Tag Archives: Lowell

South Common Improvement Plan

I walked our dog on the South Common this morning. The grass had turned green seemingly overnight, a refreshing sight after the long winter. Fat-chested robins in their red bibs poked at the defrosted ground on the sports field. In the high fir trees invisible birds called and sang brightly. A man in a Red Sox cap and ballplayer’s jacket strode with purpose toward the train station, no doubt on his way to the early-starting Patriots Day game. Basketball kids had already occupied the courts. The empty light-blue pool held a residue of rain water. A few older folks from Bishop Markham Village walked the oval for their daily exercise.

The South Common improvement plan below is the one that I recall the community endorsing as part of an extensive public process coordinated by the City’s Planning & Development staff as part of the City’s contract with highly respected landscape architects Brown, Richardson and Rowe of Boston. The design project cost money. We had community-input meetings at the Pollard Memorial Library and elsewhere. (The landscape architecture firm,  by the way, is the same one that did the design for award-winning Boarding House Park and Kerouac Park on Bridge Street.) My understanding is that funding for the execution of the plan has been on hold for several years while the City obtained the needed state funding to complete the Concord River Greenway, and that the South Common is next in line for the request for state funding for parks. If it isn’t, it should be next in line. With these improvements shown below, the big park could be a beautiful natural treasure at an important gateway to Lowell. Are we really going to go from a public policy position of enhancing the value of the South Common to a position of removing it from the city map?

Click on the image to see it larger.

South Common Plan

Sixth Massachusetts in Baltimore

April 19, 1861: Lowell soldiers killed in Baltimore

On a small patch of grass wedged between two busy streets in front of Lowell City Hall sits a twenty-five foot high granite obelisk. Few passersby know that this monument commemorates nineteen year old Luther Ladd and twenty year old Addison Whitney, two Lowell mill workers who, along with Sumner Needham of Lawrence and Charles Taylor of parts unknown, were the first soldiers to die in the American Civil War. Fewer still realize that Ladd, Whitney and Taylor are actually buried beneath the monument, right in front of City Hall.

While our neighbors may commemorate Patriot’s Day by recalling the opening battles of the Revolutionary War at Lexington and Concord – not to mention the Marathon and an early Red Sox start – some in Lowell devote a few moments each April 19th to remembering the members of the Sixth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, a unit drawn primarily from Lowell and Lawrence, and their struggle in Baltimore on another April 19th. Here’s what happened.

Shortly after learning that the South Carolina militia had attacked Fort Sumter, President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers from the northern states to come south to suppress the rebellion. Because of the foresight of Governor John Andrew and Lowell’s Benjamin Butler (a general of the Volunteers) the Massachusetts troops were well organized, well equipped, and ready to leave on short notice.

The train carrying the regiment left Lowell on April 17, 1861, just two days after the surrender of Fort Sumter. Because Washington, DC, was garrisoned by only six companies of regular troops and fifteen companies of local militia whose pro-Southern sentiments made them more of a threat than an asset, the Sixth Regiment was ordered to proceed to the capital as quickly as possible.

The quickest route to Washington led through New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, a city with extensive economic, social, and cultural ties to the south. The configuration of the rail route through Baltimore heightened the risk of confrontation. Trains coming from the north arrived at the President Street Station. Individual cars were then decoupled and drawn by horse a mile through the city to Camden Station (adjacent to the current Camden Yards baseball stadium). There, the cars would be reunited with a locomotive and continue the journey southward.

Upon his arrival in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at 5:00 P.M. on April 18, Colonel Edward F. Jones, the commander of the Sixth Regiment, learned of the likelihood of violence in Baltimore and formulated a plan designed to avoid confrontation. Rather than remain the night in Philadelphia, the regiment would depart at 1:00 A.M., placing it in Baltimore at first light, when the troublemakers would still be asleep. Once there, the entire unit would dismount from the train and quickly march through the city to Camden Station. The logic of the plan was clear since an entire regiment would likely intimidate any mob that appeared.

