Methuen Residents Receive Award for Whittier Documentary

Displaying the award from Northeast Region of the Alliance for Community Media are Ann and Gus Reusch, Cynthia Costello and Fran and Tom Gradzewicz.

A new documentary, “The Abolitionist Poet: John Greenleaf Whittier.” Has netted Tom and Fran Gradzewicz, of Methuen, a second place award from Northeast Region of the Alliance for Community Media.

The Gradzewicz’s won in the category, “Historical Documentary, nonprofessional.

Since his retirement several years ago, Tom Gradzewicz has been writing and producing video documentaries and news programs on a variety of topics, featuring special historic events, museums and sites of interest from Lowell to Newburyport. Along with his wife Fran, they have created many videos as volunteers for Methuen Community Television.

While recording a program at Buttonwoods Museum, Haverhill, they came in contact with Jay Cleary, a trustee of Whittier Birthplace, Haverhill. Cleary suggested they might highlight the life of John Greenleaf Whittier, poet, editor, legislator, abolitionist and most famous for the winter idyll, “Snowbound.”

The seed was planted and they began by interviewing well-known teacher-curator at the Whittier Birthplace, Augustine “Gus” Reusch. The tour at the homestead focused on Whittier’s boyhood and into his early adult years. After the death of his father in 1836, unable to handle the heavy manual work of running a farm, Whittier, his mother Abigail, spinster aunt Mercy and sister Elizabeth moved into a small cottage in Amesbury, where he lived until his death in 1892.

Reusch told how Whittier started writing poetry after hearing poems of Scottish poet, Robert Burns. Unbeknownst to him, his sister sent some of his poems to the area newspaper in Newburyport, edited by William Lloyd Garrison. Thus began an association that would bloom into friendship of two men who were to be among the earliest and most fiery advocates against slavery.

Reusch suggested that the couple visit with Cynthia Costello, then president of the historic Whittier Home in Amesbury, who often writes and gives talks revealing the exciting but less told story of Whittier the Abolitionist, who sought to rid America of slavery at great cost to his health and economic situation. Whittier, a birthright member of the Society of Friends, says in his autobiography, “I had been educated to regard slavery as a great and dangerous evil, and my sympathies were strongly enlisted for the oppressed slaves by my intimate acquaintance with Garrison (Newburyport).”

“Despite such vivid poems as the ‘Farewell of a Slave Mother to Her Children,’” Costello said, “about to be sold on the block, words and demonstrations were impotent against huge monetary profits gained from cheap slave labor in the south. The Civil War would be the final confrontation to end slavery, at the cost of lives and spilling of blood that followed on both sides.”

“Whittier and Garrison would be sad to know that after so much strife and struggle and so many years, many feel discrimination has never totally been realized for many of the African-American descendants of slaves, despite many advances,” Costello said.

“After the war and the death of his beloved sister Elizabeth, Whittier was inspired to write ‘Snowbound,’ to help bind the wounds of his personal losses as well as his  countrymen, by recalling his family sharing stories around a fireplace amidst a swirling, howling snowstorm. The tender, simple and loving scenes of farm life fast fading, became an international favorite, earning Whittier his first financial success as well as cementing his place in American Literature and History.”

The Gradzewiczs” have produced many award-winning documentaries over the past few years, including, “Right in Our Own Back Yard,” a series on the local museums in the Merrimack Valley, as well as the saga of Bread and Roses, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike. They are also recipients of the “Older Americans Month 2016: Blazing Trails” award at the Methuen Senior Center.

The Whittier Documentary and other may be viewed “on demand” anytime on Methuen Community Television, choosing “video” in the menu bar.