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Looking Back: Memories of Founders Day, Saugus history and the new Founders Day – Sept. 9, 2023

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By Tom Sheehan


I have had two parts in Saugus’s Founders Day, selling books about Saugus and being named as Man of the Year in Sept. 2022. My home is between two historic sites in town: Appleton’s Pulpit out my back window; and the First Iron Works in America, 1636-1936, now a National Park out my side window, of this house built in 1742.

Oh, we’ve celebrated our literary bents here before in Saugus, the way they came out of the woodwork, from far places, from lost sources come back from the forgotten, from illustrious memories:

On September 9, 2000, for our booth at Founders Day right out in front of the Town Hall, skids of book boxes came off the back end of an 18-wheeler that had crossed half the country from a Kansas printer, right onto my driveway, their contract in place for its first step, and my being selected as Saugus Man of the Year, last September 10.

In print we were, glorious print, and setting about in our warehousing and packaging and mailing processes. It was our 452-page book, “A Gathering Of Memories, Saugus 1900–2000.”

For a short time again we could revel in one-time citizens here: philosophical and soft-spoken laborer Muckles Brown, forever scarred with a shovel; Frank Pyszko snaring five interceptions in one game against undefeated Melrose in our 13-0 victory; warrior Frank Parkinson, the tanker and tiger of Tobruk, who rose from the dead twice in the face of Egypt with her two dark eyes; footballer Art Spinney out in front of Johnny Unitas in that 1958 game of the century, not letting Rosie Grier put a hand on High-tops Johnny Unitas; Sgt. Al de Steuben catching a round in the hedgerows of Europe, and bringing it home; Sgt. Arthur DeFranzo, too soon after D-Day finding the ultimate medal leaping with valor upon his chest; old storekeeper Jack Winters alone with his man-killer kerosene stove; old teachers and young friends and new heroes, all were here in Saugus, once again in front of us, front and center.

Pictures leaped off our pages, poems gave rhythm, drawn lines etched a history, scored words moved the blood of a whole community. The town had beckoned and we had delivered; 2500 printed and now gone to 47 states, eight countries, three territories, and a copy in the National Library in Paris. All springing from the $60,000 we borrowed from Saugus Bank to print a book that was not yet written, not even having a table of contents at that time.

Lots of gumption, but it was no gamble.

We found in our search that Pulitzer Prize Poet Elizabeth Bishop lived at 20 Sunnyside Avenue for two years and spent her freshman year at SHS. Her report card signaled things to come, in poems and places where parts of Saugus urged her roots in poetry. There was discovery of notes tracing a later visit here along Route One, perhaps just before her death in 1979. From an unpublished journal, a memory, Just North of Boston: the old Ship’s Haven Restaurant appears again…where she cautions us to look at an 18th-century man-of-war that has run aground: She’s struggling there against the rocks, her lights still lit, directing rescue operations. No – it’s worse: It’s half a man-of-war.

Then tells us to look at Wedding Gowns, Inc., once Ryman’s Garage and then a tool rental shop, finally full with window wedding displays and most recently leveled to the ground beside the Main Street overpass… Now come the wedding clothes for rent: six brides are standing in a row, dresses agleam like glare ice; next, their grooms, with ruffled shirtfronts, pink or blue, all on a brilliant stage, on stilts. When will they marry?

A bit later, a once-defunct Chinese restaurant comes back… Gold! Gold. A Burmese temple? Balinese? An oriental-something roof, with grinning dragons.

On the road but a few hundred yards away, leaps up the old Carvel Ice Cream shop… Just beyond, an ice-cream cone a gratte-ciel outlined in glowing yellow, glowing rose on top – the ice cream – strawberry.

And finally, southbound on Route 1 after a turnaround in Lynnfield, comes the world-famous steak house, The Hilltop, with the huge cactus sign and the 12 Hereford steer, three Hereford calves of sturdy plaster are deployed. One steer was rustled and mounted atop a building by MIT students and is a museum piece today.

But we have done it again, believe it or not. Now we have had a new delivery from Kansas, for a new Founders Day, 2007. We have waited on this sequel, “Of Time and the River, Saugus 1900–2005,” for a long time; and it has come to pass. Venerable co-editor John Burns, a teacher at Saugus High for 63 years, has lived with this book into the deepest nights, making it breathe. Now it does. It is hefty again, bears quality, bears memories. It is a matching bookend for “A Gathering of Memories, Saugus 1900–2000.”

We have delivered again. For Saugus.

And Founders Day gave us a new opportunity to spread the good word. We have done it.

And Donna Gould’s energy and direction gave great pause to many of us, to see and hear and touch this grand town of ours no matter its tribulations, no matter the dark headlines.

We are here to stay, and we have remembered, in a devout measure, our past. A walk through Riverside Cemetery throws wide open memories so rich the echoes become musical and lofty, as if we are being embraced. A walk past Stackpole Field again carries cheers and chants to the ears, and at Kasabuski Arena a thousand hours from the past leap for attention, with three state championships in a handful of years.

An out-of-towner, reading pages of our book, lost in color and text, finally asked if we would do one for her town. But we told her we couldn’t do that because love begins at home.

Man of the Year celebration last year for this poet and writer, literature making headway coming my way in 2022, in my 95th year.


  Editor’s Note: Tom Sheehan, 95, is a Saugus historian and book author who came to Saugus in the second grade and developed a great passion for reading and writing – mostly about Saugus people, places and events. He is a frequent contributor to The Saugus Advocate. No living person has written more about Saugus than Sheehan, who has authored 58 books that have focused on his favorite town.

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