Showing posts with label Boston Harbor. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Boston Harbor. Show all posts

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Finding Uncle Andrew

Long Island Light-Courtesy Boston Public Library Archives
Growing up, I peppered my father with questions about the Fitzgeralds and the Cooks. He could tell me very little. One thing he did remember was going to visit "Uncle Andrew" at a hospital somewhere in Boston. My mother later confided that this was my grandfather's brother who supposedly was dying at the time of cirrhosis. I can guess why THAT story didn't make it into family lore.

I discovered that there WAS, in fact, an Uncle Andrew. Andrew Fitzgerald grew up in the house on Charles River Avenue and became a teamster like his father. There's no evidence he married and very little about him in the census in his adult years. In the1930 census I came across this:

So the April 1930 Census puts 62-year-old Andrew in the Long Island Almshouse, also known as the Long Island Prison Hospital. This is where 13-year-old John and his dad would have visited Uncle Andrew. Yet again, some facts that fit a family story. I would imagine Andrew died on the island. I'll have to make inquiries with the City of Boston. I haven't found a death record yet, but his grave is either in the small cemetery on the island or unmarked in the family plot at Holy Cross.


Long Island is one of the harbor islands inside Boston Harbor now in the control of the National Parks Service. You can take a ferry ride to several of the islands, but Long Island is still closed to the public. It has an interesting history as I found laid out in a report to Mayor Menino in 2002. It is the largest of all the harbor islands and was inhabited early on by Native Americans. Later it was used as a sort of holding facility for native tribes. The report goes on to talk about its role in the American Revolution:
"Its height and strategic location also allowed it to command both entrances to Boston's inner harbor (Broad Sound and the Narrows). In 1775, 500 Continental soldiers landed on Long Island, stole livestock, and took seventeen British sailors prisoner. The following year, a force of Continental soldiers and militia men occupied the island and built defensive batteries which were used to bombard British vessels entering Boston Harbor during the Revolutionary War."

During the Civil War it was used as a place to drill and train soldiers and was fortified with gun emplacements. Later, in a complete change of use, people began to use it as a recreational spot.
A hotel was built which remained in operation until 1885.
Courtesy of Boston Public Library Archives



In 1887, the city of Boston acquired almost the entire island to house city charities. An almshouse for the poor, a treatment hospital for chronic illness, a nursing school a prison facility and other charity facilities took over the buildings. The hospital treated chronic alcoholism at a time when this was considered more of a "defect of character" than an illness. People whose chronic drunkenness caused a public nuisance would be likely to end up at Long Island. (By 1940 they were calling it an alcohol treatment facility rather than a prison) This, I suspect, is how Andrew ended up there in 1930.


Men's hospital on Long Island-Courtesy BPL archives
Men's ward-Long Island hospital- Courtesy of BPL archives


The island again became a military facility during WWII and later NIKE missiles were housed there. Many buildings have been demolished, but many still remain on the island and are used to house shelters and substance abuse treatment programs.  I would imagine it is a pleasant place to be in the summer, but miserably cold and windy in Boston winters.

I came across one last tidbit of lore concerning the island- a ghost story.
Woman in Scarlet
Boston Harbor’s Long Island is home to one of the most tragic Boston Ghost Stories. At the close of the American Revolution, the British still had several ships lagging in Boston Harbor. On board one of these ships were William and Mary Burton. The newly weds, like so many others, were fleeing the chaos of this besieged city and looking forward to spending their lives together across the Atlantic. 

As their ship attempted to sail out of Boston Harbor, a cannon ball from the Long Island Battery hit Mary in back of the head. Unbelievably, she was not killed instantly, but lingered on for several days in excruciating pain before succumbing to her massive head trauma. As she lay dying, Mary pleaded with her husband not to bury her at sea. She was never fond of the sea and could not bear to have her earthly remains consigned to a watery grave. Eventually mary died of her injuries and William was permitted to venture to Long Island to bury his love. Once ashore, he sewed her body into a soft red blanket that Mary had brought aboard with her to keep warm on the long journey home and laid her to rest in the sandy dunes. He fashioned a headstone out of a piece of driftwood and as he carved her name into it he swore that he would return to Boston and give her a proper marker. He never returned.

But Mary, it seems, refuses to be forgotten. To this day, visitors to the island report seeing a woman with “muddy-gray skin” and wearing a scarlet cloak stumbling over the sandy dunes. Blood is usually seen streaming down her cloak from a gaping hole in the back of her head—the exact spot where the cannon fire had smashed her skull. 

This story sounds like a yarn to me, but I'm sure for some it was effective at keeping people away from the island.  There is a movement afoot to catalog the graveyard, where stones are few and most are undocumented on Find-a-Grave. Perhaps this will turn up one last trace of Uncle Andrew.