July 2014

Cambridge, July 2014


overdramatic printer  (sonya kovacic)

overdramatic printer (sonya kovacic)

In 1717, James Franklin returned home to Boston with a wooden printing press and some type letters from England. Four years later (at the age of 24), he began printing one of the country's first newspapers: the New England Courant.

The Courant published pieces by Franklin and his friends, who imitated the satirical and irreverent tone they learned from London's papers. Their criticisms weren't popular among Boston's elite, however, and Franklin was actually thrown in jail in 1722 for a perceived insult against the government.

James's younger brother, Benjamin Franklin, served as his apprentice on the New England Courant for years. However, the two brothers were often at odds. James refused to publish Benjamin's articles, until they started showing up on the newspaper's doorstep under the name of "Mrs. Silence Dogood". Although the publishers didn't know who was behind the mysterious widow's letters, they became very popular. In fact, the Courant received several marriage proposals in the mail addressed to her.

When James found out about Silence Dogood's true identity, he was furious. The incident added to many years of bickering between the two brothers, and eventually, Benjamin quit the paper and moved to Philadelphia.

The Courant continued to upset Boston's authorities — and was eventually suppressed in 1726. James Franklin moved to Rhode Island soon after, seeking a more open-minded environment.

You can do your own 3D-printing in Central Square in Cambridge, at the Kickstarter-funded danger!awesome.

July 2014, Reader Submission, Charles River


kayaking the charles  (sam lemansky)  *

kayaking the charles (sam lemansky)*

Massachusetts' official website (mass.gov) lists 61 different places to go kayaking and canoeing in the state, including (but not limited to) 25 state parks, 16 state forests, the Boston Harbor Islands, the Charles River, and Pope John Paul II Park in Dorchester.

("Pope Park" was founded in 2001 and is appropriately named — Pope John Paul II was an avid outdoorsman. As a priest in Poland, he often took paddling trips and held mass outdoors. During these trips, he would occasionally use an overturned kayak as the altar, and the oars as a makeshift cross.)

Just north of Boston, in Newburyport, you can go kayaking with seals.

July 2014, Cambridge

margaret fuller

margaret fuller house, area 4  (sonya kovacic)

margaret fuller house, area 4 (sonya kovacic)

Margaret Fuller – born in Cambridge in 1810 – was one of America's earliest women's rights advocates. Her controversial book Women in the Nineteenth Century is considered the country's first book about gender equality.

Fuller was well-educated from a young age, which was unusual for women at the time. At the age of 29, she began holding formal "Conversations" in Boston, where women could exchange ideas about philosophy, history, education, art, and society. A few years later, she became the first woman to conduct research at Harvard's library. Fuller wasn't modest about her education, either — she was quoted as saying to Ralph Waldo Emerson, "I now know all the people worth knowing in America, and I find no intellect comparable to my own."

She was also admired for her conversational skills. Emerson wrote: "I remember that she made me laugh more than I liked ... and I found something profane in the hours of amusing gossip into which she drew me."

Although she's been mostly relegated from American history, Fuller's writing, journalism, and criticism were very well-known during her time. In fact, she was considered an inspiration by her peers – including Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning – and by her successors – like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. (Fuller was also an acquaintance of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and was likely an inspiration for Hester Prynne in his novel The Scarlet Letter.)

Fuller died at the age of 40, after the ship bringing her and her family back from Italy crashed off the coast of Fire Island. Even though several passengers managed to swim to shore, Fuller's body was never found.

Her family later constructed a memorial monument in Cambridge's Mount Auburn Cemetery, which reads:


By birth a child of New England
By adoption a citizen of Rome
By genius belonging to the world

Fuller's childhood home in Cambridge has been converted to a community center, with youth and senior programs, a food pantry, and computer classes.

July 2014, Jamaica Plain

street lights

southwest corridor  (sonya kovacic)

southwest corridor (sonya kovacic)

Boston currently has about 2,800 gas-powered street lamps, which can be found in Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Charlestown, and the North End. Although they are well-known for showing off Boston's historic charm, the lamps only date back a few decades (and are even newer than several of the electric lamps).

By 1913, all of the street lamps in Boston city proper had been converted to electric — it wasn't until 1962 that the city began re-installing gas-powered lamps in select neighborhoods.

Since 2011, many of the current gas lamps have had solar-powered igniters installed. Rather than staying lit all day, the lamps are automatically timed to light at nightfall.

A local organization wants to use exterior lighting on historic sites at night to create a "Diamond Necklace."

Orange Line, July 2014, South End


mass ave station  (sonya kovacic)

mass ave station (sonya kovacic)

How many steps it takes to get to the top (or bottom) of these local landmarks?

