‘Monuments and Memory’ by Martha Norkunas (2002)

Martha Norkunas is a scholar, a folklorist, who was the director of cultural affairs at the Lowell Historic Preservation Commission in the early 1990s. Her book “Monuments and Memory: History and Representation in Lowell, Massachusetts” was published by the Smithsonian Institution Press in 2002. In it she catalogues the various forms of remembrance, public remembrance, in the city. Some of the chapters are “Inside the Memory of Class and Ethnicity” and “Relocating the Memory of the Dead.” Following is an excerpt from the Introduction.—PM


“In 1996 a series of small granite sculptures, a work of public art funded by the Lowell Historic Preservation Commission, was dedicated to those Yankee women who formed a part of the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association in 1840. Fifty yards away a “Winged Victory” statue rises up before the obelisk dedicated to the first two Lowell soldiers to die in the Civil War. Behind that is the city hall, with monuments to Lowell’s Franco Americans and Lowell’s Polish Americans prominently placed on the front lawn. Still within sight is Cardinal O’Connell Parkway with a large pedestal and bust of the cardinal, and monuments to the Irish and Greek communities of Lowell defining opposite ends of the small greenway. Nearly every five blocks there is a monument with the names of Lowell’s ethnic communities, the war dead, politicians and priests, civil servants, coaches, athletes, volunteers, donors, children, or women.

“Bearing witness to the multiple collective memories of this old industrial city, the creation of these monuments describes ideas aboutthe rise of American industrialism, the good citizen, and the heroic death. . . . ”



Meet our newest Senator

Massachusetts has a new Senator (or will within a few days). His name is William “Mo” Cowan and up until Governor Patrick appointed him to this post a day or two ago, I have no memory of seeing him or hearing him, certainly not in person and I doubt even in a photo. These days, my first choice for learning more about a topic is YouTube so I went there and searched “Mo Cowan.” A few clips from the Senatorial announcement ceremony at the state house popped up, but the clip I thought gave the best and most concise glimpse at our new Senator was the following one, filmed in 2010 by Northeastern University Law School (Cowan is a 1994 graduate) while Cowan was serving as Governor Patrick’s Chief Legal Counsel.

Career Change for Glen Johnson

Glen Johnson with Barney Frank, July 2012

Congratulations to Glen Johnson, most recently the Boston Globe’s political editor, but remembered fondly here as one of the best City Hall reporters the city of Lowell was fortunate to have had, on his upcoming career change. Starting this Monday, Glen will work at the U.S. State Department for our new Secretary of State, John Kerry. Here’s a portion of an email broadcast Glen sent out yesterday announcing the move:


I am writing today to let you know that I am making a professional change.

After 27 years as a news reporter, I have decided to step away from daily journalism to serve Senator John Kerry as he embarks tomorrow on his new duties as secretary of state.

I will have the honor of working in Washington on the senior staff at the State Department, helping the secretary-designate communicate his foreign policy vision and priorities to both international and domestic audiences.

My duties will include traveling with the secretary and assisting him as he represents President Obama and the administration abroad and at home. It will be reminiscent of our travels from 2001 until 2003, as the senator laid the groundwork for his 2004 presidential campaign and I tagged along for The Boston Globe.

It is a humbling opportunity, especially in these turbulent times, but one that I embrace with relish.

Up to this point in my life, I have never wanted to be anything other than a reporter, to have a front seat on history and write its proverbial first draft.

That passion sustained me when I started as a government meeting stringer for The Lowell Sun, and worked my first full-time job at the fabled City News Bureau of Chicago while managing a Baskin-Robbins franchise to cover my lodging.

It carried on through stints at The Salem Evening News, the Sun as a full-timer, through a pair of tenures at both The Associated Press and the Globe, and across five presidential campaigns.

The people I have met at each workplace or campaign bus have been honest, hard-working, and public servants in their own right. I’m going to miss being one of them.

I would be remiss if I didn’t single out my bosses, who supported and mentored me and, in some cases, hired me twice: Joe Reilly and Paul Zimbrakos; Nelson Benton and Mark Pillsbury; Jack Costello, Alex Costello, Kendall Wallace, Cromwell Schubarth, Jim Campanini, Charley St. Amand, and Link McKie; Mike Short and Mike Bezdek; Jon Wolman, Sandy Johnson, and Ron Fournier; Matt Storin, David Shribman, and Ken Cooper; David Marcus, Bill Kole, Lisa Pane, and Karen Testa; and Marty Baron, Bennie DiNardo, and Ron Agrella. The late great Paul Sullivan also enlivened the experience in his unique way.

Today, I am particularly indebted to Globe Editor Brian McGrory and Metro Editor Jennifer Peter for their support as I stopped reporting and editing to embark on this transition with professional integrity.

