Saturday, March 5, 2011

Working Boys Home, Newton

Since I discovered the site armed with historical maps of Massachusetts and beyond, I have been browsing them constantly, imaging the landscape some fifty or even hundred years ago. For example, the number of TB sanatoriums is striking in the maps surveyed right after WWII.

In addition to now disused railroads, I am particularly interested in institutions, a kind of institution that we don't expect to see in present day America because some practices or concepts are long gone. Quarantining a mass of TB patients to sanatoriums would be a good example.

Today, I'll show you some of my little findings from old maps. The below is a 1946 map of the southwest Newton.

1946 Map of Newton from MyTopo Historical Map

Look at the lower right section of the map, do you see "Working Boys Home"? "Working Boys Home", what a Dickensian sound in it. We rarely associate the word "working" with "boys" in the context of contemporary American kids; we think of child labors in sweatshops in some countries. I mean kids working like 16 hours a day.

My image of working boys, from eRiding media library
My another image of working boys, from eRiding media library

A lodging for boys who were separated from parents and working some places like factories... This is enough to make me fascinated, and I decided to investigate further. 

 1903 Map of Newton from MyTopo Historical Map

The above is a 1903 map of Newton. I can recognize something like the precursor of the WBH. Wow, the area is really desolate, hilly, and swampy. I searched the place with my another favorite, the MACRIS database. Oh, I've got it! It's still there!


Imagine such an imposing redbrick tower on a remote woody hill. According to the MACRIS, the building was planned by John and William McGintly in 1896. I couldn't find any more historical information about it, and I wonder what kind of organization did build this institution. It is usually by a Christian one, but it could be by a municipal or nonreligious philanthropic group, too.

The building is currently housing Newton Highlands Jewish Community Center. I should check this place out.


And I went.

It's been beautifully preserved. I have to say it's a lot more cheerful than the black and white picture I saw at the MACRIS. I guess because a part of the building is utilized as a day care center.

Looking at the cheerfully colored playground equipments and toys, I couldn't help thinking how much the view on children has changed in last hundred years. Would the working boys who used to be there imagine a part of the building would become a thing called "pre-school"?


Let's examine the clock on the tower; it's in Hebrew! I'm impressed with the attention to such a detail.


I gotta think, who were the "working boys"? Where did the boys work? And who did build the institution? Information is so limited.

Well, solution is always simple. I should always check the homepage of the current occupant. According to the Leventhal-Sidman JCC, the WBH was operated by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. So my initial guess about a Christian organization was right.

But where did the boys work? There must have been farms around the facility. Like many Poor Farms, the WBH could have been a self supporting community. The Boston Manufacturing Company (Francis Cabot Lowell's mill in Waltham) is 7 miles (11km) away from the Home. But those mills usually provided boarding to their employees. How about newspaper companies?  There is a relatively big textile machine factory only a mile away, too.

My questions deepen.


Locate Working Boys Home @ Google Map

Also read the follow up article: Faces of the Working Boys Home

Historical map of Newton from Mytopo: http://historical.mytopo.com/getImage.asp?fname=nwtn46nw.jpg&state=MA
MACRIS detail of Working Boys Home: http://mhc-macris.net/Details.aspx?MhcId=NWT.3599
MACRIS detail of Saco-Petee Textile Machine Shop: http://mhc-macris.net/Details.aspx?MhcId=NWT.3714
Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center: http://www.lsjcc.org/home/leventhal.html

47 comments:

  1. I grew up in Newton during the 1950s and 1960s and was always a little bit scared by those words on my local map - Working Boys Home. I feared being sent there if I got into trouble. I finally went there to look when it was the JCC about 10 years ago. But have you found anything about the history of the place? Especially any photos?

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  2. Hi Ed G,

    As a grown up, your childhood imagination is kinda sweet (sorry!) But If I were you, I would have the same reaction towards the place. I found the red brick tower on the pine wood hill was intimidating. It looked like a perfect setting for children's rumors alike. Though, the JCC did a great work converting to a friendly space.

