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Carrie Kline: All right, today is the thirteenth of May, 2015. And we're in the lower level of the Concord Free Public Library. I'm Carrie Kline here with my partner and husband, Michael Kline. And would you introduce yourself?
Rebecca Purcell: I am Rebecca Sheehan Purcell.
Carrie Kline: And your date of birth for some perspective, if you're comfortable?
Rebecca Purcell: October 7, 1941.
Carrie Kline: Good. And tell us about your people and where you were raised.
Rebecca Purcell: My people. Let's see, before Concord, I was born in Morgantown, West Virginia. My parents moved to Arlington, Virginia, just outside Washington, when I was in the fourth grade. And I grew up there, graduated, went to college in South Carolina and then returned to Arlington. I met my future husband, who was a Concordian, as it turned out, in Washington, D.C. He was working there, and I was at the time. We were married for—we married in '65, and then in '73 we moved back home for him to Concord. That was Memorial Day, so it will be 42 years this coming Memorial Day.
Carrie Kline: Talk about the Concord that you arrived in, everything that you can remember.
Rebecca Purcell: Well, it's interesting, because having grown up in what was not officially a small city, Arlington, which nevertheless had a lot of colonial history around it, I feel like in a way I was coming home because—although more so, because it really is a small town. Or it was a small town then, and it still retains that character. I do remember because it was on the cusp of summer, it was a delightful time of year. I enjoyed lilacs, which I had never really seen before. It was a whole new experience in a way. It's funny, it was a continuation of an experience, and yet a whole new experience for me. Because of my interest in history, shortly after we moved here and we got settled, I went to the Old Manse, because I wanted to see if I could get a job there on weekends. I actually had a full-time job working for a podiatrist here in Concord, two podiatrists. But I wanted to become more immersed in the history of the community, and of course, a lot of that is colonial history and literary history. I went to the Old Manse, and they didn't have a position open, but the director there said, "Why don't you go try the Orchard House? They may have an opening." The Orchard House is also known as the Louisa May Alcott House. It was her home during her stay in Concord. And so I went there, and they had an opening, and so in August of '73 I started a 16-year adventure being a tour guide on weekends at the Orchard House. That was an extraordinary experience. That opened my eyes to Concord's literary heritage as well as its Revolutionary War heritage. I sort of jumped into that area and then life—it's funny, I don't remember quite so much about—I just know I was often quite busy. I did not have as many activities outside the home at that point because my husband and I—because I still had my husband. But we parted ways in 1978, and so I was on my own after that for 22 years. My schedule opened, as it were, even though I was working full time in Concord and later in Boston. I had this time to be able to become more involved, and so I did.
Carrie Kline: 0:04:57.8 Wow. In the Orchard House?
Rebecca Purcell: The Orchard House. Let me give you a little background here as far as what has—the things—what has made Concord so interesting to me. I have always been interested in medicine. My first job was as a dental assistant in a work release program from high school. When I came up here, as I said, I worked for a podiatrist for a year, two podiatrists, and then Emerson Hospital had an opening in their outpatient department, so I went there, worked for them. Actually, I became supervisor of the department, and then in '78, I believe it was—I'm not sure. Sorry, I should have checked my dates on this. But perhaps the early 80s I went to work for the organization or company that provided the doctors for the emergency room there. We set up an office, and I managed that office. And then the company more or less dissolved. It was taken over by the hospital, so it came under that umbrella as opposed to being a separate organization. Not to get too much into detail here, but anyway, so I went to work for a doctor's group briefly, and then I had this opportunity come up to work for the New England Deaconess Association.
Carrie Kline: The what?
Rebecca Purcell: The New England Deaconess Association. Well, what is now Deaconess Abundant Life. It is a combination—at the time it was a long-term care facility plus a home for retired ministers and their families. It was next door to the hospital. It has now evolved into one of the first retirement communities, Newbury Court. But it still retains the long-term care facility, and it has an Alzheimer's unit. We didn't have all of that at that time. I was there during the bridge. And I was there for—I can't remember—I think three or five years. Again, my apologies. I should have written this down.
And then an opportunity came up for me to go to work in Boston. I worked briefly. I was transitioning between New England Deaconess and what turned out to be the job that I really loved. First of all, I had a transition job with the Department of Anesthesia at MGH, and then I had an opportunity to go with a biotech firm known at that time as Genetics Institute. It was later taken over by Wyeth and is now Pfizer, as happens in the biotech world. But it was a marvelous experience. Again, in a sense, medical, because I liked the company's motto. It was "Harnessing the body's power to heal." I was the executive assistant for a project management team, two persons, and they were developing a protein that would stimulate bone growth. For people who had fractures that would never heal together or spinal issues, mandibular problems, this protein was being developed so it could be used to help the body grow these stem cells into bone cells. Absolutely amazing, and that was only one area. I mean, the whole company was operating on different things. They came up with probably the first factor VIII drug. Factor VIII is the material that is missing in a hemophiliac's blood that enables them to clot whenever they have a cut. The company, after ten years of research, they were able to get approval and to market this drug. I'll never forget the celebration, because at that we had probably three or four hemophiliacs who now knew they had a chance to live a normal life and not worry about getting blood-borne diseases, because as you know, they oftentimes have to have a lot of transfusions. That was really exciting, and I was there for nine years. At the end of that time, I married my current husband, and that was in 2000.
