weeks ago, I was walking around Portsmouth with Bob. I went into a little bakery for coffees and croissants. He waited outside so the crowd inside wouldn’t bug him for autographs. He pulled a baseball cap low over his eyes and took a seat on a park bench. Bob wanted to give me money, and I know he has it, but hey, a coffee and a croissant is the least a person can do for Bob Dylan. I brought the goods out and joined him on the bench and we sat and sipped and chewed and chatted until it was time for his boot heels to be wanderin.’

The substance of my conversations with Bob Dylan, being “such stuff as dreams are made on,” evaporates quickly; I only remember our easy camaraderie. If, like, Jack Kerouac, I kept a book of dreams, I might put together a list of Dylan’s appearances and more of the details and try to make sense out of them. But why Bob Dylan? I wonder if a psychoanalyst would have an opinion. Does he visit to help me settle some unresolved issue? Why not Paul McCartney? Why not Mick Jagger? Jimi Hendrix? Joni Mitchell? Of course, I grew up with Dylan and am a fan, but I’m not a true votary. I don’t listen to Dylan cd’s in my car or collect memorabilia. My wife and I saw him once at the Tsongas Arena and were disappointed. As the woman in front of us said, “It sounds like he has laryngitis.” Maybe the next time I see him, I’ll tell him to quit smoking.

Of course, Mick Jagger and the others never won a Nobel Prize for Literature. Joni Mitchell would certainly be worthy of consideration. But Dylan, I suspect, represents to me the Protean artist. How many times has he reinvented himself, beginning with his own name? This makes him not only the obvious genius he is, but a mystery, and the human brain, even when it’s sleeping, wants to solve mysteries. Who is he, really? When we saw him in Lowell, he never addressed the audience directly. There was no, “It’s great to be back here in Lowell, Massachusetts,” or “How are you all doing tonight?” He said nothing. He performed his songs.

I don’t spend a lot of my waking hours thinking about Bob Dylan, and yet he seems to loom large in my subconscious. He represents something, but the conscious brain can only guess what it is. Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus, in a A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, says that through his writing, he intends to “forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.” Dylan, at different times, has been considered the conscience of our generation, and perhaps that idealization lingers somewhere in my brain or my heart.

It’s a mystery, and unless writing this brief piece exorcises the dream Dylan somehow, which would be a shame, I hope to continue the friendship, which at best will remain shadowy, for as the troubadour himself once sang:

When the rooster crows at the break of dawn,
Look out your window, and I’ll be gone.


Racist Deed Restrictions

Screenshot of WBUR website, Jan 23, 2022

On Sunday, WBUR (Boston’s NPR radio station) posted a story about race or ethnic-based restrictive covenants in Massachusetts land records. The story also ran in Sunday’s Lowell Sun and was on the air and online from WBUR on Monday.

Today I’ll supplement that story with additional information about the documents mentioned and how the story came about from my perspective.

Last summer I received an email from WBUR’s Todd Wallack asking if I had ever come across a deed with a restrictive covenant that barred the sale of the property to another based on race or ethnicity. I said I knew of a couple of them and sent him examples.

One was from a deed from 1881 for property in Fairmount Street in Lowell. Here’s the relevant line:

The said premises being deeded under the express agreement and condition that the land shall never be deeded or conveyed to any person born in Ireland.

WBUR’s Simon Rios took over from Wallack and thoroughly reported the story that appeared this week.

Here’s some background:

When I became register of deeds in 1995, I found a list of a dozen documents that had “interesting” content. I’m not sure who compiled the list, but it described the verbiage and book and page citation of each document. There were several with race or ethnic based restrictions that caught my attention. I found them in our record books, made copies of them, did some preliminary research then set them aside.

I knew that deed restrictions of this type have typically disappeared from subsequent deeds in the chain of ownership and that such restrictions are no longer enforceable. Nevertheless, real estate law is complicated and once a restriction is created it can legally linger even if it is otherwise unenforceable.

WBUR’s interest caused me to dig deeper into the story of these documents, especially the one cited above. As is often the case with Lowell, many threads of the city’s history came together in this one parcel of land.

From 1879 Lowell Atlas. East is to right.

The above section of the 1879 Lowell Atlas shows the parcel that had the restriction placed on it. It’s a vacant lot on the east side of Fairmount Street labeled “G. Butters.” Immediately across Fairmount Street is the home of George Butters. The unmarked road next to the Butters home that connects Fairmount to Nesmith Street is today’s Meryl Drive.

George Butters was born in Vermont in the 1820s. After marrying Susan Felch in Vermont in 1851, the couple moved to Lowell. George operated a successful livery stable near the train station that is now the Middlesex Community College Performing Arts Center at Central and Green Streets (a building many of us know as the Rialto). Mr. and Mrs. Butters also owned a home on the west side of Fairmount Street. They had three children: George Jr., Charles, and Eleanor.

