Friday, April 18, 2014

Sumner H. Needham - Family and Service

Most people in Lowell know the story about April 19, 1861 when Ladd, Whitney, Needham and Taylor were killed in Baltimore at the very start of the Civil War. Ladd & Whitney are buried in Monument Square in front of Lowell City Hall. Sumner Henry Needham of Lawrence was not instantly killed but died a week later in Baltimore after unsuccessful brain surgery.  He never gained consciousness from the blow to the head by the rebels on Pratt Street. He is buried in Bellevue Cemetery in Lawrence. Charles A. Taylor was also killed and is buried in Baltimore. I'll save that story for another day.


By the City Government
of Lawrence, this Monument

is erected, to endear to
posterity the Memory of
SUMNER H. NEEDHAM.
of Co. I,. 6th Regit. M.V.M.,
who fell a victim to the
passions of a Secession Mob,
during the passage of the
Regiment through the
streets of Baltimore, march-
ing in Defence of the Nation's
Capital, on the memorable
19th day of April A.D., 1861.
Aged 33.

A Loyal North, in common
with his widow and an only
child, mourn his loss.

A.D., 1862.

Sumner Needham's wife Hannah was a dressmaker. She gave birth to his son December 19, 1861, 8 months to the day after his death.  Sumner could not have known he was to be a father that day in Baltimore. In all my years of reading census records I have never seen one like this:
This is the 1865 State of Massachusetts census for Lawrence, MA. Hannah Needham is listed  as "Widow of the Martyr "S H Needham".

So what became of Sumner Henry Needham Jr.? He married twice had two sons named Sumner Henry Needham.  He died in Tilton, New Hampshire in 1934.

The first Sumner grandson was born in Lawrence April 30, 1885 and he became an Optometrist. His office was in the Sun Building.

He joined the military in 1916 and served during the Mexican trouble. Then he served as a Captain during the Great War of Battery F 102nd Field Artillery. After the war he was the first to donate war trophies for the new Lowell Memorial Auditorium. He stayed in the service and was stationed in San Antonio, Texas. He was promoted to Major.  He in turn had a son named Sumner H. Needham and he also became a Major in the army. They are both buried in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas.

Sadly, the other Sumner H. Needham grandson was killed when a car ran over him as a young boy.

We thank the Needham family for their service and their sacrifice.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Dr. Walter Burnham

Walter Burnham was born in Brookfield, Vermont January 12, 1808. His father and brother were doctors. He graduated with his medical degree from the University of Vermont in 1829. He married Annis Crawford February 8, 1831. They had five children. He started his practice in Vermont but moved to Lowell in 1846.
Surgeon - Massachusetts Sixth Regiment (1862-1870)

Dr. Burnham was a gynecological doctor. He specialized in removing ovarian tumors.  Now at this time, anesthesia was primitive and these surgeries were very risky.  For the first time in the world, on June 26, 1853 he performed the very first hysterectomy where the patient survived and it happened in Lowell, MA. He performed over 300 surgeries with only a 25% mortality rate which was excellent for the time.

Dr. Burnham also was a state legislator. He was responsible for the Anatomy Act of 1855 which allowed the bodies of dead paupers to be used for medical dissecting purposes. He was a member of the Lowell school committee for many years. He was also a 32 degree Mason and  a member of the American Medical Association.

During the Civil War he was the surgeon for the Massachusetts Sixth Regiment. He was very proud of the fact that his mortality rates for disease were very low for his unit in the Great Dismal Swamp of Virginia. He only lost 13 men to disease out of the regiment of 1,000.

He traveled extensively throughout the Northeast performing operations for those in need. In January  of 1880 he fell in Elmira, New York getting on a train, injuring his elbow. This resulted in an amputation which started the decline in his health. He died February 17, 1888 in Lowell at the age of 75. He is buried in the Lowell Cemetery.

His daughter, Stella married Henry Phelps Perkins an agent at the Bleachery and brother of the Civil War hero, Solon A. Perkins whose framed gideon was just found in the basement of the Lowell Memorial Auditorium.







Friday, January 10, 2014

Ralph Regis Giles - Missing at Sea


Ralph Regis Giles known as "Reggie" was born in Nashua, NH on December 11, 1932 to Ralph and Alice (Hurley) Giles and grew up at 44 Royalston Avenue in the Highlands section of Lowell. He graduated from Keith Academy class of 1950. He played football and baseball at Keith and was an accomplished singer.