Carrie Kline: And his name?
Rebecca Purcell: 0:11:00.1 His name is Elmer M, for Marion, Purcell. He was an Arkansas native, still has the twang.
Carrie Kline: Marion, M-A-R-I-O-N?
Rebecca Purcell: Yes. And his first wife, who was a Sherburn native, I believe, lived here in Concord. I was friends with them for 20 years, and then she died, unfortunately, of a form of cancer, blood-borne. He was an internist in Concord. That's how I knew him, because of the medicine, and I knew her through other circles. Actually, through the library, among other things, because she was on the Board of Trustees here. But anyway—
Michael Kline: That was in 2000.
Rebecca Purcell: That was 2000, yes, so we'll be married 15 years this September 9. That gives you an idea of how I was interested in medicine. Now, for the history, it's just been pure pleasure. Can we cut for a minute?
Carrie Kline: Sure. (pause) Okay.
Rebecca Purcell: So giving you an idea of what one of the areas that drove my life was, why I pursued the course I did when I was in Concord, at least medically. Oh, and I forgot to mention, I also was a volunteer in the emergency department at Emerson Hospital. I've been doing that for probably 12 years. That's something I really, really find fulfilling, to be able to help people in a very stressful situation. I don't have problems with the guts and gore. I never have. I'm still keeping my fingers in the pot, as it were.
Carrie Kline: Talk a little bit about that. What do you do in this capacity?
Rebecca Purcell: One cleans the rooms after patients have left.
Carrie Kline: As a volunteer?
Rebecca Purcell: Yeah, as a volunteer. Now, when I say clean, it's more the superficial. For example, if there were a patient who had had a problem that required precautions, what they call precautions, then they would call in housekeeping to do a complete clean of the room. But what I would do is come in, change the sheets, alcohol everything down. We'd have these disinfectant wipes, so I'd clean everything that a patient would come in contact with there. Then I would make up blood sets. These are blood tubes, and they have sets they call that they take in whenever a patient comes in and blood work is required. I help to bring in patients when they arrive if one needs to go out and get them in the waiting room. The job also involved transporting patients to CAT scan, x-ray, to the floor if they're admitted. A lot of times it's just being a smile and a reassuring voice. Oftentimes because of the tests involved patients have to wait a long time, and not only for that reason. They can be very busy. It's really funny, because I was on the other side of the fence just recently. I had a freak accident at home, and I had a flap laceration of my finger. This happened at 10 o'clock at night doing something stupid like taking the metal strip off of a box that had—you know what I'm saying. Anyway, so I drove myself to the hospital. My husband was in bed. I drove myself to the hospital. I was there totally for five hours. It took them three hours to get to me because the place was a zoo. It happened to be one of their busiest nights. Then they were able to get me in the room, and even then it took that much more time. The good news is I could understand why, but for other patients who are not knowledgeable about what happens in an emergency room, it can be very stressful, so one of the jobs of the volunteer is to help them understand why things take the amount of time they do and also to reassure them. It's a mixed bag, but it's important. And I always take a batch of ginger snaps in. I have this recipe that was in the Boston Globe some years ago, and the woman who wrote the article said it was the best ginger snaps she had ever tasted.
Carrie Kline: Do you remember it?
Rebecca Purcell: 0:16:21.4 Yeah. It came from a woman in Charlton. It's got a stick and a half of butter in it, so right away you know it's good. (laughs) And all the usual stuff: molasses, ginger, cloves and cinnamon, and of course, the flour and some sugar. But the beauty of it is it's a soft ginger snap. It's not the hard, crackly kind. It's a real cookie, and the taste—every time I make that, people want the recipe. My feeling is something I felt was equally important to everything else I did in that emergency department was to make the staff feel good, because they are front line there. And a lot of times stuff is coming at them, and it's really hard. Just by bringing a batch of cookies in it's amazing what a difference it makes, so I do that when I go in. I'm on a medical leave of absence right at the moment because I had a health issue this winter. But I'm looking forward to getting back to working with them.
Carrie Kline: How often were you going?
Rebecca Purcell: It would be once a week, a four-hour stint. I tell you, you go home exhausted. But it's very fulfilling, like I said, and it's one way to give back to the hospital, because it's certainly been a wonderful community hospital. Sorry, I had forgot about that.
Carrie Kline: You're incredible.
Rebecca Purcell: I've always loved plants and growing things. You notice my email address?
Carrie Kline: What is it?
Rebecca Purcell: Dahlia Queen. And that was given to me by my partner. A little back story here. Back in the mid 80s I was desperately wanting to have a place to garden, and fortunately in Concord we have community gardens, three of them now. We're going to have a fourth one next year. And so I obtained a plot at the Hugh Cargill Community Gardens. It's on Walden Street.
Carrie Kline: What's it called?
Rebecca Purcell: 0:18:52.3 Hugh Cargill.
