Gloucester Christmas Memories

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I’m inside the Lobster Trap Tree on Main Street thinking ….. Gloucester is a great Christmas town, my memories go back to the early 50’s.

Back in time before Sammy lost his eye and Johnnie Ray cried for the first time. I can hear Carol of the Bells & I’m spinning around, digging those riffs . I like this as much as the intro to Crazy Rhythm by Harry James on an old 78. I loved the Christmas carols & sang in the Junior Choir of the Old First Baptist Church at the end of Middle Street.

I see the Alexander kids at 18 Washington Square posing in pajamas & bathrobes, halfway down the stairs with gleeful faces on Christmas morning. My mother snapping pictures with her Brownie Hawkeye camera: my sister Janice Elaine holding a doll, my brother Bobby with a baseball glove, and me with my View Master thrilling me with its 3d scenes of the world across the bridge. Those were black & white pictures that my mother Madeline took, no color yet.  We didn’t have a television either, so I’d go next door on Saturday nights to watch the Lone Ranger and the Boston Blackie with my pal Billy Ruggiero. His grandma would always bring me something to eat, even though I’d already had my supper. I could never say no.

These were the best times-when the family was all together, all still alive.  Later on we would drive around “ rubber necking “ in the fancy parts of town enjoying the decorations in the huge yards & driveways. The A’s are driving an old luxurious, black Oldsmobile, given to us by the Emerson sisters who attended my Dad’s church. They gave me a stuffed gila monster once, they were travellers.
I still see diamonds reflected from street lights and hear the crunch crunch crunch of walking on fresh snow.

New memories include the surprise of a String Quartet last Saturday morning at the Cape Ann Savings Bank; looking forward to Gordon Baird hitting that high note singing his traditional solo O Holy Night at the UU church on Christmas Eve, and best of all seeing Greasy Pole Champ Salvi Benson walking around town looking like Santa Claus himself these days.


Photo Credit Anne Rearick.

Willie Alexander. The Alexander family arrived in Gloucester in 1950; we left in 1955. I returned here in June 1997 to live with my wife, photographer Anne Rearick.  I’ve been making music & art my whole life. I made my first recordings for Capitol Records in 1965 with The Lost. I am currently recording with Tony Goddess at Bang a Song Studios in Gloucester.

1644: A Turning Point in Cape Ann History

Masconomet.                       William Henry Tappan (1821-1907)

By Mary Ellen Lepionka

Histories are benchmarked with turning points—significant events that change all that follows. In large and small ways they affect the lives of persons, nations, species. A turning point for me in my work on Cape Ann’s past was discovering how subjective history is, a hard fact for a truth-seeker. Native people did not write history at first. The English, therefore, thought they had none, nothing of significance anyway, and barely mention them in town records. But in scraps of ancient texts and translations, I had found a long, rich, Native history—a kind of parallel universe. Was there a way to bridge the disconnect between the histories of Cape Ann’s early English settlers and the Native people living here at the time?

I decided to look at a single year—and chose 1644, which had turning points for both the Indians and the colonists. The colonists had just made the Cut connecting Ipswich Bay with Massachusetts Bay via the Annisquam River. They built the first cut bridge, the first meetinghouse on the green, and the first mill at Alewife Brook. Gloster Plantation had become a town, and it was a happening place. The first fishing vessel was built and launched. Ten Pound Island was reserved for rams. People were not allowed to cut trees without permission of the town proprietors. Mandatory church attendance was in effect as well as mandatory drills for men on the military training field adjacent to Meetinghouse Green. Towns were supposed to admit Indians to church services, but a decree of the General Court of the Mass. Bay Colony in 1644 barred them from randomly entering towns or townspeople’s homes without invitation.

In 1644 fishermen were not allowed to fish on Sundays, a frustration that contributed to the downfall of Rev. Richard Blynman, who had control of the Cut, Cut Ferry, and Cut Bridge in lieu of pay as the town minister. The minister was unpopular also as a Puritan hardliner in a town containing Pilgrims and freethinkers as well as fishermen. Records of the Circuit Court in Salem and the Court of Assistants in Ipswich include several cases of Gloster men being whipped and/or fined for blasphemy against Rev. Blynman. He and his party left or were driven out a few years later, including the first Town Clerk, Obadiah Bruen, appointed in 1644 after the General Court decreed that all towns must keep vital records.

The “cut bridge” aka Blynman Bridge, connecting Gloucester Harbor via the Annisquam River (a saltwater estuary) to Ipswich Bay. Mid 20th century postcard.

