Lowell Week in Review: July 29, 2018

2018 ethnic parade at Lowell Folk Festival

Lowell Folk Festival

It’s hard to believe that this is the Folk Festival’s 32nd year in Lowell. Events Friday night and all day yesterday provide strong evidence that the Festival keeps getting better. The Friday night parade included delegations representing more than two dozen nationalities who have made Lowell their home, with each group bearing the flag of their nation of origin. The parade formed up on JFK Plaza at City Hall, proceeded down Merrimack Street to Kirk and then to Boarding House Park. The parade route was lined with festival-goers who cheered the passing delegations. At Boarding House Park, each group paraded past the stage, paused as their country’s name was called over the sound system, and then moved on, making space for the next group.

Boarding House Park itself was packed with people who cheered loudly for the city’s ethnic delegations while waiting for the music to begin. Ominous clouds hung in the western sky but never translated to rain or lighting and never suppressed the size of the crowd.

Yesterday’s high heat and humidity may have kept a few people away, but I thought the crowd was of about average size. Boarding House Park continues to be the venue that draws the most people, but the Dutton Street Dance Pavilion is a close second. Removing the food booths from JFK Plaza and placing them on Arcand Drive has opened up the plaza and allows people to sit in the shade under the old and new grassy islands the city has maintained and created there as part of a “monument garden.” That enhances the JFK site which formerly had sitting in the direct sun as the only option. Later in the afternoon, Merrimack Street and its many booths for local organizations had a steady stream of traffic.

A full day of festivities remain today, but thus far, the 2018 Lowell Folk Festival has to be deemed a big success, especially in light of the untimely death last December of Lowell Festival Foundation executive director Craig Gates. He was a year-round organizer of the festival and the effect of his loss can’t be discounted. That the festival has gone on so smoothly this year is a credit to all involved.

Jay Hungate and his “Lobster Roll” kinetic sculpture

Lowell Kinetic Sculpture Race

Among the booths set up on Merrimack Street was one for the Lowell Kinetic Sculpture Race which will be held this year on Saturday, September 22, 2018, beginning at 8 a.m. This event burst on the Lowell scene three years ago and immediately became one of the most popular events in the city.

While the race itself is still a few weeks off, organizers urge everyone interested in forming a team and entering the race to register soon.

Campaign Update

Many candidates in the upcoming state election (including me) were present at the festival, greeting potential voters and enjoying the crowd. The state primary on September 4 is just 37 days away and the general election on November 6 comes in 100 days.

With a dozen candidates, the Democratic Primary for the Third Congressional District draws much attention. Be sure to read the analysis of that race by long-time Lowell political observer Kendall Wallace, which he shared and I posted earlier this morning.

“A Sad and Scary Week”

“A Sad and Scary Week” is how someone on Twitter described this week in Lowell. Early Thursday morning, the city had its fourth homicide of 2018 when a man was killed in a house on Walker Street in what was called a home invasion by witnesses. Thursday night, another man was shot and wounded on Auburn Street. Early Wednesday morning, the 7-11 at Wood Street and Princeton Boulevard was held up by three armed men.

At a Highlands Neighborhood Group meeting on a subzero night last January, the Lowell Police Captain who briefed the crowd on criminal activity in the neighborhood memorably said that as a member of law enforcement, “I love this kind of weather.” He explained that cold weather keeps criminals inside just like everyone else, so criminal activity is reduced by Mother Nature. But he added that warm weather has the opposite effect which is what we are seeing now.

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting acting Police Superintendent Jon Webb briefed the council on the situation and the city’s response. Our co-blogger, Mimi Parseghian, in her notes on the meeting, wrote the following about Supt Webb’s remarks:

Supt Webb gave a detailed account of what has been occurring in the City lately.  Yes, it is both drug related and gang related.  There are two groups of “hardcore gang members” not in their late teens but mid-20s and even 30s who are fighting against each other.  The series of shooting are retaliations.  He described as “very troubling” that within a short amount of time after one incident, they are able to plan and execute the retaliation.

