Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Boston airport’s foundation made from Atlantic sludge

Each mention of Boston’s Logan International Airport reminds me of when Chub and I were living, temporarily, in a crowded rooming house during World War II. Chub was marking time with the Coast Guard. He was issued heavy winter protective gear and was assigned to a crew that would be going north in about two weeks. Schedules and destinations - even weather forecasts - were guarded secrets in World War II. Heavy winter gear made the fellows think they were headed for Greenland. They would have at least two full weeks of waiting in Boston, and Chub was granted a week’s leave.

During his week at home, Chub convinced me that we could afford a cheap hotel in Boston for that second week of waiting. I packed a few things and planned to explore the historical highlights of that old city while he was at the Coast Guard base. The waiting "week" was extended, and Chub’s Coast Guard buddies found us an inexpensive second-floor room for a week or two on Winthrop Beach. We shared a kitchen and bathroom with 15 other people - 17 of us in all!

I couldn’t unpack my clothing until the landlady finished painting our room. I sat on our little second-floor stoop a lot, looking out toward England and France. Oceanwater splattered our second-floor windows on rough days.

On nice days, I watched people playing in the waves, swimming dangerously far from shore, and children building castles in the wet sand. Evenings, women waded in, bathed using bars of white floating soap, rinsed and then left! They were mostly heavy-set women sloshing up and down as they scrubbed themselves under loose-fitting bathing suits. Chub mostly just watched the fat women bathing. For years he enjoyed mimicking that, in detail, for our landlubber friends in Boone County.

The four Elliotts from Macon, Ga., had a large first-floor apartment with bath and kitchen. Anticipating the war’s end, Maj. Glen Elliott had been assigned to study the Japanese language at Cambridge, Mass.

Millie Elliott had a car, and she and I often drove north to Nahant Peninsula to fish from a high vertical cliff. Her son, Glen Jr., went to the movies, and little Lucy Cobb went with us and played with her dolls while we fished. We caught strange ocean fish and released all of them into the ocean far below where we stood.

There was always noise at Winthrop Beach.

"They’re dredging," someone said, but no one seemed to know why. I finally asked Maj. Elliott, and he said, "Believe it or not, they’re bringing sludge up from the ocean floor and dumping it into a huge pile to make an airport for Boston!" He was right!

That was in the summer of 1944. Sure enough, today’s Boston map shows the airport attached to the mainland on one side and extending into the Atlantic on the other three sides.

The skinny neck of land that extends out toward England is a village called Winthrop, and there, where ocean waves splash on second-floor windows on rough days, is Winthrop Beach with its row of three-story rooming houses facing out across the Atlantic Ocean.

If you readers are ever landing at the Boston airport, look out the plane’s window to see if other women, with floating soap, are sloshing up and down as they bathe in their loosely fitting bathing suits. If they’re there, you are about to land at an airport that was dredged from the bottom of the Atlantic more than 50 years ago.

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