I also owe my career and this opportunity to my wife, Cathy, and sons, Patrick and Kelley, who have put up with nights and weekends of work and incessant travel every four years, but happily kept things humming at home and relished the chance to meet the people I covered and with whom I worked and played.

I have learned just in my brief exposure to the worldwide workforce at the State Department that I am joining a corps of equal character and dedication.

I will strive to live up to their example, just as I have tried to do as a reporter.

I start my new job on Monday and will be back in touch with updated contact information.

‘Generator Room’ (1998)

Between 1990 and 1993, a very different kind of public-art project happened in the power house of the Boott Cotton Mills. This was part of the growing Lowell Public Art Collection. UMass Lowell art students and dozens of volunteers joined San Francisco-based artist David Ireland (since deceased) in his effort to transform the power house into a room-sized artwork. The cavernous three-story space with large skylights and relics of machinery was envisioned as a kind of “industrial chapel” where people would encounter a restored interior of gleaming yellow-tinted walls and preserved factory fixtures. David Ireland had created evocative places like this in California. Financial problems at the mill complex prevented the owner from funding the effort as expected, so the project was not completed. With remaining grant money from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, UMass Lowell Professor of Art Jim Coates and I produced a documentary book in 1998, using David Ireland’s proposal as the main text and images by photographer Jim Higgins and others. Following are two quotations used in the book.—PM

David Ireland


“All looks cheerful and pleasant . . . especially in the large engine rooms where, to my astonishment, I noticed the walls were frescoed. I do not believe that in the whole of Lancashire [England] there is a room more fitted for a reception or a ballroom than this engine room in the Boott Cotton Mills would be if the immense Corliss machinery of  1,000 horsepower were taken out.” — New York Herald, 1878

“When Ireland looks at this room he does not see a derelict remnant of the Rust Belt, but a space whose ample dimensions capture the faith of the Machine Age as surely as the Gothic Cathedral captured the faith of an earlier time.”—-Miles Unger, The Boston Globe, 1990

“Generator Room” (c) by James Higgins, reprinted by permission, www.higginsross.com

Detail from an Ireland project at the Headlands Institute near San Francisco (photo by Richard Barnes courtesy of artpractical.com)

February 1st ~ Feast Day of St. Brigid of Ireland

   St. Brigid of Ireland  ~ “Mary of the Gaels” 

Today February 1 is the Feast Day of St Brigid of Ireland, often called Mary of the Gael. She is one of the great patron saints of Ireland along with St. Patrick and St. Columba. Named for  Druid goddess Brid, and though she served in the pagan sanctuary in Cill Dar, Brigid converted to Christianity. She then converted Cill Dar into a into a Christian shrine. Brigid’s wisdom and generosity became legend and people traveled from all over the country to share her wisdom. Her monastery at Kildare became one of the greatest centers of learning in Europe. Brigit’s small oratory at Cill-Dara (Kildare) developed into a cathedral city. She founded two monastic institutions, one for men, and the other for women. She continued her holy and charitable work until her death when her casket was enshrined at Kil Dara. In 835, her remains were moved to protect them from Norse invaders and interred in the same grave that holds the remains of St. Patrick and St. Columcille at Downpatrick.

As with other traditions, the Christian St. Brigid has become blended in some quarter with the pagan goddess Brid.Her feast day is also known as Imbolc, a day that celebrates the arrival of longer, warmer days and the early signs of  spring. It is one of the four major “fire” festivals  (quarter days), referred to in Irish mythology from medieval Irish texts. The  other three festivals on the old Irish calendar are Beltane, Lughnasadh and  Samhain. In ancient Irish mythology Brigid was a fire  goddess. The canonization of St. Brigid is celebrated with a perpetual flame at her  shrine in Kildare.

Miracles are attributed to St. Brigid. Most of her miracles were related to healing and domestic tasks usually attributed to women. St. Brigid is the parton saint of babies; blacksmiths; boatmen; cattle; chicken farmers; children whose parents are not married; children with abusive fathers; children born into abusive unions; dairymaids; dairy workers; fugitives; infants; Ireland; Leinster, mariners; midwives; milk maids; nuns; poets; poor; poultry farmers; poultry raisers; printing presses; sailors; scholars; travellers; watermen.

Making a St. Brigid’s cross is one of the traditional rituals in Ireland to celebrate the beginning of early spring, 1st February. The crosses are made of rushes that are pulled rather than cut. They are hung by the door and in the rafters to protect the house from fire and evil.

 St. Brigid’s Cross

More about St. Brigid here: http://www.stbrigid.ie/content/story-st-brigid  and here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigit_of_Kildare

Happy St. Brigid’s Day to one and all!