Tuesday, October 15, 2013

37938. Robert D. Smith

I'm sure I'm missing some symbolism here, but here goes. The marker put in place in memory of Robert Smith shows an angel playing a violin floating above a slouched, naked man holding a quill pen in his right hand and a small hammer just dropping out of reach of his left hand the combined tools of the granite industry and a man of letters. Beneath this image are these words:

Erected by the American Granite Association
to Perpetuate the Memory of
Its Secretary from 1906 to 1924

This just goes to show just how big the granite industry once was in Quincy. The city went through several huge changes in identity over the last two centuries. Two of the first six United States Presidents were born here. Granite quarrying became so important here that the city boasted the first railroad in the United States. Then, when that industry died, shipbuilding moved to the forefront.

The scene is certainly a snapshot in time, of a once-proud industry in a still-proud city.

Monday, October 14, 2013

37916. The Elks

It's an elk! The Quincy Lodge of Elks, No. 943 has not only a stone with names and dates an the Elk toast "An Elk is never forgotten, never forsaken," but a flagpole and a huge statue of an elk. How cool!

The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (that's BPOE, or "Best People on Earth") formed in 1868, splitting off from another group known as the Jolly Corks, a group of New York minstrel show performers who were A) trying to avoid taxes and B) known for using cork tricks to win free drinks in bars. Somehow, out of all of this, they came to the idea of doing great things for their communities, and today there are about 1 million members nationwide. Looking for a charismatic species of megafauna as their symbol, they voted 8-7 to stand behind an elk instead of a buffalo.

The list of famous Elks is a mile long, and includes six United States Presidents, a slew of politicians and everyone from Lawrence Welk to Babe Ruth to Clint Eastwood. Here in Quincy, the Elks own one of the most well-known gathering places in the city, the Tirrell Room, named for the first Exalted Ruler of the Lodge, Fred Tirrell. The Quincy Elks are as active as they ever were, and still doing wonderful things for the South Shore of Boston. And with their memorial at Mt. Wollaston, they will never be forgotten!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

37882. Hon. Charles A. Ross

I often wonder how long the Boston accent has been in place. I'm guessing that back during the Depression it was in full swing. I think that cadences, word choices and other speech patterns have changed enough over the years that we might have problems fully understanding everything that came out of the mouths of our forbears in a time travel incident. "Ten thousand thundering typhoons! I met this killer-diller of a B-girl at the speako, but she turned out to be a chizz." If you ever want to read a fun list of automat-related food terms from the 1930s, check out Mark Kurlansky's The Food of a Younger Land.

The Honorable Charles Ross, two-time Mayor of Quincy, probably got the lingo, even with the Boston accent, which turns "killer-diller" into "killah-dillah" and "mayor" into "may-ah." Scottish by birth and a piano tuner by trade, he steered the growing Quincy metropolis though the Depression before being chased from office under a financial scandal. He then came back for a second go-round during World War II, so it couldn't have been all that bad: "Mayor of the City of Quincy Nine Years: 1933 to 1935 and 1943 to 1950."

At one point, the hepsters thought he was a schlepper, but he was really a macher. I read it in a blat at a clip-joint.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

37870. Joseph William McGrath

I hopped over to the Mt. Wollaston Cemetery in Quincy, Massachusetts, to check in with the people of the city's lost shipbuilding and granite industries. I figured that, if nothing else, I would find some fantastic gravestone designs, as the best artisans in the northeast worked there in the 19th century.

But, of course, the first words I read were "Lost at sea."

Joseph William McGrath was a "Graduate of the Massachusetts Nautical Training School," (now the Massachusetts Maritime Academy); a "Member of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey," (now a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration); and "Served with the U.S. Naval Forces during the War with Spain" (the Navy will always be the Navy; Semper Fortis!). He obviously had quite the career, considering he died around 26 years old.

As far as history can discern, he was "Lost at sea with all the ships company some time after November 2, 1903 while in command of the steamer Discovery on passage from Yakutat, Alaska to Seattle, Washington." The President of the Discovery Transportation Company, the entity that owned the vessel, filed a wreck report with these details:

"Supposed to have foundered.  Heavy gale from ENE with southeast & southwest cross sea running. Wind 60 mi.; dark night.”

“Revenue Cutter Rush was sent from Sitka after some weeks, but found no tidings. Since then report comes of Indians finding hull of vessel. This has not been confirmed. Parties coming from Cape Yakataga to Kayak, in November report finding doors, windows, and broken parts of steamers house on beach, also life preservers marked Str Discovery. This is same way the Discovery life preservers were marked.”

“We are convinced the Discovery is lost with all hands on board.  The exact time and how the accident occurred will never be known.”