    History wise, the research is still going on. I've recently helped a genealogical research for one reader, and he gave me some good materials. As you reminded me, I should put them up in near future.

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  3. i used to live at the working boys home in the late 1950s. it was a place of darkness & sadness, dickensian--yes. In the early 1900s, before the child labor laws, half the boys would work while the other half would go to school. Then the halves would switch for the second semester. Working kids would travel to Boston by train. The Newton Poor Farm was next door to the WBH. When I was there, there were about a hundred of us, and we had one another. We learned many things there: groundswork, housekeeping and cooking skills. We also learned how to observe, to cooperate, and to survive by taking care of one another. The beatings were another story altogether.
    paul

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  4. Hello Paul,

    I'm glad that we are able to share your valuable life story! So the boys went to Boston by train to work for groundswork, housekeeping, and some cooking help.

    Paul, do you know anything about your biological mother? If it isn't too burdensome for you, is it possible to share more about your life? If you could, please send an email to: creepychusetts[at]gmail.com.

    The blog is reaching an anniversary next month. I want to set my second year goal as focusing on more archival research and interviews...Anyway, thank you very much for your willingness to share an important piece of history.

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  5. My Dad was there in 1930. He was 9 years old and he would never speak of his Mother much, and he NEVER spoke of this place. Later on in the mid 1970's there is a man that came to my Sister's place in North Dakota looking for Dad, he said his name was Father or Brother Joe, a priest. He was older and just looking for the kids that lived there. My Sister would not give him any iformation, as we did not know at that time. My Mom has told me things. I am interested in what you find out. William J Dunn's Daughter.

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  6. Hello William J Dunn's Daughter,

    First, thank you very much for sharing your story from an aspect of a daughter. I'm very intrigued with "Father Joe" person looking for the kids. I guess he used to work at the Working Boys Home. Or he used to be one of the boys who later became a priest...who knows. Why was he searching for the boys even traveling beyond MA...

    In this stage, I'm pretty much gathering personal stories like yours. I'm thinking about visiting a historical society in Newton in the future. Wish me a luck for my investigation!

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  7. Thank you Shuko, if you would like any thing else let me know..I did write to the church and had to go through Notre Dame to get some items..It is ledgers of sorts and tid bits...I have it put away. Please let me know what you find out..Much appreciated, Angie Dunn-King :)

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  8. Thanks Angie & have a nice weekend! Shuko

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  9. Well, I finally found where my life had begun anew.

    Working Boys' Home was for this abused boy a life saver. Thanks for a neighbor & our parish priest (Most Holy Redeemer) East Boston. He knew of a place where I would be wanted & receive love & care.
    I was there from 1949-1953. A Brother Aubert had welcomed me home and into a family of about 50 boys. I was 10 years old & assigned to the 5Th grade. I was in the upper dormitory, supervised by a Brother Seraphim. If we were good boys he would let us listen to a Boston Braves ball game. Or the Hibernian hour (Irish music). We were responsible for the cleanliness of our areas. When we were bad boys, well punishment would be swift & painful. The weapon of choice was the rattan ( a bamboo stick)across the finger tips or in extreme cases your bare butt. After two years we would move to the lower dorm. Supervised by a Brother Roland also my 6th grade teacher. We played all the sports in season. We had a pretty mean football team too. We had ice house hill in the winter for sledding or tobboganing. Ice house pond for ice skating or the Charles river with permission & supervision. Sometimes they would flood the tennis court area in the winter & ice skate there.
    The severest form of punishment was the dreaded paddle. Not your ordinary paddle, but one with a hunk of lead in it. It was administered by showing your "moon" bending over & holding on to your ankles. It sure did hurt & you wouldn't going to be sitting down for quite a while. Plus you just hoped that you didn't get it on a saturday as that was shower day & that water just made it hurt longer.

