– Lowell Politics and History

  • Lowell Walks

    Lowell Walks Summer 2015 Schedule

    Lowell Walks is a series of guided walking tours of downtown Lowell on Saturday mornings throughout the summer.  Each tour has a different topic led by a different tour guide.  All tours begin at 10:00 A.M. from the Lowell National Historical Park Visitor Center at 246 Market Street in Lowell.…

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    Lowell Week in Review: May 17, 2015

    It was another quiet council meeting this past Tuesday night which has been the norm since the snow melted. That might all change since the city’s FY16 budget should be out soon.  City Manager Murphy has done a good job of addressing the priorities of the city councilors and he…

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  • Cloud Gate

    Chicago Lessons

    I’m back from a family vacation in Chicago, Illinois, one of the great cities of the USA. It was my first visit to a city that I associate with Carl Sandburg, Barack Obama, Studs Terkel, Albert Halper, Poetry magazine (founded by Harriet Monroe and Alice Corbin), Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor, the Cubs…

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    Lowell Week in Review: May 24, 2015

    Hamilton Canal District This past Wednesday I drove to Springfield to speak to the Real Estate section of the Hamden County Bar Association about technology and the registry of deeds.  While the 40+ lawyers listened politely, the topic that created a buzz was the future Springfield casino.  They pointed out…

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Remembering ~ John F. Kennedy ~ May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963

From the archive…

On this day – May 29, 1917 – John F. Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts to Joseph and Rose (Fitzgerald) Kennedy. John Fitzgerald “Jack” Kennedy - often referred to by his initials JFK – was the 35th President of the United States, serving from 1961 until his assassination in 1963.

From the White House Presidential Biographies site:

John F. Kennedy

On November 22, 1963, when he was hardly past his first thousand days in office, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was killed by an assassin’s bullets as his motorcade wound through Dallas, Texas. Kennedy was the youngest man elected President; he was the youngest to die.

Of Irish descent, he was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, on May 29, 1917.Graduating from Harvard in 1940, he entered the Navy. In 1943, when his PT boatwas rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer, Kennedy, despite grave injuries,led the survivors through perilous waters to safety.

Back from the war, he became a Democratic Congressman from the Boston area,advancing in 1953 to the Senate. He married Jacqueline Bouvier on September 12,1953. In 1955, while recuperating from a back operation, he wrote Profiles inCourage, which won the Pulitzer Prize in history.

In 1956 Kennedy almost gained the Democratic nomination for Vice President,and four years later was a first-ballot nominee for President. Millions watched his television debates with the Republican candidate, Richard M. Nixon. Winning by a narrow margin in the popular vote, Kennedy became the first Roman CatholicPresident.

His Inaugural Address offered the memorable injunction: “Ask not what yourcountry can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.” As President, he set out to redeem his campaign pledge to get America moving again. His economicprograms launched the country on its longest sustained expansion since World War II; before his death, he laid plans for a massive assault on persisting pocketsof privation and poverty.

Learn more here: and here:

Consider the following:John K. Kennedy with Jackie, his parents Joe and Rose Kennedy and his siblings and their spouses in the Kennedy family home in Hyannis, Massachusetts – the day after his election in November, 1960.

Along Gorham Street

photo by Tony Sampas

Maya Angelou at Smith Baker; Joe Donahue at Whistler (1989)

With increasing discussion about renovating the Smith Baker Center near Lowell City Hall, I went to the vault to get this essay written in the moment in 1989. Let’s hope we can revive the Smith Baker Center and offer the public inspiring events like Maya Angelou’s appearance there.—PM


A Day That Starched Our Backbones

October 19, 1989, is in the books as one of the remarkable days in the cultural history of Lowell. Two very different people offered their writings to a combined audience of 1,500. Renaissance woman Maya Angelou stunned a packed house at the nineteenth-century recycled red-brick church that is the Smith Baker Center on Merrimack Street at noon, and in the evening poet Joseph Donahue of the Lowell Donahues launched his first collection of poems at the Whistler House Museum of Art. Both writers earned sustained ovations—it was a day of roses and accolades. People thronged to poetry readings on an otherwise ordinary Thursday, sure evidence of Lowell’s cultural revival.

Maya Angelou’s appearance was sponsored by the Middlesex Community College Common Book Program, the Friends of the Pollard Memorial Library, and the Student Union Government Association of Middlesex. The Donahue reading was presented by the Whistler House Museum of Art with support from Lowell Heritage State Park. The assortment of sponsors and partners is a hallmark of Lowell’s cultural scene. There is now in place an infrastructure of organizations, an atmosphere of cooperation, a community of artists, and a receptive audience that combines to create excellent events.

A natural teacher, Maya Angelou sang, recited, preached, acted, and danced her way through a fast-paced ninety-minute program. “I have not come for nothing!” she declared, ordering the Middlesex students to take out pen and paper to write the names of authors she was about to reveal: Georgia Douglas Duncan, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, and Mari Evans were a few of the African-American writers whose poems she recited, along with her own memorable work.

Dr. Angelou said her grandmother told her, “Poetry puts starch in your backbone,” as she described her love of reading and her vast appetite for great works, from Shakespeare to Countee Cullen. “All knowledge is spendable currency—read, read, read!” Hers is a message of liberation from the small, mean life, which threatens to debase all of us. Exhorting the students to feed their minds, she said that everyone in the hall had been paid for by the ancestors of every color. She declared, the students’ assignment is to prepare themselves to pay for those who will come after.

