Interviewed September 5, 2002
My family was very much a presence in town even before I was born in 1954. One of my memories from freshman year in high school was the teacher being a little dismayed that there were three of us in the homeroom class, two of my cousins and myself. He started reading off the names and said, "Oh, you're brothers and sisters or how are you related?" We were playing a little game with the teacher and made the point that none of us had the same father or the same parents. To this day I still have the yearbook that has the three of us in it. So at the time, it was a large family.
Back in the late 1800s when the Macones came over from the area of Gaeta, Italy, my grandfather and my great-grandfather bought the property on Lowell Road. Concord was a farming community back then, and this photograph was taken around 1910 or so. I'm told just about all the family were at the farm. The farm was on Strawberry Hill Road. Now there is a housing development there which is Macone Farm Lane, so it keeps the name on it. The barn to the house back about 15 years was part of a "This Old House" restoration. The barn was made into a residence. And the movie "House Sitters" with Steve Martin was made on the property with Steve Martin, and they built a mock house. My cousin Wally owned the property getting it from his father, Joe Macone. Joe's in this photograph. The property has been broken up, but there's still one of my distant cousins living there.
My father's name was Robert Macone. He was one of the brothers so to speak that were well known in town. Primarily I guess because of the sporting goods store, and going back before that, the Chrysler-Plymouth dealership on Lowell Road. They were so proud of the Chrysler Air Flow which came out in 1935 I believe, and that is the year this photograph was taken. My grandfather and a couple of his brothers started a Maxwell dealership back in the early 1890s, and ultimately Walter Chrysler bought Maxwell so it became a Chrysler-Plymouth dealership. This photograph shows the gas pumps and the old building. My father explained to me that that was the first Air Flow that they received from Chrysler. The Air Flow was a revolutionary model, aerodynamically and all these things. It was only produced for a few years. It ended up being a vehicle that was historically said to be ahead of its time. I guess we weren't ready for it. Then right around 1960 my uncle Ralph known affectionately here in town as "Peanut" and my uncle Joe started the sporting goods store, where it is now the Millbrook Tarry property and Citizens Bank is there.
Macone's Sporting Goods to say was an interesting store would be an understatement. You could go directly from the toy section to the sporting goods section where guns were just hung out on display. I don't think that would be very appropriate for today. There were locked glass cases with hand guns and shotguns. It was not a big deal back then. Then the back part of the sporting goods store was where Peanut did all the bicycle repair and that sort of thing.
I recall just before school time that my mother would take us down to Van's Clothing, and that's where you got your clothes. Van's was where Alphagraphics is now on Sudbury Road. After you went to Van's, you went to Hay's Shoe Store in West Concord and that's where everybody got their shoes. There would be lines out the door of mothers holding their kids' hands to get their shoes. I remember Smitty's Hardware and Vanderhoof's, which is one of the few family-owned business left in town. Smitty's was on Walden Street. I recall the lawn mowers lined up on the sidewalk as they got backed up. It was a very narrow store and they used to fix power lawn mowers. Across the street Woolworth's was an institution. For grocery shopping during my time, there was Triple A down by the depot. I vaguely remember a First National right in the center of town. Mandrioli's Market in West Concord was also a place where you would get your food. Pretty much anything you needed to sustain life, you could buy within the borders of the town.
That has changed now. It was ultimately the demise of the sporting goods store. Around the 1970s with the malls opening up and K-Mart and Ames and all these other stores, it became impossible for these small store owners to even buy the items cheaper than what the department stores were selling them for. I recall Peanut making that very clear saying that he could go to a department store and buy Raleigh bicycles, which was the staple the store was based on, cheaper from the department store than he could buy them from Raleigh. I think that is unfortunate, but it's a fact of life. Now there is a larger animal if you will with the Wal-Mart's and so forth driving K-Mart and Ames out of business. It is clearly part of the evolution of business.
