You may remember Miss Seminatore as a strict 4th grade teacher and no-nonsense librarian at Memorial School. Well, today we’re going on a field trip to the 1940s, before Memorial School existed. We’re visiting her childhood home at Maple Knoll Turkey Farm, on Bedford St. near St. Malachy Parish.
Every morning, on their way to work, men would pull up to the farmhouse, knock on the door and order a chicken, or a turkey, or a rabbit, for pick-up later on the way home. Fresh meat for dinner! Answering the door was young Marie Seminatore. It was her job to essentially catch dinner for her customers. She had to know her inventory. If a customer wanted a 20-lb turkey, he wouldn’t want to pay for a 25-lb turkey. So Marie had to stalk and catch the right bird.
Ever try to catch a bird? It’s not easy. “The one you wanted was always the farthest one away, and the other ones would cover for them,” she says. “Listen, those animals weren’t stupid.” Once caught, it was time to “dress” the bird for the customer. “My mother and I took the bird to the barn cellar, hung it upside down, opened the beak, stuck a knife into it and killed it. When they die, they loosen their feathers. I’d pull the feathers off, cut off the head, pull out the organs. There was a bucket underneath to catch the blood.” The finished “dressed” bird would go into a paper bag and wait in the refrigerator for the returning customer.
That’s how Marie put herself through college — by selling and catching dinner meat. She graduated State Teachers’ College in Lowell, then got her master’s at UMass Boston. Her father, Gerald, had a barber shop at the corner of Skilton Lane and Cambridge Street. He was the de facto town barber but wasn’t much of a farmer. That dirty work was left to his wife Christina and their eight children — six girls and two boys. Marie was the oldest.
Let’s back up even further. Before settling in Burlington, the Seminatores lived at the exact location of Olsen Cadillac in Woburn’s Four Corners area. In 1944, they found a big ol’ house in Burlington that was better-suited for a big family. In fact, this Burlington house was a former inn and had served as a “poor house.” It had a very choppy floor plan with a bunch of teensy bedrooms of identical dimensions.
The move to Burlington could be considered a migration. The family used the car to haul 1,000 cans of food over multiple trips. Gerald moved a mother and baby horse himself, by riding the mare and letting the colt naturally follow. His summation of that journey became family folklore: “We saw four cars along the way.” Such was the traffic density at the time: four cars (and zero traffic lights) from Woburn Four Corners to the Seminatore home at 82 Bedford Street. At the time, it was number 5. Yes, it was only the fifth house on the street starting from Simonds Park.
Sometimes in winter, all six girls would shovel snow together. The sight of a big building and a bunch of girls outside suggested it was a school, so bakery and milk trucks would pull over. The drivers would ask the Seminatore girls if their “headmistress” was interested in stocking up.
Alas, the Seminatore homestead is gone now. After Gerald’s death almost 40 years ago, the town bought the farm and farmhouse from the Seminatore children, demolished the house and created Pine Haven Cemetery. The barn remains and now serves as the cemetery chapel. Cemetery crews use the barn’s basement for storage — the same basement that functioned as Marie’s slaughterhouse.
The house and barn, c. 1970
The barn is the cemetery chapel today.