Mark Mara

Interviewed October 19, 1977 at the Concord Town Hall

Age 71

Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer

Mark MaraBeing here brings back many memories of the Town Hall being the center of everything that happened in the town. I attended my first dances here. Basketball games were held here. Punch and Judy shows were here and we were all brought from school to attend. Movies were held here; there was a balcony and there was a stage on which plays were held. This was the main center of all activity when I was a boy.

It was later that the court house was moved from the Middlesex Insurance Building over to this main room in the Town Hall with Judge Keyes the presiding judge.

When I was a boy another fellow, Robert Parke, and I did a lot of trapping. We had approximately 250-300 traps on the Concord, the Sudbury and the Assabet Rivers. We also trapped on land. We used to take about 40 muskrats a day from the rivers and from the Mill Brook, which then was loaded with muskrat, mink, and fish. We would also do some work on the farms, plowing, weeding, and so forth, and we got 8 cents an hour.

As I got older and was able to do more work, I worked on my uncle's farm, the old Colonel Barrett place on Barrett's Mill Road. We used to get there at 4:15 in the morning and take care of five teams of horses, clean the barn, wash off the cows, and start the milking at 5:00. We milked until 7:30 when we went into the house and ate breakfast with the other men who worked there by the month. They were lumberjacks, who came down from the woods of New Hampshire and Canada. At 8:00 you went out to work for the day. At 4:30 in the afternoon it was back into the barn with the cows, wash them off again, and begin the milking. We milked until 7:30 p.m. and then my uncle would say we could go home. For all that work seven days a week, we got the great sum of $12.00, a chance to learn the business and all the water you could drink.

We played baseball and in those days baseball was forbidden on Sundays. One of the special officers was Emil Thorpe, a grand man. He would come down through the woods at Albrury's between Bedford Street and Lexington Road, and we would have lookouts posted, the McHugh boys, George Murray, and all that crowd. We boys would be lookouts and then everybody would disperse and nothing would happen. But they would arrest anyone for playing ball on Sunday.

Later when baseball was permitted in town, we had a league known as the Twilight League. They really had wonderful baseball teams here and most of the boys were local, such as the Loftus brothers, who played in the big leagues. Dick played for Brooklyn, New York, and Al played in the eastern league. And Pep Cousins and Dr. John Fallon (who's around now) and his brother, Bill, and Billy Mulcahey, the catcher, and the Bulgers; they really had a team. They used to import from New York fellows like Chick Davies, the star pitcher of the New York Giants, and Davidson, the great fast ball hurler.

In the evenings and on Sundays or Saturdays when they held their games, we had 8,000 and 10,000 people around there on the Emerson playground. Of course, like anything else, after about 15 years, that died out. And then the Asparagus League took over. Those were the boys from Sleepy Hollow where I grew up, the East Quarter where the McHughs and Carlsons and that bunch came from, Herrin(g)ville, where most of the parents of those children came from Nova Scotia and lived in the vicinity of Fairhaven Road, the Depot gang, who were the rough-tough boys of the town, but we used to slow them down quite often. So that's the way it went in all sports. We were all friendly and got along. We'd quarrel but we got along after the quarrel and there was no animosity.

We had great basketball teams here. And later when the new Armory was built, the basketball games were held there. And they had prize drilling, the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia was first and later the National Guard, which I joined in 1922. The old Armory was discarded, which is on Walden Street where the theater in now held.

I was a guide from the age of about nine years old at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. I learned all the graves of any note like Emerson, Hawthorne, Louisa Mae Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, the Hoar family, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, one of the early kindergarten teachers in America, the Melvin Memorial, given and built for three sons in the Civil War, and all the other notables in the cemetery. We lived just across from the cemetery on Bedford Street. I used to earn about 40 or 50 cents a day by being alert and having a spiel, which I did. The people were more amused with my spiel than what they learned.

