Short Stop

Gaffeys

I almost got run over on Patriots’ Day. Ironically, right in front of Gaffey’s Funeral Home. Not by Paul Revere, although he was the last to pass by before the incident, a few minutes before. It was the first car to drive down First Street after the road was opened to traffic following the ceremony. I never saw it coming when I was crossing the street. It screeched to a stop.

Earlier, I listened to Paul Revere (depicted in full costume by a member of the National Lancers) as he spoke to the crowd gathered in front of Gaffey’s. Next, the Mayor of Medford spoke from the same podium. “This is my first Patriots’ Day as mayor. I hope it’s the first of many!” she said. Then the mayor introduced two school children who each read half of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. There were about a hundred of us gathered around to honor this

Massachusetts state holiday marking the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Following the poem, Paul Revere mounted his horse and headed for Arlington, then Lexington and Concord. We all know what he was up to. Behind the horse, many went into the funeral home for complimentary wrap sandwiches, bags of chips and sodas. It was pure Americana and I was lucky to stumble upon it on a drawing day.

In 1775, this house was the home of Captain Issac Hall, a rum merchant, and it was an important stop on Paul Revere’s ride. Hall was the leader of the Medford Minutemen. In Revere’s own account, he wrote, “I went through Medford over the bridge and up to Menotomy. In Medford I waked the Captain of the Minute Men, and after that, I alarmed almost every house till I got to Lexington.” Hall and his men saw battle with the Redcoats the next day, and fought again in the Battle of Bunker Hill, a few months later. The tall house stands as the oldest in historic Medford Square.

As I sat and drew—watching the clean-up crew from the city lift the speaker’s podium away—I attracted a couple of visitors. First came a woman who said she was an artist, too. She’s the one who tipped me off to the free lunch inside the funeral home. Next came an older couple. The man asked if I was “doing that for someone?” I said, “No, I’m just working for myself.” He then said, “When I used to do that, I noticed that the cars came in threes.” Then his wife turned to her partner and said firmly “He’s drawing a picture!” “Oh!” said the man, “that’s more interesting!” I told him that I found his “cars come in threes” observation pretty interesting, and they walked away. The whole day was interesting. I’m glad I survived it.

Church of Stones

Church

Just outside downtown Medford, on the road that Paul Revere took to Menotomy (now called Arlington) sits a rustic church of stones, as if from the European countryside. It’s the Grace Episcopal Church built in 1868 by the important American architect H.H. (Henry Hobson) Richardson early in his career. Actually, it’s his oldest building still standing.

Richardson is most well known in Boston for his landmark Trinity Church which was built a decade later in Copley Square—home of the Boston Marathon’s finish line. There are lots of Richardson-designed gems in the region, as his practice was in Brookline, Massachusetts. That said, while he was a local architect, his reputation and influence was certainly national. He, along with Chicago’s Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, are often considered the holy trinity of American architecture.

Medford’s Grace Episcopal Church is a bit unusual, in that it preceded his signature “Richardson Romanesque” style of architecture. This church was created in a Gothic Revival style, perhaps reflecting works the young architect saw in Europe when he was a student at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. The structure surface features rough-cut glacial rocks and granite blocks. The roof is of gray and red slate.

With the Church, stands a tall tower holding nine bells which were originally hung in 1873. The largest was given by the city of Medford to be used as the city’s fire bell. The bells were cast by the Blake Brothers Company who were successors to a famous bell foundry in the North End of Boston, founded by none other than Paul Revere himself.

 

The Lost Convent

Convent lo

This is where the convent was, but that was a long time ago. You wouldn’t know it if you didn’t read the stone marker in front of the library, around the corner. Then again, the convent wasn’t here very long. Now it’s all multi-family houses.

When Paul Revere rode by, nearby, on what’s now Broadway, this was just a big empty hill called Mt. Benedict. In the late 1820s, a convent and school was built here by the Ursuline Sisters, a Catholic order of nuns who had outgrown their space in Boston. At the time, this was part of Charlestown; now it’s what’s referred to as East Somerville.

Boston and its suburbs have a large percentage of Catholics now, but up through the Revolutionary War, Catholics were not very welcome in this Puritan-founded area. Nonetheless, the Ursuline school quickly established itself as a place for educating the daughters of wealthy families—Unitarians, mostly.

Meanwhile, tensions were growing in Boston due to the newly arriving Irish (Catholics). The working-class Protestants saw them as an economic as well as a cultural threat. Preachers and publications fanned the anti-Irish hatred. There were attacks on the streets.

Soon the Ursuline convent became a object of resentment, too. This school for the rich, run by Catholics, became the subject of rumors and suspicions. There were calls for investigations following accusations of children being forced to convert, and women being held against their will. The convent was accused of being immoral and un-American.

Things boiled over on the night of August 11,1834. A riot of locals set fire to the convent. When firemen came, they chose not to act, and joined the growing crowd. Within hours, the convent was a smoking ruin.

An investigation led to some arrests, but juries failed to find anyone guilty. No compensation for the tremendous loss was ever made. No one was punished.

In time, the entire hill was taken away along with the ruins. A highway was built. A neighborhood grew.

As I walked the streets, I noticed that the intersections were named for war veterans. Irish names. Italian names. On front doors, hung palm branches from Palm Sunday. The Catholics had returned.  And on this hill of hate, a diverse neighborhood grew. I saw lots of types come and go from these houses.

After drawing, I had a burrito at the nearby Taco Loco. There, everyone spoke Spanish but me. This place attracts all the Latino immigrants. In the age of Trump, I fear that they are the new nervous.