So ended the life of Joseph William McGrath in company with about 29 others. Rumors say that several people stayed on land, claiming the ship was not seaworthy. That fear may have saved their lives.

Friday, October 11, 2013

37494. Arta Miller

There was a little book written in 1876 called I Am Going Home, or the Memoir of a Gathered Lily. The symbolism is a little blunt, of course, but we get it. The author wrote of the life of a young woman taken before her time, "home" being Heaven.

So it was with Arta Miller, "aged 21 yrs." She was born within a decade of the book's publishing, during the rise of American libraries, so it could certainly have been on a shelf somewhere at home or nearby. Either way, the sentiment on her stone is the same as found throughout the pages of the book, "Tell mama I sent my love. I am going home."

I think the concept of knowing I am going to die imminently, whether it's within months, weeks, days or hours, still scares the hell out of me. I only hope that I can handle it as bravely as Arta did should it come to it. Perhaps my last words will be so inspired, and not be as comical as I right now intend them to be. Or perhaps I will have both, and my last words will be inspiringly funny.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

37263. Joseph and Jean Sawtelle

The Sawtelles were two North Shore of Boston kids who moved to coastal New Hampshire, and people who just got it. He was a "Beloved husband, father and grandfather, friend and philanthropist who found life a great adventure and left the world a better place." She was a "Beloved wife, mother, grandmother and friend who lived and loved with all her might."

I can only dream of having such words on my stone when all is said and done. To me, they sum up what life is supposed to be all about.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

37063. Captain John Murray

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a novella.

Captain John Murray's friends made sure he was properly remembered for all time by erecting his stone at Riverside Cemetery with an excellent recap of his military exploits in the middle of the 19th century. Here is the full story:

born in the City of New York in 1825.
served in the Mexican War in 1847.
on recommendation of Lieut. Col. Belton 
received a certificate of merit from 
President Fillmore
commissioned Captain of Co. D 5th N.H.
Volunteers, Oct. 12, 1861.
He fell early in the battle of Fredericksburg
Dec. 13, 1862 while leading a gallant band
of the Defenders of the Country.

A kind Father and Husband, a patriotic
Citizen, a brave and faithful Soldier and
Officer. His last words were:
"That flag never was and never shall 
be disgraced!

Captain Murray's certificate of merit was no small honor. Lieutenant Colonel Francis S. Belton had been at it since the War of 1812 and didn't retire until the Civil War had started. He knew a good soldier when he saw one. He's kind of a forgotten military personality of his time. We're left to wonder, as always, what our good Captain would have achieved had he not died when he did.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

36987. Jean McCarthy

Virgil was the guy who came up with the words on Jean McCarthy's small marker, "mens agitat molem." Taken literally from the Latin it means "the mind moves the masses" or "the mind moves matter." Taken in the broader context of Virgil's Aenead, specifically book VI, "The Transmigration of Souls," it has to do with the Creation. One translation states it as "mind ignites life" in a grand sweeping verse on the circle of life.

So it turns out our friend Jean was possibly a deep thinker. Either that or she went to the University of Oregon. It's their motto.

I'm betting on the former. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

36978. Charles Henry Ricker

This one came as a shock to me. I fancy myself as somewhat of a Coast Guard historian (go ahead, Google me! You know you wanna...) but I had never heard of the loss of Charles Henry Ricker, who "Died in line of duty in the U.S. Coast Guard."

The Coast Guard was only a decade old, under that name, by the time that young Ricker died on duty with his mates in Maine. The funeral procession that brought him to the Riverside Cemetery in New Castle was a big one, one of the largest ever recorded in town, according to the Portsmouth Herald of March 18, 1925.

It was a product of the age. Safety precautions we take today when working with flammable or combustible fuels were not in place when Ricker was a young man, which was all he ever got to be. A gasoline explosion on the cutter on which he worked blew him overboard, and he never recovered from the injuries. His parents rushed to Portland, Maine, to be at his bedside, but he didn't make it.

Charles H. Ricker died a hero of his community, leaving a proud mother, father, sister and brother behind.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

36931. John Langdon Elwyn

Miles away from Rockland, Massachusetts, while on a brief visit to coastal New Hampshire, I came across the stone for John Langdon Elwyn.

The name has all sorts of significance. Or should I say the names have all sorts of significance. John Langdon was the first governor of New Hampshire and the land on which John Elwyn now rests was donated to the state by John Elwyn Stone to become the Urban Forestry Center, in 1976. The Center is an interesting mix of demonstration forest, nature trails, composting exhibits and a few historic buildings, a place where one and all can learn about forest management. One of my favorite exhibits is of a powerline with growth underneath it, a demo for successional habitat management.

