Here is Melrose

Melrose earlier days

... when I was a kid; a real Melrose kid!

by Len Dalton

Having been launched on January 31, 1930, I have rather jubilantly remained a citizen, if not a denizen of this great mini democracy called Melrose. Early on I was allowed to roam and explore the town. From year to year my family lived on Holland Road on the west side, East Foster Street in the center of town, Rockland Street in the Highlands, upper Upham Street on the east side, at 7 Lynn Fells Parkway in the west central area and for the past 51 years on Cargill Street on the bottom central part of town. Like lots of depression era kids, I had a magazine route, a paper route and finally in big time capitalism, an egg route!  With all that I became well acquainted with people all over town. Some of those folks liked me and plenty of them did not.

On Saturday afternoons most of my pals and I went to the cowboy pictures at the old Melrose Theatre. We often got so hepped up over ‘real’ American western heroes that I remember after seeing Gary Cooper play a hero in “The Plainsman” in 1938 that when I got home I deliberately picked a fight with another kid to prove my place in American history! That was the picture that showed Gabby Hayes so full of arrows that he looked like a porcupine. We loved every moment! Naturally, I was forbidden to go to see either Dracula or Frankenstein. My folks probably thought I’d go off the deep end.

Green belt? Ell Pond; Sewell Woods; the Fells. Actually most of the Fells was in Stoneham, Winchester and Medford but our side was politically in Stoneham and geographically in Melrose. I spent many days exploring there. We often played cowboys and Indians in the woods. Charley Cogan, later bureau chief for the CIA  having graduated from Harvard in three years and Squint Claflin, later sports editor for the Boston Herald, were among the gang. One day we decided to build a secret camp on an island in the swamp bordering the Fells and land in Stoneham. Charley had to go to the bathroom and at the end of the Island he squatted in poison ivy! Boy! Was he miserable!

At Mount Hood at the age of six I was wandering up from Long Pond to the clubhouse when I found a nice watch with words engraved on the back. I took it to the clubhouse where they immediately recognized the name and told me to return the next day as the owner would leave me something! Next day they presented me with a nice crisp dollar bill! My first buck! It was a nice day! As time went by I played a lot of hockey on the ponds up there and enjoyed the yearly carnival as well.

Victorian? I never realized what a Victorian house was. They were there and, like living in the depression, I thought it all was normal. My Mom took me along one day to buy an antique from an old timer living in a very old house on Essex Street and I remember him showing her his sister’s gall stones in a jar. Learning experience, I suppose!

I dearly remember the Melrose Amphion Club and the glorious music those men made at Memorial Hall. I think they were the greatest cultural effort the city ever had although the early Polymnia Choral Society under Keith Phinney was hard to beat. Under his tutelage we sang requiems of Beethovan, Berlioz, Brahms, Dvorak and at least one of the seven Masses In C by Mozart. On the death of Jack Kennedy, we sang Ralph Vaughn Williams’ ‘Serenade To Music’ and it was a sensation!

During the 30’s Melrose was known far and wide as “The Spotless Town”. No booze that anyone spoke of and the place was absolutely debt free! Those were the days. It ain’t that way any more!  In case you don’t remember, the city closed several streets to traffic so that kids could use them for sledding. Charles Street, Park Street and others. We even ‘coasted’ in the dark of evening on those streets.  Winter was winter then.  

The Boston and Maine railroad was a prominent factor in the 30’s. Each of our three stations had well built brick buildings to accommodate travelers. It was 25 cents to ride into Boston to see the Bruins or our great Melrose High School hockey games at Boston Garden. When the Celtics were starting, basketball was not in vogue and they had trouble attracting people to attend. The station master at Melrose Depot often gave me a handful of 50 tickets to the Celtics games which I immediately gave to Doc Clark, the basketball coach at the High School. I did well at gym under him.

During WWII, there often was no sand or salt for many streets so they were a glaze of slippery ice. Fortunately there weren’t many cars either. People understood it was all for the great war effort.   

February 1, 2008

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