Interview Excerpts from
When Gloucester Was Gloucester:

Photo by Mark Power: Power's photos make a substantial contribution to the book

Edited by Peter Anastas and Peter Parsons



Unloading the Holy Family at Empire Fisheries

Howard Hughes: Gloucester is different. . .Gloucester's unique. It's a throwback. . . It's an old-time-fashioned city and it's being wiped out because the people still feel the old-fashioned ways. They can't change. It' deteriorating. . .deteriorating. This whole city was all located on the fishing industry. This is deteriorating and the people don't know which way to go. I don't care nobody'll believe anything about me. You think I'm kidding you! I'm the Howard Hughes of the lumping. . . I control everything. . .but nobody knows it. You putting that down, ain't you?

Number One: Some guys work in teams. Boss used to be my partner for 15 years. And he broke me all up. Yup. Had my back operated on and everything. Now Howard's been my partner for eight years. And this is my last year in the hold. Got just 31 years in, that's enough. I been that long and I'm too full of pain, arthritis and everything else to go down another year. I think that's why so many guys drink in Gloucester. Forget the pain. Boss started lumpin' right after me. I broke him in.

Howard Hughes: Yah, yah, he just about. . .he's the ups and down. He's an actual tool like us. I'm not just number one in the lumping racket. Every sport you can think of I was probably. . .I rowed a seine boat at the age of 37 'cause there was this group of Italian kids from the old country. And they were unbeatable. Nobody wanted to race against them. The other kids would throw in the sponge. . . the local kids. So I gathered up a group of guys. Picked them out individually. Weighed 'em up, scattered 'em out, sorted 'em out, put 'em in the back of the St. Peter's Club, gave 'em a pep talk. Unimaginable odds. Ten to one against us. They were so mad one man ran right through the door. . .unopened. . . We broke the barrier. . . These guys were so good that nobody wanted to row against them. Then I came along and I destroyed their image.

Boss: Don't listen to that, kid. I went there 13 years. That guy never beat me once. He never beat us once! His gang never beat us once!

Howard Hughes: I bet you were beat race for race more than you beat us.

Boss: Oh shove it! His gang never beat our gang. He never! Reached my mark or anything!

Howard Hughes: You know what it was. They change the seine boats. . . The next day they take out our seine boat, then they win the trophy. All right. Go up there. Who's got the most names on the trophy? Go up there and look!

Boss: Oh sure. He's been racing ten years since I retired now.

Howard Hughes: You retired? Jesus Christ you. . .

Boss: I was an air raid warden during World War II you know. And the war got over I was going up for a five cell battery. They put me in the North Shore Theater. In the ladies' room of the North Shore Theater with three matches. And they gave me 17 seconds to find the street and I did it. In the dark. Then they gave me a three-cell battery. I worked my way up to a five-cell battery. The higher degree, you get one more battery. . .a flashlight.

Number One: He used to give the all clear. "All clear," he says.

Boss: They wouldn't take me in the service. I was too old. . . And too yellow. Hey, cousin Sammy, hey I can't come down there!. . . An all round man lumper? Number One he's a good one. . .winchman, dumper, hatchman, anywhere at all, he can do it.

Number One: I'm retiring.

Boss: He's been saying that for ten years. Don't listen to him.

Howard Hughes: He stayed with me coupla` years an' then. . . just collapsed. They don't last too long. This man here was dead. He was dead seven years ago. He was completely dead. He'd given up lumping 'cause he'd worked with Boss for ten years. So I says come with me, I says, and you want to see a resurrection of the dead. He's it.

Boss: He's got what's left. He's got what's left of Number one.

Howard Hughes: Lotta people think, now, in the lumping racket that you cannot send a bushel up in an angular position, see. This man here, Boss, has studied geometry and he's applied geometry to hooking up a bushel. He's proven that a tipped-over basket can be sent up. . . regularly, especially when the pace of the hook has been accelerated. Regardless of the fact that the amount of weight in the bushel doesn't compare to the other poor bastard that's killing himself.

