Tag Archives: Newbury

Plum Crazy Replaces PJ’s on Plum Island

Manager Trish Cram and owner Kurt Littlefield in front of mural inside Plum Crazy.

Manager Trish Cram and owner Kurt Littlefield in front of mural inside Plum Crazy.

If you’re new to a neighborhood, a quick way to meet your neighbors is to start a building or remodeling project.  They’re not always thrilled.

That wasn’t the case, though, for the owner of a restaurant/convenience store called Plum Crazy on Plum Island.  The neighbors were pleased.

They were so pleased, in fact, that they came to a lunch in early March before the place opened.  “We expected a few,” said owner Kurt Littlefield during a recent interview, “but 28 people showed up.  They brought plants and all signed one of our orange beach bags.  That bag is our good luck charm.”

Why were the neighbors so friendly?

First, a very popular convenience store/restaurant called PJ’s Variety had existed at that spot, halfway to the lighthouse, for forty years.  Kurt described PJ’s as a “social hub where people were used to meeting.”  It closed suddenly nearly five years ago and there was no alternative.

Second, Kurt took initiative with the neighbors.  “We visited all of them,” he told me.  “We wanted them comfortable with us.  We asked them how late we should stay open and they suggested 9PM and we agreed.”

Third, Kurt designed the interior of Plum Crazy to give something back to the Plum Island community.  “We wanted people to walk in here and say – “Wow, that’s Plum Island,” said Kurt.  “That’s why you see all the murals (by Susan McCann of Peabody) including the mural of the Plum Island lighthouse on the main 30-foot ceiling.”

Probably the biggest reason for the good reception was that many Plum Islanders saw the opening of a commercial establishment by someone who actually lived on the island, like Kurt Littlefield, as a pushback against the property taking by outsiders, especially Jeanne and Julian Geiger.

Julian is the wealthy CEO of Aeropostale. His wife, Jeanne, took a fancy to Plum Island in 2003 after visiting.  Ten million dollars later Jeanne owned 16 properties on the island including the only hotel.  She was willing to pay top dollar and got what she went after including PJ’s.  Once purchased the island favorite was abruptly boarded up. 

Apparently, Jeanne Geiger’s plan was to remodel and merge all the properties she bought into a big resort on Plum Island with a similar look to each property.  The New Yorker hoped to attract New Yorkers with a mini South Beach look.

Some of the work had started but Jeanne Geiger died accidentally in February of 2005.  That left Julian Geiger to run things and he has not pushed hard to carry on his wife’s plans.  This eventually led to the unoccupied PJ’s being offered for sale.

Kurt, who is a vice president of information technology at Fresenius in Waltham, purchased the property in June of 2008. 

Trish Cram is the partner/manager at Plum Crazy.  “The retail end is new to me but I’ve got 20 years in the restaurant business in management,” she told me.  “The convenience part is currently open every day from 7:30AM-5PM.  From Wednesday through Sunday, we’re serving breakfast and lunch until 2PM.”

“We serve traditional breakfasts and lunches,” she added.  “A morning special called, ‘Two Crazy,’ which has two of everything, has been very popular.  For lunch, our chicken walnut cranberry salad sandwich is awesome. We have wraps and burgers.”

Close to completion is an ice cream window where soft-serve will be available.

“When this place is fully operational we expect to be open from 6AM to 9PM during the on season and offer breakfast, lunch, dinner, and ice cream,” explained Kurt.  “The off season we’ll go from 7-to-7.”

The restaurant part has a seating capacity of 44.

 “I have nearly 100 applications to go through,” said Trish.  “We’re still taking applications and hiring because we plan to be extremely busy.”

“Our goal was to put something together that we could be proud of and that the Plum Island community will be comfortable with,” said Kurt.  “I think that we have done that.”

( This story appeared in The Town Common on April 1st. )

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Plum Crazy Opened With Local Support

Roof sign for the new restaurant/convenience store on Plum Island.

Roof sign for the new restaurant/convenience store on Plum Island.

I did an interview on March 20th at Plum Crazy on Plum Island to report on their recent opening.  The more I learned over there and in researching at home the more interesting the story became.

The story idea was suggested because that store site had been vacant for a number of years.

