Lexington Remembers

Remembers Committee members (left to right) Francine Edwards, Mary Gillespie, and Bob Edwards . Photo by Digney Fignus.

Remembers Committee members (left to right) Francine Edwards, Mary Gillespie, and Bob Edwards . Photo by Digney Fignus.

LOCAL CABLE SHOW CHRONICLES THE HISTORY OF LEXINGTON FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS

By Digney Fignus

“Know what’s under your feet.”  It’s the familiar mantra of Mary Gillespie, the driving force and Chair of the Committee for the long-running Lexington Remembers television series.  One of the staples of LexMedia’s local programming, the show documents an oral history of the Lexington community.  Mary recalls what inspired the project: “I was a Social Studies Specialist at the Harrington School.  I was surprised to find that many of my students didn’t know anything about the history of their own neighborhoods.  One day I brought members of the Busa family in to talk about their farm and personal history with the town.  What was supposed to be a one-hour talk ended up lasting the whole morning.  The Busas went home for lunch and then came back and spent the rest of the afternoon talking with the children.”  The school program was an instant success.  At the time, Mary was also involved with the Lexington Historical Society.  After enthusiastic responses to the program at a number of other Lexington Elementary Schools she felt a real need to create a more permanent record of this unwritten history.  The die was cast when Mary approached LexMedia with the idea of putting on a show about the “people behind the woodwork.”  As Mary says, “to preserve the contributions of the people who served our community and helped to make it what it is.”

Mary began to gather together a small team to produce what she thought would be “just a few shows.”  The project was seeded with a $500.00 grant from the Lexington Friends of the Council on Aging to purchase equipment and supplies.  Everyone involved in the project is a volunteer.  The shows don’t need a fancy sound stage.  Most of the interviews are shot right in front of Mary’s big white brick fireplace.

Bob and Francine Edwards are the show’s production team.  Bob is a retired Electrical Engineer who worked at Raytheon and helped to father the technology that led to the invention of the microwave oven. Bob heard about Mary’s idea for a community access show through the Council on Aging.  Being an engineer, Bob liked the idea of learning a new technical skill.  Francine was very involved in the Girl Scouts in Lexington.  Her outstanding work as a leader had earned her a “Wonder Woman Grant.”  As part of the prestigious award she attended a seminar about how to study and record woman’s oral history.  Francine recalls, “I only came to the first meeting to give a talk about what I had leaned from the seminar.” She laughs, “They roped me in.”

Francine and Bob Edwards filming at Hancock-Clarke House. After Francine and Bob were "roped in" to the project, they took a production class at LexMedia and they have been the production team on Lexington Remembers ever since.

Francine and Bob Edwards filming at Hancock-Clarke House. After Francine and Bob were “roped in” to the project, they took a production class at LexMedia and they have been the production team on Lexington Remembers ever since.

Francine and Bob both took a production class at LexMedia to learn how to operate the cameras and run the editing programs. That was nearly ten years ago.  What started out to be “just a few shows” has grown to a collection of 43 episodes.  Bob and Francine have been working with Mary since the beginning of the project and have shot and edited most of the current catalog.  They make four copies of each show, one for broadcast at LexMedia, and one each for the Council on Aging, Lexington Historical Society, and the Cary Library.  For the Edwards it’s a true labor of love.  Between shooting the show (yes, Bob and Francine each run a camera, set up the lighting, and do the sound recording), formatting, synchronizing, editing, laying the sound track, and making copies, it takes nearly 10 hours of effort to produce each hour of the show.  Their hard work really paid off when in 2010 they were presented with LexMedia’s Producer of the Year award.

