Opinion

Jourgensen: Digging deep for Bloody Tom and velocipedes

There is no underestimating Lynn’s historical treasures with the incredible collection at the Lynn Museum, the Civil War displays in the Grand Army of the Republic building, and the art repository in the public library. But if you want a 10-minute glimpse into the history of Lynn 100 years ago, there is no better place to go than the Clock Tower building on the Lynnway.

The building’s foyer is lined with large panels featuring reproductions of 19th century photographs depicting buildings and streetscapes from Lynn during the horse-and-buggy era. One of the photo reproductions shows the city’s first City Hall, built in 1814 “in the center of the Common.”

According to the description matched with the photo, the building burned down in 1832 and the city “… was without an official home” until a new City Hall was built in 1867 with a price tag of $312,000.

The Clock Tower displays also offer a glimpse of Lynn during its golden age as a shoe-making epicenter with massive brick factories occupying entire square blocks and rich merchants like A.B. Martin living in spacious homes.

Another photo shows the Common “frog pond,” which appeared to be located near the existing band stand, and there is also a photograph of the soldiers’ monument near the library and City Hall.

Designed by John A. Jackson, the beautiful monument was cast in Germany at a cost of $30,000. Dedicated to Lynn soldiers killed in the Civil War, the monument bears the inscription:

“Lynn To the Memory of Her Sons Slain in Defense of the Nation.”

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The monument is referenced in History Stories of Lynn, the incredibly detailed 1931 history of the city compiled by school children under the direction of public school educators in 1928 and 1929.

The book is filled with funny and strange anecdotes and lore spanning the city’s history back to the early 17th century. There is a paragraph devoted to “Bloody Tom’s Rock,” reputedly located on Eade Street near the former Cook Street School.

Legend has it that reddish marks on the rock were blood and that a murderer who lurked near the rock met his own end when, according to the book, “he was either pushed off or fell off and was killed.”

Lynn had an 1807 law prohibiting the removal of sand or shells from local beaches. History Stories records how, “Several inhabitants of Danvers were prosecuted for violating this law.”

The book records how the city sported a succession of newspapers — most of them short-lived — during the 19th century with colorful names like Locomotive, The Awl, The Tattler, The Sizzler and my hands-down favorite name: The Old Rat, published starting in 1847.

There was also a Lynn Newsboys’ Association counting 75 members out of almost 200 local carriers who delivered newspapers in the late 1920s. The association sponsored dances and used the proceeds to build college funds for the carriers.

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A resident expert sparked my curiosity when he mentioned how The Meadow neighborhood prior to the construction of English High School was the site of local racetracks. Intrigued but skeptical, I discovered a detailed history of the Glenmere or Gravesend neighborhood dating back to 1912. Sure enough, the old Item story referenced the ” …volocipede, and a velocipede arena… ” opened in Pope’s Grove off Lakewood Avenue and a rink on Chestnut Street.

I didn’t find Pope’s Grove or Lakewood on a map but my source tells me racing took place on the flats between Goodridge Street and Western Avenue before homes were built on that land. I’m also told there was a swimming pool in The Meadow near where English is now located.

A velocipede, according to the 1949 edition of Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, is an early generation bicycle or tricycle raced on a track.

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