The plan went awry before the troops even reached Baltimore. Crossing from Delaware into Maryland, the ten cars of the train were floated across the Susquehanna River by ferry. Although Colonel Jones failed to realize it at the time, the cars were reattached to the locomotive in a different order, leaving Jones in the fourth car of the train, not the first. When the train finally arrived in Baltimore, the railroad workers immediately began shuttling individual cars through the city. By the time Jones realized what was happening, his unit was scattered throughout Baltimore, and all he could do was wait and hope that the cars all reached Camden Station intact. The first seven cars did just that, but their passage had alerted city residents who took to the street, blocking the way of the final three cars. A captain took command of the troops in those cars, got them off the train and led them through the streets and the ever-growing crowd. Bricks and then bullets soon followed the insults of the crowd. Four soldiers were killed; thirty-one were wounded. The men of the Sixth returned fire, killing twelve and wounding an untold number of civilians. After reaching the relative safety of Camden Station, the regiment reformed and continued on to Washington where its men were welcomed as heroes and housed in the Senate chamber.

The riot in Baltimore gave the Sixth Massachusetts an early prominence that was eclipsed by the enormous scope of the war and that regiment’s limited participation in it. At the time, however, Ladd, Whitney, Taylor and Needham were seen as “the first martyrs of the great rebellion” and provided the North with symbols to rally around. The men of the Sixth Regiment were not professional soldiers. They were ordinary citizens who came from all walks of life, from lawyers to laborers. Some died during the war, others never returned to the Merrimack Valley. Those who did return, however, made countless contributions both big and small to their respective communities throughout the post-war period. We still feel their influence today.

Another Lowell Poet Whom We Should Know

(re-posted from Sept. 14, 2008)

“Thomas Fitzsimmons was born in Lowell in October 1926. He entered WWII as a young merchant mariner following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and left the US Army Air Force after the bombing of Hiroshima. He taught for many years at Oakland University in Michigan and is now professor emeritus of literature. He has received several Fulbright fellowships to travel in Asia and Europe and was awarded three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (in the categories of poetry, translation, and belles lettres). He worked as a writer and editor for the New Republic magazine in Washington, DC, and the Asahi Daily News in Tokyo. He has written, edited or translated 60 books. As of 2003, he was editing two book series published by the University of Hawaii Press: Asian Poetry in Translation: Japan and Reflections. His books from the past ten years include Build Me Ruins: The One-Eyed Boy Grows Another Eye(2002),  Iron Harp: The Birth of the One-Eyed Boy (1999), Planet Forces (1999), Fencing the Sky (1998), and The Poetry and Poetics of Ancient Japan [a translation] (1997). With his wife, Karen Hargreaves-Fitzsimmons, he publishes Katydid Books (distributed by Univ of Hawaii Press), from their home near Santa Fe, NM (www.katydidbooks.com).” [I reprinted this biography from the website.]

In 1981, I published one of Tom’s poem in a broadside form in a series from Loom Press. The original has slightly different spacing for the lines, but I can’t find the original broadside at the moment. Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord, then of Billerica and now a book artist in Newburyport, did the poem in calligraphy as a nod to Tom’s interest in Asian poetry. Here is the poem:

Rainbow Poem

by Tom Fitzsimmons

When I was a kid

Playing hooky

Spending my dime on a loaf of Greek bread

To eat dry

High on a hillside above the Merrimack River

Outside Lowell, Massachusetts,

I did not think I

Would be sitting on Parnassus slope

Above Delphi

Eating my loaf of Greek bread

With feta, black olives,

& retsina

Looking down thru temple valley and time

To when I was a kid

Playing hooky eating my bread

Dry on the hills above the Merrimack River

Outside Lowell, Massachusetts

(written at Delphi, 1976)

Dismantle the South Common? Hands Off.