Partner/manager Trish Cram and owner Kurt Littlefield in front of one of the murals inside Plum Crazy.

Partner/manager Trish Cram and owner Kurt Littlefield in front of one of the murals inside Plum Crazy.

The owner (Kurt Littlefield) and his partner/manager (Trish Cram) were very cooperative despite being in the midst of a setting where finishing work was still going on.

One point that Kurt made very clear to me was that the neighbors were very excited to have a restaurant/convenience store opening up.  That got me started in trying to figure out why the neighbors would have such an unusual attitude.  Living near Fruit Street, I know that pulling out a paintbrush can result in neighborhood hysteria.

My research got me reacquainted with the name, Jeanne Geiger.  I recalled reading about her death (in 2005) but hadn’t thought much about her in any context since then. 

Starting in 2003 I dare say that anyone living on Plum Island knew her very well.  Supposedly, the New York resident visited PI and fell in love with it.  Not only did she fall in love with the place but with the help of husband Julian (CEO of Aeropostale) decided to buy as much of PI as she could.

The long range plan was to turn PI into a resort that her wealthy friends from New York would be comfortable at.  Property would be bought and eventually given a makeover into a common theme. 

You would have assumed that the PI locals would turn her down flat when she came trying to buy property that wasn’t even for sale in some cases.  But this was a woman who believed that everyone has a price.  She spent $10,000,000 to get 16 PI residential and commercial properties in two years.

PJ’s Variety was one of the buys.  It was an island center for the locals – food and talk were served up in big doses.  Shortly after buying the place she had it closed down and shuttered.  That didn’t please the locals.

Jeanne Geiger died suddenly in February 2005 from a second-story fall from the PI hotel she had purchased.  What PI would look like now if this hadn’t happened would not be something the locals would wish to think about.  This was a lady in her 50s with plenty more money to use than the $10 million she had already spent. 

Anyhow, with her out of the mix, the curiosity was over what would become of the property she had bought and the plans she had for those properties.  Her husband, Julian, didn’t have the fire in his belly to do much as far as more buying was concerned.

He put PJ’s up for sale and Kurt bought it in June 2008 and has been rehabbing it ever since.  He now lives on the island.  He has a day job in Waltham as the VP of information technology at a dialysis company. 

It has been a long trip to my point that the locals were cheering Kurt on when he bought PJ’s because, I suspect, that in their heart of hearts this signified the turning of the tide against the big spending Geigers from New York.  The PJ buy would mean that at least one commercial property would belong to someone who actually lived on PI.

I think that Kurt sensed the wave of support early and that made the trip out into the neighborhood for feedback a likely success, which it was.  Kurt also hired an artist to do several murals of local scenes that represent PI for the interior of Plum Crazy.  I saw them and they are very nice.

They raised the ceiling and have several skylights.  It is very bright.  I picture PJ’s as having been a low-ceilinged, dark spot. 

Kurt agreed with me that the place’s biggest problem will be parking or lack of same.  There is room for 44 restaurant patrons but I can’t fathom how that many folks would have room to park.  Maybe that’s where being on the good side of the neighbors will help.

Plum Crazy is located halfway to the lighthouse on the right-hand side of Northern Boulevard.

I have done a separate article on Plum Crazy.  It is scheduled to appear in The Town Common on, no fooling, April 1st.  When that happens I will slide that article and accompanying picture onto this blog.

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Filed under Newbury, Plum Crazy, Plum Island

“Those Shoes” Inspires Community Service Project in Newbury

Laurie Collins holds the book that inspired the community service project in Newbury.

Laurie Collins holds the book that inspired the community service project in Newbury.

I guess it comes with the territory.

As the children’s librarian at the Newbury Town Library in Byfield, Laurie Collins gets to not only read plenty of books but also to recommend books.

One of the books, among many, that she has recommended is called, “Those Shoes,” by Maribeth Boelts.  The parental response to this 40-page, illustrated book caught Laurie’s attention.

“Whenever it was given out, people would come back and say – “That was such a great story,” and, “It was so inspiring,” recalled Laurie in a recent interview at the library.

“Those Shoes,” is about a young boy’s ultimate generosity with a prized possession – sneakers.

The many positive responses caused Laurie to determine that the book had a clear message and readers might want to move from words to deeds.