On March 20, 1951 he enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a Seaman Apprentice. He completed his training in Newport, R.I. and was assigned to the USS Hyman (DD-32) during the Korean War. On November 29, 1951 he was on duty preparing lines for refueling when he was swept overboard in stormy seas near Wonsan Harbor in North Korea. Five men were swept overboard and only three bodies were recovered.  Reggie was only 18 years old.

His body has not been found. He is remembered by a cenotaph in the Rock Garden at St. Patrick's Cemetery.


Reggie was survived by his parents, brothers Gerald and James and sister Marilyn. His siblings have provided DNA samples to the Defense POW/MIA Personnel Office hoping someday he can come home to his family. Lowell still remembers and hopes his family can bring him home wherever that may be.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Lieutenant Commander Richard Swan Baron

Photo from "Lucky Bag" Class of 1924 US Naval Academy at Annapolis

Richard Swan Baron was born in Lowell, MA January 22, 1901 to Charles and Mary Louise (Swan) Baron and grew up at 88 Eleventh Avenue in the Centralville section. He graduated from Lowell High School and was appointed to the US Naval Academy at Annapolis just like his father. He had a twin sister Gwendolyn, brother Gerald and sister Natalie. The family also had a summer home on Baker's Island in Salem, MA.

Richard's mother was the great grand daughter of Robert Swan of Peterborough, NH and a member of the Daughters of the Revolution (55251). Robert Swan fought at Ticonderoga with Captain Joseph Parker's company. Richard's parents are buried in the Lowell Cemetery.

He rose to the rank of Lieutenant  Commander while serving in China and the Philippines. Right after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor they attacked the Philippines. General McArthur and American forces had been there for about three years. They were unprepared for the attack. Lieutenant  Commander Richard Swan Baron was in Cavite during the initial attack and was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions entering a burning building at grave danger to himself to retrieve important military documents. The Navy Cross is the second highest Navy military honor, second only to the Medal of Honor.

The Lieutenant Commander was killed in action on March 15, 1942 by the Japanese invasion in Cebu. He was survived by his wife Anne Baron, his mother, his siblings and three young daughters; Mary Louise, Ann and Gerald. In his memory the US Navy had a Destroyer Escort ship named in his memory. The USS Baron DE-166 was christened in New Jersey May 9, 1943 and saw wartime service.

Lieutenant Commander Richard Swan Baron is buried in the Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines. This cemetery, covering 152 acres, maintained by the American Battle Monument Commission, contains 17,206 American burials and  3,744 unknown burials. The cemetery contains the largest number of graves of any U.S. personnel killed during World War Two.

He never came home. We must not forget Lowell native Richard Swan Baron who paid the ultimate sacrifice so far from home.


Friday, November 22, 2013

American Revolutionary War Hero - Benjamin Pierce

Benjamin Pierce was born in East Chelmsford, Massachusetts (now Lowell) on Christmas Day 1757 to Benjamin and Elizabeth (Merrill) Pierce. The house no longer exists but it would be near the intersection of Jenness and Chelmsford streets. Benjamin's father died when he was six and he was taken care of by his uncle Stephen Pierce who was married to Bessie Bowers. His mother remarried Oliver Bowers. He attended a little red school house at School and Westford streets.
Governor Benjamin Pierce
Portrait in NH State House, Concord, NH
Benjamin was 18 years old and plowing his uncle's land near the intersection of Powell and B streets on April 19, 1775 when word arrived via courier that shots were fired in Lexington and Concord . He hitched his steers to a tree stump, unhooked the plow and grabbed his uncle's gun, some supplies and headed to Concord. By the time he arrived on foot they were gone and he made his way to Cambridge. He enlisted in the Army and fought at Bunker Hill.
From a letter of Benjamin Pierce of Ford's Company, later of Hillsborough, N.H.: "I went into the Hill about 11 o'clock, A.M. When I arrived at the summit of bunker's Hill I saw two pieces of cannon there standing, with two or three soldiers by them, who observed they belonged to Capt. Callender's Company, and that the Captain and his officers were cowards and had run away. Gen. Putnam there sat upon a horse * * * * and requested our company, which was commanded by Capt Ford, of Chelmsford, Mass., to take these pieces and draw them down. Our men utterly refused, and said they had no knowledge of the use of artillery, and they were ready to fight with their own arms. Capt. Ford then addressed his company in a very animated, patriotic and brave strain, which is characteristic of the man. The company then seized the drag-ropes and drew them to the rail fence about half the distance from the redoubt on Breed's Hill to Mystic River." - "The History of Chelmsford"  by Wilson Waters

Benjamin Pierce stayed in service until the end of the war in 1784. After Bunker Hill, he spent the rest of the war in Colonel Brook's regiment. He participated in campaigns in New York and wintered with Washington's army at Valley Forge. He held the ranks of common soldier, corporal, sergeant, ensign and lieutenant. He stayed in the army until they disbanded at West Point. He stayed in service attaining the rank of Brigadier General back home.