    But, there is where I was safe from all my abusers, atleast until we had to go "home" once a month. Plus during the summer too.I was fresh meat all over again, until September.
    The best years of this young boys life.

    Thanks to all those benefactors in the area & across the country. We mailed aou the magazine The Working Boy, I believe 4 times a year asking for donations.
    Thanks to countless thousands, this boy had a roof over his head, he had clothing, heat, food & their love & prayers for a group of boys that they never had seen. They received mine in return.
    God bless them all along with those Xaverian Brothers whom had shared their life & love with.
    Pete Corbett.

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    Replies
    1. I too went there in 1955 as a seventh grader. Brother Peter Celeste was the head master and Brothers Roland,Jude are the only ones that I can remember now. You must have been special because I was never allowed to listen to a Braves game.. Doug Robinson

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    2. hey pete i got your message yesterday 7/26 but i dont have caller ID SO I DIDNT GET YOUR TELL NUMBER AND I TRIED THE E MAIL AND IT DIDNT WORK IM USUALLY HOME EVENINGS I LOVE 2 TALK ABOUT THE HOME I HAVE A CELL TOO 857-259-0054 LATER BOB MACARTHUR

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    3. Bob,
      After talking to you on the 'phone last night and we exchanged e-mail addresses, i can't seem to be able to get one delivered to you either on Aol or Yahoo. Please try sending me one at each.

      That was a wonderful evening for me as that trip down memory lane about the Home brought out the boy in me. THANKS Pete Corbett..

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  10. Hello Pete.

    I'm very impressed by your detailed and vivid description of the life as the working boy.

    I'm sorry to hear your hard upbringing as an abused child and positively amazed by your courage to speak about it. I'm sure your life at the home was a life saver for you. But I have to say the series of punishments you mentioned is very, very severe!!

    Sorry it got late to publish your comment. I wanted to read your comment over and over and felt I should post my response accordingly.

    Again, thank you very much for sharing your life story. As a young and different cultured person, it is always a humbling experience to hear a life story from older generations. It is such an awakening learning experience!

    Shuko

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  11. I am curious about the July 25 poster's mention of the "Newton Poor Farm" next door to the Working Boys Home. I have been unable to find out anything about this farm in local history sources except that it moved to Winchester Street from Waban in 1902. Does anyone remember anything about it?

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  12. Shuko:

    I posted the last comment re the Newton Poor Farm. I just found an excellent source on the Working-Boys Home: a copy of Catholic World from 1898 at archive.org. Has a lithograph of what it calls the Industrial School of the home (the building you have pictured) and a photograph of boys at the home.

    http://www.archive.org/stream/catholicworld67pauluoft#page/24/mode/2up

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  13. Hi Anon,

    Thank you for the excellent source! Yes, I have been wondering about the poor farm next door. I assume it's much smaller than the Boy's home next door. I can start my speculation here, but I gotta go now...I'll catch up with it later...

    I'm reading a memoir of one of the boys now (thanks Irish Moose), and he mentioned that the school is also called "St John's Industrial School".

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  14. If the person who commented on Sept 15 (or anyone!)is reading this comment, I have a question: how did you locate "Catholic World" from archive.org? (i.e.: What's the keyword, media type, etc.)

    Potentially, this could be the great source of information, but I gotta learn how to find the kind of info I want...

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  15. Shuko:

    Re your last post: My research approach isn't particularly inspiring blog-wise, nor do I have any idea what you're researching. If you give me an off-blog email address, I'll be glad to share whatever information I can.

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  16. Hi Anon,

    Thank you for the offer!

    My initial my question was rather simple; I was asking you how did you get the result of "Catholic World" from archives.org. Did you simply type "Working Boys Home" onto the in-site search engine? I do have your link of Catholic World but I was curious about learning how to use the in-site search engine in an efficient manner. Sorry, the question does sound too elementary to ask…

    In any case my e-mail is: creepychusetts[at]gmail.com

    Cheers,
    Shuko

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  17. Thanks for putting this together. I'd like to learn more. I think my father lived here. It was probably in the 1940s. He never talked about it but he did run away from it. I always suspected the place was abusive in many ways. My father has passed and there aren't any relatives that I can ask about the place.

