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
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.)
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
- Tenshin-en — Fenway / Museum District
- The Mapparium — Back Bay
- Boston Public Library Courtyard –Back Bay
- The Ether Dome — West End
- The Tiffany Sanctuary — Back Bay
- The Salada Tea Doors — Back Bay
- Museum Restoration — Back Bay
- St. Francis Garden — Back Bay
- History Dioramas — Back Bay
- Exchange Staircase — Financial District
- Pru Garden — Back Bay
- Angel of the Waters — Public Garden
- The Ayer Mansion Lobby — Kenmore
- The Catalonian Chapel — Fenway / Museum District
- The Vertical Garden on Merrimac Street — West End
- The Vilna Shul — Beacon Hill
- The Great Elm on the Boston Common — Boston Common
- The Copley Station Headhouse — Back Bay
- The Rose Kennedy Rose Garden — Waterfront
- The Province House Steps Connect 3 Centuries — Downtown
- Independence Wharf Observation Deck — Waterfront
- Boston Harbor Hotel Grand Observatory — Waterfront
- Building Boston — Scale-Model City — Waterfront
- The Boston Athenaeum’s Fascinating First Floor — Beacon Hill
- The Marriott Hotel in a Molasses Warehouse — Fort Point Channel
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.
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
- Boston’s Bronze Rhinos
- Boston’s Animal Statues: Codfish
- Boston’s Horses: Paint and Henry
- Boston’s Bronze Teddy Bear
- Boston’s Kensington Lions
- Boston’s Political Animals: Democratic Donkey
- Boston’s Political Animals: Jumbo the Elephant
- The Fenway’s Pronghorn Antelope
- The Lotta Fountain
- The Tortoise and the Hare and the Boston Marathon
- Cats and Dogs Together on Huntington Avenue
- Make Way for Ducklings Statue
- The Frog Pond’s Whimsical Frogs
- Legal Sea Food’s Scientific Fish
- Boston’s Dearth of Dragons
- The Fed’s Scrap Metal Giraffe
The Christmas Angels
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.
- The BPL’s Frieze of Angels — Back Bay
- Cornelius and the Angel: A Tiffany Window — Back Bay
- The Angels of Holy Cross Cathedral — South End
- The Solitary Church Court Angel — Back Bay
- Angel of the Waters — Back Bay
- Thomas Gruchy’s Angels — North End
- Coletti’s Speedy Angels — North End
- Brattle Square Angels — Back Bay
- Martin Milmore and the Angel of Death — Jamaica Plain
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.
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.
- Arch Street – Downtown
- Batterymarch Street – Financial District
- Causeway Street – West End
- Derne Street – Beacon HIll
- Food and Cooking – Shawmut Peninsula
- Henchman Street – North End
- LaGrange Street — Downtown
- Louis Prang Street – Fenway/Museum District
- Milk Street — Downtown
- Sleeper Street — Seaport
- Sun Court and Moon Street – North End
- Water Street — Downtown
- Wigglesworth Street – Mission Hill
- Winter Street and Summer Street — Downtown
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.
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.