A Bunny Tale

Posted August 5, 2012 by Jim Parr
Categories: History/Mystery, JP's Dedham

Dedham has been overrun with bunnies over the past few months; giant, multicolored, whimsical fiberglass bunnies peacefully crouching in parks, on sidewalks and by roadsides around town.  The bunnies are part of the Dedham Public Art Project,  sponsored by the non-profit organization Dedham Shines, whose mission is to promote “a vibrant community through programs that cultivate civic engagement and support for art, education, and culture.”  The bunny form is modeled after the familiar “crouching rabbit” figure featured on  Dedham Pottery original and reproduction pieces.

Fifteen artists in all were selected by jury to paint the bunnies, which will be auctioned off with proceeds going to Dedham Shines in support of the arts in town.  As of today, almost all of the bunnies have been installed  all across town. This is the tale of one of those bunnies, “Regal Rabbit,” designed and painted by Catherine Gruetzke-Blais of Framingham.

For more information about the Dedham Public Art Project,  and to see photos of all the bunnies that have been placed so far, click on the link to the Dedham Shines website at right.

June 25, 2012        The bunny who will become known as “Regal Rabbit” sits in the garage of Dedham Shines Co-President Jennifer Barsamian after traveling from Chicago where he was custom-designed and manufactured by Cowpainters, an art studio that specializes in producing fiberglass forms for public art displays.

Artist Catherine Gruetzke-Blais and Dedham Shines Co-President Monika Wilkinson lift the bunny (he’s actually  hollow and not too heavy) and head for Catherine’s mini-van.

With the bunny safely tucked in, Catherine gets ready for the ride home to Framingham, where her artistic vision will transform this plain white rabbit into something magical.

Next: The artist at work

Advertisements

Aerial views of old Dedham accompanied by quotes from Steely Dan songs

Posted June 16, 2012 by Jim Parr
Categories: ...all the old familiar places, Dedham Then and Now

Some screen shots from Bing maps. Looks like their photos need to be updated!

“And I’m never going back to my old school…”

St. Mary’s was closed for nearly as long as it was open.  I graduated from there in 1973, the year it was announced that the school would close in 2 years. It was torn down in the fall of 2010.

“Everyone’s gone to the movies…”

The Showcase Cinemas stood at the corner of Elm St. and Route 1 for 35 years,  yet the Frosty’s ice cream stand  that occupied this spot for 10 years seems to be more fondly remembered, at least with Dedhamites of my generation.

“Bad sneakers and a Piña Colada my friend…”

The bad sneakers were issued to me during my unexceptional stint on the Dedham High track team.  They were black canvas with white stripes, a big white rubber toe and crepe-like soles.  We called them bobos.

The Piña Colada (my friend) is a reference to the drinking that went on at the Practice Field (upper right in photo) back in my high school days, although it’s more likely they were drinking Schlitz. Today a renovated Stone Park and new Avery School can be seen in this view. 35 years ago this month, I received my DHS diploma here.

I was a teenage beer can collector…Part 1

Posted February 3, 2012 by Jim Parr
Categories: JP's Dedham

Thirty-five years ago today I became a minor celebrity when this article appeared in The Patriot Ledger:


The high school senior stylin’ in his Wrangler Wranch outfit (20% employee discount, who wouldn’t?)

I had been collecting for two years, after my good friend Jim Horrigan introduced me to the hobby and gave me quite a few cans to start me off. Everyone in high school seemed to know us as “The Beer Can Collectors,” and friends and relatives would bring back empties from all over the country for us. We’d often go “dumping” around town; looking for cans in various teenage drinking spots around Dedham. One memorable cache of Narragansett cans from 1964 was found in the woods along the bottom of Sprague Street in the Manor. Another good spot to look was on Rte 135 at Wilson’s Mountain.

The newspaper article came about as a result of an exhibition of my collection in the Dedham Public Library. I’m still a little amazed that my teenaged self had the audicity to suggest displaying the cans, and even more amazed that library officials agreed to do it!


JP’s beer cans on display at the main branch of the Dedham Public Library in 1977

My “museum” was located in the basement of my parents’ house on Tower St., stacked up on two metal bookcases. I kept the stacks in alphabetical order, and whenever I got a new can I would try to insert it into the stack without having to take the whole thing down. This almost always resulted in an avalanche of several hundred metal cans crashing down on me followed by startled shouts from upstarirs.


