Monday, December 27, 2010

Louis Agassiz - Honored in Jamaica Plain

In 1896, two new grammar schools were opened in Jamaica Plain: The Bowditch for girls and the Louis Agassiz for boys. The Agassiz was located at the corner of Burroughs and Brewer streets, behind a Centre street commercial block. So who was Louis Agassiz, and why was this school in particular named for him? I can't say for sure - no records were kept - but I will propose an answer with some confidence.

Louis Agassiz school, Brewer and Burroughs streets.

Louis Agassiz was born in 1807 French-speaking Switzerland, and was educated broadly in Natural History - what we would call botany and zoology, or simply biology. After studying new fish species early in his career, he shifted to the new fish fossils that were being found at the time. He soon became a world leader in both modern and paleo-ichthyology.

In spite of his fame in these fields, Agassiz is best known today for being the leading proponent of the then-new idea that there had, in the past, been Ice Ages, in which much of the Northern Hemisphere was covered in vast sheets of ice. This Agassiz deduced from his home country, where glaciers still covered mountainsides, and evidence of past, larger glaciers were spread through the countryside. For a culture with no clear idea how old the world was - outside the six thousand-odd years of Biblical history - this idea was beyond ground-breaking.

In 1846, Agassiz traveled to the United States to study the natural history of North America and to give a series of lectures at the Lowell Institute in Boston. Once here, he was offered a job at Harvard, and became founder of Museum of Comparative Zoology and taught a generation of scientists. Posterity has not been so kind to Agassiz in remembering him as one of the leading scientific anti-evolutionists of his day - Agassiz and Darwin looking at the same evidence and seeing very different causes. In the 1860s, Agassiz returned to his study of South American fishes, going on months-long voyages to see his subjects in their natural habitats. He passed away in 1873, one of the country's and the world's most famous scientists.

So now we know something of Louis Agassiz's fame. But why was this particular school in Jamaica Plain named in his honor in 1896? Perhaps the answer is simple as his fame, but there is more to the story. The first Agassiz connection is a slender thread, but an interesting one. During the mid-19th Century, a Village Hall was built on Thomas street near Centre street. The building had various uses over the years, serving as a schoolhouse and a Grand Army of the Republic meeting hall, but it was also used to house lecture series for the public at a time when educational talks on scientific and literary subjects had broad popularity. In her Reminiscences of Jamaica Plain, 1845-1875, Ellen Morse describes just such a visit by the great Louis Agassiz:

"Distinguished lecturers came then to the platform of the old hall, Mr. Homes and Professor Agassiz being among those whom some of the boys and girls of those days remember most vividly. Professor Agassiz' benevolent, kindly face and his broken English gave him great charm, even if we couldn't follow much of his scientific instruction. What a privilege it was to hear such men in those days when they traveled all over the country to deliver their fine lectures! How did they ever survive the long journeys in stagecoaches and the resting places in country hotels and cold bed-chambers?"

So the Man Himself spoke in Jamaica Plain within a stone's throw of the future site of the eponymous school. Interesting, but there is much more to the story.

In 1850, Agassiz married Elizabeth Cabot Cary, an educator who would be a co-founder and first president of Radcliffe College. Their daughter Pauline would marry Quincy Adams Shaw, who became one of the richest men in Massachusetts through his investment in the Calument and Hecla copper mine in Michigan. The Shaws settled on an estate overlooking Jamaica Pond on Perkins street. Pauline, already discussed in an entry here, used her wealth to aid many progressive causes, including the establishments of Boston's first Kindergartens.

So Pauline Agassiz Shaw, daughter of the great man, wife of one of the state's leading businessmen, and famed philanthropist in her own right, was a resident of the community at the time the school was built - and named. In fact, one of the first of her kindergartens was located in the very Village Hall where her father had lectured years earlier. Isn't it reasonable to speculate that the school could have been named in her father's honor as a respectful tip of the hat to Mrs Shaw as well? As I said, there can be no proof, but the story sits together well. It's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Sadly, the 'new' Agassiz school on Child street is now slated to be closed, and the name Louis Agassiz will no longer be honored in Boston. In this, Agassiz joins a long list of those lost to posterity in the Boston school systems massive down-sizing since the baby-boom years of the 1960s. The stories of all those whose names have been lost would fill a book, and the loss to Boston history is sad indeed.

