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Mapping Norwood

An Irish-American Memoir

Charles Fanning

Publication Year: 2010

As the title indicates, this memoir is an act of map making, of plotting out overlapping territories—topographical, temporal, and psychological. Centered on family life in a Massachusetts town from the 1920s to the 1960s, the author’s investigation extends outward to include the Boston area from colonial times to the recent past, encounters with Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and with Harvard College, the American Civil War, and Ireland and Germany in the nineteenth century.Charles Fanning re-creates the landscape of childhood and adolescence in a place and time both ordinary and rich with possibility. An expert on Irish immigration, he was born and raised in Norwood, Massachusetts, twelve miles outside of Boston, where Yankee and Irish cultures bumped against each other. The narrative traces his personal growth, shaped by family, school, baseball, radio drama, and art. He was the first in his family to attend college, and the book ends with his undergraduate experience at Harvard, class of 1964.Along with this coming-of-age story, Mapping Norwood features forays back in time, including chapters on each of Fanning’s parents and historical excavations and meditations on three ancestors. Guided by his own experience as a scholar, the pressure of these chapters is epistemological—the thrill of the hunt toward knowing. Fanning’s great-grandfather, John Fanning, disappeared from the family in the late 1880s, and a chapter chronicles the discovery of “Walking John’s” fifty years of hidden later life in East St. Louis, Illinois, where he died alone in 1946. Fanning’s great-great-grandfather, Winslow Radcliffe, was a veteran of the 35th Massachusetts Infantry in the Civil War, and the author traces this regiment through the horrors of Antietam and Fredericksburg, by means of diaries and letters by four men from Winslow’s company. The evidence gleaned helps explain Winslow’s suicide after the war. An Irish immigrant ancestor, Phillip Fanning, came to Boston from County Monaghan just after the Great Famine of the late 1840s. Relying on historical research, Fanning imagines vividly the lives led by Phillip’s family and thousands like them in the wake of Ireland’s nineteenth-century catastrophe.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press


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pp. cover-cover

Title Page

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pp. iii-iii

Copyright Page

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pp. iv-iv

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

As the title indicates, this book is an act of mapmaking, of plotting out overlapping territories, both topographical and temporal. These include the Boston area from colonial times to the recent past, the American Civil War, Ireland and germany in the nineteenth century, encounters with Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and with Harvard College, and aspects of family life ...

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Chapter 1: Place Lore of Norwood

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pp. 1-34

My brother and I walked the downtown streets of Norwood, Massachusetts, with our mother on Friday evenings all the year round in the early 1950s. We had moved from Winslow Avenue up to Walpole Street in the summer of 1951 when I was eight and Geoffrey was six...

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Chapter 2: My Father’s Chapter

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pp. 35-80

The picture I’m looking at is a schoolroom shot. Everyone in the class must have had one taken. There’s a blackboard behind the boy with what looks like a poem chalked on it. He’s wearing a coat that’s too big for him, doublebreasted and rumpled, and a clumsily knotted tie...

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Chapter 3: Young Winslow Radcliff

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pp. 81-110

When I consider the small but misery-laden body of information available about my Yankee ancestor who fought in the Civil War, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s powerful story “Young Goodman Brown” comes to mind. Young Goodman Brown came forth, at sunset, into the street of Salem village, but put his head back, after crossing the threshold, to exchange a parting kiss with his young wife.

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Chapter 4: Mapping Monaghan

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pp. 111-141

All students of Irish genealogy know that journeying back into the nineteenth century is not easy. In June 1922 the Irish Civil War began with the bombing by provisional Irish government forces of Dublin’s Four Courts building, a beautiful Georgian landmark on the River Liffey which had been occupied by members of the un-disbanded Irish Republican Army. ...

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Chapter 5: My Mother’s Chapter

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pp. 142-179

I’ve always loved D. H. Lawrence’s poem “Piano,” but I didn’t know why until I started to think back to my childhood. I realized then that the poem echoed one of my earliest memories. I am playing with blocks—ABCs in primary colors—on the yellow linoleum kitchen floor of our family’s apartment in Norwood. As we left that place in the summer of 1947, I was no older than four....

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Chapter 6: Ars Brevis

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pp. 180-218

My short life in art began with small-scale models made of clay inspired by religious, historical, and literary scenes. I had begun fooling about with this stuff around the age of four. On Sunday mornings, when my mother would go downtown to church on her own, leaving my father, my two-year-old brother Geoffrey, and me, making things out of clay was one of our favorite ...

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Chapter 7: A Prelude

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pp. 219-269

Fair seed-time had my soul, I am fortunate to be able to say. (William Wordsworth’s The Prelude supplies all of this chapter’s section headings. I’m no Wordsworth, but his extraordinary poem describes a fairly ordinary upbringing—like mine—and that’s the point.) In childhood and early adolescence, the compass directing my attention had four cardinal points: the ...

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Chapter 8: A Thousand Days at Harvard

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pp. 270-326

Applying to Harvard College had been my idea. Though it wasn’t the highflying, ne plus ultra, success-assuring brand name that many perceive it to be these days, Harvard in the late 1950s was certainly a prestigious school, a glittering prize, and I was much impressed by descriptions of the famous faculty, one-on-one tutorial system, and college life...

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pp. 327-328

My thanks to the William R. Perkins Library at Duke University for permission to quote from the Letters of Private Fisher A. Cleaveland of Company I, 35th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, and to Mark Farrell for his permission to quote from his great-grandfather’s diary, the Civil War Diary of Sergeant Henry W. Tisdale, Co. I, 35th Massachusetts ...

Back Cover

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pp. back cov-back cov

E-ISBN-13: 9781613760215
E-ISBN-10: 1613760213
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558498099
Print-ISBN-10: 1558498095

Page Count: 344
Illustrations: 34 illus.
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 794700496
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Mapping Norwood

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Irish Americans -- Massachusetts -- Norwood (Town) -- Biography.
  • Irish Americans -- Massachusetts -- Boston Metropolitan Area -- History.
  • Fanning, Charles -- Childhood and youth.
  • Norwood (Mass. : Town) -- Biography.
  • Fanning, Charles -- Family.
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