Later I received a badge for 50 cents a year and I was a professional guide for the town and later in Lexington, Lincoln, Arlington, Cambridge and Boston. I guided on and off until I was about 30 years old. I guided the Blue Devils of France after World War I and I had the pleasure of guiding Miss Shirley Temple when she was a little girl and many other notables.

My school days started on Hubbard Street in the old Ripley School, a three-story wooden building. Later I was transferred to the Peter Bulkeley School where Miss Legate was principal. They were really great women, Miss Legate, Miss Hurd, the Findeissen sisters, Miss Ahearn, Miss Murphy, Miss Clark, and countless others. Although I was rapped on the hand every day that I was in school, I was out in six years when I was 11, and went on to high school.

Then I went into high school. I remember Mr. Hall, the superintendent, Mr. Goddard was the principal, Miss Weir, Miss Dyer, Miss Boynton, Miss Loomis, Mrs. Pulciser, Miss Clancy; they were wonderful people. Even though the first year I was pretty fresh and they held me back, I always had great love for all my teachers. I became fast friends with them all.

In those days you were disciplined with the rattan, which was a long stick. Two teachers would hold your arm out if you were balky, and you would have to open your hand and they would belt you across the knuckles. It was better to take it on the palm of your hands. I got that almost every day. Miss Legate after many years told me that I was the worst behaved boy that she ever had in over fifty years. There was never anyone that ever compared to me for being a harassment.

When we were boys at the Ripley School on Hubbard Street we didn't have a gymnasium and we didn't have any coach. The coaches were volunteers, men that had gone to college and would give up their time in the afternoons. Finally, a little tin coach house or playground building was put up with one shower for all these boys and it was cold water. Now they have these wonderful gymnasiums. I know I introduced weightlifting to the Concord schools way back in 1926 or 1928. I taught boys at the old Armory building on Walden Street for three years. The town supplied all the equipment, and I supplied the teaching, free. I enjoyed every moment of it and never had a bad boy.

My uncle, John, had a fine grocery store and he imported items from all over the world through S.S. Pierce, I believe. I used to work there as a lad. He had two horses, and I would groom them, feed and water them and take care of the wagon. I would take one horse over to the store and by 7:00 I would have to have two loads of whatever trash was in the store loaded and dumped down at Brister's Hill where the dump was at that time. We used one horse in the morning and one in the afternoon. After I got back at 7:00 I had to grind fifty pounds of coffee, cut the lard and butter, weigh it and price it. Then I would start filling the orders and be off delivering by 9:00, come back at noon and take the horse back to the stable, feed it and groom it and take the second horse back to the store. We worked until 6:00, went home for supper, came back at 7:00 and worked until 10:00 or 11:00 on Saturday nights. I got $10 a week for all that work. I thought that was a white collar job and quite an improvement.

Next to my uncle's store was Vanderhoofs. I've known four generations of Vanderhoofs, Scott Vanderhoof, the son of Parker, the present owner, and Parker's father, Philip, and Philip's father. They are fine, fine people. Next, where the Colonial Store is now was Mr. Baldy Filene's. He was a brother of the Filenes that had the big store in Boston. He was the first I knew that put a store name on the back of the baseball uniforms that the boys wore up at Emerson playground. Next to that was Joe Denaro's variety store and spaghetti counter. The last store was Joe Bulger's shoe store. When he went out of business, the first chain store moved in there, an A & P store, under the management of George Brown.

One incident that sticks out in my memory was when there was a mission at the catholic church, Jimmy Deacon and myself were helping Mr. Brown fill up the shelves. After the mission was over, in walked Mrs. Deacon, Jimmy's mother, with a great big long whip, which she applied to Jimmy for being there instead of at church. Mr. Brown and I ran out the door to escape getting the same thing.