*In a final note, I can't discuss Louis Agassiz without using the 'R'-word. I was reading a local internet comment section recently, where the name Agassiz had come up. One of the commenters asked if the readers knew that Agassiz was "one of history's most notorious racists." Granted that the internet is the land of hyperbole - and ignorance - but this kind of thing needs correcting. There will be no more Jamaica Plain content - the following is an effort to get this matter off my chest. Please feel free to ignore it.

Louis Agassiz's name and fame have long passed from public knowledge - 19th Century Natural Historians are not on the tips of contemporary American's tongues. Outside of those interested in paleontology, geology and ichthyology, the man was barely known in this country outside his adopted Cambridge and in Jamaica Plain - and even there, he was less a man than a label for a building. So where did the commenter I cited get his/her information?

Stephen Jay Gould was a paleontologist, head of the same Harvard museum as Agassiz had founded, and a prolific writer of popular science articles and books. It was Gould who found letters written by Agassiz and published quotes from then one hundred years after the man had died. The 'money quote' from Agassiz was a description of an encounter with an African-American waiter in a restaurant. Agassiz tells of a visceral response to his close encounter with this African man - he describes the man in as ugly terms as we could imagine.

So what do we do with such information? At the time Gould's book was released, there were calls to rename schools named after Agassiz. While Boston resisted, the City of Cambridge did so, renaming its Agassiz school in honor of an African-American, presumably to make amends. Should Boston have done the same thing? I think not.

The truth is, in the mid-19th Century, essentially all white people were racists. Abraham Lincoln was a racist, as was Charles Darwin. While white people disagreed over how to treat the races of the world, vanishingly few believed literally that all men were created equal in the biological sense. Indeed, unless we are willing to cut off history's honors at 1965, it's hard to imagine finding more than a handful of racism-free heroes out of all of Western civilization.

Right through the turn of the 20th Century, the Western scientific world held that Caucasians were biologically superior to all other races - a fact that Stephen Jay Gould himself made a minor career out of discussing. In fact, that same Western intellectual elite - and its contemporary butchers, bakers and candlestick makers - believed equally that women (of all races) shared a similar biological inferiority to blacks and other races. Again, Gould makes much of this fact in his columns and books.

Given these facts, I find it hard to pick out Louis Agassiz for opprobrium. Was he a racist? Yes - guilty as charged. He was, however, a man of his time. All of the scientists of his day shared his beliefs to some degree, and to judge him by our contemporary morality is to be guilty of anachronistic history. An examination of his personal beliefs and how they informed his work is a worthwhile endeavor, more for what it may tell us about ourselves than for any pleasure we may get from looking down our noses on him.

Louis Agassiz was one of the great men of his age - warts and all. All heroes have feet of clay, and we point an accusing finger at one at our own risk. Do we really want our own heroes examined so closely? Men like Agassiz and Thomas Jefferson were poisoned by the racist beliefs of their days. At their best, they were also great men, worthy of honor. A maturity that both recognizes their flaws and honors their virtues does honor to ourselves. And some day, our time will be judged as we judge the past. And like them, we have little idea what it is about us that will be found so revolting by our descendants. We can only rest assured that there will be demands that the names of our contemporary heroes be removed from places of public honor.

Note: Commenter Jim adds this.

"One correction, please, Pauline was born to Louis Agassiz's first wife, whose maiden name was Cecile Braun (1809 - 1848). "

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Clark's Dry Goods

Here we have a trade card from Clark's Dry Goods, which was located in White's Block, Centre street opposite Burroughs street. Trade cards had been used for advertising throughout the 19th Century, but became broadly popular with the development of color lithography in the 1870s. By the early 20th Century, their time had passed, replaced by magazines.

Centre street, 1974 (White's Block in red).

White's Block, 1885. Cyrus White lived directly behind his store, on Brown place.