Carrie Kline: Cargill is spelled—
Rebecca Purcell: C-A-R-G-I-L-L. It's called the Hugh Cargill Gardens because it's on land that was donated by a 1700s Concord philanthropist, a businessman who had a philanthropic bent, and he gave the land for a poor farm which actually was around the corner adjacent to the property, the gardens. And then also the farmland so that any of the poor that lived there could grow their own food. And then over the years it evolved, and I'd say in the mid 70s a community garden was created. That's where it is now. It's a 70-person garden and a 70-unit garden. We have families, we have individuals, all configurations, I might add, which makes it really interesting. The youngest is about—well, if you count the young families, children about six, and then our oldest is about 82 now, so we have a real age spread and interest. But anyway, when I became involved, there was a fellow Concordian by the name of Jim Catterton, C-A-T-T-E-R-T-O-N. Jim was a unique individual, a botanist by training. He had a business. He was an environmental engineer, had a great love of the land, but he needed help out there. And so I ended up being his partner, and he's the one who gave me the nickname Dahlia Queen when I first was thinking of getting email, because early on in my gardening experience one of our fellow gardeners, who loved dahlias and grew them, had 20 tubers left over. They look like little sweet potatoes. He had some extras, and so he gave them to me, and that started me. It grew like "Topsy" [the rabbit], because you put one tuber in the ground in the spring, and in the fall you have a clump of tubers. It's like a rabbit. Last year I had 120 of them in, and that was after giving a lot of them away. But anyway—
Carrie Kline: They grew like—what did you say?
Rebecca Purcell: Like Topsy. That's an old—if you remember from childhood the story but—
Carrie Kline: So he was your gardening partner?
Rebecca Purcell: Yes. I had him until December of 2013. Jim had had Hodgkin's disease as a young man, had been treated for it and was cured. That type of lymphoma you can be cured from. But unfortunately, the radiation he had received to help cure, it many years later, weakened his stomach, and he developed stomach cancer. And this was a guy who was a gourmand, terrific cook, loved food. He fought that. It was a very quick moving thing, which was merciful. He was diagnosed in April of 2013 and died in December. I can tell you, I knew about it. Not many people knew, because he didn't want it to define him, and he was gardening right up to September. He put his garlic in, which of course would be coming the next year. But he finally succumbed in December. The gardeners, we worked our way through that. Everybody pulled together. We were able to find a wonderful rough-hewn slab, stone, granite, and then a walk that went with it that provided a foundation. We made a bench for him, and we had it inscribed with a quote he had made at one point about gardening and what a miracle of life it is. But anyway, because of his death, I ended up having to manage the garden on my own last year, and I can tell you, it almost brought me under. But the good news is I have two very capable women who are helping me this year, and the garden is thriving. That continues, and it fulfills that love of gardening that I have.
Carrie Kline: 0:23:55.2 Are we gardening food or—?
Rebecca Purcell: Food, flowers, herbs. I think that covers it, does it? We don't grow stones. (laughs) We have enough of those. Someone may have mentioned this to you in the past, but I'm always reminded of a quote that Emerson—it was part of a poem he wrote. It captures everything. It says, "Would you would know what joy is hid in our green Musketaquid and for the joys and charms that draw us to these meadowed farms." He really understood, even though he was a philosopher. But he was a philosopher of nature, and the final line is, "Come, and I will show you all." It's just—
Carrie Kline: Come?
Rebecca Purcell: Come, and I will show you all. That follows that expression. But it captures the essence of the town. I must say, I've seen a lot of changes from the agricultural standpoint. We've lost our dairy farm. Fortunately, they were able to turn it into a profitable vegetable farm, vegetables and fruit farm. That's Verrill Farm.
Carrie Kline: Verrill? V-E-R-R?
Rebecca Purcell: Yeah, I-L-L, Verrill. And they would be interesting people to talk to if you ever have a chance. I don't know if this is ongoing. But anyway, for me personally, because I also arrange flowers. I don't just grow them. I arrange them, and I had a floral business on the side at one point. What I love to do is go and pick things from the woods and the meadows. Not on people's property, mind you, but public land, to incorporate them into English style arrangements. It's very English, actually, to bring in the berries and the various kinds of ferns and things.
I had all my picking sites, but a lot of them are now houses, so it's a little disappointing, because Concord has really—it's sprouting houses instead of—not instead of, but it's sprouting houses. I understand that, because Concord is a very desirable town to live in. But I worry we're going to lose that balance of agriculture in all its essence, whether it's woodland or worked fields. I worry we're going to lose that balance between that and the housing. I know of some other properties that are coming on the market, and there's one old farmer I know of—and I won't identify him, because that's not the point—but he's got a wonderful piece of property. He's in his eighties now, and as soon as he's gone, it's going to be turned into a development. It's just sad. But that's what it is. We are fortunate in that the town does have safeguards. We have conservation restrictions. We have a very active Department of Natural Resources that protects town property. It's not something that there's no control over. But it does take diligence to protect it and to have a proper balance.
Carrie Kline: Would you have alternatives if the farmer wanted to conserve his farmland?
Rebecca Purcell: Well, presumably he could sell it to another—to somebody who wanted to farm it. But it's a little tricky because it's in a family trust, and he's only one member, and the others want to sell it. This is what I know but that's—
Carrie Kline: So conservation trust would not—
Rebecca Purcell: 0:28:32.8 No, no. I'm afraid not. Now, in the case of the Hutchins Farm, that land was given to the—they were able to obtain a conservation restriction there, and so they're able to keep that going as a farm but also to protect the land, so it will never be turned into houses. That's beautiful, prime property out on Monument Street.
Michael Kline: What?