The end result is that children in Newbury will be given the opportunity to donate pairs of new sneakers to those less fortunate.

How is this going to happen? 

“On March 24th (Tuesday) a group from Triton High School, doing community service, will visit the Newbury Elementary School,” explained Laurie.  “I’ll meet with them first to talk about “Those Shoes.” Then each class will; get the story read to them by a high school student, hear about the new sneakers donation, and have a book left in their classroom.”  (Laurie told me that the Friends of the Newbury Town Library are buying the books for the classrooms.)

“The new sneakers that are received during the weeks that follow will be brought to our library and stacked in the meeting room,” said Laurie. 

The end of the new sneaker collecting will be during April vacation and coincide with the visit of Wally the Green Monster to the library.  “Last year Wally was here and we had 200 people come through in an hour,” recalled Laurie.  “We’re hoping that this year, when he comes, people will bring new sneakers to donate and Wally will help us do a countdown of how many we have collected.”

Laurie informed me that a clearinghouse agency for local children’s services called, Cradles to Crayons, would distribute the donated sneakers. 

Laurie was quick to commend the cooperation from Triton.  “Joe Colbert (community service director) and Kevin McLaughlin (principal) are important in this project because they will organize and bring the students to the classrooms,” said Laurie. 

Newbury Elementary School assistant principal Elizabeth Boulanger told me that the staff there was excited about being involved.  “NES is enthusiastically looking forward to the visiting readers and for the opportunity to participate in this community service project.”

In a description online, the author (Maribeth Boelts) explains that the idea for the story came as years later she recalled being a substitute teacher and witnessing a student caught in a situation similar to the one she later wrote about in “Those Shoes.”

I sent an email to Maribeth Boelts (she lives in the Midwest) telling her about the community service project.  She wrote back, “I was so honored to learn that “Those Shoes” prompted Laurie Collins to organize and lead this fun and worthy event.  It’s always touching to see an act of generosity like this, particularly when children are involved in the giving.”

Laurie told me that the best part in this project is that “a piece of literature is driving the whole thing.  That’s the most exciting part because that’s what we do here.”

It is said that, “A true charity is something that touches you personally.”  If that is the case then some Newbury students will be going out and buying new sneakers………but not for themselves.

( Prepared for publication in The Town Common on March 18th. )

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Filed under Maribeth Boelts, Newbury, Those Shoes, Triton

Museum Studies Class at Triton Searches for Answers and Help

Matt Denaro,Kathleen Corcoran,Kristin Kelleher,Molly Lovell, Andrea Sargent

Triton Museum Studies participants left to right: Matt Denaro,Kathleen Corcoran,Kristin Kelleher,Molly Lovell, Andrea Sargent

978-462-8171 (extension 514) is an important phone number as far as a class of students attending Triton Regional High School is concerned. 

If you have information on the opening of Triton in 1973, the students want to hear from you.  If you’ve got answers, they’ve got questions!

We all have our own way of visiting museums.  Most of us walk in the front door, wander around guided, or unguided, and tour the exhibits possibly offering a few “oohs” and “ahs” along the way. Then we walk back out the front door and return to our normal lives.

At Triton High School, a full-year elective course called, Museum Studies, looks at museums more thoroughly.

Led by Triton media specialist Andrea Sargent, Museum Studies gets into the inner workings of museums and explores what goes on behind-the-scenes. 

Wisely, Triton has program coordinator Kathleen Corcoran on board from Historic New England of Boston in what is a museum/school partnership.

Historic New England has the largest collection of New England art and artifacts in the United States.  They also own and operate 36 house museums in New England, four of which are located in Newbury.  The Museum Studies class has visited several of the Newbury sites to find out how they operate.

“I have worked with Kathleen and Historic New England before and they do a wonderful job,” said Andrea.

The first part of the course involved gathering knowledge about museums. The second part, which is now underway, is where the students will be using their acquired knowledge to create an exhibit featuring the towns within the Triton school district – Rowley, Newbury, and Salisbury.

Remember that phone number I mentioned in the first paragraph?  This is where it kicks in……….and you may be able to help.

The students in the course have decided on the time period they will use.  It will start the year Triton opened (1973) and end with the present.  Each of the students has one town to work on.

