Former City Manager Charles Gallagher was an active participant in a writing program at Willow Manor Nursing Home in 1992 that was led by Bill Roberts, now a professor emeritus of English at UMass Lowell. Gallagher was a university student at the time, assisting Prof. Roberts. The community writing project was made possible by a grant from the Lowell Historic Preservation Commission and support from the Division of Continuing Education at UMass Lowell. Essays by Gallagher and others were collected in a booklet titled “Reflections from Willow Manor” (Willow Manor Nursing Home, 1992)—PM
from “The Guys from The Flats” by Charles Gallagher
“I was born in the Flats, and, believe it or not, other residents of Lowell could not tell you where The Flats is . . . an area located across from the Concord River from lower Belvidere (east), west by Central Street, south by the Grove section, and on the North by Church Street. A real small congested section of Lowell.
“Sixty or seventy years ago, when I was young, The Flats was inhabited by a majority of Irish-Catholic Democrats. Also included were English, French, Polish, Lithuanians, Finns, Scotch, Japanese, Chinese, and Italians. Prohibition was the law of the land. Most of the inhabitants worked in the Lowell mills. Of course, we all thought that the couple of Japanese homes that existed had nightly dope parties. The Polish and Lithuanians hated each other, but, believe it or not, there was a high percentage of marriage between the two nationalities. Maybe this could be a ‘Neutralization Act.’
“When I get depressed and feel useless, I am drawn to The Flats. I drive to Merrill Street, where I lived, and circle around the area, and then I park my car and get out and walk around. The first house that I usually look at is that of ‘Boozer’ Smith.
“Boozer must have been about sixty-five years old when I knew him. He must have weighed over five hundred pounds. Day after day he sat in a chair outside his home, regardless of the season or weather. I always wondered how anyone could afford to feed him and how he could be attended to when he was ill and had to be moved about. Though he had the name Boozer, I never saw him drink any of the bootleg whiskey that was available in The Flats. Maybe he confined his drinking to inside his home. He might have been given the name Boozer simply because we thought fat people got that way from drinking a lot of beer. He had only one outfit that he wore winter and summer. I never saw an overcoat on him, and on the coldest days he perspired as he wiped his face with an old white rag. But, as strange as it seems, he never seemed upset, and he wore a bit of a smile at all times. We were privileged to have such a character as Boozer for our neighbor because we always had the fat man of the circus close by. To make matters even worse, Boozer had another character of a different background as the occupant in the other part of the house—a man named Axel Anderson. . . .”
1879 map from the UMass Lowell Center for Lowell History