Podcasts of the Week Ending September 7


More or Less :: Amazon Forest Fires

Statistics cited regarding the Amazon forest fires are not accurate, but the true story is more alarming.

Hit Parade :: We Are Stardust, We Are Gold-Certified

Counting down the artists and bands that got a boost (and those that didn’t) after their performances at the Woodstock festival.

BackStory :: Labor Day Special: A History of Work and Labor Relations in the U.S.

Overlooked history of women, children, and Mexican-Americans in the American labor pool.

Radiolab / Memory Palace :: Memory Palace

I’ve been listening to podcasts for close to 15 years now, and Memory Palace and Radiolab have been longtime favorites.  This special episode of Radiolab features highlights from classic Memory Palace episodes and a new story about scrub bulls.

Hub History :: Mayor Curley’s Plan to Ban the Klan 

Back in the 1920s, white supremacists hoped to expand their operations into Boston, but faced fierce opposition from Boston mayor James Michael Curley.  If only Boston’s mayor in 2019 was not a coward who appeases white supremacists.

Throughline :: The Litter Myth

The history of the successful campaign in the 1960s and 1970s to shift responsibility for environmental destruction from big corporations to individuals, with the help of a fake Native American.


Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:

Podcasts of the Week Ending August 31


Hub History :: The Dread Pirate Rachel

The story of the last woman executed in Massachusetts is shrouded in a myth of her being a seductive pirate, but her real story is even more interesting.

Throughline :: Strange Fruit

The true history of Billie Holiday, a Civil Rights anthem, and the origins of the War on Drugs.

 

Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:

Podcasts of the Week Ending July 27


BackStory :: Moon, Man, and Myths

The History Guys commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing with an interview with flight director Gene Kranz, among other things.

Code Switch :: Chicago’s Red Summer

Another anniversary, of a grim sort, of the race riots 100 years ago in Chicago and other American cities that targeted African American soldiers returning from the World War among others.

Fresh Air :: 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing

This podcast includes interviews with astronauts Michael Collins and Alan Shepherd as well as test pilot Chuck Yeager.

Hub History  :: The Cessna Strafer

A bizarre incident in 1989 when a man who’d just murdered his wife took to the air in a small airplane and fired an assault rifle at people on the ground in Boston.  This seems like a very serious crime, and yet I only learned about it a few years ago, even though I was alive and living in an adjacent state at the time.

99% Invisible :: Invisible Women

An interview with Caroline Criado Perez, author of Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, on how women are ignored in the design of just about everything, and the dangerous effects of this bias.

On the Media :: What, Me Worry?

Mad Magazine, the satire magazine enjoyed by decades of children going back to the 1950s, is going out of print.  Journalist Jeet Heer talks about the magazines importance and influence.

Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:

Photopost: The Earth is Awake


Last Saturday, I marched in Jamaica Plain’s annual Wake Up the Earth Parade with my daughter who moved between two groups in the parade, her school and her afterschool program.  As often happens, the kids’ baseball games conflicted with actually attending the Wake Up the Earth festival, but I did enjoy the many artistic expressions of my JP neighbors in the parade.

Book Review: Hidden History of Boston by Dina Vargo


Author: Dina Vargo
Title: Hidden History of Boston
Publication Info: Charleston, SC : The History Press, 2018.
Previously Read by the Same Author: Wild Women of Boston
Summary/Review:

Historian and fellow Boston By Foot Guide Dina Vargo writes about overlooked in moments in Boston history in her second book. This book includes dark moments in Boston history like anti-Catholic Pope’s Night riots, the boy serial killer Jesse Pomeroy, and the Tyler Street Massacre in Chinatown.  It also covers disasters like the Summer Street Trolley Disaster, the Pickwick Club collapse, and the Zoo Shipwreck.  All is not grim in Boston history, though, as this book also cover civil rights activists William Monroe Trotter activism that went straight up to President Woodrow Wilson and the settlement house social worker who became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, Amelia Earhart.  If you like Boston history, this book is a quick and fun read from which you might learn a thing or two.

Recommended books: The Fever of 1721 by Stephen Coss, The Wilderness of Ruin by Roseanne Montillo, Boston Riots by Jack Tager, and The Boston Irish: A Political History by Thomas H. O’Connor
Rating: ***1/2

Album Review: The New Normal by STL GLD


AlbumThe New Normal
ArtistSTL GLD
Release Date: February 1, 2019
Favorite Tracks: Burns, Gon’ Shine, Burns
Thoughts:

The Boston hip hop act STL GLD is well-regarded as one of the best groups in the area by local media.  Boston isn’t a notable location on the hip hop map compared with other cities, but The New Normal should draw attention to our city. Moe Pope, Christopher Talken, and Jonathan Ulman perform songs that speak to the present moment of the Trump era, and all the political and personal turmoil that entails, but also offering a positive alternative vision.  And STL GLD is not shy about getting their message out, including holding a listening party for the album’s premier in the unlikely setting of the Museum of Fine Arts.  I admit that I don’t know enough about hip hop to write a thorough review, but I know what I like, and The New Normal, lyrically and musically, is worth listenin to.

Rating: ****

Album Review: What Will We Do by Lula Wiles


AlbumWhat Will We Do
Artist: Lula Wiles
Release Date: January 25, 2019
Favorite Tracks:
Thoughts: “Love Gone Wrong,”  “If I Don’t Go,” “Good Old American Values,” “Shaking as it Turns,” “Morphine,” and “What Will We Do.”

