Monday, February 28, 2005

I am Remiss

Yr humble correspondent delivers his most sincere apologies for the lack of activity over this past week. Recent matters various and sundry have eaten up a great deal of yr humble correspondent's time & alas this endeavor has been put on the preverbal back-burner.

Again, apologies. Regular posting will resume, with any luck, this week.

Monday, February 21, 2005

The Long Election

Care for a quirky tale of politics, dear readers?

February 1845 found Boston still lacking a mayor; the city had, by then, witnessed seven "failed" elections, each yielding no clear winner. When the old mayor, Martin Brimmer, stepped down from office on January 6, the Board of Aldermen and the Common Council found themselves obliged to govern in his place, which they did until February 21 when an eighth special election resulted, finally, in a victorous candidate. This candidate was Thomas Davis.

Davis was a member of the "Native American Party," which unsurprisingly had nothing to do with the Amerindians and was itself a precursor to the "Know-Nothings." His margin of victory had been slim, amounting to some 1,500 votes, but this was deemed sufficient given the circumstances, and Davis was inaugurated on February 27.

Yet Davis fell gravely ill just seven months later, and was forced to resign his position on October 6. His death came on November 22, which gave cause for another election — the ninth in less than a year. This one was held on December 8, and it brought victory to one Josiah Quincy, Jr, a Whig and the son of that other, more famous Quincy (no, not that one; the other one). His term in office was fairly uneventful, marked primarily by his efforts to bring clean reservoir water to Boston, but hey, at least he saw it out.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Mindless Plugging

Yr humble correspondent would be greatly remiss if he did not instruct his loyal readers to get off the Freedom Trail & visit MetaBoston. It has not been updated in some time, but is still quite full of interesting and unique Boston-related information.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The Last Censor


Richard Sinnott
Image: Curry Magazine

From 1955 until 1982, Richard Sinnott possessed the authority to ban in Boston any obscene or indecent books, plays, magazines, movies & concerts. He died two years ago, on April 30, & during his lengthy career he was responsible for forcing changes to Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" & prohibiting the music of Marvin Gaye & The Jackson Five from distribution in our fair city.

Further reading on the life of Boston's last censor can be found over at Boston Magazine. Similarly, yr humble correspondent should note that townhall.com also did a write-up about the man, though he is loathe to reference his dear readers to such a conservative rag.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Arrr, Me Hearties!

Rachel Wall, nee Schmidt, was born on a farm in Pennsylvania, just outside Carlisle, in or about the year 1760. As a teenager, Rachel is said to have disliked living in the country, & whether this is true or not the fact remains that, when afforded the opportunity to run away during a trip to Harrisburg, she took it.

To a country girl Harrisburg must have seemed quite the metropolis, though if she did indeed abandon her parents while there she presumably would have been homeless & destitute. Perhaps that is why she became a regular visitor to the city's dockyards, where, at the age of sixteen, she met George Wall — a sailor & former privateer who she soon married.

The couple left Harrisburg for Boston shortly after exchanging vows. Rachel took work as a maid once there (one source claims her employment was on Beacon Hill, which is unlikely, though not impossible, as there were few houses on the Hill at the time), while George obtained a position on a fishing schooner.

In 1781, Rachel & George began their careers as pirates, though accounts differ as to how this came about. Some claim that George's schooner began engaging in piracy & that he lured Rachel to join in on the action after one particularly successful raid. Others assert that George & a few of his fellow sailors decided one night to go into piracy themselves, using one of their schooners, & that George talked Rachel into accompanying them. Still others tell the story that George & Rachel, along with some of his buddies, got rousingly drunk one night aboard a friends boat &, on a whim, took the sea in search of easy pickings.

Regardless of the circumstances, Mr & Mrs Wall, along with their associates, began engaging in piracy in what was, at the time, a unique fashion. During normal weather the crew would engage in fishing, but following a storm or during inclimate weather they would put out a distress signal in hopes of luring a passing ship towards their location. If one happened to arrive, Rachel would to lull the aiding ship's crew into a false sense of security by standing on deck & screaming for help. Once the ship had pulled up alongside the schooner, George & his men would board it, kill the crew & steal anything of value. They would then sink the aiding ship, & blame its disappearance on that day's poor weather.

For about a year the Walls & their men terrorized the waters around the Isle of Shoals, just off the coast of New Hampshire & Maine. In that time they allegedly captured a dozen ships & murdered twice as many sailors.