Number One: He's number one cigarette bummer, too. Nobody can touch him. He helps the hatchman, y'know, get longer arms.

Boss: I was one of the best.

Howard Hughes: The twilight of a mediocre career.

Boss: Mediocre? I got every record that was ever in this harbor! I got the most fish out alone, the most fish double. . .

Number One: But it took him two days.

Howard Hughes: You know the China Wall? It's probably one of the greatest building accomplishments in the world. They never mention the period of time it took in build it. Now him and the China Wall are practically symbolic. . .

Boss: Four hours and 15 minutes I took out a 100,000! Alone!

Howard Hughes: That's fast?

Boss: No man in this city ever done it before. We took out 200,000 a red fish another bum and I. We took out 220,000 a whiting this man and I. Took out 55,000 a ground fish alone.

Howard Hughes: How much whiting you took out?

Boss: Two hundred twenty thousand.

Howard Hughes: That's a lot of fish?!

Boss: On one job.

Number One: That was the Eagle.

Howard Hughes: You and who? . . . That's a lot of fish. Me and Sam Boy took out 375,000 in one day.

Boss: How many below? Oh! I took out 500,000!! As far as that goes.

Number One: Here comes Cheeks in now.

Howard Hughes: One after another 375,000.

Boss: I worked eight boats one day. . .I took out 500!

Howard Hughes: See what he says? Let me show you about his accomplishment. . .

Boss: One boat! Talk about one boat!

Howard Hughes: He talks about a hundred fifteen thousand in four hours and a half. Right? How much is that in an hour? You know anything about arithmetic? Twenty-five — thirty-thousand in an hour. Is almost the same thing as being a dead stop in the lumping racket. Know what I mean? In other words if he was a duck in a shooting gallery. . .

Boss: And 55,000 a ground fish alone! No man in Gloucester ever done that!

Howard Hughes: Ask him how long it took him. One guy. . .

Boss: That's the truth! All alone.

Howard Hughes: One guy on the hatch on the Carlo and Vince applied for his old age pension while he was waiting for Boss to get through the trip. All the steamers have done is culled out the good physical workers and see if they could do both ways. See, versatility is the essence of a complete man. Now this's a man here, Boss, that's individual. He's just a bum.

Number One: No more an all around man.

Boss: I'm 60 years old next year. Phillipo's. . .

Howard Hughes: Phillipo is as old as the Sphinx. In fact Phillipo built the Sphinx in Egypt y'know.

Boss: He the only one I know can make the Sphinx smile.

Number One: Phillipo has a broom he rides.

Howard Hughes: I'm the best worker on the steamers, too, y'know. I was given a trophy last month. Says I was the number one lumper on the steamers. Ask Number One.

Number One: Number one! Yeah.

Howard Hughes: The best workers have speed. If Number One didn't get hooked up with Boss, they figured that he was the greatest lumper that ever lived. I tell ya the truth, see, but. . .

Number One: No, they broke my back.

Howard Hughes: But he got hooked up with him, see. Got demolished. You gotta have speed to keep up with the hook.

Number One: I got the record. I had the bone taken out of my back and back down the fish hold in ten days. I got that record. Ten days from the day they took it out.

Howard Hughes: He is probably. . .would've been the best lumper in the history of Gloucester if it wasn't for Boss.

Number One: That guy killed me.

Howard Hughes: I tell you the truth. That there you can quote me on. What I'm saying. . .He's almost as good as me. Now I figure. . .

Number One: I crawled out of the hold all the way to the Addison Gilbert Hospital on my hands and knees.