I went to Carlisle-Concord High School and graduated in 1973. One of my classmates and friends was Len Wetherbee, who is chief of police here in Concord now. We lived in the same neighborhood. Len stayed in the same house with his parents on Hayward Mill Road for all the time that he lived there and for a seven-year period I lived across the street. I think my parents were trying to set the record for owning houses in Concord. We had three different places. A typical Macone I guess. Once you had everything done to the house and there was nothing more to do, you moved on to another project. It wasn't necessarily the size of the house or moving up, it was just something else to do.
Len had an influence on my becoming a policeman in a large way. I got out of college at Fitchburg State with an education degree and began teaching in Natick. It wasn't a great time to be a teacher. It was right after Proposition 2 Â½ passed and everybody was being laid off and me being one of them. Lenny had just gotten on the police department, and I'm quite sure at the encouragement of his father because his father was an officer here. We were still acquaintances and he said why didn't I come on as an auxiliary police officer. It's fun. They give you a gun and you get to ride around in the police car and pull people over. Really on more of a whim than anything else, I was in contact with Donnie Melise who was a Sergeant at the time and asked him if I could be on the auxiliary department.
The auxiliary police department was an arm or branch of the civil defense network. Every town had a civil defense director, had a civil defense headquarters and this served after World War II. There were bomb shelters and we both remember growing up with designated areas in town that were "bomb proof", I'm not so sure they were. They were in the basement of a brick building, that was the criteria. The auxiliaries met in the basement of the post office which was our civil defense headquarters. We had regular meetings there and learned how to fingerprint. I guess you would call it a junior police academy to some extent. We would go out and do traffic and help in times of personnel needs. My first memory of that was being activated or being called out during the blizzard of '78. We went out and helped during the snow removal and with traffic and that sort of thing.
It was a good introduction to what you might face on the force. Conversely, it was also good for the police department to use it as a screening process. They got to take the look at the men and women who had joined the auxiliary police department. These men and women were primarily residents if not solely all residents of Concord. There was quite a group of us at that point.
Several factors caused the demise of the auxiliary police department. One of them was that fewer and fewer residents in town really had any interest in being part of the police department. I don't think there was any malice. I believe it was just a part of the evolution of the town that less and less people starting coming into public service within the town. Gradually over the years the numbers have diminished and we are where we are today where our recruitment of police officers is almost without exception from either the departments or people who live outside of the town. The number of policemen really hasn't changed much. I went back and double-checked the numbers, and many years ago we were 35 police officers and today we have 35 police officers. It dipped a couple of slots a few years back, and it has come back up to the level it was at least as I can recall during the ‘70s. The population hasn't really changed either. It hovers right around 16,000, and if you look back 20 years ago, it hovered around 16,000. I don't know how far back we have to go to find less people in town. The complexion has changed in terms of affluence and so forth. Undeniably, Concord is a very affluent town as are other towns around us. Many of the farms are gone and it was primarily a farming community. We try to enact legislation such as the Community Preservation Act and avenues like that so the town can buy properties. Going back when I was young, there wasn't a push to buy property because there was so much of it. That certainly has changed.
My grandfather had an affinity for water, and the first piece of property near water that he bought here in town was on Lowell Road where Macone Pond is now. That's where Peanut ended up living. My uncle Joe used the wood from the ice house when they took that down to build his first house on Brook Street in Carlisle about the same time my grandfather bought two pieces of property just over the line in Carlisle next to a pond that had gone dry. We built the dam bringing the pond back to life, and ultimately I received that piece of land from my grandmother who then lived right next to that pond in Carlisle. There are some roots there.
