watch: a quick history of the north end
GIVE HIM A STAMP: SIGN & SHARE OUR PETITION
Commemorative U.S. Postage Stamp Sought for Father Vincent R. Capodanno, Jr.
A short while ago, Vincent Basile, Col. U. S. Army, Retired,
introduced The Pirandello Lyceum and the Italian American Alliance * to the story of Lt. Fr. Vincent Capodanno, an Italian American who posthumously received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery, selfless devotion to duty as a U.S Marine and Chaplain, and for his sacrifice in the service of his Country.
Together, they arrived at the idea of petitioning the Postmaster General of the United States to issue a Lt. Fr. Vincent Capodanno Commemorative Stamp. A laudable and simple idea it would seem. At that time, however, we had
little idea what it takes to commission a United States Commemorative Stamp. On the surface it would seem axiomatic. Not so. It’s apparent that it’s going to
take a concerted effort to achieve that goal. That effort began with the laying of a memorial brick at the 911 Memorial site in Newton, MA, a setting dedicated
to American heroes.
Vincent Capodanno was born of an Italian Immigrant father and an Italian American mother. He was the youngest of nine siblings. After high school he joined the Seminary, was ordained a priest in 1957 and later served as a foreign missionary. In the mid 1960’s he volunteered to serve his
Country and became a commissioned officer in the Navy. In April 1966 Capodanno was sent to Vietnam
to serve with the 1st Marine Division.
He was respected by all those around him earning the nickname the “Grunt Padre” for living eating and sleeping in the same conditions as the Marines with whom he served. Fr. Capodanno requested a six-month extension after his tour was up. On September 4, 1967 the 38 year old Capodanno learned that a platoon was in danger of being overrun by enemy forces. At the time he was in the company command post, yet he left that safe haven to run through area riddled with gunfire to get to the platoon under attack.
He was eventually hit by an exploding mortar which caused multiple arm and leg wounds and severed part of his right hand. Despite these wounds he refused medical help and instead moved around the battlefield offering encouragement and assisting the wounded. When he noticed a wounded Marine he rushed to help. He was within inches of the Marine when he was hit by machine gun fire twenty-five times and died at the scene.
His loss was interminable. He went on to posthumously earn the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and the Silver Star. On January 7, 1969 his family received the Medal of Honor on his behalf. There are now over fifty local Italian American organizations, local Veteran groups and numerous
individuals who have signed on to the effort to have a Commemorative Stamp created in his honor.
To Italian Americans he brings to mind the best of what Italian and Italian American Culture have contributed to the United States. To Veterans – indeed, to all Americans - he reminds us that being an American is not without its costs. His life speaks to us as to what a special place America is, and he reminds us as to what being an American is all about: God, Family and Country.
We ask you to join our petition to have a Commemorative Stamp made to honor and memorialize a great human being and a great American.
Please click on the link below to the electronic petition and indicate your support: https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/a-stamp-in-honor-of-lt-fr-vincent-capodanno
The petition will be presented to the Postmaster General.
Please direct the attention of your family and friends to this
Website. We believe the more we share this story the greater will be our chance
The Many Faces of North Station
For tens of thousands of daily commuters, North Station is a final destination to work and a starting point for home. For many others, it is a stop along the way to somewhere else. But few of today’s commuters know that over the past two centuries, there have actually been several train stations in the West End– built in grand style – that predated the North Station we know today.
Boston was one of young America’s principal cities and ports, yet its physical growth had always been constrained by its location on the Shawmut peninsula. In the early 19th century, architect Charles Bulfinch proposed addressing the problem by filling in the marshes around Boston to accommodate new urban development. His first such project, what would later become known as the Bulfinch triangle, was a grid of new streets arranged on the former Mill Pond in today’s West End neighborhood. By the second half of the 19th century, all railroads connecting Boston to points north and west of the city crossed the Charles River, and four of these eight railroads erected depots in the Bulfinch Triangle,
The Bulfinch Triangle from 1807 with The Causeway (roughly today’s Causeway Street) running along the top edge (Boston Public Library).
In 1835 the Boston and Lowell (B&L) Railroad chose Causeway Street as the location for its depot. It was later joined on the same street by stations of the Eastern and Fitchburg Railroads. To stand out from the others, each chose a unique architectural style―French Second Empire, Italianate, and Gothic Revival, for its depot. Unlike its competitors, the Boston and Maine Railroad (B&M) constructed its depot a few blocks south of Causeway Street on Haymarket Square. Despite enjoying some distance from its competitors, the owners of the B&M were still interested in style, choosing a Greek Revival design for its structure. The B&M depot displayed two-story pilasters with elaborate capitals supporting a large pediment in whose center was a clock—an all-important element for travelers trying to make a scheduled departure.
