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The day Burlington lost its innocence

Fifty years ago this month, two 14-year-old girls tried to cross Cambridge Street at 11 p.m. and paid a horrible price. A young driver from Billerica, with a little son of his own, struck the girls near Great Pines Ave, killing Sharon Hennessy of Sewall Street and severely injuring Judy Miller of Rahway Road. He was not charged with anything because he did nothing wrong. He simply didn’t see them in time.

Only one person perished, but the whole town took a huge blow. Hundreds of high school and middle school students walked to Sharon’s burial at Chestnut Hill Cemetery. Her friends led a successful petition to have crossing lights installed at Great Pines Ave. One of those friends, Dave Murgo, is now a software specialist at Lahey, making sure doctors can read their patients’ vital signs. But inside, he’s still a shaken 13-year-old who just lost his first love.

 

Sharon Hennessy, 1957-1971
Sharon Hennessy, 1957-1971

By Dave Murgo

Sharon was truly beautiful and effortlessly charming. Her face never hid what she was thinking and feeling. And those eyes! She was quick-witted and incredibly bright in all ways.

She had a real appreciation of music. In fact, the first time I heard John Lennon’s “Imagine” album was when she brought it to my house, in one of her many visits. Everyone who knew her loved her and wanted to be around her, and with what little a 13-year-old knows about love, I knew I loved her deeply.

I was very shy about this at the time, never knowing what to say to her, and was nowhere near bold enough to tell her of my burgeoning feelings. I sat next to her in Mr. Ryan’s class at Francis Wyman Junior High during the shared months of that school year. We’d frequently whisper silly comments back and forth, hoping that Mr. Ryan wouldn’t notice. Of course, he did notice when Sharon chased my friend Henry around the room with a lit Bunsen burner.

I still have the library card from the last book she signed out, just a few weeks before her passing. It’s a keepsake.

Sharon Hennessy's signature on a library card

One of my favorite memories is listening to her sing the Badfinger song, “Day After Day” which even now immediately evokes her memory. If I catch it at the right moment, it reduces me to tears. She had a very pleasant singing voice, and this remains the song that I, and several classmates, most associate with her. Nilsson’s “Without You” is a very close second.

We’d met years before. Our families knew each other well. Sharon’s sister Kathy and cousin Diane were very good friends of my sister Paula. They frequently visited our home, and Sharon would often join them. Sharon and I were close from the time we met, and our friendship never wavered. We walked together from St. Malachy’s to Wildwood School for our Sunday morning CCD classes, laughing about one silly thing or another. Developing a crush on her felt inevitable. More than once, I dreamt of us as “grown-ups,” married and enjoying a life of joy and laughter. To this day, I have a particular weakness for laughing women that I’m certain originated with Sharon.

The morning after the accident, my sister got the fateful phone call from the Hennessys. She came downstairs and told all of us what had happened. I knew right then that my life had just changed forever. And sure enough, to this day, 50 years since the terrible night she was lost to us, not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought of her. Though our relationship never turned into a boyfriend/ girlfriend connection, she was by any measure my first love.

When I arrived at Doyle Funeral Home near Mitre – the first wake and funeral I’d ever attended – her father grabbed me in a bear hug, nearly lifting me off the ground, and said, “You must be David. Sharon really loved you. She talked about you all the time.” I don’t know if that was exactly what I needed to hear or the last thing I needed to hear given my unspoken feelings for her. To think there was a chance she reciprocated my feelings was overwhelming to me at 13. I cried for most of the next month. It was a horrible time, like being forced to grow up too suddenly and without any warning.

Virtually our entire class was there, all appearing shellshocked. Lots of them were in a room in the basement of the funeral home, crying. My mother still describes it as the night Burlington lost its innocence. Her passing was a loss that at some level I’m still trying to process. I loved her. The world lost someone truly special that night and we are all the poorer for it.

Ted Hennessy, Sharon’s brother, became my coworker for a while. I shared with him all that I remembered of her. He said “David, I was four years old when she passed. I have very few memories of her.” He thanked me for sharing my recollections. Tragically, Ted boarded an airplane in 2001 — one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center. I’ve remained fortunate over the years to have kept a connection to the Hennessy family. I deeply admire their strength in what could only be considered unfathomable losses.