Rebecca Purcell: Monument Street. Monument Street is—if you ever go to the North Bridge, the Old North Bridge—it's really the North Bridge—but anyway, if you ever go out there, that's Monument Street. It's one of the older streets in Concord, and it's a very desirable address. I think I've covered my agricultural interest, and then I've always loved history.
What a treasure box of history we have here, from the Musketaquid Indians on down. Or not Musketaquid. What were they? Maybe it was Musketaquid. The Indians that came up with the name Musketaquid. I'm drawing a blank there. But from that history on down to the Revolutionary War and then the golden age of American literary history, so much of that happened here. But the beauty of it is that it's never been held too close to one's chest. The town has shared its Revolutionary War history, its literary history, with people who come to see it. It's a part of our being here. We realize it. Fortunately, it's not the only reason why Concord exists. It's not like a Williamsburg. It would never be that. We are a living town, as this book would show you. I immersed myself in that. Right away, as I said, I became involved with the Orchard House, and I've been involved with them—after I stopped working weekends, I was asked to become corporater, and then I went on the board.
Carrie Kline: A what?
Rebecca Purcell: A corporater. They have a corporation, the Louisa May Alcott Memorial Association, and it's made up of corporaters and a board of directors. I was a corporater first. It's a larger group of people. And then they had me come on the board, so I was on the board for—I don't know—six years, a double term. I just stay involved. Every Christmas I coordinate the decorating of the house for their Christmas program, which is an absolute delight.
Carrie Kline: Talk about her. What is beloved about her in your mind?
Rebecca Purcell: Well, the fact that she was her own person, the fact that she—
Michael Kline: Who are you talking about? I'm sorry.
Rebecca Purcell: Louisa May Alcott and her family. A very interesting family. She was a very—most of the people who come to visit the house know her from her writings. She wrote wonderful stories about—the original one, of course, being Little Women, about her sisters and herself and her family, with a few literary embellishments. She had a way of looking at life that—oh, how can I describe it? She had a lot of challenges of her own. If you ever have a chance to read the books that have been written about her by John Mattison, for example—
Carrie Kline: Madison?
Rebecca Purcell: 0:33:05.9 Yeah, M-A-T-T-I-S-O-N. He helps describe the relationship between Louisa and her father. They were two very strong personalities. There was a great love between them, but it was Louisa who actually was the breadwinner for the family, and she took on that role early on. Her mother called her Duty's Child, and she was. She always was concerned about making sure the family could stay together. Father was often out traveling the country giving his lectures on his philosophies. I remember Louisa describing her father like a hot air balloon being held down to earth by strings held by the family. This is how he was, but he was essentially a good man.
The whole family is interesting. The mother was one of the first paid social workers in Boston, did a lot of work with the Irish immigrants that were coming to the country at that point. We're talking mid 1800s when the Irish were coming over as a result of the potato famine. It's just an interesting family. She overcame serious physical ailments that she came down with as a result of mercury poisoning when she was doing nursing duty. Now I'm back on Louisa again. I'm sorry. But Louisa volunteered as a nurse during the Civil War and went to what is now Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C. and did nursing duty there but came down with pneumonia. And they treated her with calomel or something like that, which contains mercury.
Carrie Kline: Calomel?
Rebecca Purcell: Yeah, calomel. It's just one of those medicines they used back then. As a result, she had mercury poisoning, and she complained of aches and pains the rest of her life, and this is a woman who was 39 years of age at that point. But she rose through all that, and her writings all happened after—her books for which she is known happened after that.
Carrie Kline: And you say she was a breadwinner before that? What did she do to be a breadwinner?
Rebecca Purcell: She'd write potboilers. And actually, some of them are quite good.
Carrie Kline: Potboilers?
Rebecca Purcell: Yeah, dashing stories. I'm trying to think—oh, golly. I'm drawing a blank right now. Swashbuckling kinds of love stories, which were popular then, and she'd do them under a synonym [sic]. She'd get paid a few dollars here and there. When the family lived out in Fruitlands—it was rather a sort of experimental communal living out at Fruitlands in Harvard—they were there for a year, but she wrote a satirical story about that, which the name escapes me at the moment. It will come to me. And she was paid for that, and then she wrote something called Hospital Sketches, and that was based on her experiences as a Civil War nurse. That was very widely read by families whose sons had gone through that experience. That helped, and then the potboilers, and then with her—I believe she was publishing these through Little Brown, the publisher at that time, and they could see there was a gem in there in spite of her tendency to be writing these fantastical stories. They said, "Why don't you write a story about your family?" And so she did, and that was Little Women, and that was the start. She was able to make her family very comfortable in their later years. Really interesting. But right to the end she was Duty's Child, and not in a bad way. She did enjoy life, but she didn't enjoy the fame and the attention that came from her writings. But she enjoyed doing it. There you are, so that's that.
And then I always have loved Sleepy Hollow. Am I talking too much?
Carrie Kline: 0:38:31.6 No, I just always like to glance and make sure it's rolling. You're doing great. So Sleepy Hollow?
Rebecca Purcell: Yeah, Sleepy Hollow is a wonderful cemetery. It was one of the first garden cemeteries and it has many of Concord's—actually, it was formed in the 1850s when the old burial ground filled up that's in Concord Center up on the hill, the hillside burying ground. And so they started the other cemetery, and it's grown, but that's where you'll find most of Concord's citizens, the great and the unknown.