640px-Lowell_MA_South_Common_Historic_District
The South Common was created for the enjoyment of all the residents of the city. The South Common is not an empty lot waiting for a better use. The South Common is functioning well for its designated purpose, thank you. The South Common is scheduled for a major renovation, based on a thoughtful plan put together for the City of Lowell by a well respected landscape architecture firm—and with significant community input. We have been waiting for years for a major investment in this park. The South Common is part of the South Common Historic District, and the Lowell Historic Board has a say in the razing of existing structures and design of new structures in the district. The South Common is not a good location for a new high school. I live on Highland Street. No secret. The idea of injecting many hundreds of additional cars of teachers and students into already highly congested Thorndike, Gorham, and Highland streets is not a good idea. In addition to contributing to the quality of life of current neighbors and recreational users, as a marvelous and active green space the South Common can be an asset for Sal Lupoli’s planned innovation-commercial-residential development at the former Comfort Furniture/Hood Co. complex and for the future Judicial Center, not to mention the whole Hamilton Canal District. Who speaks for open space in the city? Who speaks for Nature? Who speaks for the current users of the South Common? Who speaks for this important part of Lowell’s heritage?

 

Poetry at the Parker (4/12/14)

We had more than 50 people at the Whistler House Museum yesterday for the poetry reading with Joe Donahue and me offering work angled toward the Acre neighborhood and Aegean Sea in honor of our hosts, Lowell’s Hellenic Culture & Heritage Society. We ranged through tragedy and memory and mystical union, bringing into the room Aeschylus, JFK, Gorky, Tsongas, Warhol, Ellen Goodman, Larry King, Eros, Cavafy, Seferis, Sappho, Kerouac, Troy (not Troy Donahue, no relation), and elite Kenyan marathoners, among other figures and configurations and loaded locations. Joe sold out his pile of books and exited the painter’s birthplace through the Parker Gallery, past tables of baklava, koulourakia, and green grapes. In a review of Joe’s 2003 book “Incidental Eclipse,” John Ashbery wrote that Joe is “one of the major American poets of this time.” So, there you go—an assessment from an author with a roomful of prizes. The reading was taped by Lowell Telecommunications Corp. and will be broadcast soon on local cable TV. Catch it if you can.

Donahue & Marion Reading Today (Older Than They Once Were)

 

donahue  younger

Joe Donahue, c. 2000

marion younger

Paul Marion, c. 1986 (photo by James Higgins)

At 2 p.m. today, there’s a poetry reading with these young guys pictured above at the Whistler House Museum of Art, Parker Gallery, 243 Worthen St., downtown Lowell. The program is called “The Cultural Lines of Poetry, IV.” Sponsored by the Hellenic Culture and Heritage Society, the event will feature readings of new and older poems plus commentary about the influence of Greek writers and Hellenic culture on the authors’ literary efforts. Free and open to the public. Special thanks to Marina Sampas Schell and Charles Nikitopoulos for organizing the program. The HCHS has been a great friend to poets and poetry for more than 20 years. And thanks to the Whistler House and Director Sara Bogosian for hosting the program—a longtime friendly location for poets.

 

Today at 11 am: Announcing Nelson Mandela Tribute at Tsongas Center

Everyone is invited to attended the public announcement today of the plan to create the Nelson Mandela Overlook on the grounds of the Tsongas Center of Lowell. The African American Alliance of Lowell, organized by community leaders including Bowa George Tucker, Janet B. Johnson, and Gordon Halm, in partnership with UMass Lowell, will launch the effort to create a permanent tribute to the acclaimed Nelson Mandela as a gesture from the city’s growing community of peoples of African origin. The event will include remarks by human-rights champion Albie Sachs of South Africa, a friend and colleague of Mandela’s who together with countless others struggled to end the injustices of apartheid. Also speaking will be Chancellor Marty Meehan and Bowa G. Tucker of the African American Alliance. Albie Sachs, former Constitutional Judge, is the 2014 Greeley Scholar for Peace Studies at UMass Lowell. The program begins at 11 a.m. in the Sage Bank Pavilion of the Tsongas Center and will conclude with a symbolic groundbreaking and placement of a ceremonial wreath at the future site of the Nelson Mandela Overlook along the Western Canal on the grounds of the Tsongas.

Mandela