Part of the shows longevity and success has to be attributed to the incredible team that Mary was able to assemble at the start of the project. One of the first recruits was longtime resident and Lexington Town Meeting member Dan Fenn.  Dan grew up in Lexington and has had a storied career.  Nationally known, Dan was an advisor to JFK, taught at Harvard University, and was former head of the Kennedy Library.  Dan brings a wealth of experience to the project and is one of the shows principle interviewers.  Almost everyone working on the show has lived in Lexington for years. All in all, they are a testimonial to the adage: you’re never too old to learn.  Most of the current crew is over 80.  Nonagenarians Bob and Dan are 92.

Dan Fenn (right) with Sam Doran appearing on-camera for a Lexington Remembers segment. Dan was one of the first recruits for the Lexington Remembers team.

Dan Fenn (right) with Sam Doran appearing on-camera for a Lexington Remembers segment. Dan was one of the first recruits for the Lexington Remembers team.

The story behind the show should be enough to inspire you, but the lasting value of these first-hand recollections of life in Lexington are priceless.  Any researcher would give their eye teeth to have access to this kind of information.  Yes, it’s community television.  There is nothing slick about it, no fancy special effects, just real people talking about their life and times. But isn’t that the point?

I binge-watched over a dozen Lexington Remembers episodes in between Patriot’s games and the World Series.  As I watched, I couldn’t help reminisce about my own experiences growing up in Lexington.  I remember bouncing rocks off the water tower and scrounging for a baby carriage wheel in the Lincoln Street dump just as one of the “Leading Ladies of Lexington,” long-time Town Meeting Member Shirley Stoltz, did when she was a kid growing up near the Stone Store on Mass Ave.  I recall graduating from a Sinker to a Pollywog at the town pool just as Helen Millican did as she recounted her days as a swimming instructor in Lexington.

The shows cover a range of topics and have no rigid time restrictions.  Some of them are as short as 15 minutes, some are just over an hour.  Some are already tremendously important because the people who were interviewed, like Dr. Winthrop Harrington, have since passed away.  Dr. Harrington is a direct descendant of the Harrington family who fought in the Battle of Lexington.  He was also an avid bird watcher.  Bob and Francine joked that this made the show particularly hard to edit because all he wanted to talk about was birds and not his family’s history.

One of my favorite shows was the piece on Lexington Gardens.  The Millican brothers, Harold and John Hall, told the remarkable story of how their father had lost the family’s 70-acre Lexington farm during the 1929 crash.  Never the type to give up, the family turned its fortune around when their dad was able to purchase the land that eventually became Lexington Gardens from a Harvard professor who had been using it to grow exotic plants for his Botany classes.  The brothers recount how they were able to get started for “$50.00, some furniture, and an old truck.”  It’s an inspiring story of success and hard work.  Lexington Gardens became famous as the home of the “Victory Garden” show that ran for many seasons on public television.

Over the years, Mary and her Committee have been able to secure interviews with some of Lexington’s most prominent citizens.  How refreshing is it to see Bill Dailey, former Chairman of the Board of Selectmen, take us back to a time when Lexington was primarily a farm community.  His family originally came to Lexington in 1828.  What a treasure to hear him talk with pride about the “Dailey Wall” that his family built on Waltham Street and his experience as a pinsetter in the bowling alley that still exists under the floorboards of one of the downtown shops.  He grew up in a Lexington where Carroll’s cows would stop traffic on Waltham Street to cross to the lower pasture where a golf driving range now exists.

Bill Dailey, former Chairman of the Board of Selectmen (center) with Father Colletti and Lillian McArthur at one of Bill's "East Lexington Reunions" held at the Dailey Farm on Marrett Road.

Bill Dailey, former Chairman of the Board of Selectmen (center) with Father Colletti and Lillian McArthur at one of Bill’s “East Lexington Reunions” held at the Dailey Farm on Marrett Road.