Carrie Kline: In Sleepy Hollow?
Rebecca Purcell: In Sleepy Hollow, yeah, and it's a wonderful place to walk and get a sense of history. I'll never forget when I first started walking there. As you come into the gate that's right by where Bedford Street comes into Court Lane, you come in that entrance, and that's the oldest part of that cemetery. You see this family plot, and there are two big headstones at either end of them, and then there are all these little headstones. It's all these children who died so young. I noticed after the last one, the last small headstone, within a year the mother died. I would have to think it was—even though they realized death was very much a part of their existence back then, it had to be a real contributing factor. There are many nice aspects of the—I mean, there's some humor. There's this one grave that the headstone says, "Excuse me, who the hell is Sheila Shay?" This woman had this put on her gravestone. It's in the newer section of the original Sleepy Hollow. Not the knoll, but Chestnut Hollow. I can't remember what her particular history was, but it's more contemporary, needless to say, and she had it inscribed on her headstone, so you have all kinds of people there.
Carrie Kline: It goes on to say—
Rebecca Purcell: I think that's all it said. It's enough to make people wonder. I was on the cemetery committee at that time because I was interested in the cemetery. Actually, they asked me to come onto the cemetery committee because they wanted to form a Friends of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, a friends group. Since I was at that time president of the Friends of the Concord Free Public Library, they asked me if I would come and tell them how to start a friends group. Through that avenue, I served a double term on the cemetery committee, and I loved it. It was wonderful, and I also served on the founding board of the Friends of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. They're still going strong, which is really great, because cemeteries like that need a friends group, any of these large organizations. Speaking of friends, I'm a member of the Membership and Events Committee of the Friends of Minuteman National Park. That was an organization started I think two or three years ago for the purpose of trying to bring in funding for that Minuteman Park, especially at the North Bridge, because it needs outside funding. The government can't support it. I mean, they only allow certain—it has a national budget. It has a government budget. As you know, there are always cutbacks, and so that's where friends groups are really helpful. I'm trying to think if I've been involved in any other historical things. Oh, this building. This was one of the loves of my life, and it still is.
Carrie Kline: What building?
Rebecca Purcell: 0:43:45.9 This being the Concord Free Public Library, 129 Main Street. Back in 1985, I think it was, a friend of mine was on the board at that time, and they were going to have a ground breaking for the new addition. This was back in '85. Or actually, it was closer to '90. That's right. Well, whenever it was, it was in the mid to upper 80s. They were going to have a ground breaking, and it was going to be followed by a big celebration. She asked me if I would become involved in helping with the event. One of my loves, in addition to flower arranging, is doing events. I said sure, and right off the bat we had—what was her name? I want to say Wharton, but that's not right--a major author come. It was a celebration of E.B. White's life, and we had several literary luminaries come. I had to set up the logistics for 400 people, so it was kind of an ongoing thing. But it was a great experience, great introduction to a library. I'd used it before as a patron. I'd come and check books out and so forth. But then I had a chance to see the real operation of the library, and I liked what I saw. Again, through this friend of mine, Melissa Saalfield, who--she was on the friends board at that point, but she later become one of the trustees of the library corporation and then the president of that board of trustees. A dynamic person who did a lot for this library. But I came on the friends board, and I did that for I guess 10 years. I was president for 10 years. Actually, I was on it for longer than that. But we were able to develop several programs for the library. A music series, and we have a poetry series and a Thursday author series. We sponsored a number of the children's programs, and we did staff development at that time. We would help pay expenses for staff to go to the American Library Association meeting, wherever that was in the country. There were many ways we were able to do what friends should do, and that is to help the organization. That was very fulfilling for me. I did become president for I think nine years and then retired. I can't remember when I retired now. It was about maybe six or seven years ago.
Carrie Kline: Help me understand the difference then between the board of trustees and the friends.
Rebecca Purcell: And the library committee. Yeah, I have to tell you, it's a constant source of confusion for the community, but the library corporation owns the actual building, and they are responsible for maintaining the building, doing any renovations, any expansions, and they also help to pay for some of the books. They help fund the book purchases. The library committee is a town committee, one of several that the town has. But its responsibility is also helping to determine budgetary decisions, and they also help with personnel. That's probably the one committee that is the most nebulous, as it were, because they're still feeling their way as to what they do between the library and the town. They in some parts act as a liaison, but it's more to do with staff and book purchases, material purchases.
The friends are like the cheerleaders of the library, and they are an independent group, but of course, they operate with the library director and the library corporation. But they fund all the books on tape, a lot of the media that's purchased, films, DVDs, so forth. They fund children's programs. They, again, have the music series. All of these—the word escapes me, but for want of a better word at the moment, the add-ons. The enhancements that make the library really special. As I say, they're an independent group. They have two book sales a year, which help to bring in much of the funding in addition to members. The major book sale is coming up June 6. We have some of the best books you ever saw at this book sale. I'm not kidding. Concord is a very literary community. We still have a lot of Concord authors here, living authors, and we have people who really love to read. And then they donate their books to the library so they can be resold.
Carrie Kline: What are they sold for?
