Interviewer: Michael N. Kline
Place of Interview: Concord Free Public Library
Transcriptionist: Carrie N. Kline
Click here for audio
Audio file is in .mp3 format.
Michael N. Kline: Maybe you would start off my saying, my name is.
Melissa Saalfield: My name is Melissa Saalfield. I--.
MK: And we never ask people their ages, but give us your date of birth, so we can put--.
MS: Oh, so you can use math!
MK: No, no. So we can put it in a historic context.
MS: February 24, 1952.
MK: Okay. And if you would, start out, tell us about your people and where you were raised.
MS: I was raised in the West. I was an original Valley Girl. I was born in beautiful downtown Burbank. And my father and mother had settled in the Valley, San Fernando Valley, after World War Two. And at a time when the Valley was really full of orange groves and horses and animals and beautiful fruit trees. And that's what I grew up, until I was nine, and we moved, started our series of moves, moved to Idaho for a couple of years and moved to Alabama. I lived in Alabama in 1963, which I felt was probably the most formative year of my life. Certainly huge impact on our country. But I was there of course the year that Kennedy was assassinated. But also that school year was delayed because George Wallace had stood in the steps of the University of Alabama, didn't want James Meredith to enter the school. So all schools across the state were held. I think three or four days we had no school. I used to be called a nigger lover. I mean it was a real eye-opener for a kid. I was eleven when we first moved there. Then we moved to Colorado. Then I went to college in the state of Washington. And right after that I moved East. So I moved to Massachusetts in 1974. I moved to Concord 82-83 because I was going to get married. I married here in Concord and we --. Actually we had our ceremony in the Concord Academy Chapel. And I've been here ever since. And I believe I have died and gone to heaven. I do think Concord is an amazing community. I--. Outside--. Some people who don't live here will say they think it's kind of a snob community. But I don't think that at all. There is some wealth here. That's what they're referring to, but it's not near what some of the, our surrounding communities are, Weston. You're not familiar with this area, but it's an abundance of riches, intellectual riches, historical riches, natural resources. And the community spirit here to do good and continue to work on the community's behalf is just astounding to me. So that's probably why I'm being interviewed, because you kind of, you come in. You want to find something to do, and you just get sucked in, and it doesn't seem like work. The Library being the most important place for, that I have volunteered by time. And this room has a lot of meaning. I became a Friend of the Library 1980-something, early '80s, '84. And I was Vice-President of the Friends. And I was asked to become a Trustee in 1987 and was a Trustee until I resigned, because I felt it was time to get off the Board. I could've stayed there until I died, but I thought it's time to let other people have the opportunity.
[Sound of paper rustling]
MK: Let me put this here, so we can--.
MS: Yeah. And the most important thing I have, I believe I've done for the Library. I was the head of the Library. I started in 1998. And when we raised, with some terrific community support, $8 million and re-did this building. So I don't know how familiar you are, if anyone's talked to you about that. There used to be, in the, where the Circulation Desk, right across from that there used to be the stairway that went up to the stacks. That was the central core of the Library, which we, in working with the architect, realized if we took that out, we could add another wing over now where we have our periodicals and open up the whole central core of the Library and improve flow, increase space and solve a lot of the spatial problems that we had, as well as electrical-mechanical issues that we had. So we air-conditioned the whole building. We didn't have that before. We re-did the basement, which most people said was a sow's ear, we turned into a silk purse. And that project—I was the head of the Library at the time and was one of the chief fundraiser, although we had a wonderful committee of Trustees and very fine development director, part-time. And we succeeded in achieving that. So that was--. So what you see here is the beautiful result. We too tend to clutter everything up. This is a library. But, kind of strip some of the trash away, it really is very beautiful.
MK: We think so too. We're just stunned to be in a place like this.
MS: I think, to me, the Library is the center of community life in this town. And it seems, all things kind of come back and then emanate from. Or at least that's what we would like to think. But I think it's actually very true. We try to be very collaborative with other institutions in the community, other non-profits, but also the businesses and private individuals. So, that's why I feel that my work on behalf of the Library is doing the work of the Angels and God. And I like the spirit of the librarians, because I think of free access to information as a kind of, the cornerstone of our democracy, and it's important that we keep it healthy. This town truly embraces the Library. You want me to just keep rambling?
[6:04] Are you going to ask me a question?
MK: Yes, We're going to forward this to the Chamber of Commerce and see if we can't--.
MS: [Laughs] Well, I worked with them on different projects. I have, in the time I've been here, I have always--. I felt that my career has really been the Town of Concord, not so much any of my jobs. I mean I have a Master's in Art History, and I started into a Ph.D, but I realized I needed to have little kids. And if I had to get a job--. So at that time I went to work at Wellesley College, but have always--. The Library's always sort of been the most important thing I feel I've done, aside from raising my kids. So that every job I've had, I've always tried to keep a volunteer role in the Library. I now am on the Library Committee. Library Committee is--. It's appointed by the Selectmen. And we represent the interest of the taxpayers and work with the Library Director and the other, and the Trustees as well, and certainly the Friends. So I do that, and I also participate with the Friends. I organize a Author's Series. We try to, getting some more programming underway on behalf of the Library for the Community. So I do that. And--. Maybe you should direct a question. I've done--.