There are aspects of today's ideas that have a lot of pieces of things that went on in the past. There's no question that the whole concept of community policing is to some respect a return to an area or things that were done in the past. Now there is restorative justice and very formal programs to try to have the victim feel better because they get to confront the accused person or persons that did something to them such as vandalism to try to make the whole process whole again. Much of this was done years ago but very much in an informal way. It didn't have a name, didn't have a cover on it saying it was a program necessarily; it was just the way police work was handled. If a young person was caught doing something, they would be brought over to the person that they victimized so to speak and things would be worked out on the front lawn with the parents and many, many times, there was no need to take things to court because it was handled. If the police were involved, they would walk away after the two people made amends so to speak. I believe that was easier because many times people knew each other. They would see each other in town. People didn't leave town to go shopping. We're kidding ourselves to think we know our neighbors now as well as we did some years ago. There's more turnover in town. There are people who live next to each other that don't know each other. I don't think that was necessarily the case years ago.
Growing up here, it was part of life that you could wander anywhere and you wouldn't get a complaint you're trespassing on my property. You played in the woods as a kid. When I lived on Hayward Mill Road, it was nothing to go through the woods to the Musketaquid Club property and we played cops and robbers or army. Nobody would ever call or ask you to leave. That's what kids did.
Today there's more, even among neighbors, these are my boundaries. We're looking at the evolution of the area and that's the unfortunate part of it -- more security conscious. What are you doing here? Where are you going? Back then you just went where you wanted. If you were doing something wrong, then someone might call. But generally people didn't really care.
Today we have social outreach such as domestic violence in the current issues. The way it is handled from a law enforcement standpoint has changed significantly. I'm not a very old person but in the 22 years since I went to the police academy, you're training so far as domestic violence was concerned was just to separate the parties. If you went to a house where the husband and wife were arguing and even if there was some physical aspect to it, what your role was at the time was to separate the parties and generally that meant telling the father to get a hotel room at Howard Johnson's or at the Concordian for the night until things cooled off. And you drove away. Your typical response may have lasted 10 minutes just enough to resolve the situation short term. That has proven itself to be a poor response. One of the better aspects or more professional aspects of police work now is there is some follow through. There are support organizations. The laws have been changed so that if there is physical violence, somebody is arrested on the spot where before we didn't even have the legal authority to do that. That's an aspect that has improved our ability to make the situation better long term or to protect someone that's in fear.
When I first came on the department, it would not be an usual summer to have 15, 20 or 25 house breaks during the summer. The surrounding towns would be the same. That was the crime of choice for many of the drug addicts back some time ago. The penalties for breaking into a house even during the day are so significant that it has dropped over the years, but there had to be another avenue or means for criminals, if you will, to make money. Credit cards and/or identify theft have become the crimes of choice now because they are much more difficult to track down. The yield for the person perpetrating the act is significantly higher. The typical credit card from someone here in town may have a credit limit of $5,000 or $10,000 on it. Someone can steal the credit card from Walden Pond or a health club and within hours get thousands of dollars of brand new items to fence so to speak. Where before someone would break into a house and steal a 15-year old camera, a microwave oven, things that yielded much less money on the street. Now it has become so sophisticated that orders are being taken. People that want the goods have networks that they put down exactly what they want to have stolen. I can recall just a few years ago entire houses were being built by credit cards that were being stolen including here in Concord where the credit cards were being used at Home Depot. It is much more organized than it used to be. That's a big change.
From the late 1980s and around 1990 I became the official liaison from the police department to the school department. That is a niche I have really enjoyed and continue to enjoy to this day. I've also been accused of not being able to let go of some things sometimes as I've gone up the ranks. It is a fair criticism but my excuse is that I don't really want to let go of some of the aspects of this job. I think working with kids for me has been not just a part of my job but it has been a fun aspect or a hobby if you will. It's something I like to do. The most recent success would be the way to put it, and certainly not on my part but on the group of people that we got together, and saved the high school radio station from its demise. It had gone off the air. It started when I was in high school. It was a beginning thing in 1971. It stayed as a club over the years. Music is a great draw for young people. And we also know that having young people connected to the school at some level knowing that not all kids play sports, not all kids are in the chorus, not all kids play a musical instrument, and the radio station has been a very good draw. At the end of last year we had 157 students involved. That's slightly over 10% of the school population involved in varying degrees. On Saturday at the West Concord Festival we will be down there with a remote broadcast and a float. It continues on.