Anyway, somewhere along the line, John Langdon Elwyn lived the land, and apparently loved it. His epitaph kind of says it all, that he never wanted to leave: "They buried him in the border of his inheritance."

Truthfully, neither did I.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

36810. Henry Benner

So what was it that so disheartened Henry and Addie? The wife predeceased the husband by seven years, which is always a downer, in either direction. And who was the epitaph for, Addie or Henry?

The words are original, in that they are not from a hymn, nor from a poem of the time. The closest reference I can think of comes years later, from Pink Floyd.

I'm guessing it was Henry. When Addie died in 1908 there was not much happening that would call for such dour words as are found on the stone. Heck, the ball dropped in Times Square for the first time ever on January 1. National Monuments were being named all over the place. Postage stamps came in rolls for the first time. What a world! Mother's Day was celebrated for the first time ever, on May 10. Henry Ford built the first Model T.

But as for Henry, who died in 1915, he had some ammunition. On January 11, Colonel Jacob Ruppert and Colonel Tillinghast Huston purchased the New York Highlanders, kickstarting the Yankees baseball dynasty (hey, Henry and Addie had to be Boston Americans fans, right?). The next day, the House of Representatives rejected a proposal to give women the right to vote. The day after that an earthquake in Italy killed nearly 30,000 people. And did I mention there was a World War going on? And it goes on.

So when Henry died, the words on the stone were certainly appropriate: "Good bye sad world good bye."

Of course, it could have had nothing to do with world events, but I don't have time to research anything beyond the superficial. There are many more stones to read, miles to go before I sleep.

Friday, October 4, 2013

36799. Charles Dwelley Merritt

Merritts. If I had a nickel for every Merritt I've met on the South Shore of Boston...

This one, Charles Dwelley Merritt, buried in Rockland, pulled a little bit of Biblical verse, which I'm proud to say was written by my namesake. It's from John 14:3: "I have gone to prepare a place for thee."

What I love about it is that in today's world, we can quickly cross-reference many versions of the Bible at once to find which one this came from. Unfortunately, it's none of them, at least not exactly in those words. The rest of the sentiment generally flows along the lines of "and when it's ready, I'll come for you so we can be together always." Spooky thought. So, if I look up and see my dad standing in front of me, I've pretty much reached the end of my line? Well, my dad was a landscaper, so he's used to getting places ready for all sorts of occasions...like my upcoming "welcome to being dead" party.

It is funny, though, to see how the same sentiment has been transformed through time and different translations. The New Living Translation has it as "When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am." Young's Literal Translation reads, "and if I go on and prepare for you a place, again do I come, and will receive you unto myself, that where I am ye also may be."

Anyway you slice it, it's got a nice pioneer feel to it.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

36661. Samuel Burnette

Holy cow, it's a Reb!

Samuel F. Burnette served as a private in Company H, Louisiana Infantry Crescent Regiment, with the Confederate Army. A southerner. In Rockland, no less.

I've heard stories about a Confederate soldier who used to hang around the Grand Army Hall in Rockland. The legends say that he would attend the dinners and events, and was openly accepted, the war being long over and all. But when the time arose to take photographs to commemorate the occasions, the Reb was asked politely to step aside. The brotherhood of war only went so far.

Could Sam have been that Reb? Amazingly, someone decorates his grave with a Confederate flag, although I think I know who it is.

What an unexpected find!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

36582. James K. Sedgwick

We have another hymn on our hands. James and Mary Sedgwick had a hard time of it, it would seem. Beneath their names are the names of three children who predeceased them at young ages. But the Sedgwicks had a plan.

When all was said and done, when the whole family had passed on, they would all be together again, thanks to the words of John Atkinson, who in January 1867 wrote "We shall meet beyond the river." There is more that did not make the cut on this stone: "bye and bye."

I can't imagine such loss, but a good strong religious base must have helped James and Mary pull through.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

36553. Erected by the Ladies

Rockland's Maplewood Cemetery is right down the street from my house of the past few years, so I knew eventually it would become part of my study. I have the weird urge to get involved there somehow, with the maintenance. A life spent pushing lawnmowers just makes me think I should jump in and help with the respect giving we should all have as goals in such places.

I'm sure that's how "The Ladies" felt in 1884 when they erected the tomb in the old cemetery, where the first known burial was in 1746. Who the Ladies were and why they erected what they did has been hard to track down, but there was a Maplewood Cemetery association that was active in Victorian days, so no doubt they belonged to that organization or supported it in some way. It is, odd, though, to see the small, low structure tucked off to the side in the tall grasses, with those simple words, "Erected by the Ladies," in raised relief on the lintel, as it were, of the tomb, or storage facility, whatever its original intention was.

It's a sign of a need from long ago, and one 'round which people who cared rallied.

