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Events

They Did not Die in Vain – Ipswich Riots

The death of bystander Nicoletta Paudelopoulou was the centerpiece of the investigation once the 1913 hearings related to the rioting in Ipswich, MA commenced. Yet curiously, the testimony of John Baker, an eyewitness to her killing, was for all intents and purposes totally ignored. No effort was made to have Baker identify the Ipswich policeman he said shot Paudelopoulou. Instead, over the remainder of the inquiry, Judge Charles A. Sayward focused on the labor organizers. Badgering the organizers during their individual testimonies, keeping them in jail for weeks, and ignoring all testimony or evidence that identified Paudelopoulou’s killer the hearings went nowhere and simply fizzled out.

In time the 1913 millworkers’ strike in Ipswich also simply lost energy and direction. Testimony during the hearings following the strike clearly noted that the workers were paid less than comparable workers elsewhere. Ironically, Paudelopoulou made more working at the nearby Brown Stocking Mill than the striking workers at the Ipswich Hosiery Mill. This labor dispute ultimately saw one person killed, six people shot (according to official counts although the police testified that several strikers who they shot had been carried off by fellow workers), at least 50 badly beaten, and some fifteen to twenty other persons injured.

As the hearings into the riot were being held, managers of the Ipswich Hosiery Mill evicted striking workers from company owned tenements. Photographs and newspaper stories of these workers left out on the streets saw much media attention – again for a brief period of time. Given the prejudices and attitudes of the day little was reported about the crippling fines imposed on the underpaid workers who had been taken into custody.

This now largely-forgotten strike was especially noteworthy in 1913 since the Ipswich Hosiery Company was the largest stocking mill in the nation. Events in Ipswich were far from isolated. At exactly the very same moment in time strikes, violence, bombs and yet other labor related killings in New London CT, Paterson NJ, the Southern coal fields of Colorado, and the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan (to name just a few) were feature stories that ran with the news of the Ipswich investigation.

Between 1913 and 1914 Greek immigrant laborers were beaten, arbitrarily fired from their jobs, driven from their homes, cheated out of their pay and killed outright. Along with many other recently arrived immigrant workers. This history of the labor movement in the United States is not what one is taught in high school. In fact, the events and mills in Ipswich’s past have morphed into a kind of theme park.

As Mark Twain once famously said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

In August 1996, the Ipswich mills and very neighborhood in which the strikers made their stand in 1913 were added to the National Park Services Registry of Historic Places. “Due to their historic nature, the two Ipswich neighborhoods were each eligible for designation as a National Historic District, an area or property associated with events or developments of significance to the history of their community or which have significant architectural history or engineering achievements (http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/faq.htm).”

In 2005, Alan Pearsall, was hired by the EBSCO Publishing company to paint a 2,700-square-foot mural on one of the old mill buildings now occupied by this Ipswich-based company. This mural which presents key moments in the Ipswich history, including the 1913 riot, was intended to be the centerpiece of the town’s new Riverwalk. By the time of the mural’s unveiling the 1913 riot was largely forgotten and all was well in local history. Even old Judge Charles Sayward received a positive passing mention for his historic house on the town’s website.

Then, in 2013, a story appeared in the Ipswich Chronicle, “Garment workers circa 1913, about the time a violent labor strike gripped Ipswich,” by Gus Zagarella which reported in part: “It was 1913 and a worker’s strike at the Ipswich knitting mills turned tragic when local police accidentally shot and killed a 27-year old immigrant, Nicolette Pandepolus (sic), while attempting to disperse a rioting crowd.

“Pandepolus’ (sic) story, much like her grave in a small cemetery off Fowlers Lane, has been brushed to the back roads of local history. Now, a group of Ipswich High School history students are trying to change that.

‘It was really surprising, because I thought Ipswich had always been a quiet town,’ said Sarah Atkinson, one of the students working on the student project aimed at bringing the incident to light. ‘They didn’t teach us about this in school.’

“At a recent Ipswich Museum presentation the four high school students recounted the infamous event and presented their own analysis and research. The students — Libby Manos, Atkinson, Richard McCormack and Joshua Calamata — focused heavily on the role of union organizations at the time. They also highlighted the plight of key immigrant groups such as Greeks, Italians and the Irish. According to the presenters, both union organization and treatment of immigrant workers contributed to the violent strike in 1913.

“The students discovered Pandepolus (sic) was not part of the strike and that local union leaders from the International Workers of the World were tried as her killers because according to authorities they instigated the strike and their actions led to Pandepolus’ death.

“The union leaders were found innocent.

“Their audience included fellow high school students, parents, and historical society members and museum employees said that it was one of the largest crowds they had ever seen for such a lecture.

“This was no school project, but rather an independently researched presentation meant to educate the public, but it was equally educational for the students.

“The students have been working as a team since the spring of early 2013. This project was started in response to former School Committee member Ed Traverso’s proposal to commemorate the historical knitting mills strike on its 100-year anniversary….

‘We took the puzzle pieces and made the picture,’ said Joshua Calamata.

“Those pieces included the immigrant’s cemetery on Fowlers Lane and town records. Calamata thought that the Ipswich archive was interesting in particular, because it was a rare opportunity to see how life was.

“The most astonishing thing for the students to discover was the praise and acknowledgement they received from the Historical Society for putting forth their findings.

“‘I think my favorite part was talking to other people who already knew of the 1913 strike,’ said Manos…”

Nicoletta Paudelopoulou’s grave is located in Ipswich’s Immigrants Highland Annex Cemetery. I assume it is one of her sisters, Julia Pantelopoulos (1869-1931), who rests beside her. There are hundreds of unmarked immigrant graves in this annex. Even in death, native-born Americans were careful with whom they spent eternity. Now, with the centennial of this riot in sight what do we make of all this violence and useless deaths? Have we really made progress in the equality of the social classes or are we just kidding ourselves? Why did our great grandparents and grandparents suffer such violence if not to give us a better life? And do we ever honor their memory or continue in our assigned roles as mindless consumers?

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