The Boston & Maine Station in Haymarket Square, 1905 (Boston City Archives).
Over the next forty years, the B&M became the predominant railway company in the Northeast. Through a calculated campaign of acquisition and consolidation starting in 1842, it the gained charters in New Hampshire and Maine, and later purchased 47 competing regional short lines. By 1887 the B&M had sole control of the Boston-Portland route and access into Vermont and Quebec through lease agreements with the Eastern and the B&L railroads. Seeing a need to unite its services under one roof, the B&M began construction of a new North Union Station in 1893, just south of the current North Station structure. Replacing the former depots on Causeway Street, the North Union Station’s façade would feature an 80-foot-high granite triumphal arch flanked by four massive columns, and its eastern side was formed by a five-story baggage and express building. North Union Station was opened in stages from 1893 to 1894, and by the time it was fully completed, the station had become popularly known as “North Station.”
North Union Station on Causeway Street c. 1900 (The West End Museum Archives).
The first North Station stood for only three decades before it was torn down in 1927 in favor of a larger depot that included a new arena―Boston Garden―above the ground-floor waiting room and concourse. This innovative plan was based on New York City’s Madison Square Garden, and in keeping with the trends of the time was designed in the popular Art Deco style. The new station would have an imposing neoclassical design whose façade was dominated by a large triumphal arch that represented the railroad’s power. It also featured a round arch with a coffered ceiling roughly two stories high, flanked on each side by two columns with Ionic capitals that sat upon bases of rusticated stone. Arcaded wings six-bays across spread out from the central arch and their centers supported large clock faces. Beyond the arcades were the waiting rooms that received ample light from bands of clerestory windows. The concourse was similarly brightened by large skylights to dispel the notion that train sheds of the era had to be dark and smoky. The new North Station and Boston Garden opened in 1928.
Postcard showing North Station and the Hotel Manger c. 1933 (The West End Museum Archives).
For the next fifty years, the second North Station would go through many alterations. In 1985 it received replacement trestles, new tracks, and platforms after a fire in 1984. In 1989, the MBTA paid $13.7 to raise the five commuter rail platforms for accessibility, and in 1990 an underground garage and platform were added. Finally, in 1993, the state reached a deal to replace the aging Boston Garden. In exchange for the land and easements to construct the new Fleet Center, the developer constructed a train shed and waiting area on the ground floor and a subway tunnel under the arena to replace the subway lines above Causeway Street. The result was a combined underground “superstation,” allowing for pedestrian access to North Station. The third North Station and the new Fleet Center opened in 1995.
North Station commuter rail platforms from North Bank Bridge today (Wikimedia).
Two new expansions took place in 2006; the station’s waiting area was enlarged and the number of tracks expanded to 12. This $5 million project, completed in 2007, added 20,000 square feet of waiting and retail space. Along the way, the name of the arena above the station changed several times, ultimately becoming TD Garden. In 2019, North Station got a new entrance and a tunnel connecting Amtrak–commuter rail services. This ended the disjointed journey of commuters who had to go outside when transferring between the subway and the commuter rail or Amtrak. That same year, thanks to Amtrak’s service to Maine, North Station became the 24th busiest Amtrak station in the country, and the sixth busiest in New England.
Modern day entrance to North Station
Over the years, North Station – has been the focal point of rail travel between Boston and points west and north. The station’s continued importance can be seen in the most recent development projects surrounding it that have added more modern living and office spaces, entertainment venues, and dining and drinking establishments to an increasingly vibrant neighborhood.
Our thanks go to the West End Museum for sharing this article with the NEHS.
Article by Susan Gilbert, edited by Bob Potenza; Sources: Barrett, Dick. Boston’s Depots and Terminals: A History of Boston’s Downtown and Back Bay Railroad Stations from 1834 to Today. Railroad Research Publications, 1996; Karr, Ronald Dale. Lost Railroads of New England. 3rd ed., Branch Line Press, 2010.; www.archiseek.com; www.greatamericanstations.com;
St. Patrick’s Day is an auspicious time to recall that before the North End was Italian it was Irish, inhabited by refugees trying to escape the terrible famines of the 1840’s. When they arrived here the Irish met an unyielding wall of prejudice and enmity. The original settlers of Boston, mostly Swamp Yankees, used to joke that St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland all the way to the United States. Political cartoonists like Thomas Nast characterized the Irish as being savages and drunkards and many jobs were closed to these new immigrants.
