The classic holiday song “Jingle Bells” was written in 1850 by James Pierpont in the long-gone Simpson’s Tavern on High Street, in Medford, Massachusetts. The tavern was situated along Paul Revere’s route (from which I’m drawing this spring)—so says a plaque on the wall of the three-story brick office building on High Street where the tavern once stood.
The plaque sits below the front window of an optical shop and says:
“Jingle Bells” Composed Here On this site stood the Simpson Tavern, where in 1850 James Pierpont (1822-1893) wrote the song “Jingle Bells” in the presence of Mrs. Otis Waterman, who later verified that the song was written here. Pierpont had the song copyrighted in 1857 while living in Georgia. “Jingle Bells” tells of the sleigh races held on Salem Street in the early 1800’s.
-Medford Historical Society 1988
Because the current Jingle Bells building is so ordinary looking, I took a seat directly across the street in the Lighthouse Cafe and drew from there. When I left my house just three miles away, I had rushed, hoping to draw the scene through falling snow. Snow, oddly rare this year, would be a perfect setting for a drawing of “Jingle Bells,” I thought. Unfortunately, the snow turned to rain as I crossed the town line.
The Lighthouse Cafe used to be called Ye Olde Lanthorn Restaurant and on the wall above my table, to my pleasant surprise, hung a fake old sign that read:
“One if by land…two if by sea” Paul Revere’s ride was immortalized in the words of the poet Longfellow. The path of that ride, taken to alert the colonial patriots, brought Revere through High Street, Medford, where he stopped briefly, to enjoy our local hospitality. We welcome you to Ye Olde Lanthorn Restaurant.
Lanthorn is an old British term for lantern.
The restaurant has changed owners a few times over the years. In the 1970s, it was a Pewter Pot Restaurant—one of a chain of Yankee-themed eateries, with post and beam ceilings, waitresses in Revolutionary era outfits and a menu featuring classic New England foods like pot roast, baked beans and broiled scrod. It was in this Pewter Pot that on April 18, 1973, Medford bookmaker Joe “Indian Joe” Notarangelli was mowed down by machine gun fire while he was eating, by a member of the Winter Hill Gang—the Irish Mob. Seems he did not want to pay them a portion of his illegal earnings for their “protection.”
Now, the Lighthouse Cafe is owned by a family from Albania, and was pretty un-newsworthy on the day I drew by the front window. I listened to the family members speak to each other in their native language. I guessed the daughter was the waitress, the father was the cook and the mother delivered the food. Behind me was the only other customer, and I could hear, all too clearly, her one-way conversation go on and on. I continue to find one-way conversations annoying despite the ever-present use of cellphones.
“That’s so nice!” she said.
“Oh, I’ll need $12.00 for that!” she said.
I turned around for the first time when she raised her voice higher and said “That’s so pretty!” It was then I saw that it was an old lady, not on the phone, but talking to herself. She was looking at her fingernails admiringly. She kept talking as she left a few minutes later with her little shopping cart.
When I paid the bill for my coffee and grilled English muffin, I asked the waitress if she knew “Jingle Bells” was written right across the street. She raised her eyebrows in surprise. I guess she never saw the plaque.
I wondered if Albanians sing “Jingle Bells.”
I wondered too, if the Albanians knew about the mob killing, but I didn’t dare ask. That’s a different kind of history.