hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

January 26, 2012

Editorial: Three cheers for three stories in today's Gazette

There's some news to celebrate in today's Gazette.

Let's start with the story of Haverhill native Una Jackson, a living demonstration of the idea that the best way to meet old age is to remain active and engaged. Jackson, now 74 and living in Hilton Head, S.C., is a medal-winning fencer who is top-ranked in the U.S. saber division for women 70 and older. The fact that there's a whole division for septuagenarian fencers shows Jackson is far from unique.

Jackson took up fencing three or four years ago at the Savannah, Ga., Fencing Club after her curiosity about the sport was piqued by a spot she saw on a TV sports show. She was ready for the challenge because she was working out three days a week, running and playing tennis.

Jackson has already competed abroad in Curacao and Croatia and will fence in Austria later this year. She says she's thinking about hanging up her sword and fencing mask after that, but we have a feeling she'll find another outlet.

We hold up Jackson as a model for the baby boom generation, the first members of which will be turning 70 in just a few years.

Buttonwoods Museum is planning an exhibit this summer called "Serve the Common Cause: Haverhill's Women in the Civil War" and is soliciting artifacts, photos and other items that will help tell the often overlooked story. Women on the home front played a significant role in the Civil War, not only sending their sons and husbands to fight for the union but also organizing to collect blankets, roll bandages and knit socks and other articles of clothin for the men at the front. Some women also took a direct role in the conflict, most of them as nurses. The former Bradford College was the scene of a training center for nurses during the period.

One of the most remarkable stories about Haverhill women in the Civil War is that of Lucinda Worther. A nurse for the Union Army, she donned a soldier's uniform and pretended to be a man as she went from camp to camp seeking her brother until the ruse was discovered during an inspection by officers. Sounds like a tale out of a romance novel.

Museum curator Janice Williams and seven volunteers have already collected 75 artifacts and images and are seeking more.

"It's a story that's not been told very often," Williams said. "We're hoping to find enough stories about Haverhill women to really bring it home." That's a worthy goal. We can see groups of school children visiting the exhibit to learn more about the history of America and their hometown.

Cheers also for the plans to install two docks on the Merrimack River with gangways leading to the Washington Street boardwalk. Boaters will be invited to tie up their vessels for a stroll downtown for a bite to eat at one of several nearby restaurants. That's already part of the summer scene on the waterfronts of Newburyport and Gloucester, though on a larger scale than envisioned in Haverhill. "We're hopeful this will be a nice amenity to downtown," said Andrew Herlihy, the city's assistant director of community development.

Sharon Cohen, general manager of The Tap restaurant, said docks installed in the past and she is glad to hear they are coming back. "People will use them."

Haverhill will never have the bustling waterfront of a Newburyport and Gloucester — there are far fewer boats and far less access from other ports of call. But the plan is another small step in efforts to take advantage of the city's access to the river, which the city turned its back on for years because it was an open sewer for human and industrial waste. The river's comeback goes hand in hand with Haverhill's.