Monday, September 30, 2013

36213. Newcomb Lincoln

We may never know the full story behind the life of Newcomb Lincoln. He had a dad who served in the military, an older brother and a younger sister. His dad, Jerome, died around thirty years old when Newcomb was a teenager, and at some point Newcomb became a sailor. His mom, Nancy, outlived him.

Oftentimes when dad died, and mother remarried, sons ran away. It was a play recast all along the coast in the early 1800s. The easiest way to get away was to head out onto the ocean, where no permanent trails could be found. There is no evidence that states such a story played out with Newcomb, especially as there is no stepfather listed anywhere in the records. But since little else is left, we are left to use our imaginations to piece things together.

No matter what, we know one thing, that Newcomb, like so many young Massachusetts men living along the coast, was "Lost at Sea."

There it is again.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

36063. Myron, Beatrice and Marian Anderson

We tend to forget how far we have come on this planet when it comes to infant mortality. While little Myron made it to eight years old, Beatrice and Marian didn't get beyond their first or second years. Since the early 1950s, we've dropped from 30.46 out of 1,000 infants dying to 5.4, but it's still nothing to gloat about. We're 34th in the world in the category. Infants in Brunei, Macao, Cyprus, Croatia, New Caledonia and more have better chances for survival than their counterparts in the U.S.

The Anderson children lived a half century before these statistics. Consider war, weather, famine and just general uncleanliness and how they affected children in the 1890s. Global estimates state that as many as 200 out of every 1000 children died within their first year at the time. That's one out of every five live births.

For proof, check out your local vital records. Many families didn't even bother to name children for the first year of their lives in the late 1800s. When a child was taken so young, it must have felt exactly like the Andersons put it, as if the wee one was "Plucked from Earth to bloom in Heaven." The symbolism of the dove falling to earth, etched above the names, is also quite powerful.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

36049. Sara Lee Woods

At first glance, I had to laugh out loud. A young woman named Sara Lee with the words "Piece of Cake, Piece of Pie" for an epitaph? Well, nobody does it like Sara Lee!

But the words have more meaning. In popular culture, they come from a Jennifer Lopez movie called Enough, which really never got great reviews, and as such is little known. In the film, Lopez, an abused mom called Slim, goes on the run before learning to fight back against her aggressor. If it gave us nothing else, the movie gave us the exchange, which is now a permanent part of our culture, thanks to its enshrinement in the online Urban Dictionary. The words "piece of cake" and "piece of pie" are spoken by two people who use the phrases as code words for "I love you." 

And, guessing by the preponderance of the usage of those three famous little words on tombstones around the world, and probably on English-speaking planets all around the galaxy, I'm guessing the quote is being used here in much the same way.

Friday, September 27, 2013

36044. Joseph Litchfield

I've spent a lifetime, or at least an adult lifetime, driving by the Beechwood Cemetery in Cohasset, Massachusetts, without stopping to say hello. Whether I've been on my way from Hull to Scituate via back roads (a seriously bad habit of mine, avoiding well-trodden paths), seeking the back entrance to Wompatuck State Park or looking for viewing access of the Aaron River Reservoir, I've passed in stony silence, garnering the same in return.

I have to say, though, after walking it, it seems as if we've already met a thousand times. A Litchfield in Cohasset? Who'd a thunk it? The names were as familiar as expected to someone who lived in the neighboring towns for most of his life. So, too, were the three little letters etched beneath the name of Joseph W. (and on the other side of the marker, beneath the name George A.: G.A.R.

Union veterans served at the right time for the formation of a brotherhood-type organization. In Victorian age America transportation and communication systems were the best they had ever been, and idle time was in fashion. People could gather like never before, for fun and shared experiences with people of similar interests or common backgrounds. So it was with the men who fought for the North in the Civil War, the members of the Grand Army of the Republic.

In Joe Litchfield's day (although there are probably ten to twelve still living in Cohasset and Scituate today!) the three little letters spoke volumes, though, sadly, today they don't inspire as much reverence as they should. Joe served aboard the USS Minnesota as a sailor, seeing some "fearsome fighting," according to the 1893 Cohasset town history. George served with Company F, 32nd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, and obviously died during the conflict.

G.A.R.: three little words we should never forget, but mostly have.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

35687. Mary Jane Robbins

You just have to add six words - three before and three after - to fully understand the chosen words of Mary Jane Robbins, "More than all the jelly beans." Add "I love you" and "in the world" to the beginning and end, and you'll see what I mean.

As if that weren't enough, the family added an open jar of jelly beans in the upper left corner. Sweet! I hope she's not buried next to President Reagan.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

35490. Lawrence Gilligan

In a weird way, I was hoping there was nothing written on the verso side of Gilligan's stone. I was really hoping, with most of my might (not all), that he was just Gilligan. The Gilligan. Little Buddy.

