How I Started Blogging About Boston

I had planned another long post exploring the history of one of Boston’s streets but my week got away from me and I ran out of time. In its place, I decided to talk about the 127 posts I have written about Boston.

Filling the Gap

Boston By Foot is a non-profit organization that promotes public awareness of Boston's rich history and architectural heritage by offering a wide range of guided tours delivered by volunteer guides.The funny thing is, I was not a history major and I never considered myself a student of the past. Sure, I enjoyed reading historical novels but straight non-fiction history, not so much. And I actually write science fiction, which deals with the future. I went to college in Boston and always liked visiting the city but knew very little about the streets I walked on, the buildings I passed, and the statues I saw, much less the history behind any of it.

That all changed when two things happened: (1) I joined Boston By Foot and became a tour guide, giving architectural and historical walking tours of the city; (2) I started writing this blog.  Both happened after I retired and was looking for new interests that would expand my horizons. Boy, did they ever.

Boston’s Hidden Gems

The Next Phase Blog provided me with a platform. Boston By Foot gave me an education, which stimulated my interest and drove me to learn more. (It also offered support, companionship, an ongoing stream of fascinating information, and—eventually—paved the way to a retirement job.)

Tenshin-en, Japanese Garden, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, hidden gems

The garden of Tenshin-En

The two things came together one Sunday when my husband and I visited the Museum of Fine Arts. Looking down from the second floor at the Japanese Zen garden called Tenshin-En, I wondered how many people had visited it or even knew it was there behind the tall wooden fence.

I wrote a post about that, which led me to the realization that Boston contained more than a few of these hidden gems—beautiful, fascinating or unique places that most people don’t know exist. The quest to find and write about such places led to my first series of 25 posts on Boston’s Hidden Gems.

The Hidden Gems

  1. Tenshin-en — Fenway / Museum District
  2. The Mapparium — Back Bay
  3. Boston Public Library Courtyard –Back Bay
  4. The Ether Dome — West End
  5. The Tiffany Sanctuary — Back Bay
  6. The Salada Tea Doors — Back Bay
  7. Museum Restoration — Back Bay
  8. St. Francis Garden — Back Bay
  9. History Dioramas — Back Bay
  10. Exchange Staircase — Financial District
  11. Pru Garden — Back Bay
  12. Angel of the Waters — Public Garden
  13. The Ayer Mansion Lobby — Kenmore
  14. The Catalonian Chapel — Fenway / Museum District
  15. The Vertical Garden on Merrimac Street — West End
  16. The Vilna Shul — Beacon Hill
  17. The Great Elm on the Boston Common — Boston Common
  18. The Copley Station Headhouse — Back Bay
  19. The Rose Kennedy Rose Garden — Waterfront
  20. The Province House Steps Connect 3 Centuries — Downtown
  21. Independence Wharf Observation Deck — Waterfront
  22. Boston Harbor Hotel Grand Observatory — Waterfront
  23. Building Boston — Scale-Model City — Waterfront
  24. The Boston Athenaeum’s Fascinating First Floor — Beacon Hill
  25. The Marriott Hotel in a Molasses Warehouse — Fort Point Channel

Animal Statues

Having competed that list, I looked around for other subjects and found enough for several series of posts.

Because I like art and I love sculpture, I turned my attention to Boston’s statues. The problem is that, like most American cities, the public art tends to honor dead white men. Writing about a statue of yet another politician, activist, author, or athlete standing on a plinth didn’t interest me. But animals—that’s another whole story.

The Tortoise and the Hare, Copley Square, Nancy Schön, about Boston

The Tortoise and the Hare

I began finding, researching, and writing about the many statues of animals that dot the city. Horses under generals and Founding Fathers didn’t count. Neither did dogs at the feet of a Great Man, although I might rethink that one. Along the way, I discovered that there are more statues of animals in Boston than there are of women—by a lot.