Eugene W. Clark and his shop show up in the 1873 West Roxbury Directory, and by 1885 the Boston Directory mentions a second location at Boylston railroad station, and a home at Maple place, opposite the then-new Police station. The 1905 Boston Directory lists the store and a new home location on St John street. The 1905 Directory also shows Eugene Clark listed as a clerk at the JP post office. A son, Eugene Jr., was employed as a draftsman in Boston, and lived with his father. By 1925, Eugene Sr. is gone, and Eugene Jr. is listed as a architect on Joy street, Boston, and living in Reading.

Just found: E.W. Clark's Dry Goods store, corner of Centre street and Seaverns's avenue.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ye Olde Engine House

Centre and Thomas streets, 1874.

Centre and Thomas streets, 1868.

I'm back! It's been almost a year since my last Jamaica Plain history post - mostly for a lack of material. Having already picked the low fruit of JP history, and having climbed the tree and crawled out on the branches like a monkey, I'm afraid there just won't be many more entries here. I have, however, found a nugget that I don't think I've discussed before.

The top map shows the corner of Centre and Thomas streets in 1874. The drawing below the map is a property plan from November, 1868. The buildings shown on the 1874 map are shown in the drawing six years earlier. The entire property where the four buildings are located had been owned by John Williams, one of two Williams brothers who owned a harness shop at Centre and Green streets and bought and sold property all over Jamaica Plain.

The fire insurance map at the top of the page shows us building locations and property owners, but in the case of commercial properties, we rarely know exactly what the building was used for. I'm using this property plan to point out that the building marked in red in the plan, but unlabeled in the 1874 map, was at the time the Town of West Roxbury Engine House - the fire station. As far as I know, there is no mention in any records outside of property deeds and this plan of this site being used for a fire house. By 1884, the engine house had moved up Centre street near the corner of Myrtle street, where the building is now used as an ice cream store.

Here we have Engine 12, Roxbury Massachusetts, courtesy of the Boston Public Library Flickr group. I imagine an engine much like this one would have found a home on Centre street as well.

If you want to locate where the old engine house stood, the property was immediately adjacent to today's Blanchard's Liquors. The brick building currently housing Fowler Real Estate now sits on the old engine house property.

Property plan: Norfolk County Registry of Deeds, Vol. 374, page 112.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Eliot street tour

Eliot Hall.

The third and final set of Jamaica Plain Historical Society walking tours begins this Saturday at 11:00 AM with the Monument Square tour. This tour explores the former Eliot School lands, including a variety of architectural styles on Brewer street and the Unitarian church, Eliot hall, and the Eliot school on the appropriately named Eliot street. Please join me - your humble tour guide - at the Loring-Greenough house at eleven, weather permitting.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Green Street Tour

The Jamaica Club meeting house.

I'll be leading a tour of Green Street this Saturday, June 5, for the Jamaica Plain Historical Society. The tour starts at the corner of Centre and Green sts at 11:00 AM, weather permitting. As always, the tour is free, so come out and say hello.

Tour schedule

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

It's That Time - Tour Season!

This Saturday, May 8 begins the annual walking tour season of the Jamaica Plain Historical Society. The Monument Square tour begins at the Loring-Greenough House at 11:00, weather permitting. As always, all tours are the right price - free! - and go on weather permitting.

2010 tour schedule

Friday, January 29, 2010

Moses Day - New and Improved

Through the generosity of Day descendant Glen Wallace, I've been able to improve on the Moses Day article, including a very nice etching of the man himself. Anyone interested in the article can see it here.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Ice Cream Cone Holocaust.

This 1924 map shows the Cone factory in the small brick (red) building along Union ave. The next, angled brick buildings housed an automotive factory, and the larger brick row housed Farrington manufacturing, makers of jewelery boxes. Those buildings had once housed the Sturtevant blower works, which burned in an earlier and larger fire, before moving to Readville. Note the dotted line running between the two long rows of brick buildings on the left - the space between the buildings represents the path of the Stony Brook conduit, which had been built earlier in the century. The Burnett & Sherman automotive plant is new to me. The complex had housed a series of automotive concerns in the early years of the century, assembling and modifying cars. Burnett & Sherman was a Ford dealer, located on Commonwealth avenue in Allston, and they are listed in the 1925 Boston Directory as manufacturing auto bodies at Union avenue. Farrington lasted into the 1950s - I've written about them here. One section of the old Sturtevant/Farrington factory complex still stands along what is now Amory street extension.