In 1644 Masquenomenit (Masconomet)—hereditary sagamore of Kwaskwaikikwen (Newbury), Agawam (Ipswich), Wanaskwiwam (Cape Ann), and Nahumkeak (Beverly-Salem)—was also in Circuit Court at Salem. He was there on March 8 with leaders of remnants of the Massachuset and Pennacook confederations. There was Cutchamakin of Neponset, brother of the late grand sachem Chicatawbut, lost in the smallpox epidemic of 1633, and Josias Chickatawbut of Nonantum, the late grand sachem’s grandson. There was Nashacowam of Nashua, New Hampshire, a Pennacook, and Wassamagin of Wachuset, a Nipmuck. And there was Squaw Sachem, tributary to Pappiseconewa (Passaconaway) of the Pennacook and widow of Nanepashemet—late grand sachem of the Pawtucket Confederation of Abenakis.

Squaw Sachem—her name was never recorded—had lost two of her three Christianized sons in the smallpox epidemic of 1633 and in 1639 had sold Cambridge, Watertown, Newton, Arlington, Somerville, and Charlestown to the English. She and her surviving son, Wenepoykin (disfigured by smallpox and known to the English as George No-Nose and later as George Rumney-Marsh) soon also sold the land that became Lynn, Saugus, Revere, Medford, Wakefield, Woburn, Stoneham, and Winchester. They threw in their lot with Passaconaway, who himself appeared in the Circuit Court at Salem the following year to add his signatory mark to the Oath of 1644.

In 1644 John Endicott was Governor of the Mass. Bay Colony and John Winthrop was Deputy Governor. Winthrop’s son, John Jr. was preparing to return to New London as founder of Connecticut Colony and to his new wife, having lost his young first wife and child in childbirth at Ipswich ten years before. In 1644 he gave Castle Hill, which Masquenomenit had deeded to him in 1637, to his brother-in-law Samuel Symonds, Deputy Governor of Ipswich. In 1644 the General Court voted to allocate 100 pounds to build up the nearby fort on Castle Island, lying just north of Hog (Choate) Island on Castle Neck River. The fort was to receive the benefit of 150 tons of lumber from Nantasket, a garrison, artillery, and a commander.

That was Masquenominet’s fort. The Sagamore had invited the English to occupy it—to help defend the Pawtucket from their enemies. Pawtucket enemies were the Tarrantines, mainly Micmac and Maliseet from Nova Scotia and the Canadian Maritimes. They annually raided Pawtucket farms for corn, which would not grow at their latitudes. They also abducted women and carried out intergenerational blood vengeance. It was for vengeance that in 1631 one hundred Tarrantines had come down the coast in canoes (another account says it was one hundred canoes) to attack Masquenomenit at Castle Hill. In another attack the following year a dozen Englishmen from Charlestown exploring in the vicinity, including John Winthrop Jr., came to Masquenomenit’s aid just in time to prevent a disastrous defeat at the hands of the Tarrantines. Masquenomenit had sold Castle Hill and his farm on Argilla Road to the English in gratitude and subsequently encouraged them to settle Ipswich. For the English, it was a chance to prevent further French incursions down the coast on the Gulf of Maine.

In 1644 William Stevens was Gloucester’s Deputy to the General Court. He had also been appointed to a three-man “Commission for Ending Small Causes” (i.e., handling local complaints). The Court insisted on Stevens’ participation because he was elected by the townspeople. Gloucester had sent the Town Clerk Obadiah Bruen in Stevens’ place, because Stevens was one of those unfortunate citizens who had expressed disapproval of the interpretation of the gospel being offered by the controversial pastor Richard Blynman (and who also stood accused of anti-royalist sentiment). The General Court wasn’t having any of Gloucester’s politics, however, and insisted that the rightfully elected Deputy attend. Stevens was at Circuit Court in Salem on March 8 and witnessed the signing of the Oath of 1644. I wonder what he thought of the six Indian “chiefs” with their retinues.

Richard Mather (1569-1669), c. 1665.          Attributed to John Foster (1648-81)

They had come to petition the Court, to place themselves under the protection of the English. That protection, against both the Tarrantines and the increasingly unfriendly colonists, came at a price. They had to swear that they “voluntarily & without any constraint or persuasion, but of our own free motion, put ourselves, our subjects, Lands, and estates under the Government and [will be] protected by them according to their just laws.” They also had to swear an oath to accept certain conditions, expressed in the following nine questions, put to them by the Puritan cleric Richard Mather, who recorded their answers.

