...which creates and sustains our communities. We know who we are and can share dreams for a common future when our roots in the past are strong."
- Jill Ker Conway, author, historian, and Boston Museum board member.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Thursday, January 28, East Boston Cultural Exchange Center....
Eastie community residents, students, teachers, and Boston Museum supporters pack the exhibit room where the East Boston Historical Society's first student-led exhibit was opened to the public! Guests included Boston City Councilor Sal LaMattina, Boston School Supt. Carol Johnson, and many more. Students exhibited their 3D maps, designs for an immigration memorial, architectural studies, clipper ship models and
an iPhone app based on the Battle of Chelsea Creek. The community controbuted many artifacts on life in East Boston. Thanks to Fran Rowan, program director at the 80 Border Street Cultural Exchange Center for her faith in this endeavor, and to all our program partners and helpers including the Piers Park Sailing Center, Norman B. Levanthal Map Center at the BPL, Learning by Design, City archaeologist Ellen Berkland, iPhone app project manager Joason Petralia, and many more. Kudos to teacher Julia Brasser who led our teaching team! We hope to be back in the spring with another event or exhibit created in cooperation with community volunteers who want to keep the new East Boston Historical Society alive. FINALLY, A VERY SPECIAL THANKS TO OUR AWESOME STUDENTS!

Sunday, January 24, 2010


We are just four days away from the launch of East Boston's first-ever historical society. Today we proceeded with Part One of the exhibit installation at the Cultural Exchange Center at 80 Border Street in Eastie. Tomorrow the student board of directors arrives to finish the job. What a lot of work...but what a perfect setting for a celebration of this community's rich history, in a former shipbuilding facility overlooking the piers where clipper ships were once built. Today we got help with the installation from Polly Carpenter of the Learning By Design team (right.) Back at the Umana students like Brionna and Briana (same class, no relation) are putting the final touches on 3D maps and "identity boxes" that reflect their own cultural history.

See you on January 28th at 4 PM...

Thursday, January 21, 2010


8th grader Udoka Ibeh has created a gorgeous logo for the East Boston Historical Society, featuring an outline of one of East Boston's five islands - Noddle Island. His design was chosen by the board of directors at the East Boston Cultural Exchange Center where the exhibit will be held next week. His class won a free field trip to "Tomb," an "interactive adventure experience"near Fenway Park with an Egyptian tomb theme (it's sort of like stepping into a Raiders of the Lost Ark movie!) Our thanks to 5 WITS, creators of Tomb, for donating the trip.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Board of Directors Gets Down to Biz...

A chaotic couple of weeks as students get to work in earnest on their projects for the launch of the East Boston Historical Society January 28th! Nine students have joined the board of directors including the fab fellas shown here (for some reason the girls refused to be photographed but we're working in it...)

The Directors' first order of business: deciding what to wear to the opening of their historical society. School uniforms? Street clothes? Glad rags? The gentlemen voted for suits, and the ladies vowed to make sure they kept their promise to look nice ("I'm going to kick your %$#! if you show up with baggy sweats!" vowed one of the girls.) Recent field trips: students have visited the USS Constitution Museum, had a VIP tour of the USS Constitution itself, and checked out the the city's archeology lab to meet city archeologist Ellen Berkland. Meanwhile excitement in Ms. Mele's class: students are working with a fab Charlestown startup, People Using Technology, Inc. (www.peopleoperatingtechnology.com) to create an app for the iPhone based on the Revolutionary War-era Battle of Chelsea Creek. The East Boston Historical Society will have a digitial dimension...NEXT UP: the winners of the East Boston Historical Society LOGO CONTEST.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

KIDS TO COP: Here's Your BPD History....

A sunny day...good to be out exploring the 'hood! Mary Lyn's class is beginning work with Polly Carpenter of Learning By Design, the educational arm of the Boston Society of Architects. She'll lead kids in designing a memorial to honor the thousands of immigrants who came through East Boston's soon-to-be-demolished Immigration Intake Building.

Last week students went to see the 9/11 memorial at Logan Airport. Next week they'll visit the downtown Holocaust and Irish Famine memorials. Today we're off to see the much-more-modest Eastie memorial honoring Ezekial Hodson, the first Boston police officer killed in the line of duty back in 1857.

On Border Street we pass one of Boston's finest, guarding a construction site.

"Excuse me officer!" I wave him over. He's happy to come meet the kids.

"We have a history question for you! Do you by any chance happen to know anything about the first Boston police officer killed in the line of duty?"