Alas, he was Lawrence Gilligan.

That's no fault of his own. History is somewhat replete with famous Gilligans, some of whom played soccer in England, at least one who was an author, and then there was John Joseph Gilligan, a U.S. Marine who earned a Silver Star and had a Navy ship named in his honor. That's some street cred right there.

Yet, if you asked the average American on the street to tell you who Gilligan was, they would inevitably come out with the enigmatic single-named first mate of Captain Jonas T. Grumby's Minnow. Red shirt, white pants, white cap. I refrained from what would have been a faux pas when I stopped myself from whomping the top of the stone with my hat, a la the Skipper. It was the only homage I could think of at the moment, but it was not appropriate at all. That was another Gilligan.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

35439. Donald Gaynor

When I first saw the epitaph of Donald Gaynor in the Mt. Hope Cemetery in Weymouth, Mass. - "We'd rather by flying our K-35 Bonanza" - I thought, bemusedly, isn't that a little specific?

When I reflected on it later, it struck me that it was the same length and cadence of a million bumper stickers I've seen on cars ("My child was student of the month at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School!"). And when it comes to the final bell tolling, well, sure, I can agree with the sentiment. We can all probably give an "I'd rather" when faced with the question or death. It's like the Eddie Izzard bit. "Cake or Death!" Ooh, cake, please. Or the Monty Python bit in Life of Brian. "Crucifixion?" "No, freedom, actually."

All joking aside, a passion that follows to the grave is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, I have yet to slip the surly bonds of earth behind the controls of any aircraft. The best I could do is "I'd rather be driving my 2006 Ford Fusion!" Beats the alternative for the moment, anyway.

Monday, September 23, 2013

35243. Dominick Domanico

It's funny how things fall some times. My father wanted to name my little brother after his father, and give him a middle name that paid homage to his best friend and my brother's godfather-to-be (got all that?). That would have made him Dominic Nicholas, but my mother would have nothing to do with it. She had it flipped so he became Nicholas Dominic. She didn't want the poor kid saddled with the nickname Dominicnic (or a nicknickname).

But some families strictly stand on that tradition. I knew a David David. Peter Peeters played goalie for the Boston Bruins. Andy Andy was a fictional serial killer/stalker on Cheers. It happens. Parents name their kids based on familial guidelines, not caring for the consequences, even on TV.

And you can call me biased on this one. I think there is a lyrical feeling behind the flow of the words "Dominick Domanico." That's one repetitive name I wouldn't have minded having in life. Then again, if my parents had stuck with the Italian and used the same names (I'm named for two of my dad's brothers), I would be Giovanni Giuseppi Galluzzo. With that name I could be piloting gondolas around Venice singing 'Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu." Instead I got John Joseph, which most of my friends pronounced "Johnjofis" when I was little.

Ma nudge...

Sunday, September 22, 2013

35180. Patrick Henry

Well, it wasn't him, but I'll bet he was asked from time to time to say the quote: "Give me liberty, or give me death!" He had to do it. He was, after all, Patrick Henry.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

34254. William Daly

Having finished reading the Hull Village Cemetery, I moved onto New Jersey. You know, like you do.

I was working on a book project, called to the Navesink area, and awoke early one morning to spend a little time (notice I didn't say "kill some time") at the Mt. Olivet Cemetery. There, I ran into my second balloonist of the year.

William Daly, with the 13th Balloon Company, was on his way to the front in France in November 1918 (if he was still with his unit at the time) when a surprising thing happened: peace broke out. A total of six American balloon companies were on their way there when, suddenly, their services were no longer needed.

It was a good thing, too. Of the 1,642 ascensions made by American balloon troops in World War I, only 1,594 balloon crews came back down of their own volition. Three percent of the ascensions ended in combat losses.

I'm sure Mr. Daly made a success of life after the military, but what an odd trade to bring back home.

Friday, September 20, 2013

34129. Smith/Keith

If, like me, when you first saw the words on the Smith/Keith gravestone, you thought they had misspelled the famous phrase "Che sara,, sara," you would be half right.

If you think in Italian, or Latin, as Christopher Marlowe probably did when he wrote Doctor Faustus, this spelling is generally correct. But if you think in Spanish, you probably scratched your head a bit, envisioning the words as "Que sera, sera." Now, if you're thinking in that other language of romance, Doris Day, well, that's a little bit "Que sera, sera" as well. And that's probably where we get confused; we think Doris Day before Doctor Faustus on most days. So it goes in America.