Rebecca Purcell: 0:50:32.0 Well, it depends. Usually hardbacks—if I remember correctly, and of course, their prices have gone up a bit—but a good hardback is two dollars, or one of the larger softbound books is two dollars. Paperbacks, your little trade paperbacks, they're fifty cents or a quarter depending. It's a flat-out bargain. We have a team of book sorters who work the whole year culling all the books that are donated to the library, and they work with a company that will come in and evaluate which books could be sold online so they're able to get—I mean, we've had some amazing collections come in that normally would have gone into the book sale but that are able to realize a lot of money just by being sold online. Anyway, when you get to the book sale, you're seeing books that have been carefully culled so you get really top quality books. It's amazing, and then on top of that, we have the holiday book sale in early December, and that's where you get the real cream of the crop books. These are books that are in such good quality you can buy them for Christmas gifts, and that's what a lot of people do. It's really great. The library benefits and the community benefits, and that's the whole purpose of the library anyway. It's a community treasure, and it's here to serve the community, and fortunately it does. All the money that the friends bring in goes right back into the library in one form or another, which is really nice. I can tell you, that was a real pleasure for me to be able to do that.
Carrie Kline: And your friend got you involved then?
Rebecca Purcell: Yeah, she was the one who initially got me—you mean Melissa?
Carrie Kline: Yes. I was trying to remember her last name.
Rebecca Purcell: Melissa Saalfield, and that's SA-A-L-F-I-E-L-D. She and her husband raised their family here, wonderful people, wonderful.
Carrie Kline: This is amazing.
Rebecca Purcell: And then there will be the years—I've always been attracted to the business community, because I think it's—again, one of the intentions in the town is not only to make it—not only is it a tourist town, but it's also a community that has businesses. And you want to have a viable business community because they pay taxes like the people in the town pay taxes, and so I became involved with the Concord Chamber of Commerce back in the early 80s. I was co-chair of the profession and service division, which that particular division had the shop owners and the doctors and the professional and service, if you know what I mean. That was a really interesting experience because I got to know—I was able to put a finger on the pulse of the business community. I really enjoyed that experience.
Carrie Kline: You just volunteered to do that?
Rebecca Purcell: Yeah. Yeah, that was strictly volunteer. I was representing the Deaconess Association at that point. That's how I—I was their representative to the chamber.
Carrie Kline: 0:54:37.5 And what exactly is the Deaconess?
Rebecca Purcell: It was that organization that's next door to the hospital. It was founded in the early 1900s. It's on land donated by Charles Emerson, who was one of the early Emersons of many Emersons in the town. It was provided so that a community could be built for the deaconesses who worked—nurses, excuse me—who worked at the—I believe it was the Deaconess Hospital in Boston at that point. And then it became a retirement home for the same, and then because it's a Methodist heritage, has a Methodist heritage, they would have retired Methodist ministers. They would provide a place for them to live. Then they had—in addition to a place for the deaconesses—they gradually developed assisted living for retired people, a modest operation at one point, and then as part of that continuum they developed what became a level four in addition to the assisted living nursing home.
Then back in the mid 80s they made the decision to develop the life care community, Newbury Court. That was one of the first ones in the Eastern Massachusetts area, and it was beautifully done and something they can be very proud of. And then since then they've developed another building that is also—they enlarged the Newbury Court community, and they created what they call the Gardens, which is a very well thought out unit for Alzheimer's patients. And so you have all of that going on there. Actually, the assisted living part, that operation where they had—that was gradually phased out because now they have the continuing care, as it were, so that somebody living in Newbury Court, if they ever get to a point where they need more assistance, they have that available there. Then for serious illnesses or end of life or really managed care, it would be the long-term care nursing home.
Carrie Kline: And that's who you were representing when you joined the—?
Rebecca Purcell: Yeah, I was working in the accounting department at that point. I was managing it, as it turns out. They needed a representative, and of course, I was curious.
Carrie Kline: And then went on to be president?
Rebecca Purcell: No, no, no. I was just co-chair of one of the divisions, and that was the professional and service division. No, no, no.
Carrie Kline: But still—
Rebecca Purcell: I mentioned I was on a—I've been on two town committees, actually, the cemetery committee, and then because of this whole idea of the interest in history, I went on the Public Ceremonies and Celebrations Committee. I served five years on that. That committee is responsible for putting together the Patriot's Day parade which happens every April and then the Memorial Day exercises, including a parade, two ceremonies, one in the morning in West Concord and then one in the afternoon in Concord Center. And then in the fall a flag retirement ceremony at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, a very, very interesting ceremony where they give flags that are no longer usable a dignified ending. And that's right at the foot of Author's Hill, which is where all the major authors are buried in Sleepy Hollow. It's a great setting, and they have the Concord Battery firing there. It's all very special. The Public Ceremonies and Celebrations Committee had been approached actually by my husband's first wife, Peg Purcell, Marguerite Purcell. She had been a town selectman and also very involved in the community. But she wanted to have some kind of Fourth of July celebration, and so she came up with this idea of a picnic in the park. That was designed to be an opportunity for families—anybody who was in town on the Fourth of July—give them a chance to celebrate.