And I'm on the Board of Orchard House. That's another partner, sort of. Orchard House is the home of the Alcotts. When I first met the man I'm married to, he was the, did pro bono legal work for them, did that for many years, and so it's sort of nice to come--. We—I was on the corporation for Orchard House many years ago, and now I'm on the Board. It's the little engine that could. It's an amazing little organization that's 100 years old in 2011. Truly represented the same kind of spirit that I see here in the library and in Concord that people who care very deeply about an institution will band together and fight to keep it thriving and whole, because Orchard Hose could easily just either been sold off and the land and the house destroyed. But the people from that era cared very deeply that it be preserved. I think Harriet Lathrup, who wrote Five Little Peppers, Margaret Sydney, I don't know if you're familiar with. She was a Concordian, one of the early preservationists. And she was a part of the larger group that preserved this, larger group including the members of Alcott family, the Pratts.
MK: Roughly what period are you speaking of when she--?
MS: When they did that? Well 100 years ago.
MK: 100 years ago.
MS: So there--. I don't know if you're, if you've had any opportunity really to look around Concord, but where the Orchard House, which is currently preserved, is next door to the Wayside, shall we, the National Park Service will call the Wayside. In Louisa's day it was called Hillside. And actually the home--. That was the home where she lived that informed many of her early stories, like Little Women. It later became the home of Harriet Lothrop, and she was very interested in preserving it and worked with members of the Pratt family and others to raise the money and care for the property. And there has been a member of that family, the extended family, a part of it since then. I think there always will be if we keep--. I think they have sons, sons who are the treasurers, so the current treasurer today is a member of the extended family from the Alcott. So.
MK: Can you tell us a little bit about the house, and--?
MS: Well--. Orchard House? Well you probably have much better from Jan Turnquist, who is, whom you've interviewed. She is the current director and has been associated with Orchard House, Geez, 30 years or something. Another person I hope that you do interview is Jayne Gordon, or you may already have.
MS: Yeah. She's a truly amazing person.
MK: Oh, absolutely.
MS: No one knows history better than Jayne.
MK: She's fabulous.
MS: Oh, my gosh. Yeah. She was the director of Orchard House when I first came to Concord. And I've worked with her there, here, at Minute Man National Park. She's, obviously now she's at Mass Historical, but Jayne is to me the sort of unofficial historian of Concord. She knows everything. And she probably told you, she teaches the Concord guide class in the spring which I have taken a couple of times, because I don't retain it. If you don't use it you don't retain it. So I've taken it with Jayne and with a woman who used to give the class many years ago. Yeah. Jayne knows everything. So I couldn't--. I wouldn't even try to tell you anything about Orchard House, because Jayne and Jan know more.
Another place I have worked though, which adds to my knowledge of the community is Minute Man National Park. I was kind of recruited to work there in 2000 by Nancy Nelson who's the current Superintendent. I had met her on a foursome fact-finding or, I don't know. I can't remember. I'd met her. And she was interested in having me come help her and work on kind of the P.R. side for Minute Man, which, as you may or may not know, the only way into Hanscom Field, which abuts Minute Man National Park, is through the original, portions of the original battle road. So it has been an ongoing battle to this day to preserve the Park and seek some kind of accommodation with Hanscom Airfield. There has been--. It's owned by--. The commercial side is owned by MassPort. And there are people on, within the MassPort community who would like to have seen, or it is our belief, an expanded Hanscom. It may be that they just wanted to make it appear that they wanted to expand Hanscom so they could get that third runway at Logan Airport. This is a controversy you probably know nothing about, but it has been a battle at, on behalf of the Minute Man National Park for a number of years, and a lot of volunteers in the community have worked very, very hard, sunk a lot of time, effort and money to countering the efforts of MassPort to expand Hanscom commercial base. There's also an Airforce presence there. But they I think represent something like one percent of the air traffic. So it's, the issue has always been commercial.
At any rate, so I worked with Nancy Nelson and the other community groups to promote the Park and its magnificent resources and its history and to counter the affects of big, bad MassPort. So I did that for about five years. And while I was there that's the same period when I was the head of the Library Trustees, and we raised the money to rebuild this.
MK: Are you bionic?
MS: No, I just can't still. But I also, I don't, I wouldn't say I have any--. I don't have a career. I haven't stayed at any one place that long, because I'm interested, and these jobs interest my mind and my heart, and I don't get paid much. But you get paid in other ways. And it has all been on behalf of Concord, an exceptional community, as I've said.
MK: What does the Minute Man Park mean to you in terms of—
MK: --as a landscape? What does it mean to you?
