Christmas Greetings from the Pacific Theater

Meg Ferris Kenagy, author and chronicler in this space of her family’s history in Hingham and beyond, recently donated three Christmas cards sent home to Hingham by her father and two of her uncles during their service in the U.S. military during World War II.  Each young man was stationed in the Pacific Theater–far from home–and each remained away for several years, with his only contact with loved ones coming via cards and letters.  These three holiday cards, therefore, are more than novelty items that look so different from cards we are sending each other right now. Rather, they are also a tangible reminder during the holiday season of how fortunate most of us are to be able to celebrate with those nearest to us.

Hingham native Oliver L. (“Morg”) Ferris (1918-1985) served in the Army Air Corps as an airplane mechanic stationed in Hawaii and Guam, achieving the rank of Sergeant.  He was a married man when he entered the service; while he was abroad, his wife, Margaret (“Rita”) Ferris, lived with her parents, the Scanlans, in Dorchester. For Christmas 1944, Morg sent Rita and her parents an Army Air Corps Christmas card which he signed on the front: “With all my love, Morg.”  The card, postmarked December 9, 1944, shows aircraft in formation flying out of clouds towards what looks like a Christmas star.  Between border decorations of palm trees and holiday wreaths at the top and bottom, it includes an inspirational, mission-driven message: “That It Might Shine On.”

Morg’s younger brother Richard Ferris (1921-2016) was also serving in the Pacific with the Army Air Corps, but his choice of Christmas card could not have been more different! Richard served in the National Guard from 1939 to 1940 and, from 1941 to 1945, with the Army Air Corps as a member of the 3rd Bomber Group, which took the nickname “The Grim Reapers.”

Richard’s card features the outline of the island of New Guinea drawn with an overlay of a burning ship and attacking airplanes.  The emblem of the “Grim Reapers”–a skeleton carrying a bloody scythe–is printed in the upper right, while “Season’s Greetings” is printed in red and blue at the bottom left.  The printed message on the inside is perhaps a bit jarring for a greeting card:

This is our busy season / We hope you’ll excuse us, please

The Grim Reapers have to harvest / Those sons of the Nipponese.

We can only pause a moment / To wish you Christmas Cheer;

But this we guarantee you: / Peace during the Coming Year. 

The card is signed in pencil, “Richard.”

While the card is undated and bears no postmark, the context suggests it may have been sent for Christmas 1943, when the Third Bomber Group was indeed very “busy” with aerial bombing of New Guinea, as the allies fought a lengthy campaign to win New Guinea, which had been invaded by the Japanese in 1942. (Shown here: the 3rd  Bomber Group attacks Japanese ships in Simpson Harbor, New Guinea, Nov. 2, 1943.  Photo courtesy of the U.S. Naval Historical Center.) 

Dorchester native Edward Scanlan (1920-1965) was Rita Ferris’ brother. and Morg and Richard’s brother-in-law.  He served in the Navy as a marine engineer and was stationed in the Philippines.  His undated card, sent to Morg and Rita, riffs on exotic travel posters of the day, featuring a four-color picture of a G.I. drinking from a coconut shell or wooden bowl offered by a native woman, while a native man operates a well nearby.  “All’s Well in the Philippines,” the card reassures the recipient (albeit with a very bad pun).  Inside, Ed has carefully handwritten the names of various cities in the Philippines in a style suggestive of steamer trunk labels and wrote:

Greetings Rita and Morg, We may leave the P.I.’s today or tomorrow for Finchauen, New Guinea; we aren’t sure yet. That is, I haven’t decided.  I’d like to send Morg’s family a card but I don’t know the address so please give them my regards.  See you in the funny papers.  Keep smiling, Big Brother Ed.

On the back of the card, Ed added a wistful postscript:  You’re on the right side of the ocean; when you’re in the good old U.S.A.

Happily, all three young men returned home.

Morg returned home to Rita, and they had seven daughters, including Meg Kenagy, the donor of these cards.  Richard married Muriel Richards and served in the Hingham Fire Department from 1947 to 1967, achieving the rank of Lieutenant.  When Ed returned, he married Pauline Russell and also became a firefighter, for the Boston Fire Department.

The Farm Hills Civic Society

Individually we are ineffective, united we achieve results.

While researching my neighborhood around Peter Hobart Drive, I noticed that information about its history was limited in comparison to other parts of town. The road connects to upper Gardner Street, an area whose history extends to the early days of Hingham’s establishment. Various smaller streets branch off and create an entanglement of roads that forms our neighborhood community. My street was named after the Reverend Peter Hobart, one of the original settlers of Hingham and a pastor of the Town’s first church. However, the life of this neighborhood only stretches back to the early twentieth century, far later than the time period when Hobart lived.

The chicken barn that started the neighborhood c. 1963

Development began in 1938 with a chicken barn hiding behind an old bucket factory, and the rest of the houses were constructed throughout the fifties and sixties. To my dismay, much of Hingham’s historical research does not extend beyond World War II but rather focuses on the original era of English settlement. Although newly developed areas of town were not involved in Hingham’s establishment, they illustrate the pathway of change taken throughout Hingham’s existence.

The neighborhoods of upper Gardner Street have contributed greatly to the town’s politics and communal activities for the past few decades. The concern that initially brought the Farm Hills Civic Society together involved a proposal to extend Route 3 into the upper Gardner area. Residents worried that adding a busy highway in the middle of the neighborhood would  negatively affect the area’s character and interfere with the neighborhood’s tranquil and hospitable personality. In collective agreement that this proposal would create a great disturbance, residents collaborated to prevent the extension from being constructed.