When the exhibit is finished at the end of the school year, an observer will be able to see an exhibit that highlights the past 36 years in Salisbury, Rowley, and Newbury.

Gathering information on recent times in the three towns is the easiest part.  It’s the earliest Triton days that they want help on. 

Some of you were part of the planning that brought the three towns into one district. Some of you were at Triton when it opened.  What are your memories?  Do you have some pictures and stories that the students could use?  The number to call is still in the first paragraph.

“I have started to interview people about Newbury and they’ve been very helpful,” said junior Kristin Kelleher, one of the class members.

Senior Molly Lovell (choice student from Amesbury) is covering Salisbury and wants the exhibit produced to make Triton look good.  “This is a very good school system and others need to know that. I am thankful for the opportunity to take this course and for the great support I’ve been getting from the staff.”

Another senior, Matt Denaro of Rowley, will be working on the town he lives in. Matt told me that a clear portrayal of the three district towns could benefit incoming students.  “Many of the students enter Triton knowing little about the other two towns.”

“It’s exciting to watch the way they go about this research part,” added Andrea Sargent.  “I think that they have a good vision of what they want to do.”

The road ahead will be a busy one for the course members as they search for exhibit materials.  If you have materials/information that could help them, they would appreciate hearing from you.

(Prepared for The Town Common.)

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More Pictures and Words From the Reopening of the Parker River Bridge

(This will be more of a pictorial coverage of the January 5th opening of the Parker River Bridge.  The “official” version, which will appear in The Town Common, is in the entry below this one.  Everything underlined in this entry can be clicked on and should show a picture from the event.  I used similar coverage when I reported on the Amesbury Super Bowl victory.)

For months, we saw signs near the Newbury (MA) town offices and at the 1A Parker River Bridge itself giving us the bad news about the bridge – it wasn’t open.

The early plans, to keep the bridge partially open as the repair work went on, gave way to the bad news that the bridge was too unsafe for such a plan and the only solution was to close it and completely rebuild it.  That closing took place on September 27, 2007.

The impact was felt immediately.  Instead of driving approximately 200 yards to get from one side to the other, the trip was closer to ten miles.  Almost simultaneously, gas prices lurched skyward.  It was not a happy time for many.

Then the, “Am I reading this right?” news started trickling out that the bridge work was ahead of schedule.  And sure enough, on January 5th, the bridge reopened.

Any public works project in Massachusetts that is done early is cause for celebration and there was plenty of that at the ceremony.

I did get a sense before the ceremony that those closest to the bridge, despite being happy it was restored, had gone through quite an ordeal during it construction.  You had to pity Kate Huggins who house is situated as close to the north side as anyone.  I spent a few days this summer living near a construction site in Pennsylvania  so I had a small idea of what 15 months of rebuilding must have been like.  Deliveries are made late at night and in the early AMs.  Trucks have to back up……and you know what that sounds like.  And then there’s the noise.  Kate was given flowers at the ceremony for surviving the long ordeal.

Not surprising was the fact that there was no one on hand suggesting that the bridge shouldn’t have been repaired.  Trust me, before the closing there was plenty of opposition.  Senator Bruce Tarr and Representative Harriett Stanley were given honorary hardhats by the work crew and I believe it was Senator Tarr who quipped something like, “I could have used this hat when I went to some of the area town meetings concerning the bridge closure.”

I spoke with Rep Stanley before the ceremony.  I had never met her before but fortunately, for me, she had on a MassHighway (?) jacket with her name on it so I found her easily.  I identified myself and she scolded me for sending her an email requesting permission to speak to her at the ceremony.  “You’re with the media.  You can speak to me anytime,” she said.  I asked her about her involvement in the bridge project and I’m glad I did.  She has served as state rep for this area since 1994.  She told me that after hearing about the condition of the bridge she had decided to look for herself in 1997.  She brought a camera with her and crawled underneath the bridge for a look.  What she saw prompted her to take pictures as she became convinced that the bridge was in dangerous shape.  When she joked that she was the “arm twister” and “knee breaker” in getting the project started and completed I suspected that she had gotten into the faces and ears of numerous Mass DPW officials over it.  The MassHighway commissioner, Luisa Paiewonsky, may have hinted at it when she said at the ceremony that she had a meeting with Rep Stanley to discuss ten issues and the representative would only talk about one – the Parker River Bridge. 