MS: Well, first of all, when I grew up in Southern California, my favorite per--. I've always been interested in history. My favorite part of American history was the Revolution. I don't know why. I was out there Father Serra and the missions of California, but I just was always intrigued and attracted to the history. Johnny Chermain was one of my favorite books as a kid. So when I came East and I lived in Boston, one of the things I would do to occupy my weekends would be to go out and trek about the different historic sites. And I had never really made it to Concord and actually until I married and moved out here. And it just so happens that I, where I live is about a quarter mile from the North Bridge. So virtually every day of my life here I have walked up there. I have dogs, and they have to be walked, and it always seems that Mom's the one who does it. So--. My kids never did it; I've always done it. So I have gone up there for every day all these many years and watched this, efforts at preserving the Park, expanding the Park. Over the years it has grown and taken on more land. That has been a controversial issue, which I suspect you may have interviewed some people, or you should, or will. In the creation of the Park they did, through a variety of means, take land. I mean they fairly compensated the people, but it still--. They were kind of pushed out to attempt to reclaim a fair amount of the land that was around the North Bridge where the battle occurred. And the land along the road, which is probably the most important part, because it's the road where the battle, the, most of the battle ensued. I mean that's the bloody part of it. Not much happened at the two-to-five minute skirmish at the Bridge really.
It was at Miriam's Corner, on the way, when the British were marching back to Boston, where area Minute and Militia companies came together. And what they say, they set the hook for the Revolution. So that land is where it all happened. And you kind of can't replace the genuine article. So that's what I have come to appreciate about going up to, walk across the Bridge, walk across the fields where these very simple, hard-working--. I mean some were hard-working, some were not, but early settlers here in Concord, where they lived, where they died, where they raised their kids and plowed the fields. It's--. You know, just imagining what it might have looked like then. And the efforts on the part of the National Park Service are to rehabilitate the landscape to reflect somewhat in certain areas where they can, what it actually looked like. One of the issues in all that has been, that has been controversial, is cutting down trees. The time of the Revolution there were very few trees here because they had cut them either for firewood, or they needed to clear the fields. So it was a very different landscape here. In the--.
While I was working at Minute Man, one of the big issues was cutting a number of the trees, a number of the fields that now you, that now if you drove along 2A, which is the battle road, are wide open; eight ten years ago they weren't. And a lot of people just could not accept the fact that you would cut down a tree. I think now most people realize that it does help to restore the look of what it must've been like at the time, although you can never, because you still have the highway down the middle. And the trees grow back anyway. And at the time, most of Massachusetts was open farmland. There's a fascinating--. If you guys ever have any time to go do touristing, there--. What do they call them? Out at the Harvard Forest, which is up in Petersham, they have exhibits of the landscape of New England over a course of time, and you see, at the Colonial era it was just wide open, not deforested, but just wide open farm fields.
At any rate, so it means a great deal to me. And I believe it should be preserved. I feel strongly that the National Park Service, as a, who is it, Wallace Stegner said, was one of the best ideas that the American people ever had, which was to create these wonderful National Parks. So I'm looking forward to the Ken Burns series this fall. I--.When I was a at Minute Man I did send a proposal in to him hoping that he would pick Minute Man as one of the featured parks, but he didn't. I think his interest is really to show magnificent nature parks, and this is a memorial historical park. It's different.
MK: Hmm. Pretty magnificent though.
MS: Well, we think so. But it kind of can't compete with the Grand Canyon or Yosemite. But, it's part of this fabulous park system that the United States has, and we hope people that do come to see it appreciate it. I think that they do. I have anecdotally heard stories that after the Tiananmen Square Massacre in China, a number of busloads of Chinese came within the next weeks following that, to the Bridge, because to them it represented resistance, and freedom, and independence. So, it's a touchstone for many more than just Americans. On any given day if you were up there, you will hear other languages spoken. And I find that even now when I walk the dogs after dinner that if there's still people lingering in the Park, it's, they're often from another country. It's a treat. I think sometimes the world appreciates some of our sites more than we do.
MK: Umm hmm. I hadn't thought about it that way. Interesting.
MS: Well I worked at Minute Man under the--. And I could be very biased here--. Under the Bush era when it seemed to me a concerted effort and not too subtle to really crush the parks and to open them to extractive technologies and private interests. And I--. Under the Obama Administration there's a shift back, thank God. It was very disturbing, really disturbing. He could not get out of that office fast enough for me. And ask--. You can ask anyone my politics. I think anyone in Concord knows that I feel very strongly about politics.
MK: So even in your fairly brief time here, since the early '80s, you've seen a lot of changes in the built environment.
MS: I think so. And I was saying--. Because that's what Leslie had said that that would be one of your interests. I wish I'd been--. I am very observant, but over time you get used to the new change, and you absorb it into your being and don't remember that downtown we used to have a Woolworth's. I mean it might have been the last of the Woolworth's. Concord Center has, even though the roads are still the same, a lot of the character of the stores that are avail--. The kinds of different stores that we have--. We have a lot of this sort of boutiquey things now. When I first came here we did have a Woolworth's that did have a little lunch counter. It was around the corner from--. My husband has had his law practice here for thirty years. He just shut it down this year. And I was cleaning out his office and he has an "s." And I said, "Where did this come from?" And he said, "Well it's the ‘s' that came off the Woolworth, big Woolworth sign." So I'm thrilled that we have it. I suppose in time I probably should donate it to the Library's collection. But in the meantime my last name starts with an "s," and I might give it to a kid.
