The Oregon Trail

At “five o’clock of a red-all-over suppertime” on March 12, 1922, Jack Kerouac—baptized John L. (Jean-Louis) Kirouac by his French-Canadian parents—was born in Lowell (pop. 111,670), a city sincerely regarded as one of the wonders of the world back when the Industrial Revolution was as fascinating as the Internet is now. Although this original dharma bum is more widely remembered for hanging out with Ferlinghetti in San Francisco and Ginsberg in New York, and for pasting the beat generation firmly across the map of American culture, Kerouac also wrote five novels based on friends and familiar places in his native city. His fictional work, from On the Road on, is that much more interesting when read in the context of his real life in this Merrimack River mill town.

Reciprocating Kerouac’s lifelong love for Lowell, the National Park Service publishes a walking-tour brochure on Jack and his life in Lowell. It also helps sponsor the annual Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! festival in early October. Maps and guides to the man and the town are available from the Lowell National Historical Park visitors center (67 Kirk St., 978/970-5000); parking (304 Dutton St.) is a block west.

If you want to pay your respects to Kerouac, who died in Florida in 1969, he is buried in Edson Cemetery, two miles south of downtown Lowell via Gorham Street. Fans by the hundreds beat a path to his grave, which is on Lincoln Avenue between 7th and 8th Streets, marked by a pile of beer cans and other ritual offerings.

Even without the Kerouac connection, Lowell—with its working water-powered looms, canal tours, and engaging interpretive tours—would deserve attention. Befitting its blue-collar past, Lowell is home to several classic diners. The best of the diners is the excellent Arthur’s Paradise Diner (112 Bridge St., 978/452-8647), a 1937 Worcester diner where the house specialty is the great big Boot Mill sandwich, a two-hands-full combination of eggs, cheese, potatoes, and meat—lots of meat.

Lowell’s other legendary blue-collar landmarks include the Club Diner (145 Dutton St., 978/452-1679) and the Four Sisters’ Owl Diner (244 Appleton St., 978/453-8321, daily).

Map of the Oregon Trail Route in Massachusetts

Map of the Oregon Trail through Massachusetts.
Map of the Oregon Trail through Massachusetts.

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