But, no matter how you spell it, it comes out meaning the same: "Whatever will be, will be." And so it goes in cemeteries all around the world.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

34096. Eleftherios and Mary Andriotis

There's nothing out of the ordinary on the Andriotis' gravestone, it's what's in it. The stone has an arched window cut through it that acts as a mini display room. The family can open it with a lock from the rear, and can create a rotating exhibit of their lives, a really novel way of looking at the mourning and remembrance process.

I'm telling you, soon it will be QR codes and push-button PowerPoint presentations.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

34037. Eileen Gillis

Jim Gillis was a good man. Better than most, by like 99 percent.

I knew him as two things: a World War II D-Day vet, and the ultimate hometown do-gooder. I can't tell you how many times he stopped me in town and implored me to get involved, to do good things for my community. He was the kind of guy I was simply proud to know. I miss him. So does Hull.

I had no idea of the hurt he carried inside. He wrote this epitaph for his wife Eileen:

I often wonder why my pal chose me; 
As it turned out, she was mt need to be.
I now reflect with the passage of time
That she was never, never truly mine.
The aura that emanated was larger than life.
Every man should have such a wonderful wife.
She gave of herself without restriction
Never succumbed to her affliction.
She belonged to an exclusive sorority:
Faith, hope, love and His supreme authority.
Advice to her children concerned love and caring,
Always positive with very little bewaring.
Not concerned of dying and physical strife,
Just afraid she had not given enough to life.
A decree was sent from heaven above.
She was my need to be and to love.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

33720. Frank Burns

So, you're cruising through life, hitting 55 years of age. It's been a good run. Then, suddenly, Hollywood smacks you upside the head.

Your name is Francis Burns, but your friends call you Frank. You sit down to watch the new TV series based on the movie M*A*S*H, and in episode 1/18, your namesake, Frank Burns, M.D., gets drunk. It's bad enough that the TV Frank Burns is a doofus, the foil of the beloved main characters of Hawkeye and Trapper. But then out it comes. Burns says that his brother used to call him "Ferret Face." For the next three-and-a-half decades, your name is tied to the iconic all-thumbs military doctor, and you run the risk of sharing his nickname. And you know that even if people don't say it, they're probably thinking it.

I don't know if our Frank was ever called Ferret Face, and I hope not. All I know is that Hollywood should know that it ruins lives! It should check the phone books across the United States and see just how many people it's impacting when it chooses to demean a common name.

Think first, Hollywood. Think first.

Monday, September 16, 2013

33713. James Russell

I want to know how you get a nickname like "Riverboat" Russell did. There really are two ways, as far as I can see.

There's the literal way. Although he lived in the wrong century to be in its heyday, James Russell could have been a riverboat captain. He could have gone west to the great rivers and driven one of the big old sidewheel steamers. But hey, there are riverboats on the Charles, in Boston, even if they don't quite fit the opulence of the days of old. Maybe he ran from from the Cambridgeside Galleria out to the harbor. Not as glamorous, but more than I've ever done.

But the nickname "Riverboat" typically stands for a gambler, either literally or figuratively. Think of Bret Maverick, from the 1950's TV show or the 1994 movie. One of the most recent nationally known examples is "Riverboat" Ron Rivera, head coach of the NFL's Carolina Panthers, known for his super-aggressive defensive play calling. I suspect that there was a little alliteration at play as well, as it had to be with our friend "Riverboat" Russell.

Either way, I want a nickname. I don't know if it ends up on my tombstone. Perhaps this is just the super geek in me wanting to be seen as cool, but that will be a book for another day.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

33553. The Hunt Family

Is the "H" for Hull, or for "Hunt?" The Hunt family stone is just that, a huge capital "H," and my only confusion comes with the words below the little brown wiener dog left on the pedestal supporting it: "God's country." If the "H" is for the family, cool. If it's for the town, well, I can see that, and I don't just say that as a townie at heart. Hull is a peninsula awash with the sights, sounds and smells of the ocean. For someone who enjoys such a life, it is God's country. You may have your Rocky Mountains, your deep woods of Michigan; give me a storm-tossed sea any day, and I'll be just fine.

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.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

33104. Ed Emanuello

Ha! There are people that I know who simply wander the Hull peninsula every day, stopping to say hello to everybody. Some of them are technically insane, but at least a few are just plain, nice people, who enjoy that sort of life. The are the lifeblood, sometimes the gossip conduits, of small towns.

So I believe "Big Ed" Emanuello's gravemarker when it declares him "Everyone's Friend." Aside from the fact that the Emanuellos have been around for quite a few decades in town, long enough to put down townie-like roots, such personalities just happen in Hull. I'm not saying Ed was wandering aimlessly up and down Nantasket Avenue looking for people to talk to, but my guess s he had his favorite haunts, like so many locals, in so many small towns, in so much of America.

