Lewis Hine caption: On right hand is Richard Fitzgerald, 53 Montgomery St., works in twisting room of Eclipse Mills, No. Adams. On left hand, Joseph Adams, 107 Front St., works in twisting room of Eclipse Mills,. Location: North Adams, Massachusetts, August 1911.
When I look at the boys in Lewis Hine’s nine photographs in North Adams, I think about the fact that in six years, their country will enter WWI, and many of them will no longer be working at the mill. Instead, they will be heading out of the city on troop trains, leaving their lively and mostly French-Canadian neighborhood along the Hoosic River. Some may never return. Those who do will face the Great Depression in another 10 years, when most will struggle to support a wife and young children, the youngest (boys) of which will reach draft age about the time the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor.
Hine shows us Richard Fitzgerald in several pictures, each time for one moment in his life, that’s all. Other than the date and the place he was photographed, we know virtually nothing about him. We don’t know what he is thinking and what his life has been like up to that time. Richard doesn’t know what he is destined to face in adulthood, though he may have already made some assumptions about that.
Lewis Hine caption: Workers in Eclipse Mills, North Adams. Location: North Adams, Massachusetts, August 1911.
After searching all the available North Adams records, finding several of the houses he lived in, walking through several large cemeteries and spending considerable time on the Internet, I pieced together as much information as I could, starting with the 1860 census record for Richard’s paternal grandparents, and ending with his death record in 1967.
Richard A. Fitzgerald’s mother, Anna, was born in Ireland, and his father, John, was a second-generation Irish-American born in Cambridge, New York, about 35 miles from North Adams. Richard was born in North Adams, on April 13, 1897. He was the youngest of five children, one of whom apparently died very young.
Richard’s early life was filled with tragedy. At the time of the photograph, he had already experienced the death of his paternal grandfather in 1900, the death of his 17-year-old brother in a job-related accident in 1901, the suicide of an uncle in 1903, and the death of his mother in 1909. Several months after he was photographed by Hine in August, Richard was confirmed at St. Francis Catholic Church; but two weeks before Christmas, his sister passed away less than three years after her marriage, leaving behind a young husband and two small children. In 1917, his paternal grandmother died; and two years later, his father died.
I found only one living descendant, Mary, who lives in North Adams. Her grandmother was Alice Fitzgerald, the sister who had died in 1911. Mary had never heard of Richard, who would have been her great uncle. But she was excited when I gave her copies of the photographs and the documents I had obtained. Up to that point, she knew almost nothing about the Fitzgerald side of her family.
Since I was unable to find anyone who remembers him, we may never know what the rest of his life was like, and what kind of a person he turned out to be. I do know that he lived in North Adams until about 1922, and then moved to the Boston area, apparently to live with his older brother John, with whom he was living in 1930, according to the 1930 census. At that time, Richard’s occupation was given as truck driver. According to military records, he enlisted in the US Army in 1942, in Boston. He was listed as a “semi-skilled route man,” with a grammar school education. He passed away in the Boston suburb of Brighton, on March 8, 1967, just a month before his 70th birthday. His obituary listed no survivors.
Although Lewis Hine stated in one of the captions that Richard lived at 53 Montgomery Street, the city directory shows that he was living at 63 Montgomery Street. The house is about a two-minute walk from the Eclipse Mill.
Lewis Hine caption: A group of mill workers. Albert Duquette on top. Eclippse [i.e., Eclipse] Mills, North Adams, Mass. 1911. Noon. Richard K. Conant, Witness. Location: North Adams, Massachusetts, August 1911.
All articles below from the North Adams Transcript.
*Story published in 2009.