Guest Op-Ed: The “Seventeenth”

By Charlie McGonagle

To say that the Bunker Hill Day celebrations of my younger years were special to Charlestown and it’s people would be a gross understatement.  It must have been the word June that sparked the neighborhood’s anticipation of the event, for in my memory, all things regarding the “Seventeenth” would begin each year on the first day of that month.  That special day was always referred to as the “Seventeenth” by Townie natives, for  Bunker Hill Day and the word “Seventeenth” were synonymous to the town’s people.  It was a day when it seemed that everybody left their doors unlocked and welcomed everybody, strangers included, into their homes for a drink and a bite to eat.  

Although I cannot say that I ever really saw the horse tied up outside the Foley house on Bartlett Street, it was pretty common knowledge that one of Boston’s mounted police officers, who had been part of the day’s parade, and who was a friend of Mr. and Mrs. Foley, would stop by each year upon the conclusion of the day’s march for his annual snack and whatever else might have been part of the menu of the day.  He would arrive at the Foley residence on horseback, tie the animal to the fence, and head on inside.  The length of the horse’s stay would be totally dependent upon how hungry, or perhaps, how thirsty it’s rider might be.

The day’s festivities always seemed to begin with the annual Doll Carriage Parade.  That tradition continues to this day.  The Doll Carriage Parade is memorable to me because my closest friend at the time, Jack “Cookah” Lynch, and I entered the event dressed in military attire, which was extremely popular in the mid 1940’s, pushing a doll carriage.  I cannot say that we were named winners that day, for we were only about six years of age and memories of that long ago tend to exaggerate a bit, but I do know that a photographer from one of Boston’s leading newspapers took our picture, a picture that appeared in the next day’s issue.  When I close my eyes, and think of that photo, it’s vision is very clear to me, even to this day.  I know that the picture still exists somewhere in my house, even now in the year 2020, and maybe, during some future search, somebody may well find it.

As teenagers, and during the evening hours of parade day, it seemed that just about all of the neighborhood kids in that age group would head to the old armory on Bunker Hill Street for the annual “Seventeenth” dance.  Each year the event’s organizers would do their best to have a popular teenaged singer or two on hand to perform.  One year the guest was a sixteen year old girl whose name now escapes me.  I do remember, though, upon the completion of her performance, gathering enough courage to ask her to dance.  When she said yes, I was totally dumbfounded and found myself at a loss for words as we moved across the floor.  The tune to which we were dancing may have taken all of two minutes to complete, but I am sure it must have seemed like hours to the attractive young celebrity.

Back then, the Bunker Hill Day Celebration in Charlestown was always held on the seventeenth of June.  It mattered not what day of the week that might be, thus the term, “The Seventeenth.”  While the rest of the world carried on with its regular routine on that day, Charlestown and its people celebrated.  I know of no place else in this world of ours where a defeat is so proudly remembered.

Over the years I am sure there had to be a few rough days weather wise, but all of my memories of the “Seventeenth” are filled with beautiful warm weather and sunshine. They always will be.

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