Friday, September 6, 2013

32893. John Glawson

Hmm, the interesting thing to me about this stone is the absence of any words. John Glawson was a lifesaver, but not a traditional one, wearing blue and rowing with his mates to rescues. He was a one man rescue squad, living on Bumpkin Island with his family, plucking endangered people from the bay one by one.

He had his brush with fame. Maritime historian and storyteller Edward Rowe Snow became fascinated with him, and wrote several pages' worth of info about him in the Bumpkin Island section of The Islands of Boston Harbor. Yet there is nothing here to tell the tale. Wouldn't it be cool if we could simply include bibliographical references on our tombstones? "Snow, Edward Rowe. The Islands of Boston Harbor. pp 157-160..." I guess today it would be QR codes and mobile websites.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

32838. Marguerite Johns

Good ol' Snooky. "Let my light shine forever." There's even a light bulb. There should be. After all, she practically ran the Hull Municipal Light Plant for decades. She was always there, and I mean always. If any question about the town's electricity came up, we all said the same thing. "Call Snooky, she'll know."

Did I say that some epitaphs are just perfect?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

32799. Leonard Hersch

Some epitaphs are simply perfect.

Lenny Hersch was a superstorm unto himself, a local business owner and politician who stirred the pot in Hull for decades. He was a champion and a villain, but he was never a cross-dresser, as far as I know. Rumors once floated around town that he was, but the only nearness to the truth in that accusation came from the fact that he once was the runner who picked up the cross-dressing acts that played at the famous Showboat on George Washington Boulevard in the middle of the 20th century.

He was a selectman, multiple times, kind of Hull's Billy Martin, being fired by the Yankees and coming back to manage time and again. Lenny was in office, ousted, voted in again, chased out, back in. He ran Fascination, the legalized gambling game at Nantasket Beach. He was beloved by many, disliked by others, but everybody had something to say about Lenny. When he went, in 2008, even those who didn't have him on their holiday card list felt a puff of air go out of the town. Lenny was a character, part of the fabric of the small community that will never be replicated.

So what words did he chose or have chosen for his epitaph? Those of the Chairman of the Board himself, Frank Sinatra: "I did it my way."

If I could pass on one thing to all future readers of Lenny's tombstone, it is the old axiom that truer words have never, and will never again, be carved into stone.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

32784. Albert Minevitz

Hull's Jewish population once ran the town, and what an era it was. Much residual good still lingers, and many of the families from the heyday are still around the community. There's a lot of reflection happening now, as the Hull Jews look back on about a century of local habitation and progress.

Among the many families are the Minevitzes...zeses...es. How do you pluralize Minevitz? No matter, it's their contributions that count most.

Albert J. Minevitz, in my youth, was one of the names that seemed to be always in the local news in a positive way. I was 16 when he died, so I doubt we met, but with his own attributed quote on his stone, I think I would have liked him: "I have tried to be the best husband, father, son, son-in-law, friend and a perfect gentleman. I hope I was. And you could bank your life on my word."

Honesty and integrity go hand-in-hand, and it seems Mr. Minevitz tried to live that life in spades. I can only hope when my time comes I have the right to make the same claim as he did.

Monday, September 2, 2013

32776. Sam Postbrief

In probably the most artistic abstract design I've seen to date Sam Postbrief is remembered, at one of the highest points of the Hull cemetery.

The stone, rough-hewn, is split down the middle, but joined by three separate plaques that tell the story of Sam: "This memorial marks a repository of sacred books. It is dedicated to Sam Postbrief, 1947-1996. Bibliophile & Homme Extraordinaire..."

I've already spoken of the power of books in our lives, and the way they hold sway over us. I'd be hard-pressed to say which book I would bring with me into the afterlife if forced to bring just one; there are just so many that mean the world to me. And I'm just thinking of secular titles. My guess is that Sam's "sacred" books are just that, religious in nature. But sacredness is, of course, in the mind of the beholder.

Part of the beauty of Sam's memorial, aside from his wife's personal dedication, is that it sits on the very edge of bushes at the edge of the cemetery that threaten to envelop it, a bit of nature lovingly reaching around and embracing it. It makes for a bucolic scene, when taken together, as beautiful a memorial as I have come across.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

32733. Zara Colten

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

32661. Joseph P. Bazinet

To me, Joseph Bazinet has always been a cherished member of the cast of historical Hull characters. And the graveyard is not the only place in town where you'll find his name.

"SFC" - Sergeant First Class - Joe Bazinet served, as his marker states, in the "U.S. Army, World War I & II." First, consider that fact. Not one, but both wars! And what changes he must have seen: from cavalry charges to tank- and dive bomber-led blitzkriegs; from biplanes to the first military jets. But there's more to think about.