Boston Daily Globe March 28, 1925


Trapped in Alleyway Fighting Four-Alarm $150,000 Spectacular Blaze in Cone Factory in Jamaica Plain -- Four Overcome in Building.

Thousands at Scene; Commissioner Glynn Hurt, Aids Rescues.

Trapped in an alleyway, with a smouldering tenement behind them and a tottering, roaring factory in front of them, four Boston firemen stood by their guns to the end last evening, and went down, crushed under a 60-foot brick wall. The fire was at Union av, Jamaica Plain.

No firemen were killed, but four of them were dug out of the blazing debris and sent to the City Hospital.

The injured are:

Lieut George Hennessey, Engine 12, of 38 Lindsey st. Dorchester, multiple contusions and abrasions of the body.

George A. Stuart, Engine 45, 567 South St, Roslindale, compound fracture of the left leg. Probably fatally hurt.

Albert F. Single, Engine 45, 16 Murray Hill Rd, Roslindale, compound fracture of the left ankle.

Lieut Bartholomew J. Dowd, Engine 45, 15 Johnswood road, Roslindale, multiple contusions and abrasions of the head and body.

George A. Stuart’s left leg was crushed in two places by the wall, and he was badly injured internally. Early this morning his name was on the dangerous list at the hospital and he was “very low.” The attendants said he would probably die.

The other three are expected to live. Two of them are officers of the department who clung to lines while sending their men back from the scene on errands.

Fire Very Spectacular

The fire was very spectacular, and because of the situation, was perhaps seen by more spectators than any Boston fire in years. Thousands saw the wall topple on the daredevils who fought to the last inch. A great human cry of horror went up.

The fire was in the Atlantic Ice Cream Cone Company factory, a three story brick structure 40 feet by 100 feet, fronting on Union av and with one side on an alley leading from Union ave to a second alley which runs alongside the railroad tracks at the point.

The factory is located between two railroads, The Providence division of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad and the elevated railway of the Boston Elevated. It is a short distance beyond the Green-st station of the Elevated. The box which was rung is located at the corner of Green and Amory sts. Four alarms were sounded.

Repeatedly Warned

The firemen who were hurt had repeatedly been warned that they were in danger in the alleyway. The brick factory was in all respects like a blast furnace. The roof had fallen in, carrying floors with it, and from the cellar the entire contents of the building was pouring in a forced draft straight up through the roof and 50 feet in the air.

On the other side of the 15-foot alley, a two and a half story wooden dwelling house, vacated under peremptory order of the Police Department, was smouldering at the roof and sides. Intermittently, flames broke out, covering the roof, and running down the front of the structure, almost scorching the backs of the rubber-coated “gunmen.”

Two of them hanging to each gun, the firemen delayed withdrawing until too late. They hoped by their streams to keep enough of the blaze back into the factory so that the dwelling would be saved. Other engine companies, from outside, were spraying them and the dwellings with a dozen streams.

At 10:30 the roof fell with a terrifying roar. The firemen clung closer to their nozzles. Twenty minutes later, at 10 before 11, the 60 foot wall folded up like a jackknife, swayed in midair, and dropped on the four valiant hosemen.

The blaze was abandoned as the firemen on the other wagons leaped to safety. But it was only for a moment. In a trice the men of Engine 12 had leaped back on their wagon and were searching the blazing debris with frantic streams to keep the wreckage from becoming a funeral pyre.

Rescued From Smoking Ruins

Other companies, not in a position to render this humane service, dropped their task of property saving, and, risking the imminent fall of the other walls and remaining spire of the broken wall, pawed through the smoking ruins of brick and wood until they got their comrades out.

Stretchers arrived quickly. Everybody gave way to let the doctors and firemen work. A Catholic priest started posthaste for the hospital. Fire Commissioner Theodore A. Glynn, himself bruised by the tumbling brick, took command of the rescue work, assisted by Deputy Foley. Chief of Department Sennott, who had been attacking the blaze from another angle, was on the scene within two minutes.

