The shoe industry, GE, WPA, the Highlands, Lynn Hospital – the story of Abraham Megerdichian and family is connected to current exhibits at the Lynn Museum.
- Photo gallery below story
Story and photos contributed by Robert Megerdichian, son of Abraham –
When my sisters and I were young my father Abraham (Abe) and my mother Eugenia (Jenny) faithfully took us on weekends to visit her parents Dikran (Richard) and Vehanoush (Rose) Babigian. Their house was a large three-family in the Highlands at the corner of Rockaway and Adams Streets. As immigrants from Armenia who had passed through Ellis Island my grandparents toiled hard for what they had. Grandpa worked for the WPA during the 1930s digging graves and then learned to cut hair under the tutelage of several Armenian barbers in Lynn. He eventually opened his own barber shop on the ground floor of his home. Grandpa would cut my hair as I sat in the booster seat in one of his three hydraulically controlled chairs. The strops scared me. Grandma was a homemaker for many years but did work in the shoe industry until Grandpa’s ego was bruised. He wanted her to return full-time to her position at home. She would look down from their third floor apartment into the window of the house across Rockaway. When the shop lights no longer shone in the reflection she would put Grandpa’s dinner on the table. He would appear upstairs about two minutes later. Bread on the table was a requisite in an Armenian home and often it would be choregs, the braided sweet rolls she had baked that day. I remember their aroma as though it were yesterday.
Mom moved to Cambridge when she married Dad. Because she wanted to be close to Grandma when I was due, I was born in the Lynn Hospital on Washington Street. Until Grandpa passed away at age 59 and grandma later at 72, we made our weekly pilgrimages. To me, Lynn consisted of nothing but our destination and a few landmarks along the way from Cambridge, like Lynn/Nahant Beach and GE. Dad worked there as a machinist for his entire career except for the period he served in the Navy during World War II, which GE counted in his seniority. He had graduated in 1942 from Rindge Technical High School in Cambridge. Dad had as his hobby machining from solid metal his interpretations of everyday objects, nearly all of which he gave as gifts to my sisters, Mom and me for decades as holiday, Christmas and birthday presents. From the time of his passing in 1983 till 2014, Dad’s creations sat in storage.
In 2016 I approached Drew Russo, Director of the Lynn Museum and Curator Britt Bowen with an offer to exhibit some of Dad’s metal artwork. In advance of the exhibit I feverishly researched my Lynn roots. To learn more I spoke with: Pastor Kevin Adams of East Baptist Church and Irene Axelrod of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church about where my grandparents may have attended church; Rose Donigian Kizirian and Stefan and Wendy Wuensch about the Highlands neighborhood; Vinny of Vinny’s Barber Shop on Western Avenue, where my Grandpa had apprenticed before even Vinny was there; Gladys Terzian, whose father Michael Pabojian was my Grandpa’s barbering mentor; Architect Glenn Morris about St. Mary’s; the Capitol Diner and Mrs. Caroline Ouellette about downtown; my long-time friend and squash partner James Finegan, now Superintendent of the Lynnfield Water Department, about his grandfather’s T.J. Kiely & Company (Shoes) in Lynn; another friend Jermaine Griffin about owning a home in Lynn; an unidentified woman about how she liked living in a Lynn Housing Authority apartment; Calvin Anderson of Lynn Community TV’s ‘The Lynn Low Down’ about Lynn in general; the City Clerk’s Office and Joe Coffill, research librarian at the Lynn Library, about vital records; Joan Lattanzio, David Carpenter, James and Dolores Venetsanakos, Vag Mosca, Jr. and my Tufts University Engineering School classmate Stephen MacDonald about GE and my Dad’s work there; and Sue Walker, archivist at the Lynn Museum, about my Mom’s tenure as nursing student at Lynn Hospital. I also read, “No Race of Imitators – Lynn and Her People, an Anthology” and “The Brickyard – The Life, Death, and Legend of an Urban Neighborhood,” both of which I acquired at the Lynn Museum. As I learned about Lynn I became the Prodigal Son returning to Lynn after all these decades. Though I work and live in Cambridge, in the very house in which I was raised, I am pleased that Lynn has restored its rightful place as my second home.
The exhibit of my Dad’s metal artwork continues at the Lynn Museum till July. The display sits aside the GE engine on the second floor. Dad would be so pleased that his gifts for his family are on view for all to enjoy. Also included in the display is a photograph of my Mom as a nursing school graduate. Only a few yards away on the same floor at the museum is the current exhibit, “Heartstrings: Embracing Armenian Needlelace, Embroidery, and Rugs.” My Grandma, like many Armenian women of her generation, made exquisite needlelace like what is on display. She and Grandpa owned oriental and Armenian rugs similar to the ones being shown. I am in possession of one that dates at least to the 1940s. My Grandparents would so much appreciate the exhibit with its thousands and thousands of tiny knots. There are no knots about how I feel about the exhibits and about Lynn.
The Lynn Museum is a part of Lynn Museum/LynnArts, a nonprofit two-building campus in the heart of the Downtwon Lynn Cultural District and located at 590 Washington Street. For more information on this exhibit and other events, visit lynnmuseum.org or the Lynn Museum/LynnArts facebook page.