But at any rate, miss the old Woolworth's. I miss that kind of down home, very basic store. Used to able to buy a pair of socks and underwear in Concord. Now I think the cost of a pair of underwear is about 100 bucks and you buy it at the little French, what do they call it? There's a French store there. I've never been in it. There are a lot of stores I have never been in now. It has changed. Downtown has changed. It has become a little more pricey, appeals to, as I'm told, the Chestnut Hill and Beacon Hill set for Christmastime when they come to Concord to shop. So I do miss that. I'm hardly the only Concordian that misses being able to buy kind of basics in town.
But what hasn't changed is the character of a small New England town that's, I think is self-conscious about preserving a sense of integrity. I can't imagine it becoming touristy the way I see Rockport--. I mean I should say that. I should not slam Rockport. I really haven't been there for a while, but one of the things that I learned or observed in growing up in the West and particularly my time living in Colorado Springs is when to build the business community they really cultivated the tourist dollar and forgot that the reason people came out there was to see the beautiful natural resources and the cleanliness of the air. And I felt that they compromised all of that in the, for the sake of a tourist dollar and chotchkes and ticky tack.So Concord, what I think it has done very effectively is to retain its integrity as a small New England town that serves the people of its town first. We welcome tourists, but the people who live here are more important, and I--. If that starts to change, I will feel we have lost something very important, because I--. Some people--.
There was a battle in the '80s--. Battle. Maybe that's too strong a word, but a--. If you come Cambridge Turnpike, coming from the East, Route 2, turn left, you come into the Concord Center, there's a field that used to have a little tiny kiosk where the Chamber of Commerce welcomed visitors. And they wanted to build a larger structure on the field right across from it to welcome visitors to Concord. And a number of us were very opposed to that. There's some really very wonderful outspoken people worked very hard to defeat that, because our feeling was that it's a much more welcoming to see an open field than a large building that has, "Welcome Tourist," and a bus stop, although they said they weren't, wouldn't have very much parking for buses, still the idea was that it--. To me it was the camel's nose under the tent! I didn't want anything to change. Keep the open field. If you really want to find the historic sites within Concord, you'll find them. It may not be as easy as people would like it, with more signage, and we have some signage. But I just--. I felt strongly that I didn't want the first thing people to see was a building for tourists. So what the compromise is that down the street, Main Street, sort of back from, between the Bank America and Middlesex Bank is a little brick building, very tasteful, that houses the Welcome Center for people to come to Concord and has restrooms.
That was the other issue. Concord never had restrooms for people. So they used to come to the Library. So we were grateful, from the Library's point of view that actually there were now public bathrooms for--. That is something that the town kind of missed for many years. Anyway, so my idea here is that I simply want to point making that I think Concord has retained this wonderful quality of being a whole. I mean it serves its community. It has this wonderful history, has wonderful natural resources, but it is first and foremost a community and not a tourist site. And it's also not--. Somebody said to me, "Well you just live in a suburb of Boston." And I, "Oh, not at all." I mean this is in and of itself. This is a whole town. It is not a suburb of Boston. People--. I think there are people who don't go into Boston for years at a time! So.
MK: What about the individual neighborhoods around the town. Have they also maintained their integrity?
MS: Some of them have kind of. I don't--. I am not the best one to answer that because I live on Lowell Road, which is a main thoroughfare from Concord, goes out to Carlisle and on up eventually into New Hampshire. And it is not a neighborhood. That has been one of my--. I'm sorry that I've never lived in a neighborhood; my kids never had neighbors. On the other hand, we do live on the Assebet River and across from us is acres and acres of conservation land. So my vista out my back and around has never changed in 20-some years, almost 30 years, and never will, because that land is all in conservation. Thank you to a number of folks who raised the money to buy the land when it came up for sale. One of the more interesting communities--. And I suspect you may have talked to someone who lives there--. is Conantum, or you should. Because it was a part of the communities across Route 2. Originally settled, or created, settled! Created by professors and architects from MIT. Carl Coke was one of the original--. He was an architect. He passed away, but they built, I guess they're like deck houses. I don't really know the style, but it's pretty consistent throughout. Again, you should ask somebody who really knows what they're talking about, but it was a fascinating community was created in the early '50s. And I don't think there's any house now that hasn't been somewhat altered. It has begun to change a lot. It's a beautiful properties over there. And a number of this original communities, homes have been torn down and McMansions put up, which is kind of too bad. But there does seem to be a real sense of community there, even to this day. I would assume you probably talked to Barbara Powell. She's the outgoing library director, and she lives there and could tell you a lot about that.
The other areas, certainly like West Concord--. Jayne could talk to you a lot about that. Because I have lived all my life in this same house, I can't tell you too much about the neighborhoods, honestly. I just--. I've seen, just anecdotally--. You drive around and you see the tear downs. It's always more interesting to me to see someone who adds onto a house or re—alters a home, rather than takes it down and then puts up a much bigger property. But that's progress American-style. . . . [30:35] I have a lot of ideas of people that you should interview.
