Columns » Holistically Speaking

Old Home Week

by Alison Barnet
Wednesday Nov 19, 2014

The other day, I ran into Patricia Buddenhagen. Patricia was one of the South End News's first staff writers. She wrote for the South End News for three years, outlasting most of the original cast. A writer, she now lives in the Back Bay, and will soon be featured in the literary journal Ploughshares.

The first issue of the South End News hit the streets on February 15, 1980. It was put out by Skip Rosenthal (publisher) and me (editor). I wrote or edited virtually every word and typeset all twelve pages, while Skip "sold" all the ads (free in the first issue) and laid out the paper. We ran Officer John Sacco's police report, Frank Leupold's Muse (Arts & Entertainment), and Dick Card's South End history, as well as Little City Hall and SEPAC columns.

Patricia's specialty became Tent City and Copley Place. In 1980, the Tent City site was a parking lot ringed by a handful of isolated buildings. While Copley Place received federal money and went up quickly, Tent City, a political hot potato, remained undeveloped-"Tent City Talks Stalled." Although it seemed like things were beginning to pop, it would be another eight years before Tent City was built.

A few days after bumping into Patricia, I was talking with someone who told me he used to work with Officer Sacco. I hadn't talked to John Sacco for a while so I went home and called. He's been working in Security at the JFK library for years and now, turning 80 in December, he's cut back to a few days a week.

Sacco became locally famous for items such as:

A Yarmouth Street resident was mugged & robbed by a man who stated to victim that he had nothing against him but was robbing him to recoup his losses when he himself was a victim of an earlier robbery.

Imitation being the sincerest of flattery, other papers started police reports, but no other literary police officer has yet been able to match Sacco's wit and style.

These encounters got me thinking about other early staff. Back then, Frank Leupold worked at the Little City Hall as Senior Service Coordinator, but his major interest was the arts, the funkier and more obscure the better. Now living in Arizona, he visited about a year ago. He travels a lot, following music and the arts.

Al Zahlaway, our staff photographer, made his debut in early May with a shot of open mounds of garbage at the Blackstone Community School. Al grew up in the Syrian community in the South End and, like many from the South End in the '50s and '60s, no longer lives here. He's now a Boston police officer.

About others I'm not sure.

April 5 was E. Jane Smith's first issue. Her best article ever (I'm talking more than ten years) was on Tony Meconiates, the Shawmut Avenue grocer. Marianne Gontarz took a photo of him standing in front of his store, and he kept that story taped to his wall for many years. He was evicted to make way for Formaggio's in 1997.

Then there was David Adlerstein, a recent college graduate juggling part-time jobs and trying to afford to live in Boston. He started out with an interest in writing about the elderly and then became interested in everyone he came across. My kind of reporter, he was fascinated with "Old South End" types and apt to become personally involved. I once sent him out to interview a long-time South End family forced to move when the city took their building on Newland Street. David practically became a member of the Cullinane family, hanging out with them long after his article was published. When David came to the office on East Springfield Street, he talked to the kids playing outside and wrote a poem about a set of twins, Tyrone and Tyree.

Peterlyn Wojtuszewska became a regular feature writer. She discovered a beauty contest winner working in her local variety store. This was classic community newspaper fare, and we all got a kick out of it.

Peterlyn, David, Jane and I embarked on a labor of love that was such a big production I don't think the South End News has ever attempted it since. Judy Watkins gave me the idea; her daughter was graduating from Madison Park High School and she knew there were many other South End graduates. Not only did we try to find every South End graduating senior in schools across the region, we asked for a photo and their post-graduation plans. I could have died a million deaths when Judy's name was misprinted as "Watson." She insisted I hadn't needed to acknowledge her at all. I've remembered it with chagrin to this day.

Alison Barnet is the author of South End Character, Speaking Out on Neighborhood Change. You can buy her book at the South End Food Emporium, 465 Columbus Avenue, and the South End Branch Library. They do it for the neighborhood and make no profit from the sale.

Alison Barnet is the author of Extravaganza King: Robert Barnet and Boston Musical Theater. She has lived in the South End since 1964 and has been writing about it for almost as long.


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