Museum Hosts Union Train Concert and Community Dinner

by Barbara Banchik

The Heritage Winooski Mill Museum, along with special guest Rik Palieri, presented Union Train: a Celebration of American Labor History on the evening of September 7th. The event combined storytelling, history, live music, and sing-alongs to engage and educate the audience.

The Museum collaborated with students and teachers throughout Winooski to organize the program in support of a Vermont Humanities Council (VHC) grant for a community-wide reading of Katherine Paterson’s historical fiction novel, Bread and Roses, Too. The novel tells the story of the 1912 “Bread and Roses” strike in textile mills in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Earlier in the week, Palieri visited St. Francis Xavier School to discuss the novel with students and to teach them labor songs.

Students, teachers, community organizers, and volunteers welcomed over sixty people to the O’Brien Community Center for the event. Guests of all ages and backgrounds gathered together for a convivial and delicious community dinner of baked ziti, salad, and apple cider donuts. After proceeding into the multipurpose room, guests had the chance to look at several objects and artifacts Palieri had put on display: banjos, guitars, CDs, records, an IWW flag, anthologies, and various historical pamphlets.

As soon as Palieri, wearing his signature cowboy hat, began strumming his banjo, everyone in the room couldn’t help but start tapping their toes, bobbing their head, or clapping along to the lively rhythm. To the delight of both performer and audience members alike, the music inspired a group of children to dance in the lobby and the aisle between the seats.

Palieri treated the audience as old friends and spoke passionately about the history behind each song he performed, most of which he learned first-hand from Pete Seeger, Utah Phillips, Sis Cunningham, and Bill Kern. Before singing “Peg and Awl” he discussed the disappearance of hand-production and the cottage industry as a result of the Industrial Revolution. He alerted the audience to the militant sound of “Hold the Fort”, emphasized how hard our ancestors fought so we could have our rights in “Eight-Hour Day”, and connected the event to the novel by singing “Bread and Roses”. The room went quiet during his moving rendition of “Babies in the Mill”.

The highlight of the night was when Palieri invited students from St. Francis Xavier to the stage to perform “We Shall Not Be Moved” with him. He joined them in a newly-written verse protesting homework.

At the end of the program, members of the audience competed in a game of trivia with questions derived from Palieri’s performance. If they answered a question correctly they received a free copy of Bread and Roses, Too. Keeping true to the mission of both the Mill Museum and the VHC, Union Train brought members of the community together for a night of fun and educational exposure to Vermont, and the nation’s cultural history.

  Barbara Banchik is a sophomore at the University of Vermont, majoring in art history and minoring in anthropology. Barbara is interning at HWMM this fall semester as part of the Backstory internship program.

Barbara Banchik is a sophomore at the University of Vermont, majoring in art history and minoring in anthropology. Barbara is interning at HWMM this fall semester as part of the Backstory internship program.

Please contact Rik Palieri directly at rikpalieri.com if you are interested in bringing the Union Train program to your school or organization.

The Heritage Winooski Mill Museum would like to thank the following organizations for their collaboration in making Union Train possible: The Winooski Memorial Library, The Winooski Middle School, St. Francis Xavier School, The Winooski Peace Initiative, and volunteers from PCC. Special thanks to Heritage Automotive for underwriting the community dinner.

Interview with Lada Maple, Former Mill Worker

Ian Bennett, a Saint Michael’s College student, interviewed Lada Maple, a former Mill Worker on April 8, 2016. Below Ian recounts meeting Lada and a bit of what she told him.

Left: Lada Maple, Mill Worker, c. 1934, age 18          
Right: Lada Maple, 2016, age 95.

The first thing I noticed about Lada, when we went to visit, is that for a ninety-five-year-old woman, she is extremely mobile. She welcomed us into her apartment, and immediately began talking. She regaled us with tales about her time working in the mill, and her life during and after her employment.

Lada spoke of how her husband was also her boss. He had started working in the Mill at the age of twelve for no pay. This was to gain experience for when he finally was hired by the Mill. There were also a variety of entertaining stories that she told about the dynamics of their relationship. He once fired her when he was fed up with her misbehaving while on the job. It was quite satisfying for her, Lada said, when they told him that she had to be hired back. 

Another thing that Lada mentioned were the extreme conditions. Cockroaches and rats scurried about on everything. The only safe place for people’s lunches would be on the back of the machines where the vibrations kept the pests away. The air was also hot and full of lint from the textiles. By the end of the day, enough of the lint had accumulated on the skin of the workers that they could peel it off in sheets.

Lada’s time at the mill wasn’t all difficult though. One story she told was about how the women would all smoke in the restroom. The Management were not fans of this practice and as a result they had the bottom few inches of the door sawed off so they could see the girls’ feet. Not ones to be outsmarted, the women would climb up onto the toilet seats so they couldn’t be seen.

 Her time spent working in the mill is not a time Lada looks back on with much fondness, but her experience is not one that she hated. The time she was working was an interesting and unique, if not a comfortable, part of the Winooski area’s history.

Do you have a mill story to tell?  We’d love to hear from you!
Call #802-355-9937 or email: info@themillmuseum.org