  • Will you worship the only true God, who made heaven and earth, and not blaspheme?
  • Ans: “We do desire to reverence the God of the English and to speak well of Him, because we see He doth better to the English, than other gods do to others.”
  • Will you cease from swearing falsely?
  • Ans: “We know not what swearing is.”
  • Will you refrain from working on the Sabbath, especially within the bounds of Christian towns?Ans: “It is easy to us, — we have not much to do any day, and we can well rest on that day.”
  • Will you honor your parents and all your superiors?
  • Ans: “It is our custom to do so, — for inferiors to honor superiors.”
  • Will you refrain from killing any man without just cause and just authority?
  • Ans: “This is good, and we desire so to do.”
  • Will you deny yourselves fornication, adultery, incest, rape, sodomy, buggery, or bestiality?
  • Ans [after some explanation]: “Though some of our people do these things occasionally, yet we count them naught and do not allow them.”
  • Will you deny yourselves stealing?
  • Ans: “We say the same to this as to the 6th question.”
  • Will you allow your children to learn to read the word of God, so that they may know God aright and worship him in his own way?
  • Ans: “We will allow this as opportunity will permit, and, as the English live among us, we desire so to do.”
  • Will you refrain from idleness?
  • Ans: “We will.”

To seal the deal the six sagamores and sachems paid 26 fathoms of wampum (that amounts to a minimum of 6,240 shell beads, roughly 624 colonial dollars in value), essentially buying protection by paying tribute. Wampum was legal tender in Mass. Bay Colony at that time for both colonists and Indians. In turn, each “chief” was given 2 yards of red woolen cloth and a pot of wine. The Puritan ministers wrote home to England that a new age of spreading the gospel among the Indians had begun. And the Indians went home with the news that a new age of coexistence had begun under the justice of English laws.

So 1644 was a turning point in Cape Ann history for all its peoples, even if things didn’t turn out as expected, or perhaps because of that. Turning points can be thrilling, uplifting, or horrifying, and the actors heroes, villains, or fools. However subjective, one thing rings true to me about history: It is strange, and as a body of personal narratives, nothing if not sad.


Mary Ellen Lepionka lives in East Gloucester and is studying the history of Cape Ann from the Ice Age to around 1700 A.D. for a book on the subject. She is a retired publisher, author, editor, textbook developer, and college instructor with degrees in anthropology. She studied at Boston University and the University of British Columbia and has performed archaeology in Ipswich, MA, Botswana, Africa, and at Pole Hill in Gloucester, MA. Mary Ellen is a trustee of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society and serves on the Gloucester Historical Commission.

Urgent Meeting on the Future of Addison Gilbert Hospital.

Addison Gilbert Hospital

On Wednesday, December 6th at 5:00 pm in the GHS Auditorium, the Mass Department of Public Health will conduct a public hearing on the application for Determination of Need filed by CareGroup Inc, Lahey Health and Seacoast Regional Health System with respect to their intent to affiliate to create a new comprehensive and distributed healthcare delivery system in the Eastern Massachusetts marketplace. The applicant intends to establish and incorporate a new parent organization, NewCo, which will function as the sole corporate member of the entities.

What does this mean for us on Cape Ann? Our local hospital, Addision Gilbert, currently under Lahey Health, will be merged into this new organization NewCo, who will then deliver our health care.

Please attend this important meeting to express our interest in keeping current service levels at AGH.


Learning Outside the Box: Yoga at Gloucester High School

Standing Bow on the Beach                                             @ Melissa Abbott

By Holly Clay

When something transforms our life, it’s a big deal. When it’s for free, even better! “I never would have imagined that a class I took in school, just to get more gym credits, would change my life in the ways that it did. I feel very fortunate to have been introduced to yoga through the school system because it has changed my life, for free, and it has been extremely rewarding,” reflects a Gloucester High School (GHS) student.

GHS has been offering yoga as a physical education elective for four years. Inspired by his personal toe dip into yoga, high school teacher John Sperry launched the GHS program. A scholarship made yoga training possible. Sperry attended the highly respected Kripalu Center program, earning certification to teach. The training paid off and the GHS yoga offering came to surpass his wildest expectations.

John Sperry

“Yoga’s the most popular elective at GHS,” Sperry says. “We’re up to offering three classes a day [2016-17 academic year].” The sessions take place on the stage, in the school auditorium. The first couple years the space was dark, the ceiling needed patching, and dust caked the stage. Still the students, as many as 35 at a time, filed in one after another, happily anticipating the yoga ahead. This year a facelift has improved the physical surroundings, but the participants’ facial expressions needed no such adjustment. Receptive as always, the high schoolers melt into a yogic groove.

