LYNN — Lynn, Lynn, the city of . . . virtue?
That’s the city its leaders know and love.
And, now, they want the whole world to feel the same.
Plagued by the seedy rap since the days of flappers in the Roaring ’20s, Lynn plans to embark on an advertising campaign celebrating the city’s charms come fall on national television.
Lynn may not be perfect — and it certainly endured dismal years — but it is more than a punchline to residents. To them, it is a city of resilience, with just a hint of an attitude.
“For a while, there was a lot of crime and businesses folded, but it’s different now,” said 52-year-old Joanne Rand, who moved to Lynn 25 years ago. “There is nowhere in Lynn I wouldn’t walk alone at night.”
She reflected on her adopted hometown with sun overhead, water lapping nearby at Red Rock Park.
“Lynn had some rough times, but it’s outrun them,” she said. The arrival of North Shore Community College and downtown businesses catering to the blossoming immigrant community helped turn the tide and change the culture once epitomized by these 15 words:
Lynn, Lynn, the city of sin — you never come out the way you came in.
The melody has been passed through multiple generations, but the lyrics’ last hurrah may be imminent because Lynn’s youngest generation is dancing to a different beat, Rand said.
“Ultimately, the kids aren’t doing the same things their parents did,” said Rand, who raised her children in Lynn. And that means the crime should no longer define the city, she added.
“Lynn has so much history that nobody knows about,” Rand said. “They need to get that out there.”
That’s exactly what the new ad campaign aims to do. The five-minute spot, narrated by former football star Terry Bradshaw, will appear once nationally and 19 times on regional cable. It is costing the city about $20,000.
“One of the best ways to shake that [old] label,” Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy said Wednesday night, “is to highlight the positives that we have.”
The city was settled in 1629, and in later years boasted a robust manufacturing sector. When industries began leaving town, the community reeled for decades. It went from a manufacturing town to a biker town infested with countless bars, said ¬Michael Zimman, who owns Zimman’s, a well-known fabric shop that has operated in Lynn since 1909.
Perhaps such was the era that inspired this portion of the poem:
You ask for water, but they give you gin; The girls say no, yet they always give in.
But those days are in the past, and the economic and social revitalization is well underway in the North Shore community of about 89,000, Zimman said.
“What happened to put it on the upswing is young people moved in with less expensive rent,” Zimman said. “Really, these are creative people who add great value to the city.”
As the city tries to build on this new population base, it still has the old label to shake, even if the decades-old joke is nothing more than a catchy rhythm, Zimman said.
“It’s like any poorer city — you’re going to have drug and prostitution problems, that’s just part of the landscape,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s any more sinful than anywhere else.”
Regardless, Lynn has never been a city people dream of moving to, even though many cherish their years spent in the city, he said.
“It’s a goal for a lot of people who live here that when they accumulate enough wealth, they leave. It’s always been that way,” Zimman said. “The greatest vibrancy in the city, in regards to consumer business, is within the immigrant population.”
The third stanza of Lynn’s assailing ditty portrays a city far from vibrant, and far from the city 63-year-old Patrick Deamelio knows.
If you’re not bad, they won’t let you in; it’s the damndest city I’ve ever lived in.
Sitting on the seawall at Red Rock Park, Deamelio gazes across the lush green field and takes in the sound of waves softly crashing over the rocks below with melodious repetition.
“Lynn’s got a bad rep, but I’ve never had a problem in the 63 years I’ve lived here,” he said. “I had a lot of great times growing up here.”
When he leaves the park he wonders about what could have been and thinks about the friends who left town while he stayed behind. Lynn’s a far different place from the one it used to be, he said.
“You could drive at night, and there’d be crowds downtown,” Deamelio said, “but now, after 9 or so, it’s a ghost town.”
This is the Lynn known by Christine Kou, a junior at Lynn Technical High School.
“The gangs are gone, and the schools are better for students in academics,” said the 17-year-old, who regularly attends public events and school-sponsored summer trips. “The events bring people together as friends. . . . Some had issues [with each other] but a lot of them squashed it on these trips.”
The undesirable, sin city distinction is one the city has tried to dispatch for years. Leaders in 1997 even attempted to rename the city Ocean Park.
Though that vote failed, Lynn may now have finally outlived its branding ballad.
Correction: Because of a reporting error, this story incorrectly reported that the General Electric facility had closed. Although employment there is significantly lower than at its peak, the facility remains open.