The Moody Street Bridge (1) (click here//), now called the University Ave Bridge, will always be known to Kerouac fans as "The Bridge Where the Man with the Watermelon Died." The name is taken from the title, and events, of "Book Four" of Jack Kerouac's Doctor Sax. One "baleful black night," Jack and his mother were returning from a visit to Aunt Clementine and Uncle Mike's house. They reached the bridge a half hour before midnight, and a man carrying a watermelon passed them: "Suddenly the man fell, we heard the thump of the watermelon on wood planks and saw him fallen ... I look down with him and there is the moon on shiny froth and rocks, there is the long eternity we have been seeking."
Crossing the bridge leads to the intersection of University Ave and Riverside Street (2) (/), the very spot where the novel Doctor Sax begins-"The other night I had a dream," writes Kerouac, "that I was sitting on the sidewalk on Moody Street, Pawtucketville, Lowell, Mass." Kerouac calls this spot "the wrinkly tar corner." Local legend has it that a librarian at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell rescued a piece of the wrinkly tar sidewalk just before city workers could pave it over.
The Kerouacs lived in five houses in Pawtucketville between 1932 and 1941. The Kerouac family -- Jack, his older sister Caroline, and his parents Leo and Gabrielle -- lived a,16 Phebe Avenue (3) (/) from 1932 to 1935. Kerouac's father was often sick and bed-ridden with rheumatism during these years, but Jack (or "Ti Jean," as he was called at home) had his own brown desk in one room, and his mother worked hard to cook and clean for the family.
In Visions of Cody, Kerouac remembers his brown writing desk and the brown aura of his father's sickroom, until the memories coalesce into a moment of "complete inspiration." It is "an inexpressibly delicious old memory...that so seldom experience of seeing my whole life's richness swimming in a palpable mothlike cloud.
While the Kerouacs did move frequently in Pawtucketville, and his father's illnesses must have been a difficult experience, Jack's neighborhood life centered on a small stretch of Moody Street, now called University Ave, between Gershom Ave and Riverside Street. It was a row full of shops and clubs and tenements. One visible remnant from Kerouac's boyhood days in Pawtucketville is the Pawtucketville Social Club (4) (/).
Founded by Pawtucketville's French Canadians in 1897, the same year the Moody Street Bridge was completed, the Pawtucketville Social Club was first used for citizenship classes. By the time of Kerouac's teenage years, the 1930's, the club was more of a social center. in Doctor Sax, Kerouac writes about "the Pawtucketville Social Club, an organization intended to be some kind of meeting place for speeches about Franco- American matters but was just a huge roaring saloon and bowling alley and pool table with a meeting room always locked." By 1936, in the midst of the Great Depression, Kerouac's father worked part time at the Social Club attending to "great cardgames of the night."
Across the street from the Club is 136 University Ave (5) (/), or , a three story tenement where the Kerouac's lived from 1938 to 1940. They rented the top floor, and Jack had a room of his own in the far comer of the house. In Maggie Cassidy, he describes his room; "My tragic closet, my jacket hung in dampness like powder from fresh plaster lost looked like adobe closets Casbah roof civilizations; the papers covered with my printed handwritings, on the floor, among shoes, bats, gloves, sorrows of pasts..."
Turning west on Riverside Street leads to the Merrimack River; crossing the Merrimack River leads to Pawtucket Street, the Grotto (6) (/), and Archambault Funeral Home (7) (/). There is perhaps no more "Kerouacian" (Kerouac liked to say "Kerouquackian") place in the city than the Stations of the Cross and the Grotto behind the Franco-American school on Pawtucket Street. The building that hides the Grotto was constructed in 1876 for the financier Frederick Ayer. In 1908 the mansion was purchased by the Oblate Fathers of St. Joseph's Parish, and it was used as an orphanage until 1963.
The Grotto (fashioned after a mini-Lourdes, where a vision of the Virgin Mary appeared to a French peasant girl) and Stations of the Cross were constructed in 1911. Whole passages of Doctor Sax, including the very ending, are set here at the Grotto. Kerouac and his mother often stopped here on walks from their home in Pawtucketville. In Doctor Sax, the place is "mad, vast, religious, the Twelve Stations of the Cross, little individual twelve altars set in, you go in front, kneel, everything but incense in the air (the roar of the river, mysteries of nature, fireflies in the night flickering to the waxy stare of statues, I knew Doctor Sax was there flowing in the back darks with his wild and hincty cape)."
The Archambault Funeral Home is where Kerouac's body was waked in October of 1969. Kerouac was 47 when he died on October 21, 1969. He died at Saint Anthony's Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, according to the St Petersburg Times, "despite transfusions of 15 liters of blood, and despite the efforts of a team of doctors who labored through three hours of surgery in an attempt to tie off the burst abdominal veins that were draining his life away.
"Five days after Kerouac's death, his brother-in-law, Charles Sampas, a legendary Lowell reporter and columnist, offered a home town tribute in the Lowell Sun. "He evoked so much of the Lowell boyhood all of us born here in Lowell have lived," wrote Sampas. "He brought Lowell High School into focus, and the torment and joy of being young in Lowell in the 1930's."
Charles Sampas knew Jack Kerouac for almost forty- years, and his tribute remains one of the clearest visions of Jack Kerouac: "He wrote endlessly and he wrote tirelessly and he wrote because it was in him to write. He simply had to."
Jack Kerouac is buried in Lowell in the Edson Cemetery on Gorham Street (Route 3A), about five miles from the Grotto. You'll find his headstone, flush against the ground, in a plot near the intersection of Seventh and Lincoln.
Jack Kerouac's Lowell is a joint project of the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! Committee, sponsor and organizer of the annual Kerouac celebration in Lowell, and by the Jack Kerouac subterranean Information Society, publisher of DHARMA beat, the magazine of Jack Kerouac activities, organizations and publications. To find out more about these organizations write to:
Lowell celebrates Kerouac!
This site was design by Alan Taupier, with cooperation from Brian Foye, the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and Lowell Public Library.
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||Moody Street Bridge|
|University Ave. & Riverside St.|
|16 Phebe Avenue|
|Pawtucketville Social Club|
|136 University Ave|
|Archambault Funeral Home|