MK: Tell them to Leslie. She's the boss.
MS: I will. Yeah, I will. I don't know. She--. I worked with Leslie for a long time. I consider her a very good friend and someone who I admire enormously. When she--. When I first got involved with the Library the woman before her was not a professional archivist, but she loved the community. And even though I think some of her methodologies were not up to the professional standards that Leslie has established, because Leslie really is professional and fabulous, that woman preserved a lot of materials. She even went to the town dump and brought papers back that people had thrown out that she knew had value. So we all owe her a debt. But Leslie has been just fabulous. I have over the years thought about helping her create a Friends of Special Collections to help raise additional money. We never have done that, but the--. While I was a trustee and the current group of trustees feel very strongly in helping support her, everything that she does down there. She has been able to raise money through different kinds of fees for repro-rights and that sort of thing to keep, so that she can do certain kinds of repairs. She also writes a lot of grants for some of the materials. But I always have recognized that special collections is one of the things that makes this Library unique. Some communities have an Historical Society. We have Special Collections. And it is exceptional. I don't know if you've had much opportunity to root around down there, but it is pretty amazing the materials that she has. And she's--. She's superb, really. She's--. Oh, she's amazing. And I take it as some kind of compliment that she I think she thinks I'm a friend, because I'm so--. She is one smart woman, and the Town is very, very lucky to have her. I know a lot of places have tried to recruit her away form here, but she is devoted to the place and we've very fortunate. I mean I think she could work at any place in the country and be exceptional, so I think we're lucky.
MK: We're impressed. I've heard her refer to herself and to Barbara as the Connecticut girls, both of them being from Connecticut.
MS: Well Barbara's from--. Barbara's not from Conncecticut. Barbara's from New Jersey.
MK: Oh, New Jersey girls.
MS: Jersey girls. Yeah. Well that--.
MK: New Jersey girls.
MS: Well, yeah.
MK: I'm sorry.
MS: That would make sense! Yeah. Yeah. Yup. No, she's--. She really is great. So is Barbara. I--. It's a new era here. I'm sure they've told you, we have a new director. I have known Barbara for many, many years and there's a connection. I mean she had know my--. She had lived in the area--. My husband was married before, and Barbara--. They all lived in the same area. So Barbara had known my husband before I knew him. And her children knew my step kids. So there's a lot of interconnection through her, and I've worked very closely with her on every project we've ever done. And not having her here anymore is hard for all of us, because she just, she's just an exceptional person, really, incredibly smart, very easy going, except I know beneath all that she's, she worries about everything. So we're all concerned. There's a new director, and she's going to be different, but I think that's--. That's fine. She's young. We need youth, because, we're not getting any younger. And there are new projects. We're trying to raise money now for the Fowler Library, to expand it. And we had hoped to have all the money raised and it done before Barbara retired, but didn't quite do that. But we're very well on our way.
MK: And what will that facility be?
MS: Well it's our branch library. We--. For a town this tiny we do have a branch, the Fowler branch. And it was originally built in 1929, the year of the crash. That was a project that I was head of the building campaign for that. In the mid-'90s we expanded and renovated and created a basement and so this particular project will be to expand the footprint a little bit more and complete the basement. I think it'll be a very beautiful design. I'm not as involved with that. I was on the building committee, although I have been sort of tangentially involved. But it's--. We felt--. It's bursting at the, its seams. I mean the people use our libraries in this town and even the Fowler Branch is very busy. There's no room anymore. We have kids programs, adult programs. We have a film series. So we had to figure out a way to take advantage of the basement that we had created as a result of the '90s campaign. So that's what's happening. I don't quite know. I think--. They've--. We need to raise about four million dollars. I think we've raised a million something. The Trustees have some money that if we do the kind of project that we did when we renovated here, borrow from ourselves to get it so we don't have to go out for financing. I'm not sure. I'm off the Board now, but I sort of follow what they do, sort of. But we will succeed. I have no doubt. I--. My job is raising money now--. I work at the hospital. I think that the library's doing better than we are I this, these troubled times.
MK: Wow. That's a commentary.
MS: Yeah. I mean we, the hospital does well, but there's something very special about the Library. When you go out to ask for capital needs, the town has responded.
MK: That's terrific.
Carrie Kline: Let's take a little break here, collect our thoughts.
MS: Yeah, I'm just random. I don't--. You know I've--.
CK: . . . [37:24]
MK: . . . . heard nothing about that.
MS: Well because it--. There has been a penitentiary here since the mid-19th century. And the workers, the prisoners have been a part of helping to build part of the community. Today the--. There are two. There's a really, maximum security prison. And then kind of kitty-corner from that is the Northeast Correctional Center. So those tend to be 18-21-year-olds who, in possession of marijuana or something. They're not bad guys typically. My husband has done some work with them, and he once told me the nurse up there said usually if they escape, the Police wait a couple of days. Then they either go to the girlfriend or the parents' home, and the guy's usually there. And they just bring him back. Their biggest problems are they have acne or something. They're really, they're not bad kids. It's just in an awful lot of the, some of the drug laws scoop them up and put them in jail when maybe they, we should come up with some better way to punish them.