  • 12 – The original Cheers
  • 15  – Musical stairs at the Museum of Science
  • 116 – The Pilgrim Monument (Provincetown)
  • 120 – Boston College's "Million Dollar Stairs"
  • 199 – Porter Square Station
  • 294 – The Bunker Hill Monument
  • 789 – One Boston Place
  •  1,632 – The John Hancock Tower


(The world's longest staircase is in the Swiss Alps, next to an inclined railway — it's 11,674 steps. The stairs are only open to the public one day per year, during the Niesenlauf race.)

Every Wednesday at 6:30 am, the November Project invites you to do the stairs at Harvard Stadium.

Cambridge, July 2014


tangelos  (sonya kovacic)

tangelos (sonya kovacic)

Citrus trees need a warm climate to survive, which is why you don't see many orange or lemon trees in Boston. In fact, there are only a few places in the U.S. warm enough — over 70% of the country's citrus fruit comes from the state of Florida.

The USDA actually divides the country into "hardiness zones", a scale that defines how cold each areas' climates can get. Most citrus plants requires a zone between 9 and 11 on the scale — if an area gets any colder than 20° F, the plants won't make it.

Boston is a little lower and colder on the scale. We're between a 6 and a 7 — a climate more suited to hardier plants like apple trees, elderberry bushes, and pawpaw.

Despite the cold, there's a place in Boylston (near Worcester) where you can see oranges, lemons, and limes growing in the dead of winter: Tower Hill Orangerie.

Cambridge, July 2014


missing macbook  (sonya kovacic)

missing macbook (sonya kovacic)

Vannevar Bush, the Massachusetts-born scientist and MIT professor, was many things: a computing pioneer, an early administrator of the Manhattan Project, and the founder of Raytheon. His writings were also decades ahead of their time, predicting 21st-century technology and the internet itself. Here are a few quotes from his 1945 book As We May Think:

"Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library ... a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility."

"A special button transfers him immediately to the first page of the index. Any given book of his library can thus be called up and consulted with far greater facility than if it were taken from a shelf."

"Wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready-made with a mesh of associative trails running through them..."

In the same book, Bush went further — he predicted that future technology wouldn't need any outside interaction from the user. He believed that our devices would connect directly to our bodies' own nerve signals.

We depend on them every day, but sometimes computers let us down. In just the past month, they've been blamed for:

July 2014

pine street

the tower at pine street inn, south end  ( @fijalclarkski )  *

the tower at pine street inn, south end (@fijalclarkski)*

If the Pine Street Inn's tower looks remarkably similar to Provincetown's Pilgrim Monument, it's because they were both modeled after the same historic building. Built nearly twenty years apart, both campaniles (or bell towers) were designed to replicate the Torre del Mangia in Siena, Italy.

It's now a homeless shelter, but the South End building was originally Boston's Fire Department headquarters. The tall campanile was used as a drill tower — new recruits would practice jumping from its windows into nets below.

Pine Street Inn's recent shift in strategy may help end chronic homelessness in Boston.

Cambridge, July 2014


green building  (sonya kovacic)

green building (sonya kovacic)

MIT's Green Building turns fifty years old this year. The building – which is named after MIT graduate (and co-founder of Texas Instruments) Cecil Green – houses MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Science.

Since its construction in 1964, the 295-foot tower has remained as Cambridge's tallest building.

In 2012, the building was hacked into a giant, playable game of Tetris.

Cambridge, July 2014

bruce's friday trivia

bruce's friday trivia  (sonya kovacic)

bruce's friday trivia (sonya kovacic)

Every Friday, the Starbucks in Kendall Square offers customers a chance for a free drink. Bruce – a longtime Starbucks employee – serves an original trivia question starting Fridays at 8 a.m. If you get the answer right, your drink is free.

Bruce has been running the trivia every week for the past seven years. He says, "I think people should know about where they live."

He remembers one question that stumped everyone: How many years passed between the creation of Boston Common and the creation of the Boston Public Garden? (See the answer below).

We asked Bruce for one interesting place in Boston that most people don't know about. He said: "the Ether Dome."

Fenway/Kenmore, parks, July 2014

muddy river

muddy river, under the bowker overpass  (sonya kovacic)

muddy river, under the bowker overpass (sonya kovacic)

The Muddy River starts at Jamaica Pond and runs through the Riverway, the Fenway, and the Back Bay Fens, before flowing into the Charles River. Its path forms much of Boston's Emerald Necklace.