Sharon Hennessy gravestone, Chestnut Hill Cemetery, Burlington, MA

Dave Murgo, then and now:

The other victim, Judy Miller, suffered fractures to her legs, shoulder, pelvis and arm, damaged vertebrae and internal bleeding. Yet she forged ahead and became a pediatric oncology nurse at Boston Children’s Hospital before launching her own practice in New Hampshire. She also taught Sunday school and became a deacon at the Presbyterian church in Windham, NH. Moreover, she became chapter president of a group for adults and children with attention deficit disorder. She died from pancreatic cancer in 2019.

. . . and she did indeed follow through on her yearbook ambition to be with high school sweetheart David Holt. In fact, she married him the same year she graduated, 1975.

Cambridge Street at Great Pines Ave., Burlington, MA

 

 

 

24 thoughts on “The day Burlington lost its innocence Leave a comment

  1. Such a sad day for all, thank you for sharing your beautiful story. I’m sure she loved you more than you know.

    • Thank you Robert for publishing this sad but important story. And thank you David for sharing your beautiful words and story.
      I was only ten years old when this tragic accident occurred, and many of my memories are shaded, but I definitely recall the gravity and impact of the incident on our family and the Burlington community.

  2. I will never forget the phone call I received telling me of this tragedy. It will stay with me forever.

  3. So tragic on so many levels. True enough that this was indeed a tragedy that effected some many in our school. Sharon was loved by so many… we were all jolted by this tragedy. I knew them both and actually recall heibg at a party at Sharons house that past summer in 71. I also remember the long line of kids walking Bedford St from St Malachys to the cemetery, which was right across the street from my house. Burlington had never experienced anything like this before then. I visited her grave often after that while walking or riding my bike in the cemetery. Dave Holt and I grew up together and were inseprable in our younger years. When Dave met Judy, it was a special bond that took them on their own path in life. Judys funeral was a beautiful service and one could not leave there realizing that despite this accident that challenged her physically early in her life, she persevered and lived a life of service to others which is a great legacy for a who knew her. Thank you for sharing this poignant memory as a reminder that its not how long you live, but HOW you live that matters most.

  4. Thank you, David, for sharing your memories of Sharon. Hers was the first wake I ever attended, and I too was deeply impacted by her tragic death. We were just kids and she was one of us. We had never experienced anything like this before.

    If I remember correctly, we had been at the drop-in center—in the basement of the white church— the night of the accident.

  5. Susan Hennessy was a classmate of mine. I believe 6th grade. Susan had the most beautiful blues eyes.

    My mom passed away in May 50 years ago and is in the same section as Sharon. I used to visit her grave when I went to my moms.

    I have thought of Susan over the years. I think they moved to Belmont at some point.

    Rest peacefully

  6. Thank you Robert for your thoughtful and genuine perspective of this time of extreme sadness and loss. Thank you David for your honest and clearly painful remembrance of Sharon. She was such a sweet kid. A kind and very smart young lady. This life is surely a joyous struggle.

  7. Thank you Dave for this beautiful tribute, to both you g women. I agree with your mom… it was the day Burlington as a whole lost it’s innocence and changed us. I also remember the day those lights went on for the first time… strangely it provided a false sense of security In later years I worked with Judy while she was a school nurse in NH. It was a surprise meeting for both of us, and we both were happy to reconnect. She was a force to be reckoned with when it came to the children and I admired her ability to navigate much to be sure needs were met. I am certain your career choice is connected in someway to this tragedy and making the world better for others.

  8. She’s buried near my brother Kevin Doyle my Mom saw her Mom at the cemetery and talked of their loss my Mom told her Kevin would watch over her or something to that effect. I visit her when going to see my little brother who was 21 when run over by two cars in Provodince RI Life is hard. But we trudge the road (walking with a purpose) thanks for sharing this story of days gone by but never forgotten.

  9. Beautiful words David.. Everyone in a daze walking the halls and nobody talking. I really believe the class of 1975 was stronger and closer than most. We all shared something so unimaginable at such a young age. They still remain a part of us.

