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.
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.
Album: The New Normal Artist: STL 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.
Album: What 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.
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.
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.
Author: Roseanne Montillo Title: The 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.
It seems that places for children to play have always been with us, but someone had to invent the playground and it turns out that Boston played a role in that, starting with piles of sand called sand gardens.
All of these stories are good, but I’m particularly interested in the nostalgic look back at the WPIX Yule Log, a television program that featured a burning log for three hours, which was a HUGE deal when I grew up in the New York City area.s
Once again, the Red Sox paraded through Boston aboard Duck Boats, carrying their four trophies and receiving cheers from fans (and returning the favor). My kids and I watched from the same spot on Tremont Street opposite Boston Common that we watched the 2013 parade.
The photographic highlights are below, with my full photo album also available at http://www.othemts.com/redsoxparade18/.
King Charles I of the United Kingdom was executed by beheading in 1649. Over 300 years later, in 1965, the people of Boston and Cambridge began commemorating his decapitation with the annual Head of the Charles Regatta.∗
I was on the banks and bridges of the Charles River and snapped a few photos. Thanks to all the rowers for being so darn photogenic.
This well-timed podcast collects three stories from Boston’s riotous past: the Boston Police Strike of 1919, the Broad Street Riots of 1837, and the Impressment Riots of 1747. If you think riots in Boston history are interesting, join me on the Bostonians Behaving Badly tour on Thursday night.