In 1639, the river was the site of America's first recorded "UFO" sighting. While on a boating trip, a man named James Everell saw something in the sky. As Governor John Winthrop wrote:

"James Everell, a sober, discreet man, and two others, saw a great light
 in the night at Muddy River. When it stood still, it flamed up, and was about three yards square; when it ran, it was contracted into the figure of a swine: it ran as swift as an arrow towards Charlton [Charlestown], and so up and down about two or three hours."

(James Everell started a tradition — the U.S. currently has the highest number of UFO sightings around the world.)

The Muddy River's path was altered throughout the 1950s and '60s, including the construction of the Bowker Overpass, and a parking lot for Sears. Now, due to climate change, the river is going to be restored.

Allston, July 2014


nstar power substation, allston  (sonya kovacic)

nstar power substation, allston (sonya kovacic)

Most of Massachusetts's electricity is generated by natural gas — over 68%, according to 2012 estimates. That rate has more than doubled in ten years, replacing much of our coal and oil consumption. In fact, due to competition from natural gas, all of Massachusetts's coal plants will be closed by 2017.

The second highest source of electricity for Massachusetts — 16% — is nuclear power, which is all generated at one plant in Plymouth. Renewable sources — which include hydroelectric, wood and other biomass, wind, and solar — account for 8% (up from about 5% in 2002).

540 Harrison Ave was once the world's largest electrical power station — and is now home to SoWa Sundays.

Back Bay, July 2014


boston's pride parade  (sonya kovacic)

boston's pride parade (sonya kovacic)

Boston's first Gay Pride Parade was held on June 26, 1971 — two years after the Stonewall riots in NYC. In the three years following Stonewall, over a dozen cities across the globe had started an annual pride (or "liberation") parade during the month of June.

The 1971 parade route was structured around four locations: a church (St. Paul's Cathedral), a gay bar (Jacque's Cabaret), the police headquarters, and the State House. At each location, the organizers made speeches, including a list of demands of each institution. According to Boston Spirit Magazine, many marchers were harrassed along the route, and several even wore paper bags over their heads (in order to protect their identities).

In the day following the parade, most of the group boarded buses to NYC for that city's celebration, and what would be the third anniversary of the Stonewall riots.

The History Project has been documenting Boston's LGBT community for 25 years including historic photos of pride parades, protests, and celebrations.

Back Bay, July 2014, Reader Submission

reading room

bates hall, boston public library  ( @rachelsandler )

bates hall, boston public library (@rachelsandler)

Bates Hall is the heart of Boston Public Library in Copley Square. The library's website describes the 218-foot-long reading room as "architecturally one of the most important rooms in the world."

The hall was named after the financier Joshua Bates, who was raised in Weymouth and Boston in the late 18th century. As a boy, Bates did not have enough money to buy books, so he spent his evenings in bookstores reading whatever they would permit. In his late 20s, he received a job offer at the international bank Baring Bros., and his self-education paid off — he eventually worked his way up to become a senior partner.

As an adult, Bates wanted to make books more available to the general public. In 1852, he helped found the Boston Public Library with its first donation — in the amount of $50,000. In today's currency, Bates's donation would be equivalent to several million.

Not much has changed in Bates Hall since its original construction — you can still see the same 27 busts of historical figures placed throughout. Additionally, the original plan for murals by famed painter James McNeil Whistler fell through, so the hall's walls remain completely bare.

Allston, July 2014


stars & stripes & sox, over regina pizzeria  (sonya kovacic)

stars & stripes & sox, over regina pizzeria (sonya kovacic)

It's our 50th email! Thanks for keeping up with us for the past ten (!) weeks.

Here's some "50" related trivia:

On March 24, 1964, the 50
¢ coin featuring (native Brookline-ite) John F. Kennedy was introduced across the country. The coins sold out in many cities in a matter of hours — Boston's banks sold out of the coins by noon that day.

Kennedy's image on the coin was actually changed at the last minute. The story goes, Jackie Kennedy did not like the the way her late husband's hair looked, and requested a redesign. The rare "accented hair" coin proofs can still be found today — they sell for over $5,000 each.

This year, the Kennedy coin will be commemorated for its 5oth anniversary. 

(Next year, Jackie Kennedy will get a coin, too. As part of the Presidential $1 Coin series, each First Lady also appears on a gold $10 coin, minted with her image.)

In honor of our 50th email, take a look back at our email archive — and stay tuned for a Bostonology announcement on Monday...

Fenway, July 2014


weeping willow in the fens  (sonya kovacic)

weeping willow in the fens (sonya kovacic)

Native American tribes of the Northeast used willow trees for many things: tools, furniture, baskets, dyes, and even as a fever reducer. The bark contains salicin (a chemical precursor to aspirin), and many civilizations across the globe consumed it as an anti-inflammatory.