  10. I had recently gotten back home to BURLINGTON from the Army and the war in Vietnam, Jan 1970. Ianm a 1967 graduate from BHS, my Mom went to Union school in elementary grades, my Dad built our hoe 1958/59.So by Dec 1971 I was shaking off the war days of Vietnam. When I heard of this terrible accident,it hithsrd, how can two young girls lose their lives by being hit by a car in sleepy Burlington.. It was believed both died when I was told, and believed both died ,till I read this.And I felt so sad for the and their families for years.when ever I drive by the location Burlington Medical, I tell people of the two girls.Sorry for you to David. Sharon and Judy RIP

  11. I was also a class mate of Sharon’s, and it was the first time I went to a wake and funeral. It was a sad time.
    Thanks for sharing that story with us David. I didn’t realize how extensive Judy’s injuries were. I thought she just broke her leg. I remember she spent most of the school year in a cast.

  12. Thank you David for sharing. The accident of Jude and Sharon was and still is heartbreaking and truly effected us in so many ways. 😢

  13. What a beautiful tribute. Thank you for sharing.
    I am a BHS class of 79. I didn’t know Sharon or Judy at the time of the accident. But I remember the accident happening. It truly shook all of Burlington.
    I became cousin-in-laws with Judy, marrying Dave Holt’s cousin Greg, in 1984. Judy and I became very close until her death 3 years ago. Judy was a remarkable woman, serving and caring for others her whole life. She was a mentor to me in many ways. I miss her so much.

  14. Such a tragedy. Sharon was always so upbeat and happy. David, your mom’s assessment of Burlington loosing its innocence is spot on. The walk from St Malachy’s to the cemetery is etched in my memory. RIP my dear friends.

  15. Thank you David for this remembrance and for sharing your thoughts.

    I met Judy the summer before, and dated, if you could even call it that. Mostly I just hung out with Judy and her friends.

    Sharon was exuberant and high spirited, much the opposite of me. I rarely knew what to say, and so didn’t, unless i was alone with Judy.
    We split after school began in the fall.

    I remember going to see Judy after she was home from the hospital. I was scared, thinking she wouldn’t want to see me. I was wrong.
    The following summer, it seems like half our time hanging out were in the cemetery, picking blades of grass, or lying in the grass watching the clouds, and talking about things that mattered, things that change one forever, and things we would do (different) with our now precious shot at life.
    It took me another 5 years to straighten out, but Judy and I saw it through together. The tragic event that shaped us (and Burlington) we forever referred to as simply “the accident”.

  16. I remember this tragedy very clearly. My sister, brother and I grew up with the Hennessys. We all lived on the same street. I remember my Mom getting a phone call that next morning from Sharon’s aunt. My Mom was hysterical. My Dad went to talk to Mr. and Mrs. Hennessy outside as they walked down our street in the freezing cold. They were in obvious shock. The service at church was absolutely mobbed with parents and an enormous group of kids Sharon went to school with. Somehow I have a very clear recollection of this awful tragedy. The Hennessys were (are) a nice family and no part of this happening as well as other losses they suffered ever made one bit of sense to me even all these years later.

  17. Our family was good friends with the Millers. I remember them visiting us during her recovery and Judy sitting at our dining room table with the casts on her. I was only 8 but it made quite an impression on me so I still remember it.

  18. I remember that day as if it were yesterday. I lost a truly wonderful friend that night. i was supposed to go with Sharon and Judy to a boys gymnastic meet at the Old High School near Peach Orchard Rd and then walking to “The Duggout” in the basement of the white church on Bedford St and Lexington St. I went home early from school not feeling well. Because I went home early from school I wasn’t alllowed to go out that night. I tried twice to sneak out and go but unfortunately my Dad was always one step ahead of me and now I was grounded!! When I heard the news the next day I was truly beside myself with grief. I could not believe that this story was actually true. I cried so hard that night. My Dad came home from work and I burst into tears running to the arms of my dad and clutching onto him with such grief and tears, I was inconsolable. I will never forget the grief, the tears, and the hurt we all felt inside. We all walked from the junior high school on Terrace Hall Ave to the grave sight. Everyone made the walk that day, every student, every teacher, and every faculty member was there, and the grief was overwhelming for us all This was new territory for students and faculty too all of us unsure how to put one foot in front of the other. I look back 50 years ago, and I remember how comforting it was in some way to have the students, the teachers and the faculty all together to say “good bye” to such an angel. That day is etched in my heart, my soul, and my mind eternally.

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