At the end of the war he returned to Chelmsford to live at the corner of Chelmsford and Midland streets. He had been gone for nine years. He earned $200 for his service and went north to the wilderness of Hillsborough, New Hampshire where he purchased 50 acres of land with a log hut for $150. He went to work clearing the land. He married Elizabeth Andrews who gave birth to his daughter Elizabeth but his wife died four days later from complications from childbirth. Alone with a baby, Benjamin soon remarried Anna Kendrick of Amherst, NH. They would have 8 more children. Later he would purchase 200 more acres and built a mansion and tavern. It is a museum today as part of the Hillsborough Historical Society.

Courtesy - Library of Congress

Benjamin Pierce was very active in civic affairs. He held many offices and was elected Governor of the state of New Hampshire for two terms in 1827 and 1829. His last official act was to cast an electoral vote for Andrew Jackson in 1832. He was an original member of the Society of Cincinnati. He died in Hillsborough, NH on April 1, 1839.

He visited Lowell many times during his life maintaining his family ties. As did his son, Franklin Pierce the fourteenth President of the United States. Franklin Pierce's wife was also related to Nathan Appleton.

Benjamin Pierce was a great statesman and patriot with Lowell roots. His father and grandfather both lived and died here. The Pierce family, sold land in 1833 to the City of Lowell for the poor farm. This land is where Lowe's is located today.




Saturday, November 2, 2013

Red Sox Win World Series at Fenway Park

Yes, they won last night but this story is about 1918. On September 11, 1918 the Boston Red Sox beat the Chicago Cubs 2-1 in the sixth game of the World Series. The world was at war. Baseball was not a big deal.


 Mrs. Walter Marr finally learned that her husband had died July 22nd in France. He was killed in action near Tugny Woods. She hadn't heard from him in months and had been contacting the army in vain to learn what had happened to him. She feared the worst.

Walter Marr was born in 1884 in Lowell to Lawrence and Mary (Brennan) Marr. He married Mary Quinn and had three children; Leonard, Virginia and Marion. The family lived at 24 Smith Street. Walter reported for duty April 1, 1917 and went overseas September 16, 1917. He was a member of Company I, 102nd CT Infantry Regiment. He was killed in action July 23, 1918 near Trugny Wood in France.

Walter was a great amateur baseball player in Lowell. In the army he became a grenade thrower. His baseball experience helped him but this was dangerous duty. He came from a family of service. Three uncles served in the Civil War and two of them lost their lives during the war.

Walter's body was returned to the United States in 1921 for burial at St. Patrick's Cemetery. We remember the sacrifice that Walter Marr's family has made for us.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Col. Mary A. Hallaren - First Commander of Women's Auxiliary Army Corps

Mary Agnes Hallaren was born in Lowell on May 4, 1907 to John and Mary (Kenney) Hallaren and she had two sisters and three brothers. The family lived on Second Street in the Pawtucketville section of the city. She went to Lowell Teacher's College (now known as UMass Lowell) graduating class of 1927. She taught junior high school in Lexington for fifteen years. Every summer she went on grand adventures all over the world. She did a lot of her traveling by hitchhiking alone as a single woman with no lipstick and lots of walking.

She was one of the first women to enlist in the Woman's Auxiliary Army Corps, the precursor to the Woman's Army Corps (WACs) during World War Two on July 10, 1942.  She was the first officer not in the medical branch. During her recruitment she stood on her tiptoes to make the five foot minimum height requirement. She was actually 4' 10" tall. When the recruiter questioned her size she told him "you don't have to be six feet tall to have a brain that works."
Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, NYWT&S Collection.

She was known for her excellent organization skills and command. She was affectionately called "The Little Colonel". She commanded 9,000 women in the European theater. She became the third Director of the WAC in 1947. She served in that capacity through the Korean War and until 1953. She remained in the service until her military retirement in 1960. In 1965 she became the first Executive Director of Women in Community Service in Virginia.

She has received numerous awards, citations, and honors throughout her lifetime. She received the Bronze Star, The Legion of Merit, Croix De Guerre, Legion of Honor, UMass Lowell Distinguished Alumni Award, National Women's Hall of Fame in 1996 and more. She is highlighted in Tom Brokaw's book "The Greatest Generation".

She died February 13, 2005 in McLean, Virginia at the age of 97 and is buried in the family plot at St. Patrick's Cemetery in Lowell, MA. Thank you for your service!