Saturday, September 14, 2013

33503. Vincent G. Brown


Vincent was one of 28 who lost their lives to a single engineering failure, recognized a half century after their deaths by President Barack Obama.

Vincent was working aboard an offshore radar platform known as a Texas Tower for its similarities to oil drilling rigs seen in the Gulf of Mexico. His duty station, Texas Tower 4, was built in Portland, Maine, and towed to its place off Long Island, New York, in 1957. During transportation to position, rough seas caused structural problems that would herald the doom of the men who served on the tower. The Air Force tried top repair them, but successive storms in 1959 and 1960, including Hurricane Donna, kept up the assault. As if the vibration from the constant rotation of the radar system, meant to give the Air Force a thirty-minute jump on Soviet bombers should they arrive, the tower swayed with the power of the waves.

Weakened by the battering of the sea, "Old Shaky," fell into the sea during a winter storm on January 15, 1961, dropping all 28 men then working inside into the freezing cold waters. No one survived. And so Vincent Brown leaves us with the harrowing words "Lost at sea from the Texas Tower." Now you know the tale.

What's amazing to me is that the same story unfolded 110 years earlier in nearby waters, and we didn't heed it. The first Minot's Lighthouse dropped into the sea on April 16-17, 1851 (no one knows for sure on which side of midnight it fell). Both towers featured structures on long legs sunk into the earth. Both were supposed to allow water to rush through those legs, rather than capture the sea's wrath full force. Both fell into the sea when the legs gave way. Both claimed lives. Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, as the saying goes. In this case, it cost the lives of 28 hard-working men, and caused grief that flowed exponentially outward. How needless.

Friday, September 13, 2013

33374. Grace Coleman


It would have been simple enough to take Grace Coleman's tombstone and toss the words "Amazing Grace" on them, like the people she loved did. I'm sure she's not the first Grace in the world to be so remembered. But I am here to tell you that Grace was, indeed, amazing.

She was very close to my family, in fact, she practically was family. She lived to her mid-seventies, which is no miracle, of course. But she decided right about the time she hit the eighth decade to get involved in local politics. She served as a Hull selectwoman against all odds, in the era of Lenny Hersch. Brash and bombastic Lenny was countered on the board by petite, Catholic, god-fearing and ancient Grace, as comedic a set-up as any sitcom writer could ever produce. Sometimes, when Lenny ranted and raved, Grace fell asleep. Hull selectmen's meetings then, as now, made for riveting weekly television.

So the words fit, but to those who knew her, the depiction of the hat with the feather in it above hr name is pure gold. That was Grace's hat, the one she wore any time she ventured out-of-doors, as any well-bred American woman born in 1914 would do. Grace was amazing, yes, but she was kind, strong-willed, loving and still makes me smile to this day, more than two decades after her passing.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

33468. Joe Boudreau


Now here's somebody of whom I could write a book, not just a few paragraphs. I once hauled several 50-pound packages of asphalt singles to his third story roof because the one-armed Vietnamese roofer he hired to do the job couldn't handle that part of it. I'll never forget the ridiculously hot moment I stood on that roof and looked down at Joe, as he asked me if I wanted something to drink. I said yes. He said, "Which one, Tab or Fresca?"

I said, "Where do you live, 1973?"

Joe was always hiring me to do odd jobs around his house, and truthfully I would have done every one of them for free, had I not been taught to accept cash offered as a token of respect to the giver. Joe was overly generous. No matter what the task, I was happy to help: pruning, weeding, digging, hauling, hanging ceiling tiles, whatever.

When Joe died, we headed out into Boston Harbor in the depth of winter to spread his ashes on one of the islands. Joe had worked there for years as a night watchman for the Metropolitan District Commission police force, now as gone as Joe. His home was the islands, and even his house stared straight out at them. He even had one of the creepiest encounters with the famous ghost of the "Lady in Black" I've ever heard told.

There are so many other stories. When we were kids, we knew him as "JoeBaJoe," just because that's what it sounded like to our little ears. He became part-owner in a Thai restaurant in Hingham that did very well for a while. He hired my brother as a delivery man. When Joe died, his collection of maritime history books went to the Hull Public Library. They, having no need for them, gave them to me. I was surprised to see how many of the books I had personally written that boomeranged back to me by way of Joe's collection. He always told me he was proud of me for my accomplishments; this was proof/

Joe was like an uncle to me, forty years my senior, but as good a friend as I have ever had. So when I see his military-issue marker, "AIC US Air Force Korea," I say, no way. No way in hell. That barely scratches the surface of the story of Joe. And so it is for the thousands more I've visited along the way in this study.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

33368. Al Kardoos


There are those special businesses in everyone's hometown that just make you smile. When I think of little Hull when I was little, I flash back to Ratenbury's, So-Low's, Webster Shore Lanes, Curtis Compact and Cheapskate Charlie's. They're all gone now, everywhere except in my head.

Add to that list Al's Spaghetti House. Back when Paragon Park was king, when the Nantasket Beach night was lit by the spinning colors of the Round-Up and soundtracked by the recurring screams from the Giant Coaster, Al's was as good a late night joint to be in as any for grabbing that post-Bermuda Triangle meal.

So there it is. Albert Joseph Kardoos was the man behind "Al's Spaghetti House." And I don't know if it's true, but I swear that the caricature carved into the base of the stone, of Al in his chef's gear, was done by the guy who used to do the imagery for the old Building 19 bargain store ads. But I could certainly be wrong. Either way, not a bad way to go into history, with a cartoon! I think, though, that I'd be worried about what mine would look like.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

33298. Donald Mason


There it is again! "I did it my way!" We can't have three guys in the same cemetery doing it their way! There's just not enough room for it. Besides, Donald Mason here was married to a woman named "Jackie" Mason. He could have gone down a long road of jokes about the differences between Italians and Jews, but no, he had to quote Sinatra like Hersch and Delamere.

That's it. I'm putting my foot down. We cannot have any more "I did it my ways." SHEESH!

Monday, September 9, 2013

33288. Paul Delamere


Wait a second...that says "I did it my way." It's the second stone I've found in the little Hull Village Cemetery that says the same exact thing. After 32,000 stones I find one guy, Lenny Hersch, doing it his way, and then within viewing distance I find another guy, Paul Delamere, doing the same? Wow, what are the chances of that?

I guess you never know. I know Frank Sinatra was huge, and an influence on many lives, but two guys in the same cemetery doing it their way? That's just too cool.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

33198. William Guerriero


For many, it's the Dry Dock. For others - perhaps, if there are any centenarians hanging around town - it was Eastman's Studio Inn. It was even a bowling alley at one point, which explains why the building directly next to the big hotel at Nantasket Beach is so long and thin, stretching the width of the area between the separated northbound and southbound lanes of Nantasket Avenue.

In William Guerriero's time, it was the creation of his alter ego, Billy Mitchell, the stage name of the singer who made it big with "Oceans of Love," the words carved into the representation of a 45 RPM record, under the fret of a rock-a-billy style guitar. He called it Post Time, and he made it famous through his own musical talent. When Billy died in 1978, a month after a blizzard nearly destroyed the town, the rock could have died with him, but his venue, if not in his chosen name, lived on, and the music kept pulsing on.