“Being introduced to this class was the best thing to ever happen to me,“ one student comments at the close of term. And, says one of the boys, “Yoga has been very beneficial for me… I have taken more away from this one class, than most of the other classes I find myself in as the year comes to a close.” Praise like that lets Sperry know yoga’s accomplishing something.

The high school experience is loaded with stress. Teen worries loom large and depression can follow in their wake. Yoga and mindfulness strike right at the root of agitation. The young people in Sperry’s classes point again and again to reduced anxiety and improved mood as fundamental yoga outcomes.

“I have struggled with severe anxiety for the past year of my life. I had never had anxiety prior to last year, and since taking yoga I have seen a major difference in my mental stability,” one student says.

“I have a somatoform disorder that causes me to have physical pain/symptoms when I get anxious and stressed out. Because I have trouble expressing my emotions and opening up to others, I tend to stress myself out and cause myself pain,” explains a young man. He says through yoga class sessions, “I have learned to better understand my mind and how I can prevent my self-destruction…By the end of class I feel much better than I did at the beginning of class.”

Sperry teaches coping strategies, explicitly, in the yoga classes. The kids try them on for size in class, regularly, and then adapt them for use “off the mat,” in real life.

“…It’s crazy to think that a class I have only been taking for two months has taught me better coping skills than …therapists…,” a student asserts. She continues, describing a challenge she overcame with yoga techniques. “…I started having an anxiety attack about two weeks ago in the middle of the night. I couldn’t calm down and was in full-blown panic mode for no reason. I didn’t have my medication with me, so I decided to sit on my bedroom floor and do some of the breathing techniques and stretches I learned during my yoga class. After about 15 minutes … I began to calm down…” Clearly, what she was learning in class felt relevant.

Breathing and the breath lie squarely at the center of any yoga practice. In fact, awareness of breathing patterns lies at the heart of most mindful arts and ancient meditation traditions. In westernized yoga, elongating and softening the rhythm of the breath not only help us synchronize our movements, but also ease tension. The pressure lifts.

“ I never really thought about the importance of breathing until I felt the changes that it does to your mind,” a female sophomore comments.

A junior agrees, noting an enduring effect on the nervous system. “Before I took the class I was very stressed to the point that I had to take anxiety medicine, and now I haven’t been needing to take it, at all.”

“Slow the breath, slow the mind,” goes the adage. With the down tempo, we experience a release from recurring or obsessive thoughts. Solid science backs up this ancient premise. In laboratories fMRI’s record brain waves and show a cessation of electron hyper activity. Studies on people employing breathing techniques point to reductions in heart rates. Monitors demonstrate a build-up and release of pleasant and calming endorphins like dopamine. An unperturbed state of mind aids concentration. It leaves us receptive to studying or focusing on mental tasks.

“When I think about filling my belly, bottom of my lungs, top of my lungs, and expanding my chest with air to make room for my heart, I am able to better focus,” one girl writes in a reflection piece.

Students learn the ‘Resting Pose’.

It’s not only mental faculties that respond to conscious movement and breathing. Comments corroborate what science tells us about yoga’s effect on the whole body. Athletes, for example, notice a shift.

A lot of the time during a workout I tend to breathe quickly and heavily. Yoga has a helped me learn to control my breath and pace myself better,” says one of the young people. When I control my breathing, I can focus more on the exercise I’m doing and work out better. It also helps me quiet my mind and focus on what is actually going on instead of on distracting thoughts.”

Yoga this semester has taught me to control my body better … and clear my mind,” adds a second student, with another chiming in about sore muscles and joints. “There have been new poses, such as the frog pose, that I find really help with pain that I consistently deal with because of skateboarding. [The pose] really stretches out my hips, and I have been having problems with pain and soreness in my left hip for a few months.”

Sperry works numerous yogic and mindfulness approaches into the curriculum. He invites guest teachers and takes students on yoga studio “field trips.” Some kids report liking gentle yoga; others prefer something more energetic and taxing. One thing is clear from the responses the students are writing: the combination of movement and a concluding rest or mindful period strikes a chord.

“It was nice to incorporate quick movements for more of an ‘exercisy’ feel,” notes one o the young women. “I think that moving my body a lot helps me stretch deeper and then I can relax and feel the benefits of corpse [resting] pose more.”

