Thanksgiving, and the mind thinks immediately of … the Works Projects Administration?
Well … yes.
The WPA was one of the programs that helped the United States dig its way out of the Great Depression of the 1930s.
What that did was allow unemployed people with the requisite skills to work on municipal projects. Obviously, this served the dual purpose of helping people who had been hit hard by the economic downturn and adding vitality to cities and towns.
The reason the WPA springs to mind every Thanksgiving is that one of the focal points of my childhood holidays — Manning Bowl — was one of the structures built thanks to WPA labor. So was Fraser Field.
There’s history behind both the names, and this is the topic of today’s tome. Did you ever wonder how the stadium you’ll visit Thursday got its name?
We’ll start with the Gemini twins of stadia: Manning Bowl and Fraser Field.
- Fred Manning was mayor of Lynn when the Great Depression began, and construction of a new WPA municipal stadium was begun at his behest.
Even before the bowl was complete, the first official athletic event played there was in 1937 with the Classical-English Thanksgiving football game. The stadium was completed in June of 1938 and named for Manning.
Football luminary Harry Agganis put the bowl on the map during his illustrious career at Lynn Classical nearly a decade later. It was also the site of the 1966 Rolling Stones concert fiasco in which police used tear gas to quell a crowd that got unruly when the group left the stage during a rainstorm.
In 2004 it was razed and subsequently condemned because it was declared unsafe. A new facility stands in its place — this one renamed Manning Field.
Fraser, completed in 1940, was named for Eugene Fraser, a Lynn city councilor and an early pioneer and aficionado of amateur and minor-league baseball in the city.
Manning will be the site of two games this year: Tech and KIPP Academy Wednesday (6 p.m.) and the traditional Classical-English game Thursday (10 a.m.).
Moving to the north, Swampscott’s John Enos Blocksidge enlisted in the U.S. Army in what turned out to be the waning days of World War I. Shortly after being sent to France, he died from shell fire at the Battle of Juvigny, north of Soissons.
When the town erected a football field at Phillips Park, it was named in Blocksidge’s honor.
There’s plenty of history associated with Blocksidge Field. Four future professional football players — Dick Jauron, Bill Adams, Tom Toner and Ed Toner Jr. — played on that field, and it was also the site of one of the most confounding plays in North Shore football history — The Blocksidge Bomb. In 1989, English was heading toward an undefeated season and, it hoped, a high school Super Bowl berth, when Swampscott got in its way. The Bulldogs were trying to hang on in a tight game when Big Blue quarterback Karl Nordin reared back and heaved a prayer to Justin Howard. Somehow, Howard came down with the ball and scored the winning touchdown.
Marblehead, which is riding a five-game winning streak on Turkey Day, visits Blocksidge Thursday.
Farther north, in Peabody, the stadium — always simply called “Veterans Memorial High School Field” — was rededicated in 2001 to Coley Lee, a Vietnam veteran who served with honor as an MP.
Lee, whose brother, Terry, was an assistant coach under Ed Nizwantowski, guarded the Agent Orange fields. Sadly, his exposure to the defoliant, which was discovered to cause many health issues, led to his death.
Coley Lee Field will be the site of the Saugus-Peabody game Thursday.
On the other side of town, Bishop Fenwick’s field is named for Second Lt. Steven Ellis Donaldson, a 1964 graduate of the school and a former football player. Donaldson was killed in action in 1969 at Quang Nam.
St. Mary’s will pay a visit to Donaldson Stadium Thursday.
The Lynnfield football field has had a rather uncomplicated path. When the Pioneers — who host North Reading Thursday — played at the middle school, it was simply the Middle School field. When new facilities were built at the high school, the town didn’t overthink things. The team plays its football at Pioneer Field.
Finally, Harry Della Russo Stadium in Revere was rededicated to the former mayor, state representative and state senator, who died in 1973. When it was refurbished in 2015, a fieldhouse was added and named for the late Silvio Cella, a longtime coach and athletic director at Revere High.
Some other notes: Land belonging to Eliza Mansfield-Stackpole was purchased by the Town of Saugus in 1904 upon her death. Stackpole Field sits on that land today.
Like John Blocksidge, William Miller of Winthrop was a casualty of World War I. The field bearing his name was, like Manning Bowl, a WPA project.
Army Special Forces Staff Sgt. Christopher J. Piper of Marblehead was wounded in action in Afghanistan in 2005, and died in June of that year at an army hospital in Texas. When the new turf field was completed, it was named for him.
Beverly and Salem will play at Hurd Stadium, which was named for Benjamin Hurd, a Beverly High principal from nearly a century ago.
When Danvers was refurbishing its field, Red Sox minority owner Phillip H. Morse pledged $2 million toward its construction. Today, the football field bears the name of Morse’s father, J. Ellison Morse.
The complex, however, is still named for Dr. Charles Deering.
Although the St. John’s-Xaverian game is at Fenway Park (so named because it sits on a landfill in the Back Bay fens), you may be interested in knowing that St. John’s Prep renamed its football field for Fred Glatz, one of the area’s most successful coaches, when it was redone three years ago. Glatz coached the Eagles from 1967 through 1983, and brought the school one Super Bowl championship and numerous Catholic Conference titles. The entire complex is called Cronin Stadium
The Prep will play Xaverian Wednesday (5 p.m.) at Fenway.