You will notice right across from the northern tip of Cushing Park, the corner of Kent & Munroe. This marks the beginning of an interesting street which runs all the way from Kent until it finally ends at Oakland Street. Along with Prospect and Washington Streets, it is one of those happy routes locals use to get around town when the tourists cause a grid lock on the main thorough fares. It is also an excellent example of when history or shall I call it ‘tradition’ can trap us into some curious behavior not based on knowledge but on the accepted argument of , ‘This is the way it has always been done!”
Relaying an old seafaring 1958 story:
“A more frightened than injured young Seabee* electrician was brought into the hospital suffering from electrical burns. Shortly afterward, his instructor, a chief electrician, arrived. “Why on earth didn’t you turn off the main power switch before you tried to splice the wires?”
“I wanted to save time, chief, and I’ve seen you stand on one leg, grab the wires and splice without turning off the power.”
“My God, kid,” exclaimed the chief. “Didn’t you know I have a wooden leg?”
Curiously, Munroe Street was named in honor of President Monroe much in the way that our many streets have presidents named after them. Place names like Lincoln, Madison and Washington. Somewhere along the line, a printer working for the city misspelled the name and ever since when the signs needed replacing, they would put up what was already seen in place.
We know from the great Victorian historian, J. J. Currier that the original name was still intact as the city went into the twentieth century. He spells the name correctly, secure in the knowledge the President’s name was used by earlier inhabitants in his volumes I and II of the History of Newburyport, Mass: 1764-1905.
I am very pleased that the Department of Public Services has decided to be true to our precious history and is now beginning the process of correcting the spelling.
When you turn onto the street from Kent, the old sign reads, ‘Munroe’ but later a few blocks down, it turns into ‘Monroe’ with two new signs and then ends up with an old sign at Oakland, ‘Munroe’ once again.
Obviously this is going to take time.
Maybe we can make a new, informed tradition: fixing our old mistakes.
* Seabee is a member of the United States Navy Construction Battalion (CB).