George Sr. died in 1880 and the following year his widow Susan and their children, George Jr. and Eleanor, sold the vacant lot across the street from the home still occupied by Mrs. Butters. This is the deed that contained the “No Irish” restriction.

The buyer of the property was Abel Atherton, a machinist and inventor who held several patents on textile-making machinery. Atherton held onto this vacant parcel until 1887 when he sold it to Arthur Bonney.

Arthur Bonney was a lawyer, the Lowell City Solicitor, and a Superior Court judge. He compiled adjacent lots on Fairmount Street, including the one from Butters with the deed restriction, and merged them into a single parcel with a magnificent house that became known as The Bonney Estate.

Bonney Monument at Lowell Cemetery

Those of you who have been on my Lowell Cemetery tour may recognize the name Bonney from the monument shown above. Judge Bonney and his wife, Emma, had one child, a daughter named Clara who was born in 1855. In 1891, Clara married Charles Sumner Lilley, a judicial colleague of her father. Clara and Charles had one child; a daughter named Clara B. Lilley. Shortly after the birth of her daughter, Clara developed tuberculosis and died in 1894 at age 39. Her death devastated her husband and father (her mother had died two years earlier) so they retained a nationally known sculptor, Frank Elwell, to create a unique monument for Clara. Besides being a beautiful work of art, that monument (shown above) has gained notoriety for other reasons which I’ll leave for another day.

Screenshot of Fairmount Street from Google Streetview showing Bonney Estate to the right

After Clara’s death, Judges Bonney and Lilley continued to live in the Fairmount Street home until Arthur’s death in 1896. Young Clara inherited the property from her grandfather although her father (who lived until 1921) acted as legal guardian of her property until she was old enough to own it herself. Soon after that, Clara married Philip Dunbar of Newton, Massachusetts. Upon the marriage she not only took the last name Dunbar but also began using her middle name – Bonney – as her first name.

After the death of her father in 1921, Bonney Dunbar (formerly known as Clara Bonney Dunbar) put the Fairmount Street property up for sale and in 1925 conveyed it to Charles Brooks Stevens and Edith Ames Stevens.

Commonly known as C. Brooks Stevens, the new co-owner was a member of the textile mill-owning Stevens family. Mrs. Stevens’s father was Adelbert Ames who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in the Civil War and served as the military governor of Mississippi during reconstruction. Her mother was Blanche Butler, the daughter of Benjamin F. Butler, a Civil War general, member of Congress, and governor of Massachusetts.

When the Stevens sold the property in 1944, they first subdivided it into two lots; one with the grand Bonney home, the other a vacant lot upon which another house was constructed. In 1957, the subsequent owner conveyed the Bonney house to The Battles Home Corporation which converted it into an upscale residence for single gentlemen. The Battles Home sold the property in 2005 when it was further subdivided which is where it stands now.

As for the restrictive covenant, it only appeared in that one deed and was never repeated by subsequent owners. However, once a covenant is created, it “runs with the land” which means the property is encumbered by it whether it is specifically mentioned in subsequent deeds. But the U.S. Supreme Court has held that any covenant like this is void so even if it continues to “run with the land” it has no legal effect.

Even though it has no legal consequences, should that line be redacted from the records? I say no for at least two reasons: First, our entire system of land ownership is based on the completeness and the reliability of the records at the registry of deeds. If we begin removing portions of those records, we will inject doubt into a system that is widely respected and followed. In our contemporary era where many people consider the truth to be whatever seems convenient for you to believe at that moment, casting doubt about who owns what property is a path we should avoid taking.

My second reason for leaving the records intact is that it is a reflection of our history. This is not like some Civil War statue to a traitorous general that was erected long after the war as an affirmation of white supremacy. These records were created contemporaneously with the events they depict and as such are a primary source of what people thought and said at the time.

We should not erase our history; we should learn from it.

Learn About Jack Kerouac Online from Alaska

Learn About Kerouac on Zoom from Anchorage, Alaska

Jack Kerouac, U.S. Navy, 1943 (colorized by metacolor on reddit)


Alaskans and people around the country who are over the age of fifty will have an opportunity to learn about author Jack Kerouac in four seventy-five-minute Zoom sessions beginning February 10. The class, entitled “Off the Road,” is designed for Alaskan senior citizens who know little or nothing about Kerouac’s work beyond On the Road. Emphasis will be placed on Kerouac’s five Lowell-based novels, as well as writings published in Atop an Underwood and The Unknown Kerouac. The third session will explore Kerouac’s time in the Bay Area and the Pacific Northwest from 1955 through 1956 using John Suiter’s Poets on the Peaks and writings by Gary Snyder and Kerouac.

 Mike McCormick, a longtime Alaska resident who grew up in Haverhill, Mass., will lead the sessions. “Off the Road” is sponsored by Ole, a non-profit organization dedicated to lifelong learning affiliated with the University of Alaska/Anchorage.

Sign up for an introductory membership to Ole for $50 (regular price is $200) to take classes. Typically, classes are on UAA campus. The course is Zooming because of pandemic.


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Cape Cod

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