After the unconscious men had been carried to ambulances, the work of extinguishing the blaze went on. A second wall was in danger of collapsing on the Union-st side and crushing another home. This did not happen, however, and all the dwellings were saved from serious damage. Firemen estimated the loss at $150,000.

Four Overcome in Building

Twenty men were at the work in the cone factory when the fire started, and so quickly did it shoot through the building that at least four men were overcome before they could reach the street. No one seemed to know how the fire started, but it was agreed there was a rush of flame from the vicinity of the gas meter. By 10 o’clock a crew from the gas company had shut off the gas main at Green and Washington sts.

James Kelley of 49 Union av. next door to the factory, heard there were men still in the building as other workmen rushed out. He plunged into the smoke-filled doorway, closely followed by patrolman John Kilduff of Station 13.

Between them they half-carried half-supported four men out of the building. Then patrolman Kilduff found the alarm had not been sounded. He ran to the corner of Green and Amory sts and sent in an alarm at 9:35.

By the time the apparatus arrived the flames were bursting through the upper-story windows and tinting the sky. A second alarm was sounded at once and it had scarcely ceased ringing when a third was ordered. Chief Sennott came on the third and when he got to the scene, at 10 o’clock, a forth alarm went banging over the wires.

Shortly after Chief Sennott’s wagon got to the fire, he was followed by Henry A. Fox, assistant chief of department, who took up the work of directing operations from the railroad side. Commissioner Glynn arrived and got immediately where the fight was the thickest.

Thousands of Spectators

Probably no Fourth of July bonfire has ever been witnessed by such a crowd, not has any Fourth of July bonfire been as spectacular. The factory is situated in a hollow, surrounded by vacant lots which form a natural amphitheatre. On two sides the railway structures furnished ideal grandstands. Ignoring instructions of police, thousands made their way to the railroad right of way.

On the other side, passengers on Elevated trains gazed from the windows at the blazing ruin. Motormen slowed down their trains. Sheds, precariously built, bore hundreds of spectators who risked their necks for a view. Every knoll in the vacant lots held spectators who elbowed and scrambled for position.

The streets on the way to the fire looked like the Larz Anderson Bridge after a Yale game. For miles the streets were lined with automobiles filled with spectators, so that a special traffic detail had to be sent from Station 13. Even at that the task was almost hopeless.

Before the traffic men arrived, and while route policemen were establishing fire lines, a fireman stationed himself under the Elevated structure at Green and Washington sts, clearing the way for apparatus, which was arriving momentarily.

The factory is at No. 47 Union av. On one side of it, separated by only two feet, and dwarfed into insignificance, is the little single dwelling of James Kelley, No. 49. Flames swept and mushroomed out over the roof of this little house for hours, from the second story windows of the factory, but firemen took a stand behind the protection of the gable roof and sent streams into the building. They themselves and the roof were kept dripping by other companies. The roof was somewhat damaged, however.

Spectators marveled that this little house and that of Anna Kelley, on the other side of the alleyway, were not destroyed. Again and again the houses seemed to have been raised bodily to the kindling point, and again and again they smouldered and licked into flame. At such times the spectators would shout “The roof, the roof,” and streams would be switched from the doomed building to these dwellings.

Directly opposite the factory, on the other side of Union av, is another dwelling. This had the protection of the 30-foot width of Union av, but was endangered by the precarious, toppling Union-av wall of the factory. From its front dooryard streams were tossed into the windows of the blazing structure. This dooryard is 10 feet above the street level, which gave the firemen an added advantage. Those streams were manipulated by the crews of Engines 33, 17 and 26. Each had a man watching the toppling wall, ready to order them back.

All of these houses were ordered emptied by the police, who refused to let the occupants stay long enough to take out anything but the most easily portable valuables. A dozen children were taken out of the house of Anna Kelley unhurt.

Another Plant Takes Fire.

In back of the fire, toward the steam railroad, are more wooden structures which would have been easy to kindle. These were kept safely wet down. Also, there are the brick factories and shops of Burnett & Sherman, an automobile company; a wet wash, and a manufacturer of jeweler’s specialties. Burnett & Sherman’s plant caught for a few minutes, but was soon drowned out. Ladder 1 worked over the Sherman plant.

