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!

Happy Terquasquicentennial, Dedham!

Posted September 8, 2011 by Jim Parr
Categories: History/Mystery

According to Wikipedia, Terquasquicentennial is a word that means 375th anniversary. Maybe.
Whatever it’s called, all of Shiretown will be celebrating this Saturday at the Endicott Estate starting at noon. Check out the Facebook page and be sure to come on by!
http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=145732555508180
There will be historic trolley tours with a script written by yours truly! I will also be signing copies of my book and sharing fun and wacky stories, so be sure to drop by my tent. I hope to see lots of friends, old and new on Saturday, September 10 (which is a pretty important date in Dedham history- see my post of May 18, 2010 called “A Tragic Anniversary”).

An old Dedham barn…

Posted August 23, 2011 by Jim Parr
Categories: JP's Dedham, Lost Dedham

These three shots were taken in 1981 for a photography class I was taking at Bridgewater State College. At the time I took the photos, the brick building that stands on top of the hill was the S.M.A. Fathers’ Queen of Apostle Seminary. The barn once stood on the George Nickerson estate on Common St., on property now owned by Northeastern University. Nickerson was the brother of Albert Nickerson, who built the castle at his “Riverdale” estate, which has been home to Noble and Greenough since 1922.
The barn, which was red, stood behind the seminary. There was also a run-down log cabin in the woods of the Wilson Mountain Reservation.


The grainy quality of this picture was not my attempt at being artsy. The negatives were stored in my basement for years, and this one got stuck to its glassine envelope.


This is the artsy picture. Kind of Stephen King like…

1889 Dedham Directory Part 2

Posted August 16, 2011 by Jim Parr
Categories: History/Mystery, Lost Dedham

Reading through the 1889 Dedham Directory gives you a pretty good picture of life in Shiretown in the late 19th century. The population at the time was 6,641, including those living in West Dedham who would become residents of Westwood in 1897 when that town seceded. Dedham also had about twice the land area that it does now.

For a small town, it offered just about everything you needed for your home, your business, and your social life. All of the following products were produced in town in 1889: boots, cabinets, chocolate, carriages, cigars, dresses, harnesses, slippers, suspenders, soap, tools, watches, and whips. The directory lists 10 blacksmiths, 6 boarding houses, 5 hotels, 2 ice dealers, 17 grocers, 7 physicians and surgeons, 4 lawyers, 17 dressmakers and 1 dentist. Remarkably, this town of under 10,000 residents had 7 post offices! Almost all of these were located inside railroad depots or grocers.
The listing of residents includes occupations as well as addresses. In 1889, a great number of Dedhamites either worked in the mills or for the Old Colony Railroad.


Those are pretty big raisins! Walnut Hill was the name given to the area surrounding the intersection of High St. and Walnut St. in East Dedham.


Penniman Square was the name given to the intersection of Mt. Vernon St.and Auburn St. (Whiting Avenue)

1889 Dedham Directory

Posted August 6, 2011 by Jim Parr
Categories: History/Mystery, Lost Dedham

Here are a few ads from the 1889 Dedham Directory. The directory lists Dedham residents, businesses, town officers, and organizations. It also has a brief history of the town, and pages of these great ads.


Wardle’s is the oldest continuous business in Dedham. It opened in 1858 as B.F. Smith’s Apothecary, and was taken over by Harry L. Wardle in 1882.


Maybe the pianos are played by cows?


Talk about going out in style…


The Walley family still operates a business in Dedham, Walley Insurance on High Street. President Frank Walley III assures me that he doesn’t pay so much attention to interfering and overreaching anymore. At least not in his business.

Need a little “R and R?” Try jury duty…

Posted May 10, 2011 by Jim Parr
Categories: History/Mystery

The Millen Brothers/Abraham Faber murder/robbery trial was one of the most sensational criminal cases of the 1930’s, if not of the 20th century. The basic facts of the trial are related in my book and in shorter form in a post from last June entitled “An Execution in Charlestown.”

The trial of the three men accused of robbing a Needham bank and killing two policemen began in April, 1934, just a few months after the shocking crime. The jury was sequestered, and just as in the Sacco/Vanzetti trial the previous decade, they were lodged in the court house, sleeping on cots in one of the larger, unused court rooms. Their shower facilities were in the basement of the jail in which the accused were being held.

Perhaps the intensity of the trial testimony and the less than four-star accommodations prompted court officials to provide the men with a wide variety of leisure activities when the trial was not in session. These activities were recorded in some detail by Juror #11, foreman Ted Davis of Norwood, who had the “diary” privately printed after the trial was over. Along with the trip to Nauset Beach as described above and pictured below, other jury excursions and entertainments included:

* 3 Red Sox games and 1 Braves game
* A bus tour of the Mohawk Trail
* Taking in a polo match at the Dedham Polo Club
* Bowling, horseshoes, sing-alongs, long walks around Dedham
* Trips to Martha’s Vineyard, the Peabody Museum, Cohasset, Scituate and Plymouth

On June 9 the jury returned a verdict of guilty and, according to Davis’ diary “made for home as quickly as possible.” Jury Foreman Davis had an extra treat during his 2 month stint when he was allowed to see his new-born daughter in the hospital (accompanied by two Deputy Sheriffs) on May 29.

In the photographs below, Deputy Sheriff Norris Pinault (in white shirt) cavorts with jurors at Nauset Beach in Orleans. Thanks to Norris Shook, grandson of Deputy Pinault for providing me with the photos, the news article, and the diary kept by Ted Davis.

East Dedham Firehouse Tower…Gone With the Wind!

Posted May 5, 2011 by Jim Parr
Categories: Dedham Then and Now, History/Mystery, Lost Dedham

It was Hurricane Carol that took out the 80-foot bell tower, in dramatic and dangerous fashion on August 31, 1954. Lifted by a particularly strong gust, the tower tore loose from the building and sailed across the fire station, crashing into the house next door, where Mrs. Louise Guerrio was feeding her one year old son Joseph at the time. Miraculously, neither Mrs. Guerrio nor her son were hurt. A portion of the tower fell across Bussey St., crushing 3 cars and damaging the house at #219.

The steeple of the Old North Church and a WBZ radio tower were also toppled by the hurricane, which was more powerful and more devastating than the famous 1938 storm.

Here is a picture of the firehouse from the early twentieth century:

This is how I remember the firehouse looking when I was a kid:

Thanks to Firefighter Charlie Boncek for letting me use these images.