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  18. Thank you anon for sharing.

    Yes, the information seems to be really limited. Do you know that how long did he live there? How and why was he sent to the home? I have some sense that many boys must have been sent there during/ after the war. Tough time for many families.

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  19. Attended WBH 1958-1960. The only thing that comes close is the movie Boystown with Mickey Rooney. I think they were called reform schools in those days for some it was an orphanage. From there went to newly commissioned Cardinal Cushing Acacademy fka Boyhaven in West Newbury, MA. CCA made WBH look like a country club. The end

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  20. Wow... does this bring back some memories...mostly good ones, for the most part. Like Pete, I too was a resident at the Home from 1955-59. I remember Bro Aubert and especially Bro Roland who taught 6th grade and at Christmas time he would draw such fantastic things on the chalkboard with Old English writing to boot. I never 'worked' while I was there, except for once a year (maybe twice, I don't remember) when we set up in the cafeteria to mail out the 'Workies', which was a magazine published by the Home. I was even on the cover one year. All in all, I remember it was a good place to live, if you had to live in a boarding home, which is what it was. Pete's description is accurate from what I remember, right down to the paddle which I received at least once as I recall, for wandering off the property one Sunday. Thanks for the memories.
    Dennis

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  21. Hi Dennis and Anon on Oct 26th.

    Thank you for telling us an important history of Newton and even Massachusetts. Dennis, were you the cover boy? Do you remember why you were chosen for the cover?

    Shuko

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  22. Hi Shuko,
    Yes, I was the 'cover boy', well I was on the cover anyway. It was around Thanksgiving, and I was sitting on the ground surrounded by pumpkins... as I recall. I don't remember why I was chosen, but I would sure like to find that issue somewhere.
    Dennis

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  23. Just found site while discussing the WBH with my father. He was there for four years, 4th grade through 8th grade, 1930 to 1934. He remembers it as a good experience. He went to school and was not forced to work anywhere else. He remembers a Brother Fabian who was one of the Christian Brothers who ran the school.

    My grandmother died when my father was nine and my grandfather worked as an engineer on the railroad. He put my father in the WBH for the four years before he found another place to board him in Hopkinton, Mass for high school.

    According to my father, there was discipline at the WBH, but he does not remember it as abusive--all in all a good experience and education.

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  24. Hi Jack,

    Thank you for letting us to know about your father's life story. I'm very delighted that many ex-"working" boys have a good memory attached to the place.

    Shuko

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  25. I have a close relative that spent years as a Student and Resident at The Working Boy's Home. he has many good memories of the kind Brothers and the life he lead without having parents of his own. he is now an almost 80 year old man that still speaks fondly of the Home and his schoolmates.

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    1. Hi Anon,

      It's good to hear about your relative! All the good memories...

      Shuko

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  26. My husband was at the working boys home for a few years. Late 30's early 40's he speaks highly of the place. He took me there to find it is now a JCC. We did locate one fellow who was there at thesame time. He too spoke well of the place.I will keep an eye on this site formore information. Thanks Moe

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  27. Anonymous: Feb 21.2011 I grew up in the Charlemont neighborhood close to both the WBH and the Poor Farm just down the street. As,in those days,we were out all day running around in the woods,we were frequent visitors to both places. We played on the swings and other playground equipment at the working boys home a lot in the summer and asthe daughter of the administrator at the poor farm was my age and went to school together,I was frequently there. The place burned down in 1955 (set fire) but in the late 40's and early 50's.it was a great place--a full fledged farm with turkeys,hens pigs acres of garden to furnish food for the old people living there.They also had a boarder named Mr. Fagen who boarded is horse Major (I think that was his name) The horse was elegantly cared for and I was in awe of this horse and person(he was probalby in his 20's but he seemed old to a 10 year old. My school friend and her sister also had horses and we used to ride around on them a lot. There was a big kitchen on the ground level inthe main building that housed the residents and the cook would often give us samcks and cookies.The ladn behing the farm backed up to the Charles River so there was a lot of room for exploring. Im ashamed to say we used to throw snow balls at the windows of some of the residents,but I guess by todays standards that's not to bad. these were happy memories

