Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Maynard's Oldest Resident 'Mil' Duggan

MAYNARD SMOKE SHOP, east corner of 100 Main Street
was owned/operated by the Duggans before selling to Sheridan
brothers. This photo from Maynard Historical Society archive.
Mildred Duggan passed away on September 14, 2016, making her 104 years old. Her burial was in St. Bridget's Cemetery, Maynard.

Mildred 'Mil' Duggan, age 102, born in Maynard on September 1, 1912, is recognized as Maynard's oldest resident, and as such, holder of the Boston Post Cane. In an interview conducted on May 18th, Mildred, with her niece Ellen Duggan occasionally chiming in to add to oft recounted family stories, told about back when there was still a trolley running through Maynard, when farmers from the south side of Maynard sold fresh vegetables and eggs off horse-pulled wagons, and when the mill was running around-the-clock shifts during World War II making blankets and cloth for Army uniforms.   

Mildred's ancestors were 'two-boaters' - Irish immigrants who had first crossed the Atlantic Ocean to Newfoundland, Canada to work in the cod fish industry before they or their descendants moved on to Boston or New York. Much of the work was ashore, preparing salt cod (dried, salted fillets) from fresh-caught fish. In an era before refrigeration, salt cod was a food staple in many cultures. Newfoundland, especially the east coast around the city of St John's, was known as the most Irish place outside of Ireland.

In the 1890s, Mil's grandparents traveled by ship to Boston and then train to Maynard. Her parents, Timothy Duggan and Ellen Brothers, were teenagers at the time, but soon done with school and working in the woolen mill, she as a weaver and he as a spinner. Her mother told stories of being in fear of making an error and then being called to The Perch (the supervisor's raised platform), to be chastised or fired. Tim and Ellen married at St. Bridget Roman Catholic Church on June 2, 1909.

Mildred 'Mil' Duggan on her 99th birthday, September 1, 2011
Mildred's childhood memories include ice skating on the Mill Pond in the winter and her brother fishing there in the summer. Boys would catch sunfish, perch and catfish, then sell them to women in the neighborhood. Kids played in the river and went to movies for a dime. Back then Crowe Park had a bandstand and bleachers, so there were free concerts, ball games and other goings on.

In addition to working in Maynard's wool mill, Mildred's father worked stints at the Wayside Inn, the Smoke Shop in the Masonic Building on Main Street, Damon Mill in West Concord, and the gunpowder mill. One day an explosion shook buildings and broke windows in Maynard. Being without a telephone, Mildred's mother walked across town to Powder Mill Road to learn if her husband was dead or alive. (Alive.)

The September hurricane of 1938 - before such storms were given names - devastated much of New England. Mildred's older brother, J. (James) Edmund Duggan, was trying to drive the two of them from Boston to Maynard. Trees were falling everywhere, bringing down power lines that were sparking and smoking on the ground. They got as far as West Concord before the road became impassable, then walked the last three miles to Maynard.

Mildred never married, but she is close to her brother's children, and their children and grandchildren, making her a cherished aunt, great-aunt and great-great-aunt. She is proud to continue to be an active parishioner of St. Bridget (and can remember when the Church had a taller steeple).  

The Boston Post Cane: In 1909 the publisher of the Boston Post newspaper decided, as a promotional stunt, to gift ebony canes to hundreds of towns in Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, to be awarded to the oldest male resident (and to be returned to the town's keeping upon his death). Best count is that canes went to 641 towns. Women became eligible to be holders of the cane after 1930. Each cane had a 14-carat gold head engraved with the inscription, "Presented by the Boston Post to the oldest citizen of _____."  

Maynard's Boston Post Cane is on permanent display at the town building. It had gone missing around 1928, not recovered until 1981. In 1999 the Maynard Historical Society decided to revive the tradition of honoring Maynard’s oldest citizen by presenting him or her with a plaque from the Maynard Board of Selectmen. Mildred F. Duggan has been symbolic holder of the cane since March 4, 2014.  

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