Success was short-lived, however, for in September 1782 a storm battered the Walls' ship & broke the main mast. George was lost overboard, along with most of his men, which left, it is said, only Rachel alive. Somehow she was rescued & brought back to Boston, where, as a widow with a secretly criminal past, she managed to resume her employment as a maid.

Yet by then thievery was in Rachel's blood, & at night she would sneak down to the Waterfront & board docked ships, there to take whatever valuables she could secret away. For seven years she kept up this activity, apparently undetected, until one night in 1789 she accosted a woman (attempting to steal her bonnet, as one source claims), & was apprehended. She admitted to being a former pirate during the trial that ensued, though claimed she never murdered anyone (unlike her husband & his associates). Her pleas fell on deaf ears, however, & Rachel was not only found guilty but sentenced to death by hanging. Her sentence was carried out on October 8, 1789, on Boston Common, giving her the distinction — & not Bathsheba Spooner — of being the last woman in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to be executed in such a fashion.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Rebel scum

Dear readers, take note that on this date in 1775, Parliament declared Massachusetts to be in a state of rebellion. Accordingly, they authorized General Thomas Gage, who had already replaced the civilian governor Thomas Hutchinson as the Crown's representative, to use such force as he deemed necessary to maintain English sovereignty over the colony.

Plug!

Bostonia is, obviously, not the only blog devoted to the history, legends, lore and culture of this fair city (my, that is an awful lot of topics, isn't it?). Indeed, the charmingly-named City Record and Boston News-Letter is an old hat at this, and is filled with all sorts of interesting essays, tidbits and links. Do, dear readers, check it out sometime.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Old age ain't no place for sissies

At a width of only 9 feet, 200 ½ Montgomery Street of Baltimore may trump Boston's narrow house at 44 Hull Street. Yet I hear my loyal readers harken their humble correspondent to the defense of our town. Surely, I hear them say, we will not be bested by Charm City. Surely, their words falling upon my ears, St. Botolph can outdo Cæcilius Calvert in another regard.

To which yr humble correspondent says, Yes, dear readers. Yes we can — for Boston has age, and the age of our structures will surely top those found in the city of (Lord) Baltimore.


Image: North End Boston

Three of the oldest houses in the United States can be found in Boston, as can the oldest public building and the oldest continuously-operated restaurant. The Parker House makes the same claim, being the nation's oldest hotel, and one that played host to presidents, assassins, revolutionaries, inventors and authors.

Yr humble correspondent has already remarked upon the city's oldest set of stairs, but has neglected to point thirsty readers to the city's oldest tavern. The Bunker Hill Monument predates the Washington Monument by quite a few years, making it, yr humble correspondent believes, the oldest major obelisk to be constructed in this country.

Boston is also home to a number of other "oldests," which are, granted, not buildings, but are still deserving of recognition. There's the oldest professional organization of chefs, the oldest geneaological and historical societies, the oldest public park, and quite a few of the oldest cemeteries. Berthed in Boston Harbor is the oldest still-commissioned vessel in the United States Navy, the USS Constitution, and let us not forget that the nation's oldest recorded living man is a Red Sox fan.

As a city known for its institute of learning, my dear readers should know that Boston Latin is the oldest public school in the United States, opened in 1635, followed close-on-the-heels by Roxbury Latin, established ten years later. Our city's Athenaeum hosts one of the oldest independent libraries, and the nation's oldest public library is located in Back Bay.

(Oh, and then there's Harvard, the nation's oldest college.)

Friday, February 04, 2005

Prince Albert will supply that satisfaction

Truly, dear readers, the Internet is the repository of all human knowledge.

Boston, 1916 is a weblog devoted to the articles, advertisements and images found in Boston-area newspapers in the year 1916. It has not been updated in over a month, but still contains quite a bit of interesting material. Certainly worth a casual perusal.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Forget me not

Forgotten Boston is a neat little side-project, complete with photographs, run by the same gentleman who maintains Forgotten New York — itself a fabulous devotion to urban exploration. Wise readers? Do yourself a favor and browse through both in your spare time.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Not for the claustrophobic


Image: Odd New England

This is 44 Hull Street, the narrowest house in Boston. It measures just 10.5 feet in width and 36 feet in length, with ceilings standing only 6 feet, 4 inches high and an entrance that leads into an alleyway because the street-facing wall is too slim for a door.

Folklore has it that the house was built in the eighteenth century by gentleman who, upon returning from a trip abroad, discovered that his brother had occupied almost all of the property left to them both by their parents by constructing a large house. In retaliation, he built his house on the narrow amount of land that was left unused, thus blocking his sibling's view and just generally causing a nuisance.