Lowell, MA: Jack Kerouac
The school was at the end of Beaulieu Street. As we arrived on its steps, one of those same black angels swooped down to let us in. “The nuns were powerful because they had corporal punishment,” Reggie whispered in a voice that was probably loud enough for the young nun who was guiding us to hear. “As you can read in Jack’s books, if you didn’t remember six times seven, they’d hit you with a ruler. We all came here. When you look at Jack, you can see he had strong religious beginnings. God is there, Lowell is there, St. Louis School is there.”
We followed the nun into a third-grade classroom where some 65 years ago, Gerard Kerouac experienced a vision of heaven that his younger brother would later memorialize.
“Now I believe I can say this fairly surely, I think that crucifix up there is the one Gerard was actually looking at when it happened.”
Out came the cameras: snap! snap!
During the long drunk of his final years, it was not uncommon for Kerouac to claim that it was really Gerard who’d written his books; that Jack, or Ti-Jean as his family called him, had been merely a channel. And once, on a radio show, when the subject of Gerard’s death had come up, Kerouac had murmured that just before Gerard died “nine nuns filed into his room and said, ‘Gerard, repeat what you told us about Heaven.’ ”
It’s difficult to separate Lowell’s decision to honor Kerouac from the larger rehabilitation that Lowell itself has undergone. Today tourists to the Lowell National Historical Park fill little green tour buses and snap photographs of the gigantic gear that has been resurrected as a kind of signature sculpture. But they have not brought profitability to downtown Lowell.
“Everyone wants to leave,” a girl who worked in a gift shop told me. “There’s nothing here.”
I asked her if she’d ever heard of Jack Kerouac.
“Oh yeah,” she exclaimed, giggling.
“What have you heard? He’s a world-famous writer?”