Events, Photos

Arlington Town Day

September 14th was Arlington’s 2019 Town Day. That’s 43 annual Town Days since 1976, put on by the town to showcase everything Arlington has to offer. This Town Day started at 9:30 in the morning with a flag-raising ceremony on the day’s main stage in front of Arlington’s town hall. Steve Katsos, of ACMi’s Steve Katsos Show, MCed the performances on the main stage, which included Arlington High School’s cheerleaders and jazz band, as well as several bands and a chorus. ACMi recorded the event to broadcast on Arlington’s public TV channel.

Arlington closed Massachusetts Avenue from the Pleasant Street to Jason Street, a stretch of about a third of a mile. Booths lined the street on either side. Restaurant and fast food booths filled the air with the scent of food and fry oil. Clowns, face painters, and carnival game hosts entertained the hundreds of children in attendance. Nonprofits, churches, and town institutions like the police department and ACMi filled some of the booths.

The rest were occupied by businesses ranging from banks and orthodontists to kombucha brewers and martial arts studios. Arlington High School sports teams held a big bake sale to raise money, decorating cupcakes onsite and walking up and down Mass Ave to sell their wares.

The Coast Guard parked a boat in the lot in front of the Robbins Library and taught passersby about water safety; behind the building were pony rides for kids and the library’s annual book sale. Animal Control officer and falconer Diane Welch showed off her birds of prey; behind Town Hall, more approachable animals could be found at the Animal Craze petting zoo.

Beyond the barricades at Pleasant Street in the yard of the Jefferson Cutter House was Arlington’s weekly summer beer garden, hosted by Somerville’s Aeronaut Brewery. Artists had booths in the yard too, selling everything from tie dyed T-shirts to ceramic sponge holders to the beer garden drinkers.

In past years, Arlington has also thrown a Town Night the Friday evening before Town Day, with more carnival games and a fireworks display. In 2018 the Arlington Town Day Committee voted not to host Town Night because it would be too expensive. That year, the Elks Lodge offered to host Town Night, and Arlington resident Katie Garrett raised money to offset the cost of the fireworks. This year, there was no Town Night.

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History, People, Photos

Menotomy Indian Hunter

At the center of the garden between Town Hall and the Robbins Library, on a crest above a long, shallow reflecting pool, kneels a statue of a Native American man. He’s equipped for a hunt. His catch for the day, a goose, rests by his foot.

The 1911 statue is by Cyrus Edwin Dallin, a sculptor from Utah who grew up around Native Americans before moving to the Boston area to study sculpture. After marrying a writer, Vittoria Murray, and going to art school in Paris, he moved to Arlington in 1900. The Robbins family (whose name is also on Robbins Farm Park and the library’s main branch) commissioned Dallin to make a statue for the park between Town Hall and the Robbins Library. The Menotomy Hunter was one of Dallin’s many statues of Native Americans; another famous statue of his, Appeal to the Great Spirit, stands outside the main entrance to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

The statue has become one of Arlington’s symbols. It’s on the walls of the police headquarters and the fire department, and it’s the logo of the Spy Ponders, Arlington High School’s athletic team. Yet, according to the 2010 census, 0.1% of Arlington’s population are Native American. We are using a symbol of an indigenous person to represent ourselves, though almost none of us are Native.

It’s hard to find information about the indigenous people who lived on the land we now call Arlington. Most of the historical record remaining was written by European colonists and is unlikely to reflect the perspective of the Massachusett, the people the settlers displaced. We do know they called this place Menotomy, which means “swift running water.”

When Puritan settlers arrived in Menotomy in the early 1600s, the diseases previous settlers had brought with them had already killed many of the Massachusett. The chief of the Pawtucket Confederation of Tribes, a woman whose only recorded name or title is Squaw Sachem (Woman Chief), had recently inherited leadership from her late husband Nanapashemet, and with it an ongoing war with the Abenaki tribes from what is now called Maine. With her resources spread thin and her community devastated by disease, she and her sons began selling land to English settlers to build rapport with them and survive. She sold Menotomy to the settlers in 1639 for 21 coats, 19 fathom of wampum, and 3 bushels of corn. These articles on History of American Women and Arlington Historical Society tell the story of Squaw Sachem and Menotomy in more detail.

A few Massachusett tribespeople of the Neponset band survived colonization, and some of their descendants live in Ponkapoag in Canton, MA. Their website has some Massachusett history from a Massachusett perspective.

Arlington has a responsibility to recognize its oftentimes violent and tragic colonial history. There are countless memorials to those who died in the Revolutionary War here in comparison to this lone, decontextualized statue.

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History, Photos, Places

Old Burying Ground

The First Parish Unitarian Universalist church in Arlington Center presents a contemporary front to Massachusetts Avenue. According to the church’s website, several churches have stood on that spot since 1739. The current structure was built in the mid-1970s after a fire, and it still looks new and strange for a church, rendered in stark angular white.

The church may be new, but the cemetery behind it predates even that first religious meetinghouse. The Arlington Historical Society’s Ralph D. Sexton reports that residents of old Menotomy designated this location as a burying ground in 1724 and buried its first bodies, mostly children, in 1736. A plaque in the cemetery says it was established 1732.

The Old Burying Ground’s most notable residents are Jason Russell and the 11 other revolutionists whom the British killed during the first day of the American Revolutionary War. A 19-foot-tall granite obelisk marks the location of the stone vault where they are buried. The Old Burying Ground and obelisk appear on Arlington’s town flag/seal, which can be seen on the Multi-War Memorial also in Arlington Center.

Many others who died in the Revolutionary War are buried in this cemetery. Someone has planted small American flags at all the Revolutionary fighters’ graves, as well as one British flag in an empty patch of grass, presumably above the unmarked graves of British soldiers.

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