I also spoke with Mrs. Ilsley before the ceremony.  She told me that she lived about ½ mile away on High Road and had lived in the area all her life so she knew the bridge well.  She said that the closure affected her significantly because she is a nurse at Sea View Nursing Home on the other side.  She ended up with a trip, as a result, that was eleven miles.  She said that she was surprised that things had been done so quickly.  She remembered that one of the new bridge beams had been dropped on 128 on its way to being put up.

I also chatted with Terry O’Malley (assistant harbormaster of Newbury) who told me how the bridge work had affected his job on the Parker River.  Later I would see Terry at the head of the line heading over the bridge when it opened.  Terry directed me to the project manager for S&R Corporation – Russ Burnham.  I told him that he had pleased many area folks by getting the project ahead of schedule and he credited others for making it possible.  He also told me that there was some more work to be done in the spring but that it would only involve some brief lane closings.  Having since driven over the bridge it is apparent that road resurfacing will be part of what S&R will do.

The ceremony was brief with five speakers.  All commended the workers and the people in the community for getting the project done quickly.  Selectman Stuart Dalzell spoke for Rowley and Selectman Joe Story spoke for Newbury.  Joe was especially grateful to the town of Rowley for providing police and fire protection on the Rowley side of the bridge during construction. 

Loquacious state senator Bruce Tarr was another of the speakers.  I have heard him speak at Memorial Day services and knew that without notes in front of him he can turn some terrific phrases.  I got this one on tape: “It is a testament to the fact that not only one person got involved or one person made a difference but everyone who got involved made a difference.”  Try saying that one without notes!  He told me afterwards that he had worked with MassHighway on practically a weekly basis to make sure that things at the bridge were proceeding smoothly. 

After the ceremony Luisa, Harriett, and Bruce cut the ribbon and led the walk over to the Fernald side of the bridge and back.  Bruce and Joe walked back together.  There was also a group shot taken of some of the MassHighway workers and some of the speakers.

Next, the canopy was taken down and the removal of the barriers began.  I talked to Terry O’Malley who was positioned at the head of the line of traffic ready to cross the bridge.  I remarked to him about the significance of being the first one over.  He suggested that he had probably cut in line by coming out of the wharf parking lot.  He also suggested that Bunny Fernald had probably already gone over and back earlier in the day.  His recollection also was that Bunny Fernald might have been the first one over the last time the bridge was closed and reopened when Bunny came over as an infant in his father’s car. 

Russ Burnham got the signal from the Fernald side of the bridge and the Parker River Bridge in 1A in Newbury was back in business.

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Filed under 1A Bridge, Bruce Tarr, Harriett Stanley, Luisa Paiewonsky, Newbury, Parker River Bridge

Bridge Reopens – Area Rejoices

Barriers get pushed back as Parker River Bridge reopens on January 5th.

Barriers get pushed back as Parker River Bridge reopens on January 5th.

First built in 1758, famous folks including; Benedict Arnold, George Washington, James Monroe, and Lafayette have used the bridge over the Parker River to get from one side to the other.

However, since September of 2007, only MassHighway and S&R Corporation employees have been in the bridge area on Route 1A in Newbury since its closure due to its unsafe condition.

To the surprise of many, the rebuilding process was finished months earlier than expected and the bridge reopened on Monday afternoon (January 5th) in a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

One of the speakers at the ceremony, MassHighway Commissioner Luisa Paiewonsky, praised the project as, “a model for other projects we do,” and, “the one we’ll refer to often in the future.” 

Many who drove over it regularly did not easily accept the idea that the Parker River Bridge even needed repair.  Those who had seen it from below knew differently.

“We weren’t surprised when they said that the bridge needed repairs,” said Barbara Page a resident just up High Road from the bridge who was on hand for the ceremony.  “My husband (Arthur) and I are boaters and when we went underneath the bridge we could see the terrible condition it was in.  You’d swear that you’d never go over the top of it once you saw underneath.”

Another speaker, Representative Harriett Stanley (D-West Newbury), became a convert to the need to repair the bridge in 1997.  She informed me that she “crawled down the rock embankment that year after being told about the problem and took some pictures of the underside of the bridge.” 