Lula Wiles is the folk/roots music trio of  Isa Burke, Ellie Buckland, and Mali Obomsawin, who met at Berklee College of Music in Boston.  Their harmonies and spare arrangements are reminiscent of The Be Good Tanyas and Crooked Still (and the various bands and solo acts that have emerged from those bands). Their music has a melancholy sound that makes me want to weep happy tears. It’s also steeped in the fine folk tradition of melding the personal and political, such as songs like “Good Old American Values.”

  The full album is currently available via NPR’s First Listen.

Rating: ***1/2

The Great Molasses Flood Centennial


Today is the 100th anniversary of strangest disasters in history, the Great Molasses Flood in Boston’s North End.  On January 15, 1919, a 2.3-million gallon tank of molasses on the Charles River waterfront burst open and sent a wave of the sticky, brown fluid into the working-class, immigrant neighborhood.  It’s a quirky story, and one that lends itself to jokes along the lines of “a sticky situation” and “slow as molasses in January,” but the disaster had catastrophic human cost.

21 people died in the molasses flood, crushed by the force of the wave or smothered by the sticky goo forced into their noses and mouths.  Another 150 people were injured, some trapped in the molasses as it cooled as rescue workers attempted to fight through the congealed mass to reach them. Buildings were damaged and demolished, including a firehouse that was pushed off it’s foundations by the wave.  The damage to the neighborhood was extensive, and it took teams of workers several weeks to clean up the molasses.

Panorama of the Molasses Disaster site. Photograph: Globe Newspaper Co. (creator). Boston Public Library.

I noted earlier that this storage tank was built in a working class, immigrant neighborhood, and as a result the victims were Irish and Italian laborers and children.  Not only was it dangerous to have an industrial structure in a residential neighborhood, but the substandard construction of the tank was directly responsible for the disaster.  The owner of the tank, United States Industrial Alcohol, was forced to pay out a large settlement in a class action suit and the government more stringently enforced regulation of industrial construction in the wake of the disaster. And yet, even today, the poorest among us – especially people of color and immigrants – suffer the most from industry’s callous disregard of human life.  I recently listened to a podcast about Africatown – a community in Alabama created by formerly enslaved people – which is suffering from pollutants dumped by a nearby paper mill. As I remember the victims of the Great Molasses Flood, I also think of how even today there are poor communities in America suffering from the effects of factories and refineries adjacent to their homes, illegal dumping of pollutants in their water, and interstate highways cutting through their neighborhoods.

The centennial was commemorated this morning with a ceremony at Langone Park, a baseball field in the North End where the tank once stood.  Participants in the event stood in a circle recreating the circumference of the tank.  Photo via Adam Gaffin (@universalhub) on Twitter.

There are a lot of resources available should you wish to learn more about the Great Molasses Flood. One of the best articles I’ve read covering the anniversary of the Great Molasses Flood is by Cara Giaimo on Atlas Obscura.  Other articles on the anniversary were published in The Boston Globe and The Guardian.  Archaeologists from the University of Massachusetts-Boston recently performed a geophysical survey to find the foundations of the tank.  Scientific American studied the physics behind the disaster.  The definitive history of the Great Molasses Flood is Dark Tide by Stephen Puleo.  Dennis Lehane also included a fictional account of the disaster in his novel The Given Day.  The Hub History podcast episode on The Great Molasses Flood is also worth a listen.  Finally, The Dead Milkmen recorded a musical tribute to the disaster.

Book Review: The Wilderness of Ruin by Roseanne Montillo


Author: Roseanne Montillo
TitleThe Wilderness of Ruin: A Tale of Madness, Fire, and the Hunt for America’s Youngest Serial Killer
Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller
Publication Info: Tantor Audio (2015)
Summary/Review:

This book appeared to follow the formula of The Devil in the White City, focusing on a city in 19th century through the lens of major events and a mass murderer operating in that city.  In this case the city is Boston, the murderer is Jesse Pomeroy, and the event is the Great Fire of 1872.  Except, that the book isn’t really structured this way.

It is in fact more of a straightforward biography of Pomeroy, a teenage boy in Charlestown and then South Boston who tortured smaller children, and eventually began murdering them in the 1870s.  He is sometimes called “America’s First Serial Killer,” although that is not factually true, but his crimes occurred in a period of growing moral panic about children’s behavior (also not for the first or last time).  Montillo documents Pomeroy’s abusive family life, his gruesome crimes, his trial and public denunciation, and his long life in prison where he spent decades in solitary and made several escape attempts.

I’m not a fan of the true crime genre, so with the book so focused on Pomeroy it doesn’t appeal to me as much as a general history of Boston at the time of Pomeroy’s murders would.  Montillo’s attempts to link in other events are few and feel a bit forced and unrelated to the lifelong biography of the murderer.  She does also focus greatly on the life and work of Herman Melville, who has a connection to Boston but had moved to New York prior to the Pomeroy murders.  Montillo draws on themes of family dysfunction, mental illness, and monomania to draw Pomeroy and Melville together, but again the links feel strained rather than illuminating.

Recommended booksThe Night Inspector by Frederick Busch, The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, and A City So Grand by Stephen Puleo
Rating: ***