By Mary Jo Rufo
“The Last Shepard & Tales of the Tenth Ornament” is celebrating 10 years of wonder.
Looking back at the five-year effort to conceive, code, design, manufacture, and ship mystery ornaments around the country was no small task, but author Mark Duffield faced it with passion and purpose. The story itself focuses on a cynical Boston reporter assigned to cover the demolition of beloved Blackstone’s on Beacon Hill, who ends up mystified by the faith and community that surrounds the story’s protagonist, Jack Shepard. Let me tell you more about this community project that entailed the children’s book,10 mystery ornaments, and a magical Christmas Eve event.
There have been many momentous events in Beacon Hill, and this Christmas Eve 10 years ago is where many people donated their Christmas Eve to read a five-line message of hope, locked in a bank safe. It is hard to find a project today that brought so many angels and anonymous donors together to support one cause. This incredible storytelling of author, and Beacon Hill resident, Mark Duffield was matched with the talent of Mario Friedric, who helped create the iconic 10 Christmas ornaments that helped make this project so special.
When Jennifer Hill, co-owner of Blackstone’s on Beacon Hill at the time, met Friedrich, she “just knew this was the start of something amazing, an encounter meant to be,” which it was and led to these ornaments traveling from Boston to Toronto to Poland and back again to be delivered to each recipient.
Hill attests that this led to “solidifying Blackstones’ as a store that helps spread the magic of Christmas, and in this particular case, for a very special cause, to benefit the pediatric cancer research and care at Mass General Hospital for Children Care Center.”
In addition to donating the proceeds to pediatric cancer, the special tale brought together 150 families from 26 states, as far as Alaska, to join in Christmastime magic. A connection like this brought five families that had just lost a parent or grandparents only two weeks prior to spend their Christmas Eve in Boston alongside Duffield. This community project began with Duffield, described as “THE quintessential storyteller” by Mary Ann Gabriel, an early supporter of the project. Duffield has picked up and continued to love and share the art of storytelling from his father, older brothers, and childhood community.
Through “The Last Shepard and Tales of the Tenth Ornament” project, Duffield brought them together for one more special night at the Boston Park on Christmas Eve.
After writing, illustrating, self-publishing and selling 5,000 copies, this extravagant project ended with a private video from then-Mayor Thomas M. Menino to greet these families, as well as the attendance of Richard Thomas, the actor famous for the long running television series, “The Waltons”; Ray Brown, host of “Talkin’ Birds”; opera singers and famous musician, such as John Muratore. This Christmas Eve night was special from start to its finish at the Cambridge Trust Bank, where the President and Bank Manager were waiting to open the vault to reveal the secret five-line message of hope that Mark Duffield had put in the bank five years prior.
Duffield’s wish has “always been that somehow I would have been able to republish the book, especially as we celebrate its 10th anniversary. Also, those individuals who wanted to make a movie right here on Beacon Hill of my book did not have enough capital and connections to move it forward. Some came close…but funding and finding anyone with influence are hard to find. Maybe someday,” said Duffield.
Although it is hard to find a copy these days, if you do, you will be enjoying the great illustrations by Don Sherwood, American cartoonist and illustrator of Hanna-Barbera’s “The Flintstones” and Sharon Duffield, Mark’s twin sister.
Sharon was instrumental in rescuing the entire effort with illustrations, ornaments, repainting ornaments for customers, organizing the Christmas Eve event, and at times helping finance the project. You can enjoy the magic for yourself by re-printing the book online with Barnes and Noble. “The Last Shepard” project was truly a group effort from start to finish. I encourage you all to spend this holiday season with those you love, whether it be 300 people at the Park Plaza or friends and family nearby.