Convinced by what she saw, she jokingly described herself from that time on as the, “chief knee breaker,” and, “arm twister,” to see that steps were taken to make the bridge safe.  “I have a MassHighway file on this bridge that is about a foot thick,” she recalled. “That is why having the bridge fixed and reopened makes this a very exciting day for me.”

The other area representative (State Senator Bruce Tarr) was equally pleased.  “This is a time when for once it worked out right and we’re all the better for it.  Everyone who got involved made a difference.”

The general contractor, S&R Corporation of Lowell, received compliments from every speaker.  Their willingness to work extra hours, Saturdays, and in poor weather took months away from the projected reopening in mid-2010. 

S&R project manager Russ Burnham shrugged off the congratulations with, “We did it in less time than usual because we had cooperation from everybody.” 

Russ told me that the work wasn’t completely finished yet.  “We’ve got to put the top down on the road and replace the temporary sidewalks with concrete ones.  We will do the work in the spring and will not need to close the bridge to do it.  We may take a lane but it should be fairly uneventful.”

Newbury assistant harbormaster Terry O’Malley was the first to drive his car over the bridge from the north side once the barriers were removed.  Anticipating some sort of historical explanation for his positioning himself at the head of the line, I asked him about it.  “I just want to get home,” he said smiling.  No more ten mile round-about routes home or to work in his future and thankfully for many others in the area as well.

(To appear in The Town Common on January 14th)

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Filed under 1A Bridge, Bruce Tarr, Harriett Stanley, Luisa Paiewonsky, Newbury, Parker River Bridge, Town Common

Teaching Moments in Minnesota

There are lessons to be learned from the recent happenings in Minnesota.  Let me go through a couple of them.

First, we have this ongoing furor over repairing the 1A bridge over the Parker River in Newbury.  Was the bridge calamity in Minnesota not shown on local TV? 

The bridge in Newbury needs repair.  The best time to repair a bridge is before it collapses not the way it worked out in Minnesota.  Inconvenient?  You bet, but how about considering the flipside, could you? 

I read of the appeals to various politicians to stop the process and wonder why any of the politicians bother to listen to any of this nonsense.  It sure wouldn’t look too hot on a politician’s resume to say that he/she stopped, or tried to stop, the repair of a bridge that badly needed repair.

The idea that the bridge would be kept open while they work on major repairs is laughable.  It is somewhat like asking for major surgery while insisting that you will continue jogging while the surgery is taking place.  Close the bridge down completely so that the work can be done without interruption.

Soon we’ll be hearing from folks insisting that the bridge be repaired quickly.  Patience they don’t have.  We’re talking about a potentially life-saving operation and these people will want it done fast.  Try that one on your doctor before he performs open-heart surgery. 

The work on the bridge should begin as soon as possible and be allowed to take as long as necessary.

Also in Minnesota we had an unfortunate lesson learned at Minneapolis Airport by Idaho Senator Larry Craig.  This pathetic Republican tried to strike up a sexual relationship with a complete male stranger in a bathroom there. 

The stranger happened to be working for the police department and arrested the Senator.  The Senator hoped that a quick admission of guilt would put an end to his problems but it didn’t go that way.  Soon there were denials which failed miserably especially since a tape with the Senator’s confession was handy to repute the denials.

The lesson that Senator Craig should have learned in Minnesota was that he was representing the wrong state and in the wrong political party.  If he had only been from Massachusetts the idea of resignation wouldn’t even have been an option.  He could have trusted the voters of this state to let him continue no matter what he did. 

After all this state voted to let Democrat Ted Kennedy continue in the Senate even after he fled the scene of an accident that turned fatal because of his negligence.  After all this state also let Democrat Barney Frank continue in the House of Representatives after he was picked up for allowing a male hooker to run a prostitution ring out of his apartment.  Frank’s conduct was so deplorable that even the Boston Globe abandoned him but not the voters of this state.

It’s one thing for voters to lack good sense but people living near a dangerous bridge should know better.

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Filed under 1A Bridge, Barney Frank, Minnesota, Newbury, Newburyport Daily News, Senator Larry Craig, Senator Ted Kennedy