The stack in the cellar

I would have to say that the most common question I’ve been asked at each of my Dedham High reunions has been “Do you still have your beer cans?” I’ll tell you all about that, and more, in:
I WAS A TEENAGE BEER CAN COLLECTOR- PART TWO!

My Kingdom for a Horse

Posted December 7, 2011 by Jim Parr
Categories: History/Mystery, JP's Dedham

Last night at the 201st Annual Meeting of The Society in Dedham for Apprehending Horse Thieves, I ended my term as president. It was a rather uneventful year, which is a good thing because it means that no horses were stolen on my watch. What follows is my farewell address, given to the 180 men and 5 women in attendance:


The president delivering his farewell remarks © Damianos Photography

Whenever I mention to people that I am a member of this esteemed organization, the first words out of their mouths are almost always “Are there even any horses in Dedham?” So I explain to them that about a hundred years ago the society shifted its focus from the apprehension of horse thieves to the consumption of a roast beef dinner and enjoyment of a clever entertainment at its annual meeting, although in the hundred years previous to that horse pilferers were pursued vigorously , not just in Dedham but in Norfolk County and beyond, besides which, the important fact is that this organization which is a remnant from our pre-law enforcement past has remained in existence for over two centuries and isn’t that an incredible achievement to which they respond. “Yeah, but are there even any horses in Dedham?” And thus my quest began.

I know there used to be horses in Dedham; I’ve seen them myself. The last time I remember seeing a horse that wasn’t part of a parade was at the Animal Rescue League on Pine Street. I know that the original purpose of that facility when it was founded was to rescue worn out and abused horses and give them a peaceful last few days here on earth. When the end was near, the horse would quietly walk into an inviting stall filled with hay, which was actually electrified and called “The Blessed House of Release.” In the 1980’s the Equine Rescue and Rehabilitation program was reestablished at Pine Ridge and that’s where I saw a horse happily cantering just a few years ago. But alas, due to construction at the site, all the horses have been moved to their Brewster facility.

The other time I recall seeing horses in town was right in my own neighborhood of Tower Street, between Paul Park and the Capen School. At at the end of my street there lived two horses, Big John and Jodie. Jodie was a Shetland pony, and Big John was a …big horse. I’d often see them being ridden and every so often being chased by their owners down my street. But that was over 30 years ago.

Then I thought of The Dedham Country and Polo Club on Westfield Street. I know that it was founded in 1910 and that polo was once played along the banks of the Charles at Samuel Warren’s estate called Karlstein. A quick look at their website however showed me that the main interests at the club these days are weddings and golf, and the only place you’ll see a horse is on their logo.

While I was on the internet I googled “horses in Dedham” and hit pay dirt. I should have started here to begin with. I found an ad for a horse for sale in Dedham! A five year old dark bay mare clean limbed and straight moving, great jumper, and only £1600! When I refined my search to Dedham, Massachusetts, USA…nothing.

I thought I should ask former president and friend Frank Walley. Like me, Frank is the great grandson of a blacksmith. The family business is now insurance, and when I talked to Frank he told me that while he has insured many a Mustang and Bronco over the years, they were not of the Equine variety.

So now I’m starting to get frustrated. I can’t believe that there is not a single solitary horse to be found in the hometown of the woman who grew up to star on TV as the wife of a man who owned a talking horse! I’m talking (of course, of course) of Connie Hines (DHS 1948) who played Carol Post on the old Mr. Ed show back in the sixties.

I have to admit that I was aware all along where I could easily find an answer to the question “Are there even any horses in Dedham?” We all know that in order to keep a horse, donkey mule, pony, llama, bovine, goat, sheep, alpaca or other large animal, here to known as “large animals,” one must provide an acre of land for the first animal, 2/3 of an acre for each subsequent animal, furnish an MMP (Manure Management Plan and), locate the facility for housing the animal 100 feet from any wetland or well, public or private, and obtain a permit from the town’s Board of Health. One phone call to town hall could end this quest, and with trepidation I made that call. And was told that at present there are no permits on file for permission to stable a horse in town. Lots of chickens, no horses.

