Ollie Capizzi, age 85, talks to Emerson Journalism students about the plaques dedicated to his late parents, Toni and Carmela, for the Public Garden Memories website. (Photo by Brittany Gervais '16)
Many Bostonians take history for granted. In a city where it seems there’s a historical landmark every three or four steps, it’s easy to breeze past the rich stories that have become the fabric of the community.
No exception are the Public Garden and Boston Common—a stone’s throw from Emerson—which have dozens of plaques dedicated to the living and the dead that are maintained by Friends of the Public Garden.
During this past semester, Journalism Professor Ted Gup’s feature writing class worked with the organization to interview the people connected to those plaques—both the living whose names are engraved, and the families of the deceased who are memorialized.
“It was clear from the beginning,” Gup said, “that the project had taken on a special meaning for the students. They treated it with respect, restraint, and dignity, which is why they got the cooperation from the families and friends of those upon whom the story depended.”
The journalism project culminated with the Public Garden Memories website, which features in-depth profiles of the people featured on 10 of the plaques. The site has articles, video interviews, photos, and an interactive map showing the location of the featured plaques with links—all of which was put together by Gup’s students.
Pictured in front of the George Washington Statue in the Public Garden are Journalism Professor Ted Gup and his feature writing class, who launched the Public Garden Memories website in the Spring 2014 semester. (Photo by Dan O'Brien)
“We thought this was a wonderful project because there are so many worthy stories,” said Robert W. Mulcahy, a project manager for Friends of the Public Garden. “Every story needs to be told.”
Angus Dickerson ’15 and Bianca Padro Ocasio ’15 interviewed John and Cathy Ruggiero of Connecticut about the plaque dedicated to their son, John Ruggiero Jr., who committed suicide in 2011 at age 24.
“It's one thing to have someone let you quote them, [but] it’s another thing for someone to let you tell their story for them,” Dickerson said. “I had never really been in a position where I felt a responsibility beyond getting the facts right…I really feel like I was trusted.”
Brittany Gervais ’16 and Paige Solomon ’16 interviewed 85-year-old Ollie Capizzi, whose parents, Toni and Carmela Capizzi, have two plaques in the Public Garden. Capizzi did landscaping work with his father every day while growing up, often moving heavy trees, to help support their family.
“It was a completely different lifestyle than the one we have today,” Gervais said. “It was heartwarming to hear Ollie talk about how much he looked up to his father.”
Toni and Carmela Capizzi with family in this wedding photo taken around 1920. (Courtesy Photo)
Jillian Rinehimer ’15 interviewed a friend of Gail Weesner, a former Friends of the Public Garden board member.
“Much of the writing [was easy for] me,” Rinehimer said, “but I spent a lot more time editing details and trying to fit in the most I could about such a fascinating woman.”
Mulcahy, of the Friends of the Public Garden, recently visited the class to view their work and talk with the students.
“It drew even more emotions out of me,” Mulcahy said. “The students did an amazing job. It’s a beautiful piece of work.”
Robert Mulcahy of the Friends of the Public Garden (bottom left) with Professor Ted Gup and his feature writing class in the Journalism Department. (Photo by Dan O'Brien)
“This project was among the very most gratifying experiences I’ve had in 30-plus years of teaching—except that I was often their student and [the students] were often my teacher,” said Gup, a journalist and author who has held positions at the Washington Post and Time. “The students simply took the project over, made it their own, and showed remarkable initiative and resourcefulness.”