Engine 13 had the post of honor and danger, under the wall, which finally fell. Four hosemen, Arthur J. Belaskyh, Frank J. Scott, Edward Brickley and P.F. Hegerty were on the wagon, working a gun and a line. They were silhouetted against the sheets of flame sweeping up from the building.

The crowd saw the wall crumple, without any noise or other warning. The firemen didn’t see it until it had fallen half-way down, like an avalanche of snow from a sloping roof.

Then they looked up, hesitated for what seemed minutes, and jumped. They jumped on the lee side of the wagon, which saved them from death. They were pelted with fragment, buffeted by bricks, but the wagon took the brunt, and they escaped.

The groan of horror went p from the crowd, which had seen the four firemen go down. In a trice the Engine 13 men were back on their wagon, striving desperately to extinguish the blazing timbers which formed a bonfire about the place where their comrades lay, under a ton of bricks.

A pathetic incident was furnished by the streams which the unfortunate heroes had held, bubbling like streams through the blazing debris. The wires of the neighborhood had long since gone, and were lying about crackling where they touched metal. That put the neighborhood street lights out, and only the glaze of the blaze furnished light for the rescue squads, which blistered their hands, tossing aside burning embers and red-hot bricks, until they made a hole in the ground, where lay their broken and bruised comrades.

Glynn Hurt, Aids Rescues

It was the work of but a few minutes to send stretchers scurrying in four directions. Commissioner Glynn, brushing from his civilian clothes the mortar from the brick which struck him and the mire from the ground where he had been brought to his knees by the crash, plunged into the work.

At his side, and similarly injured, were his aid, Lieut John J. Crehan; Chief Sennott’s aid, Lieut John Goode; Lieut Haleyh of Engine 12 and Hoseman Buckley.

The crash shook the ground for blocks. Rev William P. O’Connor of the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes hastened to the hospital to administer the last rites of the Catholic church if necessary.

When the injured men had gone to the hospital, and it was feared some would die, the firemen went back to their work with set faces. For hours the fire blazed but it did no further substantial damage. The factory was at that time a hopeless ruin.

Charles T. Kerwin, 40, of 1475 Columbus av, a “spark” who had been standing beside the firemen when the wall went, and who escaped, was thrown into slight hysterics. He went about pointing to the spot, saying “Four of them. In there. Four of them. In there.”

Commissioner Glynn said his men were handicapped by lack of pressure. The difference between the streams from the six-inch mains in the vicinity of Union av and those from the 16-inch mains of Washington st was noticeable.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Michael Harney, Civil War Veteran

Three years after David S. Greenough laid out Keyes (McBride), Lee, and part of Call streets and began selling small lots to mostly Irish buyers (read about it here), Michael Harney bought lot 5 for two hundred and sixty-five dollars. Harney was seventh to buy a lot, one of eighty in the development, and he would live on the same street for the rest of his life. While many Irish show up in the 1850 Federal Census, they are mostly domestics, laborers and gardeners living in the houses of Yankee natives. Keyes street was the original low income district of Jamaica Plain, with house lots fronting with 50 feet, rather than the more standard 90 feet at a minimum. Since there was little multi-family housing in Jamaica Plain at the time, these small lots allowed Irish working men the opportunity to buy and build houses in the community for the first time.

I've often wondered who was the last surviving Jamaica Plain Civil War veteran. While the country's last Civil War vets lived into the 1950s, at age 86 in 1925 Harney is a good candidate to start with.

Boston Daily Globe May 2, 1925.

Military Funeral Of Michael Harney

Jamaica Plain Services for Civil War Vet

Michael Harney, 86, Civil War veteran, a native of Jamaica Plain, was buried with military honors this morning. A requiem mass was celebrated in the Church of St Thomas Aquinas, South st, by Rev William P. McNamara.

The flag-draped casket was borne by Deputy Sheriff Thomas F. Lally, Martin Godvin, Anthony Monahan and Thomas McLaughlin. Four members of the G.A.R. were honorary bearers. The Grand Army ritual was read at the house and at the grave in Calvary Cemetery.