Think about the First World War soldiers who staked out the White House in search of financial support between the wars. Think about the Depression era military too poor to afford real rifles for infantry training, instead drilling with wooden sticks, dummy guns. If Joe Bazinet was a lifer, which it seems like he was, then he saw all those things, and more.

We know he saw one thing. He was the caretaker on Hog Island off Hull (now known as Spinnaker), and he was there when the Army tested its 16-inch guns on 1942. Everything came off without a hitch. The guns fired well, and only a few knickknacks fell off shelves around town due to the blasts. Well, there was one problem. The caretaker's house - and that would be Sergeant Bazinet's house - was flattened. The Army later named the bridge that today goes to the island after him.

Friday, August 30, 2013

32595. The Anastos Family

When we think of immigration in the first and second decades of the twentieth century, we think of "poor, huddled masses" yearning to start new lives. But I'll tell you, some of those masses were full of motion.

I was recently reading in the old Hull newspaper about how the Italian families arriving in town at that time never had a tough time finding work. I think it was the way we - the royal Italian we - never had a problem getting our hands dirty. I worked with old Italian men who weren't happy if they didn't have grime under their fingernails.

At about that time the Anastos family arrived in Hull from Greece. As industrious as the Italians were, the Greeks were so in their own way. Week after week in 1915 reports abounded that the Anastos family had bought this plot or that plot and were planning to do something big. Boy, did they ever. When I was a kid in the 1970s and 1980s, the town had what everyone knew as Anastos Corner: a restaurant, a hardware store, and the old Apollo Theater.

It was there I met Papa Lou. He served my brother, sister and me a plate of homefries on a day when my dad took us kids to breakfast but there wasn't a table available for us. He had no idea who we were. He just knew we were hungry kids waiting a long time for a table at a popular local restaurant. A tiny bit of kindness I've never forgotten.

What I didn't know until much later, in fact until after he passed away, was that he was an unsung hero. During the Cocoanut Grove Fire in 1942 he rushed into the flames and pulled out about 50 bodies, alive or dead he didn't know, until he collapsed from smoke inhalation. The local paper caught wind of it, ran an article, and it was never spoken of again until I did an article in the 1990s about it. He was never decorated, nor did he want to be. He figured he did the right thing and needed no applause.

So when I see Papa Lou's family marker, I see a plate of home fries, and I see the first true hero I ever met face to face.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

32594. The Neals

Hull, like every town, has its collection of well-known families. But the more I think of it, it's strange how that evolves over time. I think I can put it into perspective through a novel I once read.

W.P. Kinsella, author of Shoeless Joe, the story we know better as the movie Field of Dreams, wrote another baseball tale, The Iowa Baseball Confederacy. In the book, the baseball team never dies. Spirits populate it, one stepping in for another as time goes on, the baseball game moving on forever. To put it in human terms, in left field in Boston, Ted Williams retires, Carl Yastrzemski moves in; Yaz moves out of left field, Jim Rice steps in; the line continues unendingly.

But it's not so for families in small towns any more. We've reached the point in American history where birthplace is practically irrelevant. We are so transient now that very few of us remain in one place for long; the age of the "old families" in small towns is definitely diminishing.

I was lucky enough to be born in a small town that is not a crossroads of any kind, one that is in truth a dead end, a peninsula that belonged to us and us alone from Labor Day to Memorial Day. Like on islands, it's easy to reach a peninsula and stay there. There's a level of quietude you just can't find anywhere else. And so, I was lucky to live in a town of old families.

I never knew the older Neals when I was a kid. In fact, the first one I met was Butchy. Butch, or General Richard I. Neal, USMC, had himself quite a career. When you didn't see Norman Schwarzkopf briefing the press during the first Gulf War, you saw our Butchy. I met him at his retirement ceremony, as I went down to  the historic Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C., to cover it for the Hull Times. A few weeks later he drove up to where I worked and handed me a signed photograph of the two of us at the event - a moment I will never, ever forget. I can't, as it's still in my office to this day. And his love of the Corps touched me in a way I never thought it could. When I told him that my dad served in the Marines in Vietnam, he looked me right in the eye and said, "I'd like to meet him." They were five powerful little words. I'm sad to say that it never happened.

So, the Neals. Butchy had uncles who were military forerunners, serving in World War II. They're remembered on this stone, as "All Born in Hull," a badge of honor if there ever was one. At the bottom is Frederic C. Neal, "Born in England," and at the top is a carving of a fore-and-aft rigged four-masted ship. Denoting the family's maritime past? Well, Fred had to get here somehow from England between the 1880s and the time Haig and Ross were born in the 19-teens. He had to meet Gertrude Knight.

Did I mention that the Knights are one of Hull's old families? I'll say it again: I love my hometown.