He grins and grabs one of the students.

"I don't know but this guy right here is going to tell me!"

S. proudly announces the name of the officer, and then informs the cop of our plans to go see the memorial. We continue on, to a site around the corner, where students pull out papers and crayons and rub the Hodson plaque with as much fervor as tourists use in rubbing the gravestones of poets and dead presidents.

Boston's Finest is just coming out of a convenience store when we round the corner again on the way back to school. He hails us to wait up. The students show him their rubbings. I point out to the officer how these students have enriched his afternoon. He agrees.

"You see?" I tell J. and S. as we walk toward the Umana. "That poor police officer didn't even know the history of his own department's departed. Now he does, and it is all thanks to you."

Monday, October 26, 2009

DOWN TO THE SEA IN SHIPS: Visit to the Atlantic Works Building

Fran Rowan (shown seated at left with Umana students) is a longtime Eastie activist and saviour of the Atlantic Works building, a former shipbuilding facility with an illustrious history as described here (courtesy fo the East Boston Main Streets web site:)

The Atlantic Works on (Noddle's) island had built iron steamships for Russia, Egypt, Paraguay, China, and the East Indies; the monitor warships Nantucket and Casco; the turrets of several other iron clads; the engines for many American frigates; and entire fleets of ferry-boats and tugs. Other neighboring shipyards and works have done their share in creating that famous American marine which once was the wonder of all maritime nations.

Some of the finest ships that ever sailed were constructed here by Donald McKay, vessels beautifully finished and furnished, and built for great speed. The Flying Cloud, 1,700 tons, made the passage to San Francisco in 89 days, being the quickest ever known. The Sovereign of the Seas, 2,400 tons, was the longest and sharpest clipper ever built, and once made a run of 430 geographical miles in 24 hours. The Empress of the Seas held high rank among the famous clippers of the same epoch. The Great Republic was the largest wooden sailing ship ever built. Her 4,556 tons included 1,500,000 feet of hard pine, 336 tons of iron, and an immense amount of white oak. She sometimes made 19 knots an hour, under full sail; and went from New York to San Francisco in 91 days.

Between 1848 and 1858, more than 170 vessels were built at East Boston; of which 99 exceeded 1,000 tons each, and 9 were above 2,000 tons. These were the famous racers, which swept around Cape Horn, and up through the South Seas, crowded with the Argonauts in search of El Dorado [lost treasure]. Others belonged to the Liverpool packet-line, and made regular trips across the Atlantic for many years, exciting the keen and jealous admiration of our British cousins.

Students are facinated by Fran's personal history and marriage to Jim Rowan, longtime aide to Tip O'Neil. Thanks to her divine inspiration and hard work, Atlantic Works was saved from demolition and still stands as a thriving artists' cooperative. Fran has arrange for some of the space with its original wooden walls and beamed ceilings to be used to display student work and artifacts gathered for the East Boston Historical Societylaunch event in January. Thank you Fran!

Sunday, October 18, 2009


K. and I are walking back to the Umana Middle School Academy from the Atlantic Works building. We've just looked at the space inside this old shipbuilding facility-turned-artist-cooperative where the student-led East Boston Historical Society will launch in early 2010. K. is recalling the computer-generated image I'd shown him a few weeks earlier of the Boston Museum (below) proposed for a parcel of land in downtown Boston. Kids in the auditorium had oohed and aahed when they saw this image. In follow-up chats in the different classrooms, I'd told the students that we are working with them to make sure that the exhibits inside the Boston Museum are as exciting as the exterior, and that creating the East Boston Historical Society with them is a first step toward realizing that goal. The museum's development team will learn from students what sort of exhibits and stories really capture their interest.

"You know what you should do?" K. offers, as we walk. "You should put, like, video games in the museum and pay people to come play them."

I acknowledge the appeal of his idea - "You are right, that would REALLY get people to come" - but explain that we will need to get people to do the opposite, to "pay to play" in the museum. Still, I say, the idea of using video games makes sense. People love to play video games.

"Do you think we should create a video game about some part of East Boston history?" I ask him? K. considers this.

"OK but I don't know how."

Neither do I. So I contact a friend at the Harvard School of Education who knows more about digital media than I do, and she offers some good suggestions on how to proceed. K. will be pleased (I hope) and I am happy because this casual conversation may represent the beginning of kids taking ownership of the EBHS, deciding for themselves what a 21st century historical society should be like.

Which is, after all, the whole point of what we're doing...