The Travails of Edward Pershey
If you are really lucky you will, at least once in your life, run into a person whose presents has pre-empted all of your future. In Lowell, Ed Pershey fit into that category. Everything he did had been done before. One piece at a time was fast enough for him to make his journey. Ed was in that proverbial class by himself. He could dress people to mimic being alive in the 1800’s, or he could take a small piece of pottery or glass and tell you where it came from, often co-authoring his idea to someone else who had not even known he or she was in the running.
When I met Ed, I was a guest at a historic symposium located on the grounds of the great Boott Mill. He had an actor protray a frontier woman from a surrounding town. She was terribly upset that her daughter was leaving the farm to work in the mills. Her entire life was in flux. How was she supposed to pay the farm expenses with a lazy husband and limited tools? God only knew and he was not telling.
Ed used the opportunity to introduce introduce us to the vicissitudes caused by a child growing up and leaving the home. There were still expectations even when the child was in his or her twenties. Ed brought out a few of pieces of ceramic pottery or class and pointed out those areas which were the result of skilled labor and which were playthings.
His knowledge of history was immense. Imagine a child having a favorite toy and leaving dirty remnants of it in a cottage. That was Ed’s push. Few left that day learning nothing. Most left learning something.
Ed Pershey was not the only notable in Lowell. Many students, educators, administrators, and others would swim through Ed Pershey’s magical time. By the time he was done, the Boott Mills would stand on its own two feet. I would stand as an honest museum. advocate that day though as the period that time forgot. He first welcomed all of us student-teachers (students because that is what we were and teachers because that is what we would do). He asked many questions. We were in the middle of a broken down counting house, and we were being asked questions about how the average farmer lived (very poorly we believed) and what changes were coming aroung the bend to assist the smallest of purchasers.
Ed Pershey would best be played on stage by Frances Cabot Lowell, whose most remarkable attribute was how involved he became in merchandising in Lowell, Massachusetts. They both loved picking out items to sell at their huge mills, or small shops. Frank Lowell, as he prefered to be called, traded in almost everything that he could afford. Ed Pershey traded in those items available in college and high school demonstrations. We would choose any given Saturday or Sunday and check out what the various historical or scientific shows were exhibiting. We often became judges. Ed wanted many teachers to participate in these shows. Quite few would.
The first day I met Ed Pershey, he boomed at me « Welcome fellow teacher! » He sat; me down on a chair surrounded by other teachers, and he asked how many of us could see ourselves designing the Boott Mills. We thought it was some sort of trick and refused to be drawn into it. Finally he asked me. He did not know that I had been the brother-in-law of the late Paul Tsongas. The nuns did not tell him that. Thank goodness for the nuns. I managed to keep my inferiority complex in check for the entire day. However, one of the Sisters of Notre Dame, managed to offer that I may have some experience in History, I mentioned that I did. The man asked me where I would place the Loom Room.. I said that there was only one logical location for it – on the first floor. He asked why, and I said that the looms were too heavy. He asked me to extrapolate and I said that the looms would be about a ton each and the vibration would be incredible. He said that the looms would be about one ton each and the vibration be the equivalent of cars coming onto the floors above. That, we decided,
was unacceptable.. So the concrete floor was born. Then Ed asked where the Counting House should be. We picked minor offices for the first and second floor. Then Ed asked for the location of the main floor, the floor of the woven materials and miniature looms, as well as the offices. We chose the third floor. It was the most spacious and sunniest. It also had beautiful floors. The fourth floor was for utilitarian uses.
Ed and I spent close to two years together, We designed much of that building. Ed had his PhD. and had been the designer of many of the museum pieces for the Thomas Edison Museum in Melno Park, NJ. He went on to other design opportunities. I learned more from Ed than from any other person. Maybe not from Paul Tsongas, but certainly within that reign. I thought I would talk about a few of these items. They were important to Lowell, at least as important as the « rag-man » of Lowell. We have to remember everybody. To do less would be to forget our many friends, families, and children, that make up todays Lowell. It would be to forget Ed Pershey. That would be a sin. Let’s not forget Jack Kerouac either. Lowell is famous because of the people who live (d) here.