Howard Hughes: I'll give you a good example of what I'm talking about. I figure I'm the best lumper that ever lived. I'm not bragging, I know I am. But. . .I would a worked with Boss periodically when I get stuck, see, and each time I work with him I say to myself maybe I'm not the best lumper 'cause Number One worked with him ten years. I can only work with him one day and I'm completely exhausted. He is the biggest eef that ever was born. Boss's my father's brother, I was the seventh son, see, and my mother wanted to throw me away, see. And my father said, no let's name him after Boss, that's worse. You never found any birth records on his girlfriends. They weren't born they were LAUNCHED. Records on 'em on the Registry of Vessels. . .tonnage. . .What I'm trying to say is, if Number One could put ten years with him, he got to be the greatest lumper. I cold never put in ten years. . .I couldn't do it.

Number One: Fifteen years I put with him. In them days you kept your head down, your ass up, and you didn't quit forking only to wipe the sweat out of your eyes.

Howard Hughes: Fact, I tell you the truth, no human being could put fifteen years with that man. . . He destroys you mentally and physically. Physically, he can't do his work, and mentally he tells you all his dreams about winning all kinds of fortunes — delusions of grandeur at the horses, schemes. . .When Number One dies.. . .Boss should pay for at least 50 per cent of the funeral. . .'cause he would a lived ten years longer.

Number One: They're gonna cremate me. . .

Boss: Yeah?

Number One: Not you, you're Catholic. They won't cremate you.

Boss: Yeah, I'm a Catholic. I went to church once.

Number One: You don't burn.

Howard Hughes: Boss's gonna be cremated. And he's gonna have his ashes split up in two different section of this country. Half over Suffolk Downs and half over the unemployment office.

Boss: I was the captain of a boat. I made more money seining than the highliners. The Abaset. I made$1,000 a month. . .mackerel disappeared.. .And I was mast man, seine boat engineer, twine man, cook and captain. Hey, 13 men and only one man had ever been fishing before. I took cab drivers, undertakers, cement . . . diggers. . .

Number One: That's all that would go with him.

Boss: I was the only one aboard the boat that could mend a net. I make my own seine and hung the whole. . .24 rings. . .myself.

Howard Hughes: See what he does? I took out a boat one time 80,000 a whiting alone. After I got through. . .the speed was so fast that they went down the hold and they looked for one other man, see, for a half an hour. There is no other man, I says . . . says IMPOSSIBLE! Can't be done. It's all true. But you can't put my real name down. I'm the Howard Hughes of the lumping. . .I'll be a legend if he writes this stuff down. But you can't identify a legend. . .It creates a better atmosphere.


Howard Curtis

Of course I've been here. I was born here in Gloucester and I lived here all my life. My father lived here before me. He was born in 1878. He lived here all his life. He died here in the room upstairs, in my room, our room. We had him here. He was totally blind, my wife watched over him like a child for years. My mother died at 77 years from cancer. She was really a very patient woman, very considerate. Of course that same you might say English-Yankee stock, very little complaining. My aunts, his two sisters, one lived to be 87, died on her eighty-seventh birthday. The other one lived to be 89. They'd sit in their home at 134 Centennial Avenue, very little complaining. My grandfather, their father, same way. I heard him say once, "I want to die." They said, "Stop that kind of talk, father." He was the type of man who used to find a hard chair to sit in because he didn't want people to know he was ailing. He didn't want to be too comfortable, he said.

I think a true Yankee is a person who has, over a period of time, sort of absorbed the spirit of old New England. It seems like something it takes time to really become, the same's it would really take time to become an Italian or a Swiss or German. It's more than just one generation. It's something that has to be developed over long periods of time the same's an old elm or an old oak becomes what it is enduring the hardships of the community through a number of seasons, traditions, codes of ethics, ways of living. No one can violate that: the basic character of the Yankee remains essentially the same's it was centuries ago.

There's a quality of reserve, of character, of unyielding, of not accepting the dictum of others; there's a sense of rebellion. For instance, whether certain members of our family ever drink or not, I don't know. I don't. My father didn't, my grandfather didn't, my great grandfather didn't, but some of his brothers did. T'isn't a matter of mores either, it's a matter of something which is inborn, inbred. For instance, now you wear your hair long, I wear mine short. My grandfather wore a beard, his father had long hair turned up at the back and side-burns. It has nothing to do with the outward man, it has to do with the inner spirit. It's something which is unyielding, almost as unyielding as Cape Ann granite.