But I have not given up. During my quest I came upon a story from a few years ago about a couple who had been harboring a paint mare named Fancy in a garage on Congress Place off of Bussey Street. The neighbors were upset because the horse was there without a permit and they did not want a “large animal” living in their quiet suburban neighborhood. Eventually Fancy found a temporary home in Westwood, but the story gives me hope. If there could be one illegal horse hidden in town, there could be two, a dozen, even hundreds hiding out in garages, garden sheds and in-law apartments. We just can’t be sure. So the next time someone asks me “Are there even any horses in Dedham, I will reply, there just might be, and if there are, they can rest assured knowing that I and the rest of the members of SIDFAHT are ever vigilant.

Thanksgiving in Old Shiretown

Posted November 23, 2011 by Jim Parr
Categories: History/Mystery


Post card from 1909

Most Dedhamites will be spending this Thanksgiving sharing a meal with friends and family or watching a football game on TV. Two centuries ago, Thanksgiving was celebrated with different traditions, such as the annual “Turkey Shoot.” The shoot of 1822 is described by resident Herman Mann in his diary:

“A number of the marksmen of this village met this morning with their rifles for the purpose of recreation as well as improving themselves in gunnery. It was agreed to fire upon sides; and two of the reputed best gunners were designated to choose. Twenty-six dead turkeys had been procured by the Company and every man was to fire ten shots. The turkeys hit were to be retained and divided among the party who won them. A piece of ground was selected and the turkeys set off about 30 rods. There were nine gunners upon each side and the turkeys were all hit before five rounds were completed. Pieces of paper were then substituted and placed on a plank at the same distance. The party that hit the least number of marks were to defray the supper expenses of their opponents.”

In later years, the dead turkeys were replaced by clay pigeons. In 1895, the most successful shooter of the day was a woman named Miskay, who, according to the Boston Globe, won the first turkey shot for while competing against 12 others of “the sterner sex.”

Happy Thanksgiving to all from Dedham Tales!

Haunted Dedham Part One- The Fairbanks House- is it still occupied?

Posted October 2, 2011 by Jim Parr
Categories: History/Mystery

The Fairbanks House in Dedham has stood at the corner of Eastern Avenue and East Street for over 350 years, having survived arson attempts, threat of demolition, wood-boring beetles, a head-on collision with a car, and a family scandal in 1801 when Jason Fairbanks was convicted and hanged for the murder of his sweetheart Betsey Fales. Why has this particular house survived so many near disasters through the centuries? It could be that the house had a little added protection in the form of signs and objects placed within the dwelling over the centuries by superstitious Fairbanks family members, beginning with the original occupants Jonathan and Grace Fayerbanke.

The deeply carved intersecting lines in the fireplace timbers pictured above are believed to be hex signs intended to keep both witches and fire from harming the occupants. Over the years shoes have been found in the ceilings and behind the chimney; placed there to trap evil spirits as they attempted to enter the home. Other early Dedham residents took similar measures to keep their homes and families safe. When the seventeenth century John Farrington house was renovated in the 1880’s, a spoon was found under the foundation, placed there by the builders to give the house strength. A “hex” sign can also be found on the front door latch of the Dedham Community House, built for Judge Samuel Haven.

A nearly identical mark found on the door latch of a house in West Brookfield, Massachusetts inspired the name of the restaurant now operating there- The Salem Cross Inn. The Community House was built in 1795, long after the witch hysteria had faded from Massachusetts, and so the hex mark may be nothing more than a decorative touch added by the ironworker who crafted the latch.

Last fall, paranormal investigators from The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) spent a night in the Fairbanks House, looking and listening for signs of paranormal activity. When the team checked their recording equipment afterwards, they reported hearing footsteps, voices, and a child’s laughter. They returned again in April and recorded quite a bit of activity, convincing them that there was some kind of supernatural presence in the house.
If you’d like to do your own paranormal investigation, you’d better get there soon- the house closes for the winter at the end of October.

Dedham’s 375th a Success!

Posted September 16, 2011 by Jim Parr
Categories: History/Mystery, JP's Dedham


© Damianos Photography
Thanks to everyone who stopped by my booth or rode around in a trolley with me last Saturday. The event was a smashing success; congratulations and thanks to everyone on the committee who worked so hard to put it all together.

There are plenty of new Shiretown tales coming this fall, with an emphasis in October on the mysterious, the scandalous, and the just plain weird!