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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Kennedy Connection

The Kennedy Connection

          Growing up in the back pocket of Boston, I was surrounded by history, politics and a distinct sense of pride and patriotism. After all, Winthrop had been around for three hundred years before I ever set foot on its soil. We shopped where Indians had walked and camped. We had only to take a fairly quick subway ride to Boston, get off at Devonshire, walk around the building and stand where the Boston Massacre had taken place. In today’s vernacular – history was ‘in your face.’ Boston’s politics may not have been about stamp taxes and tea parties anymore, but it was alive and active. What happened in Boston leeched over into all the surrounding areas, whether you were a part of it or just a not so concerned kid growing up.

          Honey-Fitz was a name I heard spoken fairly often. John Francis Fitzgerald was a mover and groover in Boston politics having served in the state senate, served six years in Congress and then was elected mayor of Boston, the first American born Irish Catholic to be elected to that office. His efforts to improve Boston’s harbor proved successful and increased the amount of port traffic to and from Europe. All of this happened during my mother’s growing up years, which must have impressed her, since she mentioned him often enough for me to be familiar with the name.

          Patrick J. Kennedy served three terms in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and also in the MA State Senate. Ultimately his power was centered in East Boston, Ward 2, as a “ward boss.” Kennedy became a successful business man, first as a saloon keeper and eventually was instrumental in the organization of The Columbia Trust Co.

          Patrick Kennedy, from East Boston, and Honey-Fitz, from the North End, were at times rivals among the Irish factions in Boston and the surrounding towns. Eventually, Kennedy became a supporter of Honey-Fitz, although he remained active, he stayed in the background. 

          In 1915, Patrick, while living in East Boston, began to summer in Winthrop, the very next town to the NE. Eventually he bought a ‘summer’ home there, across the bay from Boston, in 1918.  By this time, Patrick’s son, Joseph, had met and married Honey-Fitz’s oldest daughter, Rose Fitzgerald, formally uniting these two powerful Irish families. As we are all aware of (I hope), Joseph and Rose were the parents of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Bobby and Ted Kennedy, Eunice Shriver and several others. It is claimed that Joseph would bring his children to this summer home on Washington St. where they learned to swim and sail.

The Kennedy 'cottage' is on the far right.

          Over the course of time, the house was sold and renovated. During one remodeling the original deed and a photo of Joe Kennedy as the Capt. of the Boston Latin baseball team were discovered. The current owners contacted the Kennedy family regarding these items and in 1992 Ted Kennedy made arrangements to visit their home.

          As I was growing up, I remember going down Washington St. frequently and having the “Kennedy” house pointed out to me. When Winthrop held its Bicentennial, I remember being told that a man sitting on the back of a convertible in the parade was John Kennedy. I believe he was running for the Senate at that time. I loved hearing the story my father told about his paper route. My father grew up in East Boston. He and his older brother had paper routes but they had to go Maverick Square to pick up their papers. He said, “Many times while returning from picking up our papers, I sold a paper to a well dressed man in front of the Columbia Trust Co. He would be just coming out of the bank at about 4 PM. I later learned that the bank belonged to the Kennedy family and my occasional customer was Joseph P. Kennedy, father of President John F. Kennedy.”

          The name Kennedy was as much a household word as the Boston Red Sox. The family was becoming a dynasty and they were in the news frequently. It‘s nearly impossible to be in Boston and not touch history, and little did I know that I was, even in a small way, touching new history of another era.

Winthrop Then and Now by Dave Hubbard

Frank Pye’s Memoirs

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