I think Yankee is more than just living in a place. I think it's something which a person can't seem to get away from. An oak sends seeds down and oak trees grow, elms don't come up, or willows. And it's the same seeding an idea, and it isn't what the person looks like outwardly. It's what they'd do under certain given circumstances, what they're really like, not what they pretend to be.

I've been looking out of one eye for 54 years now due to getting in the way of fireworks. I thought it was a railroad flare. It said Red Flare outside. I remember that. It's a lesson I never forgot, never got over it. I always remember it 'cause when I close this good eye then I remember it.

Now my father had hemorrhagic glaucoma. His sight kept cutting down. Finally he became totally blind. The optic nerve was destroyed. He didn't know it was happening to him and he was one of these people who didn't like to complain, didn't like to talk about it, so we weren't aware till one day my wife decided she'd better get him to a doctor. My father thought he had a cold, the cold settling in his eye. It was all bloody and my wife said, "That needs attention." So she got him to agree to go to the doctor, first to Dr. Poland who sent him to Dr. Lodge, over on Pleasant Street. And he said, "We'll make an immediate appointment for him to go to Massachusetts General." She said, "I'll have to consult my husband first." I was at the high school [where he taught art to generations of Gloucester students] and I went down there and we brought my father back here. That was on April 11, 1961. We finally considered and we drove him to Boston that night. We got up there about half-past eight. We were due at half-past seven but we didn't make it. It was quite a shock to him.

My father said, "You mean you'd take your time and drive me clear to Boston?" I said, "We'd only be too anxious too." I says, "You willing to go?" and he says, "Well, if you're willing to take me, I'm willing to go." So we got in the car and we drove to Boston and we stayed there from half-past eight, seems to me, until half-past one in the morning.

In a dream that was prophetic I saw a hospital room — cot at one end — partly painted walls — being newly repainted; saw two young men assisting and working over my father. Every bit of it came true when my wife and I took him to Massachusetts General Hospital.

Father went through a series of tests. They kept him waiting and waiting and then they took him in and they recommended a certain kind of eye drops and my wife had to go out in the car to an all-night drug store and bring them back so we could have them that night and take them back with us. She has a considerable amount of spunk when it comes to those things — that Irish courage certainly came to the fore!

We got home around three o'clock in the morning and put my father to bed and gave him the eye drops. And from that time on, from 1961 until the day he died, 1968, October 2, he had to have eye drops, two kinds, and Diamox around the clock. For the first three and a half years my brother Wilbur and his wife, and my wife Eleanor and I, alternated in caring for father, the women folk bearing the bulk of the care, but for the remaining — over three and a half years on a 24-hour basis — my wife and I cared for him, Eleanor by far doing more than any other person. "I want to see him through to the end," she said.

The doctor said he'd more than likely have to have his eye out. My father was blind and he was bewildered and he had hardening of the arteries. And I said, "That would be a terrific thing for him to have to go through. I hope to God he won't have to go through that." For all this time we kept the drops up, round the clock, my wife and I, thinking, "Now will it be today or next hour, will he have to go, will we have to rush him to the hospital?" Time and time again his eye would get bright red and I'd say, "I hope it never happens."

There's a strange thing. I put forth a question. . . to an unknown and unseen source and I had a very vivid, a very strong answer back. "He will not have to have his eye removed. He'll pass on before that time."

Yet the resistance to the idea of death was maintained up to the point when he said, "Howard, I want to go home." I said, "But this is your home." "No," he said. "I want to go home." After that he failed rapidly.

It was seven years before he died. During all that time he complained very little. The basic nature of the man was to keep all these things to himself.

"Howard," he said, "I'd like to cry time and time again. I couldn't because it would put a strain on the eye."

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