Opinion

Jourgensen: A touchstone for troubling times

History isn’t just a collection of facts and figures and improbable-sounding stories from the distant past. It is also a constant source of reference points readily available to keep present problems in perspective.

Take Lynn’s current city financial challenges. With a $14 million loan from the state exhausted, city officials not only need to find ways to cover a $5 million budget gap but also appropriate tax dollars to begin paying back the loan.

Financial worries are not the burden an individual or city government wants to carry into a new year but it is easy to look back into Lynn’s history and recall when financial times were tougher.

Financial problems of the late 1970s and 1980s fueled by unchecked public school spending and a broken assessing department put Lynn as a city on brink of bankruptcy.

The city financial crisis came to a head in 1984 and a state fix-it team led by Edward J. Collins Jr. came to town to start cleaning up the mess. Collins, who would later become Saugus’ town manager, looked for someone to wield unprecedented control over Lynn’s finances and the choice for the job was the late Robert P. McManus.

A tall, gangly man with a sharp, dry wit, McManus (no relation to the former mayor) did not gild the lily when it came to city financial problems and he did not sugarcoat the financial facts and figures he presented to elected officials.

Described by Collins in a 2001 Item story as “…the only guy over there (in Lynn) who actually knows what he’s doing…,” McManus brought political and financially-grounded experience to the job of city chief financial office. Unlike his contemporary successors, McManus could not ask the state for a multi-million loan to help bail Lynn out of its financial problems.

After wrestling municipal misspending and mismanagement under control, he identified underlying city financial problems that exist today including the need to generate more tax dollars and place limits on city personnel spending, including salaries and benefits.

The city’s financial challenges are not the ones it faced 40 years ago. But the warning McManus sounded 17 years ago still rings true: “The biggest problem facing Lynn today is, like many communities, a lack of revenue.”

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I love this copy of an 1883 advertisement (they were called broadsides back then) for “Echo Grove” Philip Randazzo sent me. John Raddin, who now has a West Lynn street named after him, advertised a West Lynn recreational retreat guaranteeing “…a day of recreation and pleasure, free from the noise and dust of the city.”

The Grove, as advertised by Raddin, featured 13 acres of woods complete with a “Base Ball Field,” a “flying horses” amusement ride and boats with the added bonus of “bathing suits to parties wishing the luxury of a salt water bath.”

Getting to this patch of West Lynn paradise was easy enough thanks to train access by the Eastern Railroad Company or Saugus Branch Railroad “…or over the Lynn and Boston Horse Railroad.”

All were welcome to the Grove with two notable exceptions: “Hawkers and pedlars (sic) are not allowed on the premises.”

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Learned friend Jaye Warry shared a fun holiday memory of five-and-dime stores in Wyoma Square and one at the corner of Boston and Myrtle streets. “My grandmother walked me to the one on Boston Street from our home on Cottage Street after a visit to Sacred Heart to light a candle,” she recalled.

My wife told me this great New Year’s story about her grandmother upholding a tradition of walking through a doorway at the stroke of midnight at year’s end carrying money to ensure prosperity in the New Year.

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