Unlike other ethnic groups the Irish came from a country that had a Parliament and the rule of law was both sacred and brutally enforced. The laws were made in London for the benefit of the English and were used to subjugate and impoverish the Irish. It’s said that even in the depths of the great Irish famine when thousands of poor people were starving to death grain was still being exported from Ireland to England to pay taxes and rents.
The Irish learned that laws made by men could be changed if people banded together and learned to work within the system. Education and political action were the keys to success for the Irish and no one exemplified this better than that great North Ender, John F. Fitzgerald.
Born in 1863, John F. lived in Acton for a while but moved to the North End where rents were cheaper and his father had a small grocery store on North Street. He had several nicknames, Fitzie, Honey Fitz and Fitzblarney were some, but my father in law, who knew the man, always referred to him simply as John F. to distinguish him from John I. Fitzgerald a West End political operative.
When his father died at an early age, young Fitzie aligned himself with the North End ward boss Matthew Keaney and he quickly honed his skills in the bare knuckled world of Boston politics. He was a little Leprechaun of a man but smart as a room full of monkeys. After Keaney’s untimely death John F. became the ward boss and his political career was launched. In 1891 he was elected to the Boston Common Council followed by a stint in the State Senate. In 1896 he became a Congressman from the eighth district, the same district from which his grandson, John F. Kennedy, won his congressional seat.
The highlight of his congressional career was when he convinced President Grover Cleveland to veto a bill which would have restricted immigration. The bill was sponsored by the junior senator from Massachusetts, Henry Cabot Lodge. When John F. met Senator Lodge in the hall of the Capitol Lodge admonished him saying, “Impudent young man. Do you really want this country over run with Jews and Italians?” To which Fitzgerald replied, “The only difference between them and you is your people arrived a few boats earlier.”
John F. became mayor of Boston in 1906 the job he loved best. He was a fiery political orator and loved torch light parades and marching bands. At political rallies in places like Rogan’s Hall in City Square he would sing Sweet Adeline and work the crowd into a frenzy. By the end of the rally they would all be standing on their feet singing The Wearing of the Green. The Republicans accused him of “irregularities” and outright fraud in the voting process but Fitzie would have none of it.
Jaysus, Mary and Joseph, can you imagine what those blood sucking Republicans are saying? They’re accusing me of resurrecting the dead to vote, as if I was responsible for Seamus Connolly dying the week before the primaries. We all knew who Seamus was going to vote for. Didn’t I get him and his brother Jocko jobs at the DPW? We were just carrying out the poor man’s last wishes. It was an act of charity.
And didn’t those coupon clipping, cousin marrying Republicans ever hear of the Communion of Saints? Our dearly departed pray for us here on Earth and we cast their votes the way they intended. It’s God’s will. Who are they to criticize the Irish what with their poll taxes and literacy tests all designed to deny the poor Irishman his God given right to vote the Democratic ticket.
Fitzie sure had the gift of gab. Words flowed from his mouth like honey from a hive.
When I began researching this article I had thought there might have been some tension between John F. and the newly arrived Italians who didn’t speak English and were suspicious of governments and their laws. I was so wrong. I came across a document describing a charitable organization called the Societa di San Rafaele. This society started in New York City to help the Italian immigrants get settled in their new country. They opened a branch in Boston affiliated with the Sacred Heart Church and were active for several years. When I looked at the roster of society officers I found that the vice president was none other than the honorable John F. Fitzgerald. In 1905 a new Italian consul, Count Gustavo Tosti, arrived in Boston. A grand dinner was held in his honor at the Hotel Quincy sponsored by the San Rafaele Society and who do you think was the toastmaster? None other than Fitzie himself. The man was a master politician.
So, on this St. Patrick’s Day let’s raise a pint of the finest to our old ward boss, a loyal son of Ireland, a man who loved his dear old North End, a fearless fighter for the rights of the poor and down trodden, a great friend of all immigrants no matter what their race or ethnicity.
Here’s to you, Fitzie.
Nicholas Dello Russo is a lifelong North Ender and columnist. Often using vintage photographs, Nick tells the stories of growing up in the North End along with its culture and traditions. It was a time when the apartments were so small that residents were always on the streets enjoying “Life on the Corner.” Read more of Nick’s columns.