I came to Lexington in the ‘50s and I still remember that world: a world where you could buy a nice house in Lexington for $12,500 and tuition at Tufts University was a whopping $250.00 (Harvard was only $500.00).  A recurring theme almost everyone interviewed talks about is how Lexington was so much more a blue-collar community then.  My father and his father were bus drivers for the Boston Elevated, and later the MTA, and then the MBTA.  My granddad had a house on Waltham Street with an upstairs apartment that I lived in as a toddler with my mom and dad.  My grandfather, who had been born in England, kept a pigeon coop in the backyard.  The pigeons are long gone, but some of our family still lives there today.

Lexington was typical small-town America not that long ago.  My dad’s sister Eleanor married Morris Bloomberg who owned Morris Motors that was just a few blocks down Waltham Street at Four Corners.  My cousin Barbara married Larry Carroll, one of the Carroll boys whose farm was a short walk down the street in the opposite direction.  Middleby Road was a just a dirt road in the mid-50s when my dad and mom saved up enough money to get their own little house.  There was no Bridge School.  There was an open meadow with a hollowed out crab apple tree we hid in during games of “52 Scatter.”  The two big chestnut trees near the current entrance to the school were our jungle gyms and just off the path were patches of blackberries, raspberries, and wild grapes.  For me, watching the Lexington Remembers episodes was not only nostalgic, it was informative.  Even though I’m related to the Carroll’s, I didn’t know that the Carroll family was once recognized as “The National Catholic Farm Family of America.”

Lexington was a place where it was not uncommon for a family to have roots that ran back multiple generations.  The show “A Conversation with Dick Michelson” traces that family back five generations.  Michelson’s Shoes was opened in 1919 by Dick’s grandfather who originally came to Lexington because the town needed a harness repairman.  From harness repair, to mending boots, to selling and stocking custom-fit shoes, Michelson’s has been a landmark in Lexington Center for almost 100 years.  Even today it is run as a successful family business.  I happened into the shop this last Halloween to take a photo or two.  Not only were three generations of Michelson’s working that day, they were celebrating Dick’s 82nd birthday.

Michelson’s has been a landmark in Lexington Center for almost 100 years. Three generations of Michelsons: (left to right) Mark Solomon, Dick Michelson, Barbara Michelson, Andrea Michelson, and Jerry Michelson. Photo by Digney Fignus.

Michelson’s has been a landmark in Lexington Center for almost 100 years. Three generations of Michelsons: (left to right) Mark Solomon, Dick Michelson, Barbara Michelson, Andrea Michelson, and Jerry Michelson. Photo by Digney Fignus.

Besides the archived copies, most of the Lexington Remembers shows are currently available for viewing On Demand at the LexMedia website.  From the history of the Boy Scouts, the Police and Fire Departments, and the Daughters of the American Revolution, to recollections of town leaders, and the inspiring stories of well-known families like the Busas and Dorans, there is bound to be something of interest to anyone with a Lexington connection.  The shows are always informative and have a genuine historic value.  The episodes are first-and-foremost entertaining.  How can you not chuckle when Mickey Khazam deadpans the “catchy title” of one of the Friends of the Council on Aging upcoming lectures: “New Neurons in the Adult Brain, Stem Cell Surprises.”

As they approach their 50th show, the Lexington Remembers Committee is putting out the call for more people to get involved.  Mary Gillespie has certainly realized her vision of a program “not only historical, but to honor some of the people who have made a difference in the community.”  In the last ten years Mary and her exceptional seniors didn’t just hit the mark, they struck a bull’s-eye and had lots of fun in the process.

The editing suite at LexMedia where Lexington Remembers is produced.

The editing suite at LexMedia where Lexington Remembers is produced.

If you are interested in volunteering, learning more, or contributing to this important non-profit project please contact:

Lexington Remembers Committee Chair Mary Gillespie 781-862-9166

LexMedia –  www.lexmedia.org 781-862-5388

Lexington Friends of the Council on Aging – www.friendsoftheCOA.org

 

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To view episodes of Lexington Remembers visit the LexMedia Website at www.LexMedia.org and search Lexington Remembers in the On Demand section.

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