The emergency notification system is an example of how technology has expanded and changed some of the way the police deliver services. It has become very clear over the years that what people want from you and what we need to do is to communicate. The Concord Business Partnership was the reason we have our computer that allows us to contact residents by phone. We get to put a simple message in or a warning or any sort of informational piece or from another town department, pick an area off a map and it calls everybody in that area. To date dozens of reasons have to come up to contact neighborhoods for crime watch purposes that there are car breaks in the area to the air show to Laura Bush coming to town and the traffic issues on Lexington Road. We need to tell people what's going on and that's a tool that we use as part of our ability to communicate with people. As it turns out, it helps us to a great degree because if people know before hand what is happening in town, they're not calling us asking what is going on. So we're not overwhelmed with phone calls or questions. Much of this business or doing this business properly is communicating.
When the September 11 attack happened and as the day progressed along, we were receiving notifications from different branches of the federal government as to their reactions and some of the security precautions that were being taken. We were notified officially that most or some of the federally owned property were being in closed. In town that included the Minute Man National Park and the area around the old North Bridge. On a state level that included the National Guard Armory which was unavailable to the public for functions which it has always been used for. You could rent the hall. We were meeting with the park service to coordinate how they were going to handle their property. Hanscom Air Field was an area that we were asked to help protect the perimeter even though none of it sits in the town of Concord, it's right to the edge on Virginia Road and we were coordinating with the Office of Special Investigations at Hanscom. This was something that everybody frankly was just rolling with because there was a lot of uncertainty about what's next.
Right after the major anthrax scare where the letters were sent in Washington, etc., countrywide there was a lot of concern. Information was being put out that suspicious letters did not have a return address on the envelope. In the first couple of days there were procedures put in place where the state fire marshal's office would go out and open all the suspicious letters. Well, this became impractical because there were so many calls, at least a dozen a day or people walking in with suspicious letters. Again that was another situation that was adapted to once it was clear there was no anthrax in Massachusetts and there was no credible threat or confirmed threat to this area. We adapted to it and opened them outside using rubber gloves. Anthrax is a chemically poisoned powder which was being delivered in the envelopes in the times where it was real and in a few instances where people died from it. That was another new aspect of the job to adapt to. That still goes on in the state. Yesterday there were a dozen letters mailed to police departments in Essex County, Hamilton, Wenham, Beverly, that whole area. It was a hoax, but it calls out a tremendous numbers of resources and costs a phenomenal amount of money and causes a lot of anxiety in people. That's one of the many after effects of September 11.
We also have heightened security at events that attract a lot of people. I think it's fair to say that more people inquire at large events as to what the security for that event is going to be. There's always a law enforcement or fire department presence at large events in town. We are very fortunate that we are not starting new in this aspect of emergency management. We have dams here in town so we have water disaster plans, if there's flooding. We lived through a major snow event. We have terrorism plans that were in place before September 11. We have a very comprehensive approach to emergency management so this was not reinventing the wheel however it is adapting to it. None of these scenarios included having 15 people show up at the front door of the dispatch center here at the police station with letters that turned out to be from Aunt Martha or whatever because they thought they were suspicious. So that was a matter of adapting to some really very comprehensive plans put in place.
Concord is a unique town, has been a unique town and a very nice town to live in for a number of reasons, but our infrastructure here in town is wide. There are very few towns that have their own light department, that have their own bus service. Concord owns the school buses so if we need to move people around we can do that in very short order. We have a very efficient Department of Public Works so if there are trees down in a storm or whatever needs to be done, we can get things done very quickly where some cities and towns can't. We're lucky in that respect.