The thrill of finding out that the Internet Archive had a scanned copy of the Federal Writers’ Project’s 1937 Massachusetts guidebook was compounded by the discovery that the one of its chapters was dedicated to my ambivalently loved City of Leather and Roses.
Yes, ask Woburn’s ample endowment of rounded knobs is the envy of our metro northwest neighbors. Their stumpy, imperfectly formed hillocks seem flaccid and inadequate in comparison to the granite-hard projections which characterize the city’s landscape.
The list of local attractions mentioned in the piece is limited and underwhelming, but entirely characteristic for a community whose primary claim to fame (up until the late 1970s) was “one town over from where the Revolution began.”
There’s also a mention of the U.S.S. Maine memorial on the city common, a mark of fierce local pride despite the fact that it consists of a warped and corroded ventilation cowl salvaged from the wreck and that nobody from Woburn served — much less died on — the doomed battleship.
As baffling as the memorial’s rationale may have been, my younger self was absolutely fascinated by it. Right there across from the Unitarian Church (now a community center for South Asian immigrants) and the Mug & Muffin (now a dry cleaning place) was an authentic piece of history enshrined in a grimy glass coffin. We had an American Heritage history of the Spanish-American War at home, and I would spend what seemed like hours staring at its reproduction of jingoistic panorama of the Maine’s destruction, wondering which specific ventilator cowl in the painting was the one that ended up in Woburn.
The expense of maintaining the display and its lack of tangible connection to the city periodically lead to civic debates about whether it should be donated to a naval museum. I, like most of my fellow Woburnites, staunchly oppose such a course of action, logical as it may be. No matter its origins, it has become a cultural landmark and a remnant of the Woburn that was and has since largely faded from memory.
That said, I wouldn’t suggest anyone schedule a trip just to see it…unless they also felt a irresistible longing to experience the finest rounded knobs north suburban Boston has to offer.