The Boston Globe from Boston, Massachusetts on March 19, 2009 · SO3
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The Boston Globe from Boston, Massachusetts · SO3

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Thursday, March 19, 2009
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THURSDAY, MARCH 19, 2009 The Boston Globe Globe South 3 Picketers coming to school play Stephen Puleo's "Dark Tide" examines the lives of immigrants in the North End before and after the Great Molasses Flood. Caught up in a deadly flood Book about 1919 molasses disaster is focus of local reading events On Jan. 15, 1919, a 50-foot-high tank full of molasses collapsed into Boston's North End, sending 2.3 million gallons of the heavy, sticky substance into the crowded neighborhood, killing 21 people and injuring 150. To mark this year's 90th anniversary of the tragedy, Medford officials are making the Great Molasses Flood the focus of the city's first "community read" program, hoping Stephen Puleo's book about poor Ital ian immigrants falling victim to corporate negligence brings strangers together and spurs interest in the Medford Public Library. Several other communities are featuring Puleo's book, "Dark Tide," for read-ing programs this year. Puleo lectured at the Boston Public Library on Jan. 14 as a 90th anniversary commemoration. Beverly concluded its two-month community read with Puleo leading a tour of the North End on March 15. And Stoughton kicked off its fifth Stoughton Reads Together program on March 2 with an exhibit of photos from the molasses flood. In Medford, the community read kickoff party this month drew about 40 people to discuss "Dark Tide," which chronicles the buildup to the flood and its aftermath. The party raised $1,000 for the library. "When you hear about the flood, it sounds kind of surreal, but the book goes into great detail," said Mary Sbuttoni, a member of the library steering committee. Puleo said Italian immigrants made up 97 percent of the North End's population in the late 1910s, and since few of them could vote and no community organizations existed, the residents had no political power to oppose the construction of the massive molasses tank on Commercial Street near the waterfront. The molasses was used for rum and to create alcohol for explosives during World War I. When the tank collapsed, the molasses tidal wave reported to be as high as 15 feet destroyed much in its path, including an elevated railroad trestle and a firehouse that was knocked off its foundation. Many of the people who died drowned because they couldn't stay afloat in the heavy liquid. Months passed before all the hardened molasses was removed with workers eventually using seawater to clean the streets. The class-action lawsuit following the flood said the disaster was caused by poor tank construction, leading to its owner, the US Industrial Alcohol Co., having to hand out awards to 1 19 victims although the company maintained the tank failure was caused by Italian anarchists. Puleo said building regulations nationwide were tightened as a result of the flood, including requiring engineers to certify structural plans. "This tank did not even require a building permit because it wasn't considered a building. It was considered a receptacle," Puleo said. Barbara Kerr, assistant director of the Medford library, said the local community read committee picked "Dark Tide" be cause of Medford's large number of residents of Italian descent and their ties to the North End; because the book is a local non-fiction work suitable for a variety of programming; and because people seem to like disaster stories. The library sponsored a lecture on the history of the North End on March 12 and has planned other events, including a movie about Italian immigration on March 26, a discussion about strange Boston history on April 7, two tours of the North End on March 28 and April 18, and a lecture with Puleo on April 27. "It is a community-building exercise," Kerr said. "March is a really long and boring month, and you need something to do." The community read program also includes a children's novel, "Joshua's Song," by Medford native Joan Hiatt Harlow, a fiction story set against the events of the Great Molasses Flood. The Tufts University Neighborhood Service Fund provided 180 copies of "Joshua's Song" to Medford schools in hopes of bringing fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders into the discussion. Pat Basler, director of the Stoughton Public Library, said community reads inspires strangers to talk with one another. The first year Stoughton read together, people would stop library staff on the street asking when the next community read would take place, she said. Brad Kane can be reached at brad.j. kane grnaU. com. "THE LARAMIE PROJECT" ContinuedfromPage 1 mately it is about not using hurtful language in a school where every student and faculty member has a right to feel safe. Our hope is at