As it turned out, the Public Ceremonies and Celebrations Committee did not feel they could also do that, so Peg worked with the Emerson Hospital Auxiliary and some others and came up with this wonderful idea. This was back in—geez—I think I want to say mid 70s. It started in the parking lot behind Alcott School and then was moved. Because it became so popular it was moved over to Emerson Field, which is a large, wonderful field in Concord Center. Over the years it has had a running track put in. It has a recreation department swimming pool, and it has at least three baseball diamonds for youth baseball. And then it has this wonderful alley of trees that come in. You approach it from Everett Street, and it's a pathway, an alley, and it has all these wonderful trees on either side. And at the far end of it is a flagpole. It was sponsored by the James Mansfield Post American Legion in memory of soldiers who had fallen during World War II, and that land had been donated by the Emerson family.
They came up with this plan, and it has gone on ever since. Non-profit organizations only can come in, set up a booth. They can sell food. They can have games, all kinds of entertainment. They now have a moon bounce. The fire department participates with a mock fire for kids to be able to hold the real hoses and put out the fire, as it were. We get a hot air balloon. I became involved in 1994 and ended up chairing the committee for that for a number of years. It's a wonderful down-home kind of feel. I think we've only had two rain dates in all the years, and it's strong, several thousand people. Over the years an average turnout would be maybe 1,000 to 3,000 people. They come and go throughout the day. It starts around 11:30 with a kiddie parade and wraps up at the end around 4:30. The Concord Band comes and plays every year, all these wonderful patriotic songs and other songs. It's really wonderful, and they finish playing at 4:30, and that's it. But it's a really wonderful way for people to enjoy a very local, quaint type of activity with a few flourishes.
1:04:23.2 I mentioned the flagpole. When my first husband and I were living near the playground, the flag at that time was maintained, raised and lowered, by a local pediatrician by the name of Dr. McDonald. He was a very patriotic kind of person. He came up with a really interesting little program. It was called Lest We Forget. He contacted families in Concord who were responsible for usually a week at a time raising and lowering the flag at Emerson Field and also at Rightout Playground in West Concord. There's a nice flagpole there. They would have a daily log, and they'd make a note if there were anything in particular that day, and to read that log is absolutely amazing, the things that happened over the years. And then when the family finished this duty, as it were, they were given a card that said Lest We Forget, and it was a thank you for their service, and their name was put on it. That went for many years, and then people's lives got so busy, so Dr. Mac ended up doing a lot of the actual flag raising at Emerson Field. There were local people in West Concord who took care of that field, that flagpole. But Dr. Mac became ill, and he'd also been a Concord Minuteman, and my husband was a Concord Minuteman, so he asked my husband if he'd help him out with the flag. Dr. Mac eventually died. He had colon cancer. And so my husband took it over full time, and then my husband and I, after we parted ways, he moved out of Concord. I ended up doing the flag. This was 1978, I think it was, '78 or '79. I would go raise and lower it every day and do the half staff duty whenever that was necessary. I loved every minute of it. I can't tell you, being out in the middle of that field—and you have to see it to understand, to appreciate what I'm saying—but to be out in the middle of that field and have it ringed by homes—because it's on the north side. I think it's the north side. On one side it's Stow Street. Everett Street—
Carrie Kline: Stow?
Rebecca Purcell: 1:07:46.3 Stow, S-T-O-W.
Carrie Kline: And then Ever?
Rebecca Purcell: Everett, E-V-E-R-E-T-T. And then Everett goes down to Thoreau Street, and then over here it's houses. But on all the streets too there were houses on the opposite side of the street, and it's magical. I don't know how to explain it, and it might sound corny, but I really loved doing that.
Carrie Kline: You are a phenomenon. You are amazing, all the things you did.
Rebecca Purcell: I've got to tell you—
Michael Kline: How many lifetimes are you talking about? I have never heard of anybody who did so many things.
Carrie Kline: Yeah.
Rebecca Purcell: But you see, again, I was alone, and I have a high energy level, and I have a great love of this town. This community—and this is important—it is a community that is like a tapestry. If I could be one of the threads running through that tapestry, that was always my goal. But I'm not the only one, and this is one thing that's so important in this town: that we have people who care enough about the town. And fortunately we still do, but you asked about changes.
One of the other changes that is troubling to me is that we are losing our volunteer community. It's for several reasons. Number one, the volunteers of my era are starting to die off. We have a lot of people in this community who live in enclaves, as it were, and their lives are focused in Boston or elsewhere. They're not quite tuned in to what's going on in the town. That doesn't mean they don't appreciate the town. They love the town, but for very different reasons. It's a real challenge to get new volunteers. Now, I will say I'm very pleased to see—well, one of the problems with getting volunteers is that because of Concord Schools you have a lot of people moving here for the schools, and those people are really busy raising their kids and getting them through school. That's just a fact, and rightly so. Their focus should be their family. But if they're not doing work with the schools—I mean, they're doing work with the school, and as a result, they don't have time to do work on these other things. But I am starting to see some new blood coming into the picture, and a lot of these are women whose children have graduated, and so they can be more involved now. That is critical, because you have to have—in a town that is so volunteer dependent, whether it's the committees of the town, whether it's even the Board of Selectmen, they get a salary, but they don't take it. They turn it back in, at least that's what I understand. The committees, those aren't paid. But you've got to have those people who care enough about their community and who can give the time to make it work. All these boards and committees, if we didn't have volunteers, it would be a very different town. That's been one of the pluses of the town. Even though we've gotten a lot more—the town has grown. It's a bit more sophisticated, although it still has that balance of down-home, of caring about local things. There's a big locavore community here.