At any rate, a lot of those guys do work, yard work or street work along the--. The Department of Public Works will have them--. We used to do a volunteer luncheon here at the Library and for a number of years they would prepare a tray of lasagna to contribute to it. But that stopped. I don't know if they were afraid that we would return the pan with a, I don't know, with a knife or something in it. I don't know. But it stopped. I have to ask Barbara why they don't do that anymore. We had some of the prisoners help when we moved back into the Library for this most recent expansion. They helped put the books in the shelves. And when I worked at--. Here's another place I worked, very briefly, because it was a wacky scene. But I worked at Fruitlands, out here in Harvard. That's an historic site, was actually--. Bronson Alcott was out there in the winter of the late 1840s as part of an experiment to live off the land. And you couldn't eat anything—no meat and nothing that an animal had to help produce, so you--. Louise, her family became the workers. But any rate, long story. But that's Fruitlands is out there, and I had contacted the Superintendent of the Northeast Correctional to help put together a work crew, because we were trying to clear some land out there, and we were happy to do it. And I looked out the window, and there were these big, brawny guys with scythes and machetes and the guard. And all the guard had was a can of Off! And I thought, "If anything happens, we could be easily overrun." I mean there--. I mean these guys are out there for a couple of years. That was just a funny story. But they have provided labor from time to time.
A lot of the families--. This is something somebody will tell you surely about the white ladies. They're the white homes that are across the street from the State Penitentiary there. A lot of them are gone now, but there had been an effort to preserve them. They were the homes of the guards and the Warden. And there have been efforts over the years to turn those into low-income housing. But then there's a—controversy. Never quite worked out. But at any rate, we've had a very nice relationship I think over the years, with the Prison, even though it's a maximum security. We've had some pretty bad guys up there, but. And every now and then you hear somebody escapes, but they usually find them. But it has been a part of the sort of the commercial aspect I suppose of the town for a long time. And it's a dominant physical feature if you go west of the town, because there's the prison.
MK: Out there on the circle?
MK: On the roundabout.
Yeah. The rotary.
MK: The rotary.
MS: A number of the churches in the community have worked with prison outreach, you know, to help in the rehabilitation of both the tough population and the younger, the, the Northeast Correctional Group. They used to--. One of the things the Northeast Correctional used to have its own dairy, which was really very successful. They provided all the milk for the prisons across the state. And then under the Romney Administration--. Yeah, Mitt Romney, Governor Romney, they shut it down, and we were also told that it was not successful. But in fact it really was. So I notice now they have cows out there again! Whatever. Anyway, so that--. You ought to talk to somebody else about the relationship of the, I think the Penitentiary to the Town of Concord. Usually they quote the population of Concord--. They'll say it's 15,000 plus 2,000 prisoners. So it ups our census every now and then.
MK: Has the Library ever offered any services to the prison?
MS: I think that--.
MS: In terms of circulating books, or--?
MS: Yeah. I would suspect we do. I think we do. I mean that's something you need to ask Barbara. I think so. I mean I--. Because I know that they have provided labor here. I would expect that we do. I mean that's something really you should ask her. Leslie might know as well. I should know the answer, but I actually don't. I would assume we do. We try to work--. I know that the Library tries to work with as many community groups as we can, as we can identify, as there's ways to provide access here for them to come here, or for them to have, to improve our, even our Internet services, so that they're, form their own home can check out books, return books, renew books. We work with the Council on Aging, try to get speakers from--. Some of the staff will go over to speak, or sometimes we have them come over here, groups of--. We, like, for like a book group, if a book group is interested in meeting here from the Council on Aging or even-. You know, we do that. There's a lot of effort to try and reach out from the Library.
MK: Is there a book mobile?
MS: We don't have a book mobile.
MK: Some rural communities I think have that.
MS: Yeah. Well probably because, you know this is a very well located for this side of Concord, and then the Fowler Branch is right across from where the Council on Aging is. And there's a Minute Man Arc, which is for physically and mentally challenged kids and people. So it's in a very good location for people to reach it. The--. I don't know if there's ever been much of a call for a book mobile. I don't think we'd need it. I think we're small enough, and these are accessible enough. Don't know.
MS: But the Prison--
MS: Yeah, I.
MK: --seems to me could be . . . . [Speaking while Melissa speaks]
MS: Yeah, I, and it may well be, because I mean I know for years there has been a lot of, with the Concord Prison Outreach Program, someone like Jean Bell is a person you might, might be worth interviewing. Jean was instrumental in getting that going and keeping it going for years. She sort of retired form that, and then she and another group got involved with something called C4RJ; it's for the communities for restorative justice. So there's been a real effort to work with prison populations, restorative justice, the idea of, in some way the victim and the perp, the perpetrator works to try and pay back in some socially acceptable fashion the wrong he has done. So that's something that Jean Bell--. Jean is a person I would suggest you might talk to. She has just done amazing things for this community. The Town has a lot of quiet heroes. And she's one of them. But in the answer to your question, I really don't know about what we do. I would assume yes though.