Back up the street on the other side of my uncle's store was a music store run by Mr. Hopkins, then Mr. Frank Pierce selling boots and shoes, then the chinaman, who was a christian chinaman and attended the catholic church all the days of my young life, then there was Lars Anderson's market. Beyond that was the American Express and one of the chain stores that moved to the depot, the O'Keefe's store, and then the bank with Mr. Fay Haywood and Mr. Billy Pratt. Mr. Pratt was president of the Concord National Bank and the Middlesex Institution and one of the greatest men Concord ever had.

On the other side of the street, where it is now Boyd's Real Estate, was the waiting room for the electric cars. Cars came in from Arlington, stopped across the street, and other cars came from Maynard, Hudson, and Clinton, and stopped right next to each other. I worked on those electric cars as a boy selling newspapers. I went from Concord to Lexington Park, which was a wonderful big park like Norumbega Park. The motormen were friends of my father's and they would see that I got home, in fact, they would stop right across the street from my house. I got 50 cents a week for that. "Boston Herald! Three chinamen killed but nobody hurt" is the way I used to sell my papers.

Next to the waiting room was Mr. Alexander Urquhart's bakery. He made the most wonderful pastries and bread I ever tasted. Next to him just before Independence Court was Mr. Thorpe, who had a shoe store and shoe repair for many years. Down Independence Court was Raymond's Hay and Grain. Then on the other corner of Independence Court was Dr. Chase's drugstore, then Howe's Jewelry Store, then William Cross's dry goods. He was also the town clerk. Next was Miss Houghton's store for women, which is now Mary Curtis Shop, and then was Nathan A. Davis, a great meat market, and on the corner was Richardson's Drugstore.

After you turn the corner and start down Walden Street, where Cooley's is now was the post office with Mr. Fred Tower, the Republican Postmaster, and Mr. William Byron, the Democratic Postmaster, switching each time the tide changed in Washington. I delivered the mail quite often and every evening would go up to the railroad station and put the mail bag up on the big hook that the Flyer to Chicago would reach out and take going about 80 miles an hour.

There was next Davie's barber shop, and then Mr. John Hansen's shoe store, and just before the alley was a bicycle shop owned by Mr. Good Lang. Across the alley was Darcy's meat market, and next to that was the first restaurant I remember in Concord owned by William Ruse, and then was Tom Healey's fish market, and then a repair garage owned by Ernest Campbell. Down that alley there was a little building where they used to shear the horses and that where we used to get our summer haircuts, a baldy we called it, from Clarence Tuttle. Then there was Tuttle's Livery. I drove carriages there as a spare. Carriages with the surrey on top with a team of horses, and we would get 50 cents to drive people around and maybe stop at the Colonial Inn and wait for them to have dinner. Many times we would drive over to Sudbury to the Wayside Inn and back. We would get a $1 for that and it would take the whole day. Beyond Tuttle's stable was the old Armory. That's where all the parades started from and we really had the parades sometimes three miles long.

Crossing the street there was the Trinitarian Congregational Church. Where the post office is now was the home of George Barker, and next was the firehouse. The horses were kept across the street at the livery. I remember a big fire at Middlesex School where they brought horses and equipment from Lexington to help fight it. Next was the first big garage (behind where the 5 & 10 is now) in town by Torrey & Vialle and later Mutty & Tirrel.

Where the children's toy shop is now was a clothing store run by Martin Finegan, an uncle of John Finegan who owns Boyd's Real Estate. Next to that was a store owned by a man named Stevenson and he had everything in that store except an elephant and a haystack, and then was Tom Peterson, who had The Concord Clothing Store and he owned that block, and on the corner was John Friend's drugstore, later Snow's.

Going around the corner on Main Street was Miss Buck's store, and next was the Concord Cooperative Bank and then it was vacant until a newer building was put in some years later. Further up the street was the library which I've used from the time I was very young and my dear friend, Miss Sarah Bartlett, helped me in choosing the books and was in every way a dear person.

That's one thing about Concord that no matter what kind of store we had it was a quality store. And we had quality people here.

Mark Mara

Text and images mounted 17th April 2013. RCWH.