Writing articles and calling meetings to present their views to others, the group achieved success in preventing the extension. This communal organization endures, still presenting their collective ideas for improvements to the neighborhood while fighting against town proposals that would threaten the area’s character.

Throughout the organization’s life, it has accomplished a variety of goals, both small and large. Creating a sense of community has been a principal goal of the Farm Hills Civic Society since it first began. One manner of accomplishing this has been hosting social events, such as annual Easter egg hunts and block parties. Involving neighbors in enjoyable communal activities enhanced the feeling of togetherness necessary for the FHCS to continue working for the benefit of the community as a whole. These events often catered to child residents, indicating the group’s desire to create a positive environment for families to raise their children.

According to an early resident of Peter Hobart Drive, Mary Thomas, many families moved from the Boston area to suburban towns, considered the “countryside” in the fifties, to enjoy the improved school systems, and today the neighborhood remains home to many families with young children. Consequently, many of the FHCS’s smaller goals centered on maintaining a safe and welcoming environment for children to grow up in. In the late seventies, the association prevented Pilgrim Arena from gaining a liquor license. This popular ice rink is often frequented by children for its exceptional activities and sports practices, and allowing such an establishment to sell liquor seemed inappropriate to the FHCS. The group also advocated for the preservation of safety in areas within the neighborhood where children often played. The same year as the ice rink victory, the society prevented an access road from being constructed through Kress Field. This plot was donated to the town to allow for a children’s playground to be built, and today it is a beloved part of the neighborhood’s child-friendly environment. In the early 2000s, they petitioned for the installation of a four-way stop at the intersection of Gardner Street, Winfield Lane, and Farm Hills Lane in order to preserve safety for families living near this area.

A 1969 newspaper article by Debra K. Piot in which the Thomas’s explain that they bought their home “looking for family roots in Hingham”

Just a few years after the FHCS was first incorporated, it faced a significant concern presented by the town government. The town provided the Selectman with permission to determine the relocation process of Route 228 with state officials. The six-lane highway would have cut through the Gardner Street neighborhoods, polluting the water supply with oil and salts while removing up to eighty-five homes around Farms Hills. To avoid the devastation this relocation would have caused, the FHCS united to defeat the proposal, which had been presented two separate times.

Gardner Street in a snow storm c. 1898

One of the Farm Hills Civic Society’s most notable accomplishments occurred between the years 1999 and 2000. A real estate company known as Mills Corporation of VA proposed a plan to construct a mega-mall where the South Weymouth Naval Air Station was once located. The development would have needed a connector road to be structured through the neighborhood, causing endless traffic on the surrounding streets. When the residents of the Farm Hills Area learned of this proposal, local town and state officials were already finalizing negotiations, explaining to the FHCS that the project was a “done deal.” However, neighbors rallied together, publishing newspaper articles to educate fellow townspeople about the issues this connector road would cause. With the tide turning in their favor, the FHCS called a town meeting, demonstrating the community support that their efforts had garnered and disrupting the supposedly “already decided” project.

The FHCS has seen incredibly dedicated presidents and members over the years. Notably, Stephen Kelsch served as president during the eighties, and members of his community remember and admire his efforts. He focused much of his attention on the effects of development in the South Hingham area, and current residents appreciate the enduring accomplishments he allowed the FHCS to achieve. Kelsch, sadly, passed in 2013, but his impact on the town’s politics remains apparent. Alongside the FHCS, he involved himself in multiple town committees and historical associations, including the Hingham Historical Society.

Current resident of Farm Hills Lane, Judy Kelley, has been an active member of the FHCS for many years. Her efforts in vocalizing the ideas and opinions of the FHCS have tremendously aided the accomplishment of many of the neighborhood’s goals. One significant issue that she helped the neighborhood overcome was the impending development of a substantial apartment complex near the upper Gardner area. Between the years 2011 and 2013, a development company known as AvalonBay planned to replace 18.5 acres of wooded area on Recreation Park Drive with an apartment complex comprised of sixteen buildings and one hundred seventy-seven individual apartments. This location was chosen to avoid specific town zoning regulations that inhibit crowded population densities. The construction of these apartments would have also required an access road leading into the neighborhood from Deerfield Road. This development would have resulted in multiple four-story housing complexes squeezing uncomfortably into the small streets of upper Gardner, inevitably increasing congestion on nearby roads and highways. Judy Kelley explained in an interview with Jeff Keating from WGBH News that the development would not have been accepted if the size of the land and the community were taken into greater consideration. Ultimately, with the help of the FHCS, the town selectmen passed a proposal to utilize the land for further development of the South Shore Industrial Park.

Gardner Street (with stone walls and chickens), c. 1900

Documents describing the accomplishments of the FHCS express: “Individually we are ineffective, united we achieve results.” This statement perfectly depicts the organization’s dedication to creating a supportive community and advocating for the best interests of the entire neighborhood. The community still remains politically active, with residents involved in various aspects of the town’s government, and the Farm Hills Civic Society continues to advocate for the good of the neighborhood under the current president, Ted Healy, who has served since 2014. Former residents believe that the group is more dynamic now than ever before due to dedicated leadership over the years.

The author, Ella Kennedy, is a member of the Hingham High School Class of 2022.  She participate in the Hingham Historical Society’s high school intern program during the fall term 2021.