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  28. Hello, Just stumbled upon this site. My grandfather and his brothers were here from around 1918 to 1925, Are there more pictures? I would love to see and learn more about what went on here. Maureen

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  29. Hi Maureen,

    One of my readers sent me a link via the Internet Archive about the Working Boys Home. The book is the "Catholic World" published in 1898: http://www.archive.org/stream/catholicworld67pauluoft#page/24/mode/2up

    Shuko

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  30. Hello, I stayed at the WBH for 4 years. Grade 4 through 7. I was sent there because my mother was a working mother, my father had passed and due to hidden abuse I was acting out. Some of the names I remember are Brother Peter, Brother Mathias, Brother Roland, Brother Jude. The pros, every sport was available to us, great learning. Brother Roland opened my mind to chess, coin and stamp collecting. Cons: very severe punishment. They tried to beat the DEVIL out of me. I missed my family. Sexual abuse by one of the brothers. I hope you are not shocked. There was a beautiful Chapel. Catholic services and Mass was a high priorty. I would love to find out if there are some Working Boy magazines out there somewhere if some one know where I can locate some please let me know edsenior@justlookhere.com I would love to share more if there is anyone that woulld like to hear about it. Thank You for this blog Ed

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    1. Hi Ed,

      Thank you for telling your life story.

      No, I am not shocked. I think your observation of the life at the Home is very balanced and objective. I've learned that many boys' lives were saved by being there, away from the troubles at their home. On the other hand, some ex-boys did tell me that they have traumatic memories during their stay at the home.

      I hope you can gather some information from this blog.

      Shuko

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    2. Those Brothers listed above by Ed, sure bring back some fond memories. Brother Roland perhaps was us boys favorite Brother. He was a jack of all trades there. Along with being my 6th grade teacher & lower dorm chief. Luckily for some of us mischievious boys we could tell when Brother Roland was nearby as he was most of the time with his pipe & we could detect the aroma and immediately have an angelic look on our faces. A very pious man along with a Brother Finbar.
      BTW, Brother Jude was the one whom almost always was on the giving end of that dreaded paddle in the gym where it was administered to me.
      The real tragic sexual abuse case by a Brother there to one of the boys, i was never aware of. It wasn't until a few years ago when i received a message from the boy that Pete, your haven was my Hell. Real tragic story. The good, the bad & the ugly. But, they more than likely saved this young battered & abused boys life. The best years of my life still. 1949-1953. Pete..aka Eagle Beak.

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  31. Everyone who wrote comments and emails for this post for last few months.

    Sorry that I am not able to respond your message. It's a messy world I've stuck right now.

    BTW, I'm publishing a post about the neighboring Newton Almshouse soon. If you have any memories about it, I'd like to hear it!

    Shuko

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  32. Hello again,
    In reading the last post I do remember Brother Rolands pipe smell not only was he incharge of the lower dorm but he was also incharge of showers, taught 6th grade and was hardly ever seen without an oiled rattan in his hand. He kept them in an umbrella case in his bed room. Brither Jude (if I remember right) was the youngest of the brothers there at tht time. He was incharge of the upper dorm and he truly was the paddle master. Only he would would use it at night as you were bent over the iron bed. He also used a large wooden paint stirer coated with layers of lead paint. You would get that across your open hand. Funny thing though Brothr jude was my favorite I think he was the only one that saw beyond the pain. Please don't get me wrong it was not all beatings and punishment. There were many happy memories from WBH all the sports(anything you can imagine), great food. n the lower level out side of the dining room there was a large open room where there would be marble tounaments almost daily. Marbles were the currency of the school. Thanks for this blog iv'e been waiting a long time to talk about the school to someone that would know what I was talking about.

