By Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone

(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries and letters to the Editor of The Somerville Times belong solely to the authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville Times, its staff or publishers)

Somerville celebrates its 175th birthday this year, and we’ll be looking back at our past as part of the year-round festivities – including into any personal memories and stories community members want to share. There are of course plenty of historical City facts to delve into – like the fact that we used to be a part of Charlestown until we split off to become Somerville in 1842. But the history of Somerville is so much more than what is written in history books or found in the archives. It’s also the personal stories and memories of the people who have and continue to live and work here. We’re kicking off a storytelling series today to honor and celebrate those anecdotes that tell the true story of Somerville – the story of its people.

The first event in the storytelling series takes place on Thursday, February 2, at the main branch of the Somerville Public Library and will feature a discussion from Dara Baker, Head Archivist of the Naval Historical Collection at the U.S. Naval War College. She’ll speak about history research with traditional sources, and the benefits and limits of those records. Our City Archivist Nadia Dixson will explain how historians came to use oral histories to capture what traditional sources don’t tell us and the importance of keeping those stories alive.

Throughout the year we will be asking you – residents past and present – to share stories and memories to commemorate the City’s birthday, and later this year we will feature the submissions we receive in a “Storytelling Gallery.”

As a lifelong resident of Somerville, I have so many stories and memories too. When most people look at Prospect Hill Tower, they see a symbol of American pride. They see a monument honoring the troops of the American Revolution and the Civil War. I also see the place I broke my arm. It was entirely my own fault. When I was a kid, my friends and I got the bright idea to climb up the tower – for fun.  So for me, Prospect Hill brings back all the hijinks we got into back then and the strong sense of community we had – as well that broken bone.

One great story we’ve gathered is from longtime City employee and lifelong Somerville resident Anna Ciccariello Sherwood. She recalls that one of her favorite memories came in an unexpected place at an unexpected time. She says, “I was working in Concord, and one day I overheard a few coworkers saying some negative things about Somerville, unaware that I was a proud Somerville resident.  I quickly came to my city’s defense and was asked why I cared.  I answered, ‘I live in Somerville and have all my life.’   With a look of shock on their faces one of them responded, ‘You’re too nice to come from Somerville.’  I was thankful to have been in that place at that moment doing my small part to help change the perception of the city I love.  And, I love to think that some of these same folks would love to be living in Somerville today.”

Over the years, we’ve heard so many stories. Some are from folks who fondly recall how their big families were jammed into every floor of a triple-decker, the streets were filled with kids at all hours, and everyone was into everyone else’s business.  One gentleman mused how when he grew up here decades ago that the meeting spot for the neighborhood kids was known as “the tree” because it was in fact the only tree on the street. Others remember shopping at Gorin’s, or getting ice cream at the Deluxe Candy Shop. Still more have reports of Obama sightings from back when he was a student living here. Some have told me of the hardship and heartache that led them to immigrate here and the American dream they were able to grab hold of eventually once here. One elderly woman years back shared how exciting it was to go the Somerville Theatre as a little girl to see all the dancers in glittering costumes performing at the shows.

Now we want to hear from you. We know the historical facts that our population was only 1,013 back in 1842 when we were founded and that it’s now over 80,000. But it’s the stories of the people behind those numbers that help us best understand who we are.

What are your fondest memories? What are some of the places you and your family or friends visited frequently? Does a particular event, parade, or festival stick out to you for some reason? What makes Somerville so special to you? Where were you in Somerville when world or national news broke? How have things changed? Whether you’ve lived here for only one year of if you have had family roots here for all 175 years, your stories, your memories, and your history are a part of Somerville’s history. We want to honor, celebrate, and share that.

We kicked off the 175th birthday festivities last month at the State of the City address with a historical exhibit and a game of two truths and a lie for some of our former mayors. We have celebratory activities, events, exhibits, and more planned throughout the year. Stay tuned for updates, and let us know if you have any ideas that you think should be incorporated into the celebrations. For more information, visit www.somervillema.gov/somerville175.

To submit your stories, please email Somerville175@somervillema.gov.

 

2 Responses to “Your history is our history – celebrating Somerville stories for our 175th birthday”

  1. TheoNa says:

    Let’s include Vinny Piro’s spectacular defense when he was caught taking a bribe by the FBI. He was acquitted when he claimed that he took the bribe as part of a “private investigation” that nobody else knew about.

  2. ritepride says:

    Also ‘TheoNa’ – A news report stated that the $$$ Vinny returned were not the marked $$$ the feds handed Vinny. Geez if we could find those marked $$$ & put them on Ebay, do you think we would get a bid higher than what each bill was valued? Then again they might have ended up in a Bank in the Grand Caymans.

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