There were delegations from St Thomas Aquinas Holy Name Society and Erin Court, M.C.O.F.*

Mr Harney resided on McBride st, formerly Keyes st, for 70 years. He was on the flagship under Farragut at the capture of Mobile, and was one of four volunteers who rowed Farragut in a boat while he inspected the works. He also served in the army during the Civil War. He was present at the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse.

*Note: the M.C.O.F. was the Massachusetts Catholic Order of Forresters, which was a life insurance group for Irish immigrants. At a time before life insurance was available to the working man, many such groups arose to provide for the families of breadwinners who had passed away. Many were more pass-the-hat organizations than proper insurers, but at a time when there was no government-provided social net, such groups were often all that stood between a widow and her children and the streets.

Monday, January 11, 2010

So Near (Beer), But So Far Away

Boston Daily Globe May 2, 1924


Near-Beer Saloons Shut for License Hearings

Yesterday was dry day in Jamaica Plain. Not one near-beer saloon was open, pending the issuing of licenses by the Licensing Board. Saloonkeepers, doctors, lawyers and others pleaded with Capt Harriman to allow the saloons to open, pending the hearings on the applications for renewal of licenses.

But it was Capt Harriman’s day. He and Sergt Michael Healy have long wished to see the day when they would not have to be troubled with complaints regarding saloons. So Capt Harriman stood pat and wouldn’t budge an inch.

Today only two places were allowed to open, one on Amory st and the other at Boylston Station, both being in the good graces of the Licensing Board. All others will have to remain shut until the results of the hearings have been disclosed.

Sergt Michael Healy has worked incessantly in the Jamaica Plain section and his efforts, also those of Sergt Fitzpatrick and liquor officer Gaw, have brought good results.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Fifty Thousand on Jamaica Pond Ice? Wow!

Imagine a winter carnival on Jamaica Pond today? No, you can't. Between litigious citizens and CYA politicians, it could never happen, even assuming you could get past the "Save the Pond" types and the NIMBY neighbors. Today's Jamaica Pond in the winter is for looking, not touching.

Boston Daily Globe January 9, 1925.

Herd 50,000 Ashore Fearing a Disaster.

Police Clear Jamaica Pond of Merry Makers When Mayor Sees Ice Threatens to Give Way.

Warning Given by Water Abrupt End to City’s Annual Carnival

Firemen Help to Draw Crowd Skating Races Provide Good Sport

More than 50,000 young people were in the midst of a perfect evening of skating on Jamaica Pond last night, at the annual ice carnival of the city of Boston, when, suddenly, about 9:30 o’clock, nearly 50 policemen appeared and ordered everyone off the ice. Mayor Curley, who had just arrived at the carnival to give out the prizes in the various contests, quickly noticed that large, black patches of water had appeared about the pond. Fearing that the ice, softened by the warmth of the last few days, was about to collapse under the weight of humanity it was bearing and precipitate the merry thousands to their deaths, he ordered the police to clear the pond.

Orders were rushed to the Jamaica Plain station for all men available and in a short time a long thin line of uniformed men was formed on the dark shore opposite the boathouse, the center of of carnival activities.

Big Rush to Shore

The policemen went about their work quietly and then at a given signal the line advanced across the pond, ordering all the skaters to make for the shore. Every precaution was taken not to alarm the merrymakers, but suddenly hundreds seemed to notice the ominous spreading of the black water across the ice and a great rush for the shore followed

But the rush, big as it was, only included a small proportion of the vast throng and the long, thin line of the police quietly continued its advance across the pond, sweeping up the skaters before it like a net clearing a stream of fish.

Mayor Curley was accompanied by Fire Commissioner Theodore A Glynn. When the Mayor ordered the police to work, Commissioner Glynn ordered his aide John Crehan, to go over to Engine 28 nearby and call out several pieces of apparatus for, in case the ice should break, the firemen could save a great many lives with their ropes and ladders.

The apparatus responded quickly and, as the danger appeared to be no more threatening than at first, the Commissioner ordered the apparatus to drive about the shores of the pond, blowing horns and whirling sirens in hopes that numbers of skaters would think that a big fire was going on, and thus leave the ice of their own free will and without being alarmed.

