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Flag Raising on Prospect Hill, the Weaving of a City

I foremost remember Fred Lund at the New Year's Day celebration, dressed in colonial garb, to commemorate each year the flying of the first American flag on Prospect Hill.

Fred Lund passed away last month.  He was 90 years old, and had remained active almost to the very end. He retired only two years ago, leaving his perch on the top floor of City Hall, where for 55 years he drafted municipal maps, each one impishly he marked with a dot for his house, his driveway labeled "Lundfred Drive."  Back when I worked at SCAT, I remember admiring a citation the organization had received from the City.  It was an illustration of the Powderhouse in West Somerville with careful calligraphy, the black ink brightened by colored pencil.  Fred was responsible for all these awards, along with the design of the city seal.

When I think of Fred, I remember him at the New Year's Day celebration, dressed in colonial garb, to commemorate each year the flying of the first American flag on Prospect Hill.  He's in my memory ever-present there with his friend Isobel Cheney, local historian and former teacher, and with Al Rubio, silver-haired champion for seniors and the democratic process.

At each flag raising there's a roll of generational Somerville waves, people I've come to know these past twenty years. Always there's Evelyn and Tom Battinelli from the Somerville Museum, passing out the donuts, hot cider, tricorn hats and mini flags. There's Kristi Chase and Brandon Wilson of the City's Historic Preservation, organizing the costumed parade with fife and drum from City Hall.  There's former police chief Bob Bradley on horseback, playing the role of George Washington, each year giving the command to hoist the flag.  Set apart there's the uniformed guard for the rifle salute. Neighbors greet and quietly chat.  The kids wander about, generally staying close to their parents in the crowd, patiently kicking the slushy snow beneath their feet.  The politicians on the platform, festooned with bunting, manage somehow to look not as cold as the rest of us.

The program has changed little over the years, although there are signs of a tighter rein on the length of presentations.  There's been chilly mornings with patriotic songs led  in too high a key and with too much flourish for anyone to sing along, but that's improved. There's been rambling history lessons from the podium, presentations that might have been more engaging without the biting cold and sleet.  Other years, we've been greeted by bright blue skies and temperatures on a pleasant side  of winter's bracing. Typically the flag raising itself offers a little drama -- will the pulley catch, will the giant flag clear the edge of the monument, will the wind stay steady?  It's always welcome when the monument is opened to enter the monument itself and to climb the stairs. We stand at the very top, appreciating for a few minutes the broad view, parents pointing out to their kids the towns and landmarks way out on the horizon, all lingering as long as they can stand the shivering wind before making way for the next group of sightseers.

It's all good, no matter what happens at the flag raising.  It's got a sincerity that it's impossible to mock.  It's patriotic, but without the boisterous feel-good energy of Fourth of July on the Esplanade. There are no notable musical performances, no fireworks.  For all the beauty and history we appreciate on Prospect, it lacks the recognition of Bunker Hill. It's a decidedly local event -- national TV is never going to cover the gathering.

The Prospect Hill flag raising has small but deep ambitions.

We show up each year in every kind of weather, with a modest act and the greatest of intentions.  We connect this day to the more than two centuries of people who called his hill home -- those of the revolutionary war encampment dreaming of a new country to the generations of people who made their home in our ever changing City. I suppose in modern day we're most like those early colonialists -- a motley group showing up in the cold, our supplies home-spun, circling 'round a flag.

Things that are real and true and sincere are never glamorous.  The physical activity at the center is often simple -- coffee in a styrofoam cup, voices in song,  listening to a story, muffled claps from mittened hands and a cheer of "huzzah!"  There's beauty in the repetition -- the changes each year deepening the experience, marking our place in the time of our own lives, in our community. This tradition was kept alive through tough years in Somerville by people like Fred and Isobel. Their steadfastness has been taken up by those just behind them. And now I see fresh generations coming up in this community, their familiar faces rosy January 1 on Prospect Hill.  Through time we connect through this place. Together we weave an ever present community of past, present, future.

Steve Mulder maintains a wonderful site on the history of Prospect Hill and monument. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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