Willow saplings were also used for fishing weirs — essentially, permanent fish traps. In fact, ancient fishing weirs (dating back about 5,000 years) have been discovered under Boston's soil several times (e.g., during excavations for Boston's Green Line, and during the construction of the John Hancock Tower) — which suggests that they were built and maintained by ancestors of the Massachusett tribe.

There are four willow species included in one of Harvard's most unusual exhibits: the Glass Flowers.

July 2014, Somerville


pilaf  (sonya kovacic)

pilaf (sonya kovacic)

Science confirms: Boston cats are more likely to be polydactyl.

In other words, Boston has a very high rate of cats with extra toes — so much so, that the trait has developed a nickname: "Boston thumb."

The question is: why? The most likely explanation is that decades ago, sailors in New England developed an affinity for the extra-toed cats. They were thought to be better climbers (to catch rodents) and just plain good luck. The trait was artificially selected for, and a result, Boston has a much higher rate of polydactylism than other U.S. cities.

(Another nickname for these cats is "Hemingway Cats" — apparently, the author Ernest Hemingway collected more than 50 of them while living in Key West.)

For one more week, Boston's MSPCA is running a promotion for senior cat adoption, complete with a poster for Catsablanca.

Allston, July 2014


beacon park yard, allston  (sonya kovacic)

beacon park yard, allston (sonya kovacic)

Before it was converted to Beacon Park Rail Yard in the 1890s, the site between BU and the Massachusetts Turnpike was known as Beacon Park Trotting Yard. Founded in 1864, the yard was one of Boston's first and most popular race tracks. It could get pretty crowded — some days, up to 20,000 spectators came to see the horse races.

The venue was also home to some feature performances, including Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West. The traveling show had it all: horseback riders in exotic costumes, wild buffalo, stagecoach robberies, and battles between "Cowboys and Indians". Additionally, many famous westerners got their start in the show, including Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane.

During Cody's stays, the show's animals were kept nearby in the Brighton Stockyards, and then herded along Lincoln Street to perform. During one peculiar trek to Beacon Park, a big dog managed to scare the buffalo — scattering them throughout the neighborhood. They could be seen roaming around the streets of Brighton, until finally being rounded up by Cody's men on horseback.

Beacon Park Yard officially closed to rail traffic in 2013, and due to a rerouting of the Mass Pike, the neighborhood will soon be ready for new development. There's no shortage of ideas, either — according to The Globe, suggestions include new housing units, a Harvard expansion, a park, a Boston Marathon memorial, an Olympic stadium, and a new "West Station" linking Allston and Cambridge by rail.

Back Bay, July 2014

back bay

back bay, from the pru  (sonya kovacic)

back bay, from the pru (sonya kovacic)

BostInno wrote a piece about us this weekend, calling us a "reprieve from the madness" of your email inbox. We'll take it! 

Check us out on BostInno and help us spread the word:

Bostonology Newsletter is an 'Index for All Things Boston'

Before it became one of Boston's most expensive neighborhoods, the Back Bay was just that: an actual bay. For Boston's first two centuries, the Charles River actually extended into Boston all the way to (what is now) the South End.

As Boston's population grew into the 19th century, however, the small peninsula needed more room to grow. Beginning with small coastal areas, the city created new land using soil cut from from nearby hills. The filling-in of the Back Bay began in 1857.

Today's Back Bay is unique, and not just because of its 19th-century architecture — it's one of Boston's best planned neighborhoods. Its grid system, designed by an architect, stands out against Boston's typical random-seeming roadways. It even has alphabetical street names — going east to west, the neighborhood's cross streets are named (in order) Arlington, Berkeley, Clarendon, Dartmouth, Exeter, Fairfield, Gloucester, and Hereford.

It's not just the Back Bay — a lot of Boston used to be water. Thanks to Boston College, here's the city's landfill history in a gif.

July 2014, Northeastern University


rainy day  (sonya kovacic)

rainy day (sonya kovacic)

Boston has an average of 127 days of precipitation each year (35%), which is ... pretty average. Here's how we stack up:

  • Juneau:   223
  • Buffalo:   169
  • Seattle:   155
  • Portland, OR:   153
  • Pittsburgh:   152
  • Miami:   131
  • Portland, ME:   129
  • Boston:   127
  • Chicago:   125
  • Providence:   124
  • New York:   121
  • Washington, DC:   113
  • Houston:   105
  • Denver:   89
  • San Francisco:   63
  • Los Angeles:   35
  • Las Vegas:   26

Childe Hassam — a native New Englander — was one of the earliest and most influential American impressionist painters. For example, his work Avenue in the Rain is displayed in President Obama's Oval Office. Here's his impression of the South End: Rainy Day, Boston.