Twenty Things
Every Marblehead
Should Know

By Mr. W.H.I.P.*

1. True Marbleheader: Time is of the essence in determining who is a Marbleheader and who is not. How long have you lived here? In a crude but generous way, anyone who arrived in town after Doliber in 1629 can be called a Marbleheader. In this Age of Roots, however, a strict definition of family tree is often applied: Your grandfather on both sides should have been born a Marbleheader. But since Mary Alley Hospital closed its maternity ward in the mid-1960's, only those born at home today can claim to have taken their first breath in Marblehead. Going native is getting more and more difficult.

2. Nicknames: a true Marbleheader (see above) has a nickname, usually cryptic and irreverent. If you cannot think of a "handle" for yourself, try these from the past: Gut-Bucket, Cold Loaf, Little Loaf, Fishface, Twitcheye, Twiffer, Crack-Pear, Go-Below, Rock-Cod-Dixie, Dinger. Be sure a story is attached to the name.

3. Harbor Walking: a true Marbleheader (see item #1) knows what years the harbor froze over - 1898, 1912, 1979 - a rare phenomenon which enables one to walk as-the-seagull-flies from Boston Yacht Club to Eastern Yacht Club.

4. Sacred Shops: a true Marbleheader (see item #1) remembers, or at least has heard about, legendary merchants. Nell Rodger's ice cream parlor (nickle a scoop) is one. Or try to recall Cap't Boardman's Bakery, where raspberry turnovers were a treat and where housewives sent their bean pots, wrapped in "bundle handkerchiefs," to be cooked in big ovens during the summer. And who could forget the clam shops, such as Chapman's or "Spike" Blaney's? Still here is Oliver's Market (and Oliver).

5. Club After Club: Ever since the town's Revolutionary patriots such as John Glover met secretly in the Tuesday Evening Club, true Marbleheaders (see item #1) have gathered in small circles to exchange good fellowship, play rummy or poker, and sip a few. Over the centuries, the town has been home to the Senate Club, Fat Cake Club, King Solomon Club, and even a Sea Serpent Club which met once a year to supposedly witness a greenish purple monster swim off the Neck. A pre-atomic age Uranium Club was once popular but later dematerialized. Today, fishermen who hang about the town wharf have formed a "Cheap Bastard's Yacht Club" (CBYC), complete with burgee and commo dore. A CBYC II is forming on the town's western shore.

6. Rocks: Besides Marblehead Rock off the ocean of the Neck, a true Marbleheader (see item #1) knows of other such granite landmarks as Half-way Rock, three miles offshore and half-way between Cape Ann and Boston; the Three Sisters, the three glacier boulders near Waterside Cemetery; Tilting Rock, a strange boulder near the western shore; and J.O.J. Frost's singing Indian rocks.

7. Kid Gangs: a true Marbleheader (see item #1) was once a member of the town's many gangs that took their names from the territory they controlled. There were the Redd's Hillers, Up-alongers, Down-alongers, the Barnegaters, the Ship-yarders, and the Wharf-Rats (they used beach stones). They all pulled together, however, to rebuff invasions by the Salem Shags, giving rise to the phrase "rock em 'round the corner," which meant stoning the Salemites back around the harbor corner roadway.

8. Town "Weed" - Hollyhock: Since the 17th-century, the multi-colored Althea rosea has been right at home in town, as any true Marbleheader (see item #1) knows. Hollyhocks in abundance shoot up in spring next to rocks, walls, and fences, causing Marblehead to have been dubbed "Hollyhock Town."

9. Red Litmus Test: As you walk down-town, you will know you are a true Marbleheader if ''Red" the Old Town foot patrolman ever said hello to you.

10. For ''Furreiners'' Only: Isolated and sea-girdled as it is, Marblehead has local idioms just for foreigners, the ''strangers in our midst." To the summer visitor, the expression goes, "Just passing through?" or "One way in, one way out.'' All true Marbleheaders (see item #1) know the story of the town fisherman who was tossed a silver coin by a passing Salem yachtsman whose boat's wake capsized the fisherman's catch. "To hell I pitch it,'' he responded. For state officials, the proper remark is: "What the hell have the laws of Massachusetts got to do with the town of Marblehead?"

11. Land Prices: Before real estate agents settled in town, Marbleheaders already were shrewd land dealers. Every true Marbleheader (see item #1) knows how the town land was purchased from the Nanepashmet Indians for only 16 pounds in 1684. The deed reads that the Native Americans were ''fully satisfied and contented .''

12. Superstitions: Story-telling comes naturally to any true Marbleheader (see item #1) . Thus, you can be expected to know the legend of the "screeching woman" who was killed by pirates near Lovis Cove where her screams are still heard; or the legend of Agnes Surriage, a tavern-maid-turned-Lady whose romance was the talk of the 18th-century.

13. Always a winner: For anyone thinking of running for selectman, every true Marbleheader (see item #I) knows that incumbents never lose.

14. Choice Words: There are still Marbleheaders alive today whose mouths have been washed with soap by their mothers for uttering the word, "whip." This profoundly indecent word really has no meaning. Nonetheless, every true Marbleheader (see item #I) knows it as a swear word. Other words are equally idiomatic: throwing wastewater out your window requires a yell of "down bucket.'' If you are below the window the response is "Up for air.''

15. Lafayette, We Are Here: Number two Union Street has a corner taken out of it and the story goes that the cut was made to allow room for Gen. Lafayette's gilded coach when he visited the town. All true Marbleheaders (see item #1) tell the legend even though they know it is not true.

16. For Whom The Bell Tolls: On the bell in Abbot Hall's clock tower is an inscription, known by every true Marbleheader (see item #1):

I ring at twelve the joyful rest of noon
I ring at nine to slumber sweet of night
I call to free men with my loudest tones,
Come all ye men and vote the noblest right.

17. George Was Here: Every true Marbleheader (see item #1) knows that George Washington did not sleep here. He only visited in 1789, thanking the town for its war efforts.

18. Your Way, My Way: Hidden between houses in town are many public paths which once helped Marbleheaders quickly get to the harbor when the ships came in. True Marbleheaders (see item #1) know these right-of-ways, such as Lookout Court, Old Alley Steps, and numerous strips on the Neck.

19. All Together Now: Deep down in their bones, true Marbleheaders (see item #1) know the chorus to "Marblehead Forever," sung to the tune of "The Lily of the Valley'': Then Marblehead forever! God bless the good old town! May she never shame her noble ancestry! She was first in Revolution, was first in '61, And from all dishonor we will keep her free!

20. AII in All: Despite Item #1, it is generally known that anyone living in Marblehead is a magnificent person if they just know what every Marbleheader should know.

*Mr. W.H.I.P. is short for William Hooper Ireson Peach, a true Marblehead name if there ever was one. Do you know something every Marbleheader should know? If so, email it to Mr. W.H.I.P. | Search | Ask | Archives | Online Store | Contact Us
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