She scolded, laughed, and clapped, offering bold, musical poems of her own about love, the nature of women, and a hilarious piece about a “smoking carnivore” who cannot abide the natural food crowd. Her advice to writers in the audience: “Tell the truth, but not necessarily all the facts.” It was a virtuoso performance by a forceful cultural figure. A professor at Wake Forest University, Dr. Angelou is the author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, among other works. This book, selected as the “common book” of the year at Middlesex, was read by students from a variety of disciplines. Television viewers will remember Maya Angelou in her role as the mother of Kunte Kinte in the made-for-television mini-series Roots.

Joseph Donahue traveled to Lowell from New York City to introduce his first book of poems, Before Creation, among his clan and old friends. The Whistler House’s Parker Gallery was filled with people who turned out to hear the words of a poet who is an important voice of his generation of writers. The intelligence and fine craftsmanship of the works resonated in his reading. A professor at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, Donahue offered a choice wedge of contemporary poetry: the style of his work, at its best, is a combination of “neo-Language Poetry and high lyricism,” explained a colleague. Standing in a room hung with Don Quixote etchings by Salvador Dali, he delivered his poems very much as is, not cluttering the presentation with extensive set -up or paraphrase.

Beginning with a long prose poem, “Purple Ritual,” he guided the audience on a tour of the American psyche, using the assassination of John F. Kennedy and his family’s history as an armature on which to fix his speculations about myth, fate, loss, and recovery. Explaining that he was trying to find a way to write about New York City, he read several poems on that subject, works reflecting the edgy and exotic terrain of the most modern city.

Opening Joseph Donahue’s new book is like slicing open a ripe pomegranate—brilliant, jeweled, richly colored, densely packed, sweet, and at times rancid language and images look as tasty one by one as in clusters. The whole is gorgeous to observe before the juicy nuggets are sucked and chewed dry.

The surprise of the evening was his reading of three deeply moving elegies not included in the book. The local audience was visibly affected by his remembrances of Lowell journalist and family friend Jim Droney, the Droneys’ daughter Sarah, and a figure whom no author with Lowell ties can ignore—Jack Kerouac. If these poems hint at the strength of his next collection of poems, there is much to expect.

Maya Angelou and Joseph Donahue made a day to remember in Lowell. As poet Donald Hall keeps insisting, poetry is not dead, even though some critics and commentators are trying to murder it. In a recent essay, Hall states flatly: “More people read poetry now in the United States than ever did before.” And their spines are better for it.


Paul Marion (c) 1989, 2015

Lowell City Council Meeting: May 26, 2015

Tax Increment Financing Agreement (TIF) with the Markley Group is approved.  This company will located a major computer server facility in the former Prince Spaghetti mill in South Lowell.  The property is currently assessed for $5.9 million in its unoccupied state.  This TIF sets that value as the amount for future taxation.  Only 20% of the value of any improvements made to the facility will be taxable.  The city will actually realize more in taxes once the building is occupied, even with the TIF.  Manager Murphy says he is proud to bring this to the council because this facility will help reinforce the image of Lowell as a progressive, forward-thinking community.  [Various councilors voice support for the TIF while emphasizing it is a reasonable, prudent tax incentive].

Jeffrey Flanagan, Executive Vice President of the Markley Group, addresses the council.  Thanks all he has worked with in the city and says the company is very excited about this project.  He explains the companies mission which is essentially providing cloud computing and communications.  Says they will built a “dark fiber network” back to their Boston facility which will allow Lowell-based businesses and educational facilities to have super high speed access to telecommunications companies that are linked to their Boston facility.  This entire business is very collaborative so they look forward to working with other companies here in Lowell.  [I’m fairly conversant in the language of computer communications and this guy is speaking at a very high level which is good in that he knows what he is talking about and corroborates that this is a cutting edge company, but it also means that none of the city councilors – no offense intended to them – have any idea of what he is talking about].

The TIF passes unanimously.

Enel Bridge Tiger Grant Application

Chris Gleba speaks, raising questions about the wisdom of this proposal.  Points out that the Federal TIGER grant (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) is discretionary so what happens if the grant is not awarded.  Makes a number of points, also emphasizes the lack of information about the proposed deal.

Craig Thomas of DPD gives an overview of the problems with the Enel Bridges.  Lack of proper maintenance has caused bridges to close or be limited in their carrying capacity which hinders economic development and the expansion of UMass Lowell.  Enel claims it only has to assess the bridges and mark (or close) them accordingly.  They have no legal obligation to repair or replace them.  Lays out some of the details of the proposal from the city’s perspective.  Says it’s a $16mil project, seeking $13mil from Feds, UML will reimburse $2mil, and Enel will contribute $750K.  If this goes through, the city will gain ownership of 8 bridges.  “Infrastructure ownership and maintenance is what we do.”

Adam Baacke of UMass Lowell speaks next.  Commends the city for putting together such a complex proposal.  Says UML extremely interested in this, mostly because the bridge problems are stifling the ability of UML to continue to grow.  To grow further, we must broaden our transit system and we can’t do that without safe, reliable bridges.

Thomas returns to explain the council has several votes on this tonight to make it all work.  They are all part of the same package.  He assures councilors that the city is not really paying anything to Enel; the company is not being rewarded for letting the bridges fall into disrepair.

All votes pass unanimously.

Personnel Subcommittee Report

By chair Corey Belanger.  Meeting earlier tonight on proposal to remove fire chief from Civil Service.  The Subcommittee voted unanimously to take the job out of Civil Service.  Final vote continued to June 9 meeting.


By Councilor Belanger, asking Manager to brief council on plans he has for future of Hamilton Canal District.  CM Murphy says they are preparing an RFP for a master developer that he will bring back to the council very soon.  Belanger asks if we really need a master developer?  Murphy says we do, we need someone in that business who can seek out individual developers to do the various projects.

Council adjourns at 8:07 pm.

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Old Glory

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