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    1. Oh God, do I remember those marbles. That large open room was just off the dinning room. It was our TV & movie room. TV back in 49-53 was watching on Tuesday nights. Tom Corbett, Space Cadet (no relation to this Corbett boy). But the main program was Uncle Milte..Milton Berle. On the Texaco hour.
      I remember sitting on that cold marble floor, legs spread apart with my marble setting just behind a nick in the floor, hoping no one would hit it & clean me out.
      When I was there Brother Seraphim was the upper dormitory chief.
      Brother Jude was the groundskeeper & football coach. He was the youngest Brother there. And the paddle was administered in the gym. Those rattans were something else.
      A Brother Kostka (he was one of the older Brothers there) was running the showers & he was also the clothes washer and mended them.
      His favorite saying to us boys was "You boys are going to give me lockjaw, because your drawers & socks smell terrible."
      He ran a tight shower detail. No horsing around was tolerated. But when he caught you, read me he would come at you with that rattan. One great memory that I have was i was trying to get away from him and was running down the hall towards the boiler room. Well he gets me cornered and he's using that rattan like the actor Errol Flynn was using his sword in those swashbuckling movies that we had seen there. I was crying more from laughing than the occassional whack from the rattan. Those were for this boy the best four years of his young boys life. Pete Corbett (aka known as Eagle Beak) 1949-1953. Thanks for the memories. Wow.

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    2. HEY I DONT KNOW IF U WOULD REMEMBER THE NITE IN THE UPPER DORM WHEN ALL THE MARBLES WRE THROWN ALL OVER AND DOWN INTO THE CHAPEL WE ALL TURNED IN OR MARBLES THE NEXT MORNING IT WAS ITHINK 1948 OR SO BOB MACARTHUR

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  33. I went to the Working Boys Home for my seventh grade in 1955. It was run by Brothers. The head masters name was Brother Peter Celeste and I can only remember my math teacher who's name was Brother Jude. We all had to go yo mass every morning and on sunday high mass and benediction in the afternoon. we also was required to go to prayer time at night and on saturday confession whether you sinned or not. Cardinal Cushing would visit and perform the sacrament of confirmation. All were rquired to play a sport. We were matched up against The St Johns Prep freshman class for football and basketbal...........I got killed seeing that I was only 105 lbs and about 5'4" tall....they made me play right guard... and I don't mean the deodorant either. One was not only graded by the ABCDEF systym but also they would post your ranking in the class. This was meant to embarass you into doing better. By the way the only work that we did was stuffing envelopes for a fund raiser they would have every year. These Brothers were of the same order that taught at St Johns Prep Danvers. The conotation of the school is worse than the school itself. Also if you was the last to finish your shower you would be spanked...

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  34. i was at the home late 50s i was a football standout we stopped twice a year to publish our news letter i remember br roland with his pipe and rattan and he would always say before he used the rattan its going to hurt me more than u and of cours his artistic christmas drawings on the blackboard being there was amazing but not un painful bob

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  35. Replies
    1. My Dad, John Allen Drain, spent much of his young life (40's I think)there as his mother was working full time and her husband had left the family. He did talk about it some but not much.

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  36. My father was born in 1900 in Newton MA and lived on Winchester St about a mile from the WBH. He was an active baseball pitcher. He told stories of how he used to go to the WBH to play ball. Once, Babe Ruth of the Red Sox (circa 1915 or 1916) visited the WBH and my father got to pitch to him. Asked how he did pitching to the Babe, he woulkd tell of how he blew a fast ball past him on a swinging strike...but that the Babe sent the next pitch out of the park. Thanks for your update on the WBH and other unique Massachusetts stories.

    Dick
    Arlington, VA

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    1. Thanks! Meeting Babe Ruth must have been a big deal for you and the boys!

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