MK: Umm hmm.
MS: Another thing that, thinking back, about Nancy Nelson and one of the areas, things that are big in Concord right now, that seems to be getting going is this whole idea of slow food and organic farming. And there's a real effort by the Park and some area folks to promote locally grown food production. So we have a couple well-known organic farmers, Veryl Farms and the Hutchins Farm. But there are, is an effort on the part of the Park Service to try and get others to use its land to grow organically and locally and then sell the produce and just not to make money, really, but as much just to remind the world how food is grown, consumed, healthily, and it can be done locally, and you don't have to get your--. You know--.
MK: So that's a conscious goal of the Park Service? Yeah, it really--. This Nancy, she has really worked hard with, to try and get it going. And there are some, with volunteers here in the community, people interested in the same thing, in doing that. And last year I didn't get to go, but I'm definitely going to go this year--. There's something called the Stone Soup Dinner, and it's a--. They sell tickets, and they have the dinner at the Parks Service, but it's all locally-grown produce and produced by area chefs. It's not a fundraiser. It's just kind of a celebration of homegrown cooking, and I think they have like 300 people. They put a big tent. It's quite an event. So, I guess there's always something going on here in Concord. I think they're always trying something new and different and getting back to the land isn't something that, it isn't just Alice Water at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. I mean Concord's trying it too.
MK: That's great. I love this whole food thing.
MS: Well, I--. It reminds me--. You know, when I was saying that I--.
MK: Local food. It--.
MS: Local food. I mean it is harder--. We are New England, and it is hard. We've had the worst summer. If you're trying to grow a pepper, forget it. It's rotten.
MK: Not to mention tomatoes.
MS: Oh, yeah. On the other hand, you can do it. And there are certain crops obviously that grow better than others. But I am just reminded, when I was a little girl living in Southern California and my mom would just give me some quarters and send me down to the corner where there was a farmstand, and they grow corn and tomatoes and fresh everything. And I just--. I assumed that's how everybody always ate. And so that has changed so much. And I'm glad that we're getting back to the idea of eat locally.
MK: Umm hmm.
Ms: I mean just because we have the container track, or tankers, ships, whatever, that they can ship in twenty-four hours your bananas for Honduras or whatever. I don't know. I guess you still have to get bananas someplace else. They'd never grow here. But anyway, the idea, obviously, it has got merit.
MK: Have you followed Barbara Kingsolver's work on . . . —
MS: Not that much. I have read a couple of her books.
MK: --eating locally, growing locally.
MS: Yeah, I know that she--.
MK: She's big on that.
MS: Yeah. Yeah, there--. There's a woman here in Concord who is, I think produced a local film or something about it, to promote, or get more people to do it. There's a community gardens here in Concord that a very good friend of mine and her friend have kind of coordinated for years. I tried last year. I am not a good vegetable gardener. I tried and I have to say I had a miserable year! I'm better at growing flowers. But she grows--. She's amazing. There's some amazing farm, or not farmers, it's just land across from our Courthouse where all this community gardens are here. That woman, Rebecca Purcell, she's someone you should interview. I was--. She's—.
MS: Purcell. Rebecca Sheehan Purcell. Leslie knows here very well. She's the former head of the Friends. She has been involved with everything. She's a former most honored citizen. I take great pride I got her involved with the Library, so she had a--. That was one institution she hadn't had anything to do with until I introduced her and got her involved with the Friends. But she has been on every, you know, run every committee, you know, everything.
MS: So, she's someone you need to have come talk. I'm running out of gas here.
MK: Are you?
MS: Well I don't know what else you want me to talk about. It just, it's just that I love the town. Think--.
MK: You've touched a lot of bases that nobody else has.
MS: Well there are so many, well--. Because I'm not the right person to talk to about it, but I can tell areas that I think you need to explore. I think--. And Rebecca can do. She's--. She moved here in 1973 and has been involved with the Concord Players. That's another fun organization, 51 Walden. That's our Performing Arts Center. My husband used to tease, because he's say that the Financial District right down from the Theatre District, well it's all--. It's like a quarter of a block! It's all it is, Walden Street. But that's a good group of people that, 51 Walden. And their efforts to, you know they're the site for the Concord Orchestra and the Concord [door opens and shuts] Band. What else is there in Concord?
MK: What's the history of that organization? Have they been, the players, have they been around for a while?
MS: I think, I think so. Rebecca could tell you a little bit more about that, or her brother-in-law, Fritz Kusin, who has performed in it, would know a lot. Fritz also is a member of the Pratt Family, who's an original owner from the Orchard House days.
CK: Would you spell Kussin?
MS: K-U-S-S-I-N. Fritz is another person. His family would be good to interview. His store, in this direction I guess, it's now called Fritz and Gigi's. It's a kids' clothing store he has had for many, many, many years. His two daughters run it now. But he could tell you a lot about Orchard House, as well as the Vopack. There are other people who know more about that as well. I--. Let Rebecca. You sort of have to ask Rebecca. I just am an a, you know, I buy tickets and go see it. But I just, it's just another organization I the community that gives richness to Concord that, you know, it has its own orchestra, its band, its own prison. You know, we have a lot here, Concord!