We were given date, time and place of all these events but the Acting Superintendent cautioned that a lot of information on tactics will not be divulged.  To date, the Police Department has made arrests in 4 cases, confiscated 16 handguns, crack cocaine and ecstasy.

Webb also mentioned that not only the gang unit is working on solving these problems but also patrol officers, detectives, and police staff from other agencies.  The District Attorney has brought the cases in front of a grand jury.  Additionally, the Police Department’s command staff had a meeting with a number of non-profits, including UTEC, CMAA, and the CBA, to discuss the current situation and determine how they can be of assistance.  A public meeting is to take place on Wednesday night at the Boys and Girls of Greater Lowell for the residents to hear and address this current surge in violence in their neighborhood.

It’s long been understood that competition in the drug trade is at the root of a lot of this violence. We were reminded of another consequence of illegal drug usage and addiction on Wednesday with a Globe story headlined, “HIV outbreak in Lawrence, Lowell is bigger than officials thought.” The story reports that a recent federal analysis found that the rate of HIV infection in this area was 33 percent higher than found by an earlier state study. The main driver of this increase is more and more drug users turning to injectable fentanyl, but other factors such as homelessness, a lack of addiction treatment options, and diminished diligence about HIV, have all contributed to this rise.

Plastic Bags

Yesterday, the State House News Service (via the Globe) reported that the State Legislature dropped plans for a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags. When Lowell debated its own plastic bag ban (which was adopted by the council), some who opposed the city’s action said we should wait for the state to take action so such a ban would be uniform across the Commonwealth. Those who advocated the local ban said there was no guarantee the ban would pass at the state level, but with each community that enacted a local ban, more momentum would be created for a statewide measure.

There was no indication of when this will be taken up again at the state level. Whenever that does happen, there will probably be more than the 71 communities who presently have plastic bans who will have adopted the measure.

St. Joseph’s Hospital (photo by Bill Walsh)

St. Joseph’s Hospital Reunion

In the past when I’ve given walking tours of the North Common neighborhood to UMass Lowell students, I tell them that I was born in University Crossing. I quickly add that the current UMass building, or at least part of it, was once St. Joseph’s Hospital. Originally the Lowell Corporation Hospital which was founded by mill owners to provide care for their employees, in 1931 it became St. Joseph’s and was managed by the Sisters of Charity of Ottawa, the Grey Nuns.

St. Joseph’s closed as a hospital 25 years ago, I believe, but its former employees and friends have had several reunions to help stay in touch. There will be another reunion this year on September 20 at 6 pm at Lenzi’s Restaurant. Tickets are $40 and anyone interested in attending can contact one of the following committee members:

Helen Blaschke – hmbwblaschke[at]gmail.com
Audrey Singleton – ansmanilow[at]Comcast.net
Joanne Richard – ermama[at]Comcast.net

American Stonecraft

Several years ago I was wandering through Mill No. 5 and came upon a vendor selling highly polished slabs of rock that resembled cutting boards but for which many uses in the home immediately came to mind. In questioning the vendor, I learned it was a local company, American Stonecraft, which retrieves ordinary rocks from local farms and rural areas, cuts them, polishes them, and sells them as food slabs, cooking slabs, coasters and other useful and attractive objects for the home.

I was recently reminded of American Stonecraft which is located on Congress Street in Lowell and has a fine website that’s worth checking out. The company is a great example of the type of small business that is so essential to the well-being of a city’s economy, but which often fly beneath the radar.

Richard Howe for Register of Deeds

My campaign continues. I’m always looking for new sign locations and Dear Friend cards are coming soon. You can sign up for both online.

Contributions are always welcome too. Follow this link to donate online and for info on donating in the traditional way.

And be sure to visit and “like” my campaign’s Facebook page.

Finally, please check out my video on the Declaration of Homestead which, when filed with the Registry of Deeds, protects your home from creditors.