Carrie Kline: Locavore?
Rebecca Purcell: 1:12:01.7 Yeah, like growing their own food and knowing where your food comes from. We have a new restaurant in town called Woods Hill Table. Their food comes from either local sources or their farm in New Hampshire. They know where their food comes from. I've got to tell you, I can't get a reservation, the place is so popular, and it's wonderful.
Carrie Kline: Where is it?
Rebecca Purcell: It's in West Concord. It took over the old Mandrioli supermarket when they retired.
Michael Kline: I wondered how that place might be doing.
Rebecca Purcell: Yeah, they had to jump through a lot of hoops, because parking was a big issue, and it's always going to be a big issue in West Concord. But they were able to meet all the criteria, and now they're open, and they are going gangbusters. I say God bless them. I'm so glad because another thing—a good thing, a good change for Concord—is we're finally getting some decent restaurants. We always had the local Colonial Inn for the tourists and the adventuresome local person, and you'd have the small—and it's great, but we always needed a decent restaurant, and it's taken a number of years, but now we've got Bondir.
Carrie Kline: And it's spelled—
Rebecca Purcell: B-O-N-D-I-R. It's a play on the name of the chef/owner, Jason Von, who has a restaurant in town in the Boston area. Very successful, and he came out here and was able to launch an equally successful and really thoughtfully designed and run restaurant. Now we have the Woods Hill Table, and shortly we're going to have the Salt Box, which will be a storefront or retail takeout I think primarily. But it's an effort that was developed by Ben Elliot, who owns Salt Box Farm. Ben was a chef at some big place in Boston before. His grandparents lived off Westford Road in the Salt Box House.
Carrie Kline: In Concord?
Rebecca Purcell: In Concord. And after his grandparents were gone, I'm not sure the complete evolution of it, but he now has a catering and a farm operation there. He has a separate building. It's an old building. And he has cooking classes. He does a lot of catering, and he's top notch. Now he's developing this other outlet. It's exciting to see, because we're seeing a gradual—we have people with sophisticated food tastes in this town. A lot of them are Boston oriented, and they're used to good restaurants, so finally we're getting some decent restaurants here. It's really great. And even the smaller places, they have upgraded. It's had a ripple effect.
Michael Kline: You are a walking, talking, breathing chamber of commerce on the move. This is fabulous. You've given us a wonderful rundown of all the special developments that are going on right now. Just when people might have thought there was nothing left to develop, this is great. All these details of history, food, literature, all these things that you've covered are fabulous.
Rebecca Purcell: And cultural arts.
Carrie Kline: 1:16:17.9 Sorry?
Rebecca Purcell: I forgot the cultural arts. Do we have time?
Michael Kline: We have a couple of minutes.
Carrie Kline: Three or four minutes to wrap up.
Rebecca Purcell: We are seeing—let me back up. How can I say it quickly? I've been also on the board of what's called FOPAC, Friends of the Performing Arts of Concord. It actually has had a name change now. It's going through a name change, 51 Walden. It used to be an armory, a drill shed.
Carrie Kline: Drill shed?
Rebecca Purcell: An actual drill shed, and it was turned into an armory for the Civil War and First World War and so forth. But now it's the home of the Concord Orchestra, the Concord Band, the Concord Players. And actually, the Concord Players were the first ones to really transform the building. It has one of the oldest wooden stages in the Boston area theater stages. It has a dance studio, and it's a cultural arts center, very lively. We also have the Emerson Umbrella, which used to be the old Emerson High School. It was turned into a place where artists could come in and have their own little studios. It would be former classrooms. They are going through an amazing evolution themselves. It's now the Umbrella Center for the Arts, Umbrella Community Center for the Arts. They've had a name change. They are going gangbusters. It's thrilling to see. In West Concord the son of long-time commercial real estate owner John Boynton, his son John—
Carrie Kline: Boynton?
Rebecca Purcell: B-O-Y-N-T-O-N.
Michael Kline: We interviewed him.
Rebecca Purcell: The father?
Michael Kline: No, the son.
Rebecca Purcell: Good. Did he tell you about ArtScape?
Carrie Kline: Yeah, keep going.
Rebecca Purcell: That was a wonderful idea, and that's opened up a whole new area for West Concord.
Carrie Kline: What is that?
Rebecca Purcell: It's a series of artist studios. He renovated these old buildings, manufacturing buildings, renovated them. I tell you, it was a fantastic renovation. And one of the buildings has this ArtScape operation in it. It's really wonderful. West Concord is going through a lot of changes right now, and they're struggling to maintain a certain character but also to make the community—to keep it functioning properly, because they have a new high rise retail apartment complex coming in, huge. It's being built as we speak. And there's great concern about the traffic pattern there, because already West Concord is an alternate route for Route 2 to get through the Concord roadway, which is a legendary nightmare. At least people are—there's a committee for that, the West Concord Committee, a study committee. And there's a later iteration of that. They're working on the problems. They're not just throwing up their hands. They take it on as a challenge, and I think that is one of the defining characteristics of this town, that they don't give up. They find solutions, and they work at it. Who wouldn't want to live in a town like this?
Carrie Kline: Perfect conclusion.
Michael Kline: Perfect conclusion, thank you so much.
Carrie Kline: Thank you.
1:20:30.4 (end of audio)