The maneuver was very successful and drew hundreds of boys and young men, and not a few young women.

Great Crowd on Ice

So large was the crowd that it was almost an hour before the ice was finally cleared.

A large number of the skaters, for everyone who attended the carnival seems to be wearing skates, made for the shores of the pond, where their belongings had been left, but, at least 25,000 had parked their shoes and belongings at the places provided about the boathouse, and toward the narrow gangway leading up to the building from the ice, the horde converged.

Fully a dozen policemen had been stationed there to handle the expected jam and they discharged their task admirably but the congestion was tremendous. It was like Revere beach on the Forth. The line of persons waiting their turn to reach the checking room where their shoes had been stored was long, winding about through the crowd for more than 100 yards.

The whole space within the boathouse courtyard was packed with humanity and seats upon which to effect the change from skates to shoes were at a premium.

Hundreds of seats there were, but there were thousands of applicants for them.

Skating carnivals are, as a rule, slow to break up, and the sudden swarming of the thousands of refugees upon the streets of Jamaica Plain attracted great attention and hundreds and hundreds of persons rushed down from their homes to the pond, either fearing or having heard reports that a great disaster had taken place.

Many of the carnival makers had come from out of the district and the sudden rush to the street cars paralyzed traffic for some time. Not only were the cars forced off their schedules but it was almost impossible to find a seat so crowded were the cars.

Crowd Set New Record

One police sergeant declared that he had seen crowds on the pond for more than 29 years, but he never saw so large a host there before.

Before the firing off of the bombs to announce the opening of the carnival, the ice seemed to be in good shape. As the first race started, however, sounds of cracking ice were heard and water started to flow over the track near the starting point. Patrolman Leo Masare of Station 19 and officers Walsh and Noonan of Station 17, on duty at this point, at once moved all persons in the vicinity a few hundred yards back.

The first race was won by Andrew Moore, it being a one-mile event for boys under 18 years of age. He was followed by O. Laguenesse, with Teddy Combs, third.

In the girls’ event in this class, Helen Maloney was the victor with Mary Boucher, second and Genevieve Weikesser, third.

The mile open went to Cecil Atkins and H. McCarthy took second place. James Cadek was third.

At the close of this event, the water was above the soles of the shoes of the skaters so Park Commissioner Myron B. Lewis and other officials decided to call off the racing events.

Fancy skating exhibitions however were given in another section of the pond, featuring Willie Frick and Bill Fleming.

The costumes awards were also made. Miss Corrine Dasey of Dorchester took the first prize for costumes. She is a widely known skater and a member of the Boston Swimming Club. Second prize went to Helen Brady and Mary Dover took third.

The hockey game had just started when Mayor Curley arrived on the scene with his daughters, Mary and Dorothy, and his son James M, Jr. The Mayor was escorted to the raft by Sergt John Fitzpatrick of the police and when he saw the conditions of the ice, notified Park Commissioner Lewis and the sergeant to order the pond closed to skaters, as it was deemed unsafe.

Mayor Acts Quickly

“The lives of our citizens is our first thought,” said the Mayor, “and we must take no chances with them.”

Sergt Fitzpatrick summoned Sergts Holstein, Dennis Kerrigan and Timothy Ferris and under the direction of Lieut George Guard, they with special officer Stanley A. O(?)w notified all the officers on duty of the order, and the police at once began to enforce it.

Fire Commissioner Theodore A. Glynn then said that he would send for his apparatus so as to have the fireman ready if any rescue work was needed. John Crehan, his aid, went for engine 28 and its response was almost instantaneous.

The officials in charge of the carnival included the Park Commissioners, James B. Shea, Myron P. Lewis, and Charles A. Coolidge, John A. Lane, Alfred Geiger of the B.A.A., Hugh C. McGrath, George V. Brown, Ernest Henry, Dick Adler, L.H. Connors, Ross Hoag, Dr. Allan Rowe, and Dr. William P. Kenney.

After his orders had been carried out, Mayor Curley awarded the prizes to the winners on the land near the boathouse.