the end of this all students will feel more comfortable." "The Laramie Project" consists of interviews with real people in the town of Laramie, Wyo., where gay college student Matthew Shepard died after being beaten and tied to a fence in October 1998. In an e-mail, Westboro Church spokeswoman Shirley Phelps-Roper said she will be among the "fewer than 10 members" from Topeka who will be coming to protest at the school. "We chose that high school because they are being taught rebellion against God and his standards every day. . . The latest evidence of it is the fact that they are producing 'The Laramie Project,' which is nothing but as a way to teach rebellion! !" She wrote that the students deserve to have someone tell them what God requires of them. She called the accounts of Shep-ard's story a "loud lie" and stated that Shepard was killed by another homosexual during a drug deal gone bad. "This nation needed a poster child ... so that she could rise up with one voice to say that it is OK to be gay," Phelps-Roper wrote. The prospect of a confrontation did not appear to faze Police Chief Kenneth N. Berkowitz, who called the protests "sort of a gift." "I think it's given us a good opportunity to have some dialogue about free speech, lawful protest, and gay rights," he said. He said police have been working with the schools to ensure a peaceful event, and noted that the Westboro group protested without incident at the Irish Cultural Center in August 2007. "We set up an area where they'll be able to exercise their right to free speech. We'll do our best to insure their safety." Berkowitz said. "As much as I personally disagree with them, professionally I agree with their right to be heard." School Superintendent John D'Auria said the play has been an opportunity to have some "great conversations" about the topics of intolerance, race, and disrespect. "We're not comfortable having those conversations," he said. "It's a dialog that vibrant schools should be having." Shapiro said the school hosted a forum for about 55 student leaders earlier this month facilitated by members of the group Greater Boston Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People. The group will lead preplay discussion at 6:15 p.m. tomorrow. The play will also be performed Saturday at 7 p.m. The group's events were funded by a grant From left: director Stephanie Shapiro, with some of "The Laramie Project" cast members: Kevin Fortin, Rachel McCourt, T.J. Leuken, and Rachel Lenkei. from the Canton Alliance for Public Education. Shapiro said that no student has been required to participate in any of the programs. Students said the topics of First Amendment rights and gay rights have been coming up in classes from computer science to poetry to political science for the past several weeks. Many of those planning to demonstrate, including T.J. Leuken, a gay senior who also is performing in the play, said it would be their first time to do so. He said the forum brought together people from all types of organizations at the high school in a relaxed way that allowed anyone to ask any question they wanted. It was a great way to get people talking and to clear up some misconceptions, he said. "I've always been pretty comfortable here. You're always aware that things happen behind your back, but I'm not one of those kids who is going to hide who I am," said Leuken in an interview. Leuken said that the play explores the different viewpoints of the people from Laramie and lets people make up their own minds. In the play, he acts as six characters, including one of the men found guilty of murdering Shepard. Senior Rachel McCourt said many students were surprised to find out that using terms such as "faggot" or statements like "that is so gay" are considered offensive to many. "I felt like people had prejudices that were being erased slowly," McCourt said. Senior Rachel Lenkei said events have brought people together. "It's just really exciting to see the entire student body behind an event. It's been unifying," Lenkei said. Shapiro said the play rehearsals have been intense for the 25 actors and 10 crew members. During the first rehearsal, she asked the students why they wanted to be in the show. Some said that Shepard's murder moved them to realize that that kind of hate could be directed at them or a good friend. Shapiro said that while not all staff members intend to demonstrate, "a lot of teachers are excited to see the kids involved," she said. "I've heard a few say, 'It brings me back' " Elaine Cushman Carroll can be reached at elainecarrollmsn.-com. Let Us Spring Your Carpet Back To Lifa If Superior Carpet has not cleaned your rugs, then you 've 4 forgotten what they lookei 'ere NEW! Jv3eIL. Area Rug cleaning Pick-up S Delivery Available Wall to Wall Carpel Cleaning IKnjHjUM Scolchguarding. New Pads Cut to Fit Oriental Rug Repair S Restoration 'fiWj'nflSttr Carpet Cutting. 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