I call this series the “Bronze Menagerie” and it contains 16 posts. I would like to bring it up to 17 by writing about the Seaport’s staircase dragon but haven’t gotten to it yet.

The Bronze Menagerie

The Christmas Angels

Holy Cross Cathedral, Boston's angels, about Boston, South End

Angel at Holy Cross Cathedral

When Christmas approached, I wanted to write some holiday-themed posts and thought about angels. I did not realize how much of a challenge this series would be. Having been founded by the Puritans, who rejected all things and Catholic, Boston is angel-challenged. Unlike European cities with their centuries of Catholic imagery, Boston has almost none.

With one exception, I eliminated mortuary angels from my list, although Boston’s garden cemeteries have some wonderful works of art, just because grave markers were too depressing for Christmas.

Still, I persisted enough to find some and my Boston By Foot colleagues suggested others. Houses of worship like the Church of the Covenant and the Arlington Street Church have more angels in their stained-glass windows than I have cataloged. Over two years, I put together nine posts about the city’s angels and would love to round it up to an even 10.

Boston’s Angels

Hitting the Streets

Finally, I looked down to the streets that wind and twist through the old Shawmut Peninsula and line up in grids (sort of) elsewhere. Who gave them these names and when? Who lived on the street? What part did the street play in Boston’s history? This seemed particularly appropriate, given that Boston By Foot’s walking tours go up and down many of these streets.

Henchman Street 1895-1905

Henchman Street 1895-1905

Researching these posts about Boston and its streets, uncovered some fascinating people, interesting connections, and long-lost buildings. Sometimes, it filled in the gaps on stories I had already known by telling me where the people actually lived. It even explained mysterious names.

This series is ongoing as Boston has no dearth of either history or quirky street names.

Boston’s Streets

Other Posts About Boston

These are not the only posts about Boston that have appeared more or less regularly in The Next Phase Blog. There are lots more on fascinating buildings and things that have gone missing from the city, among others. You will find links to them all on a separate page appropriately called Posts About Boston, where they are grouped by neighborhoods.

NOTE: I avoid writing about things that are part of Boston By Foot walking tours. That includes many of the city’s more famous buildings and landmarks. Avoiding these well-trodden paths is not a problem. Boston has so much to offer and I find it’s more fun to winkle out the lesser-known stories.

In the course of my research, I have met wonderful and helpful people, either in person or online. All were more than willing to offer information and photographs to help with the post. My humble thanks to them all.

Unanticipated Consequences

Commonwealth Avenue Mall, Back Bay, Boston

The Commonwealth Avenue Mall

A few unexpected things have occurred because of the blog posts I have written about Boston. I have

  • I was invited to appear on Chronicle, WCVB Channel 5’s television program about all things New England. I spent an afternoon with Producer Nicole Estaphan and a cameraman, standing on different streets and talking about their names. It was great fun and it gave me a few minutes of fame.
    The day after the episode, entitled “What’s In a Name” was broadcast, I gave a private tour of the Back Bay to a group of women. We were standing on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall when a man walked by with his dog. He looked over at me and said, “Hey, didn’t I just see you on Chronicle?” I said yes and all my ladies cheered.
  • Even now and then, I receive an email from reader who have come across my posts while doing their own research. They ask if I know why a certain street has its name and, mostly, whether it was named after one of their ancestors. Sometimes I can tell them. Other times, I do a little research and offer suggestions on how to follow up.
  • Once, a woman wrote to me because her wedding venue had double-booked the day and she had to find a new location for her nuptials. She wanted my recommendation on places that would be suitable and might be available. I was able to make a few suggestions and I hope the day went well.

My posts have made me a resource for others and that’s a good feeling.

So, that’s the story. Or, to be accurate, a lot of stories. My shelf of research books grows ever larger. Every post about Boston is a scavenger hunt, as I search for information that sometimes leads in different and surprising directions.

Stay tuned. More posts about Boston are in the works.

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