The tales of the Battle of Bunker Hill are thoroughly researched in the annals of Charlestown’s history.
So too is the Civil War era and those that served from the Town during those terrible years.
But one era that has yet to be fully chronicled is the modern era from 1920 to the present.
That is all changing now decade by decade as Billy Boyle and Tom Coots, both of the Charlestown Historical Society, have embarked on a long-desired oral history project. The two hosts talk directly with locals who have lived through the decades in Charlestown, and also talk with folks about specific organizations that have existed in the Town over time.
“This was a dream of Jim Conway and Peter Looney years ago,” said Coots. “They wanted to capture the family histories, the folklore and the stuff not captured in history books – like what people did on the in the modern times on the week of the Bunker Hill Day Parade. They wanted to capture the things people talked about around the kitchen table. They tried to do that and made some video tapes, but sadly the tapes didn’t turn out and all was lost.”
Now, however, that’s starting to change, and just in the nick of time before the Town completely changes over.
“Right now the Town is changing and that’s why we’re doing this and going right up to the present day,” Boyle said. “We just finished the 1970s and things are going really well. Everyone knows the Town is changing, but it’s changing for the good. We’re going forward. I tell everyone that if they move here, put down roots, get involved in the Town, then they’re a Townie. It’s time to put an end to the Townie and Toonie stuff. We want to do this for the new people and for those of us who have been here. Our generation is not going to be here forever. When we’re gone, we want to make sure the new people know the history about what is here.”
Added Coots, “There are a lot of new families coming in now and so many I talk to are so grateful for all of the things here for the kids and families. These things were put in place by people who came before them, but put in place for them. It’s important these things aren’t lost.”
So far they’ve embarked on several decades of shows, including the early years of the 1920s, `30s and `40s with Ed Kelly and Boyle. Many of the memories were ones that would have been lost to time, such as growing up in the houses that once occupied the Mishawum development and the Bunker Hill Mall.
“Ed Kelly was great and he’s a World War II veteran who now lives in the Zelma Lacey House,” said Boyle. “He had tidbits and knowledge that we didn’t know at all.”
Boyle has even taking time to recollect things like living in a cold water flat near the Ironsides Pub when he was a kid in the 1940s.
“I can recall my mom sending me down to the store there with Green Stamps for food rations,” he said. “In the war, everyone in Charlestown had those stamps.”
Boyle and Coots said they have established two rules for the segments. First, those in the segments on the decades must have been born in the Town and still live in the Town. While that eliminates a lot of knowledge from those that moved out, Boyle said it keeps things loyal to those that chose to stay. Second, they have made a vow to keep things positive, and not go negative.
Coots said he was most impressed with the segment on the 1970s with Lisa Collins and Doug MacDonald, where the touchy subject of the busing-era was addressed.
“The one thing for me that stood out was when I interviewed Lisa Collins and Doug MacDonald, and I wanted to be careful about busing and what that might bring up, but they were glad to talk about it,” he said. “Lisa was a 15-year-old girl going to high school and remembered State Troopers going by and snipers on the roofs of the houses by the Monument. She was terrified. Doug said the same thing. They recalled walking up Bunker Hill Monument Square and every house had snipers on top. That was their childhood and they were powerful memories to record.”
The duo, which also includes Robie Marcella manning the camera, is still looking to do the 1980s and 1990s and 2000s. They have also completed a segment on The Boys & Girls Club, the Majestic Knights Drum & Bugle Corps and the Old Schoolboys. There also are requests for more organizations like the Bunker Hillbillies.
“We think it’s a positive thing for the Town, but we emphasize that we hope we don’t miss anything,” said Boyle. “People can let us know, and we can mention it on another segment.”
Both also said they haven’t put any end date on their segments and are willing to do more as long as they can.
“We were going to just do the decades, but after the first one we got requests for organizations too,” said Coots. “It’s open ended. As long as Billy and I are able, we’ll keep doing them.”
The segments are available on the Charlestown Historical Society’s YouTube channel, which can be accessed at www.charlestownhistoricalsociety.org.