Marking History in the Mayor’s Office

It was the Mayor’s 30th birthday.

No, not Mayor Samaras–I wasn’t really around for his 30th birthday.

May 10th, 2012 was the 30th birthday of Mayor Patrick Oisín Murphy, who just a few months earlier had become the youngest Plan E mayor in Lowell’s history.

It also was the first time that I had signed the historic Mayor’s guestbook.

May102012

That day, I joined a couple other fellow friends of the mayor and went to visit him in Room 50 on his birthday.  He wasn’t there, but one of my mayor’s aide predecessors, Greg Page, invited us to sign the guestbook while we were in the office.

With a few strokes of the pen, we joined a long history of guests registered in a the leather bound “City Hall Visitor Register”.  106 years, 7 months, and 3 days after Mrs. Mamie Perkins and her husband, Frank from Lake City, Colorado visited Lowell and signed the very same guest book.

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This was well before my own time working in the mayor’s office (I was at the State House then, for my first stint–as it turned out, in case you haven’t heard the recent news).  But from that day on, I had a great appreciation for this simple, yet profound connection between Lowell’s past and present (and future!).

The Mayor’s office itself is home to a lot of history and unique items and artifacts.  But the guestbook is special in that it has allowed literally thousands of people, Lowellians and visitors alike to leave a simple mark of their time at City Hall.

A few months after my first encounter with the book, Jen Myers helped share some of that very special history with one of the most lasting blog posts in the Original Room 50 Blog.

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“Hollywood Greats signed Mayor’s Guestbook” recaps the times that legends such as Alfred Hitchcock, Bud Abbott, and Lou Costello came to Lowell and signed the book.

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Visitors Register.jpgUnlike other important historic registers such as the records kept by the Clerk, there appears to be no set and fast rules on who signed and on what occasion.  Some guests feel they should only sign it once, while others chose to mark multiple special occasions.  For guests from far away, it may be their only ever visit to Lowell.  For mayors, city managers, and city staff they may be in the building every day.   Common sense usually dictates when to sign, but I have encouraged all who pass through the doors to sign at least once.  After all, we all are a part of Lowell’s history.

I personally signed the book several times between my first visit in May 2012 and beginning in the Mayor’s office in May 2017.  There was March 13th, 2013 when my Public Matters class met with City Manager Bernie Lynch and then again on December 6th, 2016 when I introduced the guestbook and its history to Yun-Ju Choi when she signed it for the first time at the annual City Hall Holiday Open House. My most recent signature came on May 30th, 2017 marking my start as the Assistant to the Mayor, signing one line below my immediate predecessor Celine Gettings.

Since that time, over 400 signatures have been added to the register.  Each name marking a moment in the city’s history for posterity.  Together with this blog, the guestbook serves as a time capsule and record of some of the events and visits big and small over the past terms.

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Former Lowell Cultural Council co-chair Van Pech signs the guestbook in June 2017

Councilors Karen Cirillo and Vesna Nuon both signed during the 2017 election year prior to capturing (or recapturing) their seats on the City Council.

Members of the Angkor Dance Troupe signed after performing in the Council Chamber.

City Historian Emeritus Mehmed Ali signed the book on his wedding day.  AliWeddingSignature.JPG

Colleen Brady holds the distinction of being the first person to sign the guestbook during the mayoral term of Mayor William Samaras when she added her name to the register on January 8, 2018.

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Despite being the longest serving city manager of the modern era, Bernie Lynch signed the mayor’s guestbook for apparently the first time on January 29, 2018 during a visit with the newly elected mayor.

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You can see the history of events being planned.  In June 2018, the Mayor’s Office co-hosted the first of two Citizenship Clinics during Mayor Samaras’s terms.  On March 29, 2018, Melanie Torres and Erik Finn of Project Citizenship both added their names to the register.

So far no United States presidents have signed the guestbook (Jen’s research was inspired in part to see if John F. Kennedy had signed it during his visits to Lowell.) But there is a signature by someone who got very close.

Signature

Governor Dukakis

KittyMikeDukakis.jpgFormer Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis signed the book on May 23rd, 2018 while participating in a town hall discussion regarding the North-South Rail Link.

A few weeks later, a high profile diplomat joined the ranks as former U.S. Ambassador to Denmark Rufus Gifford visited Room 50 shortly after participating in the first ever Pride Flag Raising at Lowell City Hall on June 1st.

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Rufus

June 2018 truly was a month with an world wide flair as a group of international students signed the book.  On June 7th, Lowell welcomed students from South Korea, Myanmar, Kenya, India, and Taiwan.  A week later those signatures were joined by the Consul General of Japan, Rokuichiro Michii visiting following a key to the city presentation.

They were far from the only international visitors.  We’ve had an ambassador from Cape Verde, a visiting law enforcement delegation from Argentina, an environmental activist based in Cambodia, a Ghanaian member of Parliament, a tour group from Germany, the director of the Learning City initiative in Cork, Ireland, and many others.

The guestbook contains many family stories.  My aunt, Anne Gallagher, looked (to no avail) for a signature from her father former City Manager and Councilor Charles Gallagher before signing the guestbook herself on May 5th, 2018.

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Professor Sophal Ear of Occidental College visited in March 2018, and brought his family back in July to sign the guestbook!

Sarah Foster and her husband Geoff signed the book on the night she was recognized as a finalist for Massachusetts Teacher of the Year.  Her uncle and father signed it two years later during a special mayor to mayor visit of City Hall by the Mayor of Coralville, Iowa.

Looking through the past years, the annual Mayor’s Holiday Reception has been a key date for signature gathering.  2018 was no different with December 11th filling an entire page in the book and several people signing for the very first time.

HolidayReceptionSignatures

Saoran Roueth signed the book the next day (December 12th, 2018), but then returned a few weeks later on (January 3rd, 2019)to earn the honor of being the first person to sign in 2019, joining 113 others who kicked off the year as the annual initial signature.

The guestbook is open to all.  Whether you’re a college student on an internship or a member of Congress making an official visit during your first 100 days in the United States House of Representatives.

 

The guestbook is a truly priceless piece of Lowell history, but at over 110 years old, it is showing some wear and tear.   The Lowell Heritage Partnership and the Lowell Historic Board have begun a collaboration on digitizing the contents of the book with the hopes of eventually presenting a digital exhibit.  From the establishment of Plan E to the celebration of the new millennium, there are stories to be unlocked within these pages.

And the stories continue to be made at City Hall.  So next time you’re in the building, consider making your own mark in the visitors’ register.

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