The cobblestone streets and happy greetings amongst Charlestown residents belies the years of sadness and pain that circulates through the Town’s history – one of loose ends not tied up when it comes to murder, violence and drug overdose.
That history has taken a big step towards healing after so many years of bottling it up, coming with the formation of a Peace Park in the newly renovated Lowney/McGrath Park on Mt. Vernon Street abutting the busy Mystic/Tobin Bridge.
On Tuesday night, more than 100 residents of all ages, races, economic statuses and occupations gathered to address this lingering pain – and begin to heal it.
“There’s just a lot of – a lot of – sadness and a lot of pain here,” said Irene McGrath – stopping abruptly – whose son Robert McGrath was murdered in 1988 and had the park originally dedicated to him. “They did a great job here. I saw them on a 90-degree day planting flowers. That wasn’t easy to do and they did a wonderful thing here.”
Added her husband, Jack McGrath, “It was a great idea. They asked our family and we’re fully behind it. It’s a good thing.”
The Peace Park came about through an idea from the Turn It Around youth group and coordinator Ginaya Greene-Murray. The group applied for and received one of the competitive $2,700 Love Your Block grant in March. Since then, the group and several other volunteers have put in sweat equity, said Charlestown Coalition Director Sarah Coughlin, to make the Peace Park a reality.
The idea, she said, was to address the past racial inequities, the pain from murder and violence, and the loss felt for those lost to drug overdoses. The Peace Park is a place of respite for those trying to make sense of the pain – past and present.
The history of murder and violence in Charlestown’s past and present has been underreported and mostly repressed. Between 1975 and 1994, 49 people were killed in Charlestown, with only 26 being arrested.
Robert McGrath – the namesake of the Peace Park – was one of those murdered. A Boston Housing Authority police officer of five years, he was stabbed fatally with a cake knife by Richard Woods on Jan. 9, 1988 when he tried to stop an argument unfolding at a birthday party.
The McGrath family was front and center for Tuesday’s affair, noting that the park was named in Robert’s honor to help them heal. Now they hoped it would help others too.
“I stood here almost 30 years as friends, family and colleagues tried to comfort my family and I after our loss,” said Tracy McGrath, Robert’s sister. “The same things this space represented to me so long ago are still represented here now. They are friendship, empathy, compassion and hope. All those who lost a loved one (in any way) the grief is all the same. I hope you can come here and find some peace.”
However, it was Elaine Donovan who stole the show with a moving speech that detailed tragedy upon tragedy she witnessed and shared in over a lifetime in the Town.
She talked about seeing the pain in the community at the age of 12 when Mark Burns was murdered, and again at 13 years old when a man was murdered on Medford Street that her brother grieved heavily for. She talked about her friend Susan Rawlinson losing her son, Steven Jones, to murder in 2013 – and how that forever changed her life. And then, how another friend of her family lost their son, Ryan ‘Duce’ Morrissey, to murder just 18 months later. That was amplified when she watched her best friend, Smokey Cain, lose his son to a drug overdose shortly after that.
She said it all built upon each thing.
“Growing up in Charlestown, you learned to push it all down and not feel anything,” she said.