Sometimes Sperry devotes an entire class period (classes range in length from about 30 minutes to almost an hour) to guided relaxation or mindfulness. That means, Sperry softly tells a story or describes a scene, while the students visualize, lying or sitting quietly on their mats.

“As for relaxation techniques,” says one male student, “I have found the beach meditation to work the best for me, says one male student. “I really connect with this technique, the sensation of being in the pool of water is very relaxing for me. …My mind felt like it had been massaged…, and my muscles felt like jelly.”

“I find that the relaxations where you tell a story work better for me because I can immerse myself in the scene and don’t get distracted,” notes another. “I also liked doing the relaxation where we focus on one part of the body at a time. It allows me to make sure I relax every muscle and I can realize when I hold tension in certain muscles. I can also focus on parts of the body I normally ignore. … Relaxations have been really helpful for me because I feel like they make me more tuned into my body and I now have techniques to quiet my mind and deal with stress,” notes another.

Sometimes the young people talk about bringing “on the mat” practices to bear on school success.

I’m happier in class and can get work done easier without the stress,” says one senior, a boy. “… yoga took [stress] out of my body. … My grades have gone up and I’m more relaxed.”

“After partaking in the class in the morning I feel like I have earned a sense of calmness. I am then able to carry that sense of calmness and openness with me to class,” one female, a senior, comments. “This has helped me not only to focus more efficiently, but it also helps with my anxiety. I have clinical anxiety so I always have a million and one thoughts running through my head, but after finishing…I feel more at ease with myself…that short amount of time…can change the entire mood of my day. “

Another girl reflects, “…[sometimes] people talked [during yoga class], and…[they] did not even try to do the poses.. I found I was able to focus my attention on my breath and on my yoga, instead of getting bothered and distracted by others. That was a great learning experience for me. It helped me learn more self-control and concentration.” As a result, she was able to generalize the yoga session experience to other classroom situations.

Students also talk about new-found strengths, such as the courage to explore the unfamiliar. Finding ease while building a repertoire of accomplished, physically-demanding poses, encourages moving outside comfort zones, both intellectual and physical.

Patrick Riley, Gloucester Yoga Collective Instructor and GHS Graduate, in an ‘Inversion’

“Another learning experience I had during this half-year of yoga was how to try new things without being nervous. I tried many new poses when I was not sure if I was able to do it. I was able to do a lot more than I had expected,” says one of the students. This confidence extends into other parts of life.

As one freshman says, “I enjoy learning new poses that challenge me to exceed my comfort level.”

As students communicate their reactions, they’re developing and practicing critical thinking skills. The student is talking and/or writing analytically, and so, sharpening mental teeth and flexing the cognitive muscle. In addition, she/he is developing “metacognitive awareness,”* an understanding of one’s personal learning style. With that understanding, the student can tweak approaches to studying. The practice of reflecting on the practice paves a path to improved learning.

On one end of the spectrum we have, “Since I joined the class, there has been a noticeable improvement in my perception of my body and my surroundings. Yoga is a way for me to connect with myself and be aware of the things that usually go unnoticed, like the quiet flow of air filling our bodies as we breathe. This class gives me the opportunity to be more in touch with the intangible forces of nature.”

And on the other, the straight-forward side we hear, “I think I may become a yoga instructor, or something along those lines, to help me be more calm and happy everyday,” or even better, for the teacher who brought yoga to Gloucester High, “I would like to say thank you. You have a seriously great role model in my last two years of high school. … I have learned so much and gained so much confidence… Thank you, Mr. Sperry.”

** Metacognitive Awareness: “All learning processes and behaviors involving any degree of reflection, learning-strategy selection, and intentional mental processing that can result in a student’s improved ability to learn.”

Holly Smith demonstrates an ‘Arm Balance’.

Writer Holly Clay offers classes at the Gloucester Yoga Collective (GYC) at 114 Main Street, next to Sugar Magnolia’s. Sperry has organized GHS yoga “field trips” to the GYC studio on Main Street and GYC instructors have taught at the High School. The studio offers classes for people at all ages, and stages and instructors, some in their 20’s and others in their 50’s and 60’s, run the studio cooperatively. The 11 am Thursday class for veterans and people living with post-traumatic stress is free for vets with a $5 suggested contribution for all others.

Holly Clay is settled in Gloucester after many years of living overseas and in Washington, D.C. Holly is a member of the Gloucester Historical Commission and the Annisquam Historical Society.  With a background in education and writing, her professional energies are currently devoted to studying and teaching yoga and meditation.