I was lucky enough to live through the 1960s as a teenager on the South Shore of Boston.
Home was still home to us.
My friends and I led charmed lives at the Quincy Quarries, Surf Nantasket, and Wollaston Beach
ON THE SOUTH SHORE recounts those lives.
The time was short, but retelling these tales brings back those years, if only for a moment.
They were good ones.
Here’s an excerpt from THE HOLE OF HEAVEN
According to the Old Testament God banished Adam and Eve from Eden for eating apples and this Original Sin condemned future generations to this mortal coil, however humans have defied this divine decree with repeated attempts to recreate Heaven on Earth. Most of these utopias have been short-lived, for nothing irked the true believers more than people enjoying the rewards of a good life in the present and in 1965 the teenagers of Boston’s South Shore celebrated the pursuit of earthly happiness at the infamous Quincy Quarries.
The spring-fed pits offered pleasure without any parental supervision and the passage from boys to men was achieved by a leap off the craggy cliffs into the rock-bound pools. The sun never shined so bright as on the rims of The Hole Of Heaven and Josephine’s, but Brewster’s Quarry was the favorite haunt for the thousands of teenagers devoting their youth to the life of a fallen angel. An anonymous teenager had named the vast abyss the Hole of Heaven back in the 40s, however these summer swimming holes were not natural to the glacier-carved Blue Hills.
Stonecutters had carved granite from steep ledges to build the Bunker Hill monument and the first train in America had hauled these gigantic slabs from the ever-deepening pits. These indestructible blocks had provided the building material for countless courthouses, wharves, and lighthouses on the Eastern Seaboard, but in coming of steel and glass skyscrapers exiled the construction of granite monuments to the history books.
Stone ceased to serve the living and only undertakers could feed their children from the tombs of the dead, so in 1963 the stonecutters turned off the water pumps and the quarries were flooded by the springs running deep under the earth.
The aquifer held generations of pure water. Its color was emerald green and every April teenagers from South Boston, Dorchester, Quincy, and my hometown flocked to the quarries like Celtics fans to the Boston Garden.
In December of 1963 Arnie Ginsburg declared that the Kingsmen’s song was the worst record he had ever spun on his NIGHT TRAIN show. The WMEX DJ was no teenager. LOUIE LOUIE hit #1 in the winter of 1964 and every garage band in Boston covered the A-major standard. The drummer saying ‘fuck’ had nothing to do with its success. America was leaving the 1950s for good.
Boys and girls made out at the Mattapan Oriental Theater during Saturday matinees. Hair crept over ears and shirt collars like uncut lawns. Our parents battled this rebellion with edicts against kissing, drinking beer, rock music, long hair, dancing too close, and certain friendships. Whole towns were declared off-limits and no forbidden destination proved more irresistible to young boys than the Quincy Quarries south of Boston.
These teenage oases were only accessible by foot. LOUIE LOUIE played on transistor radios, while boys and girls basked in the summer sun. The Kingsmen’s song had legs.
Jumping off a cliff worked better to a dirty sax than the Beatles’ saccharine harmonies of I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND. The feuds between towns and gangs were put on hold at the quarries. Teenagers came for fun, a swim, the thrills, and refuge from parents, priests, teachers, and police. The authorities tried their best to shut down this paradise, for unfortunately the quarries were a magnet for accidental drownings and drunken mishaps. Joyriders drove cars into The Hole Of Heaven to imitate James Dean’s chicken run in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. One or two of these daring acts ended in misadventure.
Many of the stories about the bottomless pits were urban legends. The most famous was that of a kid jumping off Shipwreck’s craggy prow and landing on a submerged car. An antenna pierced his arm. This gruesome tale was retold each summer, as if the accident had occurred recently, although its origins were lost in the haze of myths.
Parents vigorously petitioned the Quincy mayor to shut down these threats to their children’s well being and his police and town workers responded with uncharacteristic vigor.
The Quincy garbage men dumped old telephone poles into the water. Teenagers used them for logrolling contests or wired them together for sunning rafts. Police raided the quarries. They were too out of shape to catch young legs.
The town was accused of ignoring its civic duty and in August 1965 a selectman from the shipyard suggested pouring refuse oil from ships into the quarries. Three tankers were parked overnight by the edge of Brewster’s to unleash their foul black liquid into the main pool with the dawn.
That evening I sat on a lawn chair to observe a meteor shower. Bats flapped their wings through the soft summer air and a light wind hushed through the trees. A whooshing boom shattered this suburban calm.
My eyes widened as a flaming mushroom cloud roiled over the woods.
Seconds later two more fireballs scorched the night sky.
I jumped to my feet, fearing that the Russians had nuked Boston, and crouched under the picnic table in anticipation of the shock wave. Several minutes later my mother came out of the house and ordered me inside.
As a 13 year-old boy I obeyed her 99% of the time.
The morning’s newspapers reported vandals had torched the trucks at the quarry. The police had no suspects, although the teenage grapevine introduced a trio of heroes to the South Shore.
Donnie, Lee, and Eddie.
I had never been to the quarries.
Neither had my next-door neighbor. Chuckie was my best friend. We wanted to see the torched trucks and told our parents that we were going to the town pool. Three of our friends joined us and we tramped out of our suburban neighborhood into the Blue Hills. The trek took a good hour. We talked about the divers off the Acapulco cliffs.
None of us planned on diving off Rooftop, Brewster’s most famous leap.
“WHow hard can it be.” Chuckie was a good diver. His family had a swimming pool.
Feet-first sounded safe and we scrabbled through the maze of abandoned stones to the edge of Brewster’s Quarry. Rooftop was a slanted slab of granite fifty feet above the water. The sheer drop looked more like a hundred. We stood with our feet glued to stone. The older teenagers on the ledge clucked out calls of chicken.
“Are you going or what?”
“Leave them alone.” A good-looking teenager in cut-off jeans came over to us. He was about 17, which was a golden age for teenagers. We listened to his every word.
“The best way to jump is feet-first. You put your feet together and hold out your arms to keep your balance. It looks high, but there aren’t any ledges under Rooftop, so you’ll live no matter what.”
The tanned teenager went back to his friends.
Keep on your sneakers. It’s easier climbing out of the quarry with them on.
“Thanks.” Chuckie rubbed his hands together. “There are five of us, right?”
We nodded meekly and he pointed to me.
“I’ll go first, you’re second, then you, you, and you. We yell out ‘Geronimo’. Are you with me?”
“Yes,” We shouted in unison. Our parents had forbidden the act, our teachers had warned of the danger, and the police would arrest us for trespassing on private property. Their collective disapproval was all the encouragement thirteen year-old boys needed to set us free. We stripped off our shirts and stashed them under a bush.
Without warning Chuckie threw himself off the cliff.
His cry of ‘Geronimo’ died with a splash into the water. His head bobbed to the surface and he shouted my name. I ran until air was under my feet and plummeted off-balance to smack into the water on my side. I surfaced with a whoop. I was ready to jump off Rooftop again and the gleam on Chuckie’s face confirmed that he was with me 100%.
With a shriek our friends appeared high overhead suspended in mid-air before falling in arcing trajectories. Jimmy also landed on his side, Sam on his belly, and Ralph cannonballed into the water. They broke surface and we howled for joy.
We had safely survived the plunge and we repeated the jump it again and again throughout that summer and the ones to follow, but by 1967 America wasn’t the same America as in 1965.
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