MK: What sorts of plays? What are some of the outstanding productions that you've seen?
MS: Well I mean they--. Every ten years they produce Little Women, which is sort of fun. But they, every year they do, they'll do a musical and some serious drama. You know, it's amateur, but it's fun. And it engages a lot of the people, and some folks get very involved with producing for three or four years, and then they get tired of the late nights, or they recently did The Mikado. You know, all kinds, really, all kinds. I don't know who the current director is there. But you know, it would be sort of fun to talk to somebody about the--. Rebecca could, you know, kind of steer you in that direction. I don't know. I just. It's just one of the institutions there.
Other people that you--. Annabelle Shepherd is somebody that you might be interested to talk to. She just, she turns 90 in another week or so. She is a, was head of the Library. She's a former Selectman. We had her ninetieth birthday party here. She's a very close friend of mine and Rebecca's and Barbara Powell's, but is a unique, really represents the sort of Concord can-do kind of person. I think in her 60s she went back and got her MBA. Then she ran for Selectman. She's amazing and remembers a lot, even though she's 90.
What other people I--. You know, I'm just trying to--. I don't know who all the different subjects of the oral history program are. So she actually may have been interviewed before. Actually, think about that, she may have. Umm, ask me something else.
MK: Do you have any--?
CK: This has been great. Thank you.
MS: I mean my recollections are so fuzzy, you know, that it's just--. I've had the fortune of being able to work with a lot of different organizations in kind of trying to make something happen. I wouldn't say--. And it wasn't necessarily the driving force, but I was certainly along for the ride and maybe put in my . . . every now and then to make it happen. But I think that's what being a good citizen of a small town, or any town, but at least you, here in a small town you have a, more of an opportunity to be, have a larger role than you would if you're in Boston.
MK: Umm hmm. For sure.
MS: Yeah, well. When I came East, actually what brought me East, as I said, was adventure. And I lived I a rooming house, but my first job was to work for the Mayor, Mayor White, which is pretty extraordinary. I mean I just, it was really luck that I got that position, but I was there at a truly remarkable time. It was 1974 during busing. And some of his staff people, Barney Frank, who is quite famous now, is a Congressman in the Banking and Judi—Banking Committee. He has the Banking Committee, right. Amazing man. Brilliant. And I was there--. I met the Queen of England. I met Jimmy Carter. I met Ronald Reagan. And here I was just this kid from Colorado. It was pretty heady stuff, but I did learn politics is pretty ugly and pretty corrupt and I didn't think I could stay in it. But it sure was a great--. I witnessed a lot of interesting stuff.
MK: But in a town this size there's more, what, accountability, less opportunity for--?
MS: I just don't think there's as much at stake. There's not as much money to be made to be corrupt in the--. The Selectman, I doubt--. We might have a corrupt Selectman, but I've never heard of one. I just didn't--. There's a lot of money at stake in downtown Boston. It's an international city, and politics are an industry in Boston, and have been for a long time, and they have been for a long time, and they had some--remarkable the number of people that I saw there who went on, if they didn't become an elected official, became very involved with political campaigns. I mean it really--. I think it's in the water in Dorchester, this remarkable city, so if you read the book, The Last Hoorah, it's dated somewhat, but not all that much. If you go out--. You know, I used to go out with the Mayor to some of these house gatherings where he would be talking to the community and the Precinct captains. And it's all about politics and getting out the vote, and drumming up friends, and doing favors. And all the stuff you read from The Last Hurrah still goes on, and Menino, who is the current Mayor, may be Italian, but he's still doing the same thing. So. I just don't think that Concord, I don't know, maybe there's a lot of corruption here, but I don't think so. I think you'd know. You're right. I think you'd know. And if it is, it's smaller dollar figures, I hope. I mean I don't think there's--.
MK: Well, all I can say is Concord is lucky to have had you.
MS: Well, I feel that--. How--? I hope that I don't--. I hope I can continue to help and do, be productive. It worries me form time to--.When I was President of the Library I really had a vision of what I thought this project should be and how we should run it, and when you're in charge of something you can do that. I'm not in charge. I'm not on the head of a Board or anything like that right now, so it's a little bit harder. You got to work as a team. [CK sneezes.] Sometimes that's--. I'd like putting the team together. It's a little bit more--. You can run the show.
MS: I don't know, you might ask somebody if I ran it very well, but I think we had a good time and we had a good outcome. So.
MK: That's what counts. Well thank you very much for coming today.
MS: Well, it's a pleasure.
MK: This has been terrific.
MS: you know, I hope you, I do hope you talk to some of these people, like Rebecca, Nancy, Barbara, definitely Barbara.
MK: Well, Leslie's the one who—
MS: I know.
MK: --hands us the list.
MS: Yeah, she is. Well, Barbara can't do it until she's retired I suppose, and Leslie herself--.
MK: No, we've done Barbara.
MS: --Oh, you have done Barbara. You could do her again and still learn more.
MK: Oh, I'm sure. [Both MK and MS laugh.] Well, thank you.