Friday, May 30, 2008

James Hook & Co. fire

I got a pit in my stomach when I heard about today's devastating fire at James Hook & Co., a landmark along the Waterfront and one of the long-time businesses that harken back to the heritage of the harbor that gave birth to Boston. Such a shame. I hope they will be able to rebuild on the site. And here's hoping that great weathervane on top comes back, too.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

JFK Boston Walking Tour

John F. Kennedy, the epitome of endless youth, would have turned 91 years old today. Can you believe it? Kennedy remains one of America's more popular presidents, and this native son of Boston is still beloved in his hometown. If you want to relive the days of Camelot, by all means go to these two sites around Boston:

John F. Kennedy National Historical Site. JFK was born on May 29, 1917, in a modest, three-story house on a tree-lined street in Brookline. The bed in which the president was born, his bassinette, and the piano on which he took lessons are among the items on display. The house is open between May and September. (83 Beals Street, 617-566-7937;

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum. A visit to the museum begins with an 18-minute introductory film covering JFK’s career before the 1960 presidential campaign. That’s followed by exhibits encompassing the campaign and the Kennedy presidency up to the final tragic day in Dallas, which is commemorated by a darkened hallway in which news coverage of the assassination plays on a continuous loop. (Columbia Point, 617-514-1600;

And there are some Kennedy-related landmarks in downtown Boston that you can see on this walking tour from the State House to the new Greenway (Click here for a Google map of the route):

1. Massachusetts State House. Underneath the distinctive golden dome of the State House, which sits atop historic Beacon Hill, is a bronze statue of a youthful JFK in mid-stride, hand in his suit jacket pocket. The statue is in front of the west wing of the State House. Despite its presence in front of the State House, JFK never served in the Massachusetts legislature. (Beacon Street, 617-727-3676)

2. 122 Bowdoin Street. This building located adjacent to the State House looks nondescript from the outside, but apartment 36 served as JFK's registered voting address and headquarters for his congressional campaign.

3. Parker House Hotel. Kennedy announced his candidacy for Congress in 1946 at the venerable Parker House Hotel. While it's better known as the birthplace of the Boston cream pie and Parker House rolls, the hotel's Parker Restaurant is where JFK proposed to Jackie. (And rumor has it that JFK had his bachelor party at the hotel as well.) (60 School Street, 617-227-8600;

4. Faneuil Hall. Faneuil Hall was the site of JFK's final campaign speech in 1960, a one-hour nationally televised address. In addition to its meeting space, Faneuil Hall today is part of a marketplace with shops, restaurants, and outdoor entertainers. (Congress Street, 617-242-5675)

5. Union Oyster House. JFK used to visit the Union Oyster House, famous for its traditional Yankee seafood fare, every Sunday to read the newspaper over a bowl of lobster stew. His private booth, number 18, in the dimly lit, upstairs Pine Room is dedicated in his honor. (41 Union Street, 617-227-2750;

6. Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. Gardens, fountains, and outdoor cafes will soon heal the ugly scar left behind after the burial of the elevated highway that for decades separated downtown Boston from the waterfront. The new park, named in honor of JFK's mother, will be dedicated this fall. (Incidentally, the elevated highway that was torn down was named after Rose's father, John F. "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald.) (617-292-0200;

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

National Geographic Traveler article on Belfast

Check out the May/June issue of National Geographic Traveler, currently on newsstands, for an article I wrote on Belfast. Few people may know that the Titanic was built in Belfast, although recent news reports have publicized that fact, probably not in the way the Harland and Wolff shipyard would have preferred. Belfast has a number of interesting sights related to the Titanic and has numerous events planned in the run-up to the centennial of the ship's launch and demise in 2012. That's one of the angles in the article. The article is on page 84 of the magazine. Click here to read the article.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The "Real" Ireland

There was a great article in The New York Times last week: Does the "Real" Ireland Still Exist? It takes a look at the dichotomy between the simple life of traditional Ireland many of us have in our minds (think sheep and thatched cottages) and the increasingly cosmopolitan, complex, and multicultural country that is emerging today.

The author references the town of Gort, which has a sizable Brazilian community, where there is now a Brazilian music night in one of the pubs and a Sunday mass in Portuguese. We saw something similar in Dublin last year when looking at the Sunday mass times at one of the churches. There were five masses--one in English, one in Latin, and three in Polish. It's representative of the influx of Eastern Europeans to Ireland since its membership in the European Union.

The author, Dan Barry, also talks about the changing landscape around the town of Kinvara, in western Ireland, that you can see from the top of Dunguaire Castle, which has stood for nearly 500 years. Indeed, we saw this when we scaled to the pinnacle of the castle last year. From the top, you can see the pretty traditional village of Kinvara, nestled between an arm of Galway Bay and the rocky shoulders of the Burren in the background. You can also see the new subdivisions being built and sold to young professionals at the cost of more than $1 million. Just another example of how Ireland is changing. I'm attaching pictures I took from the castle top of the village of Kinvara and the new homes being built.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Congregational House

The Boston Globe had an interesting article in last Friday's paper on the Congregational House at 14 Beacon Street, next to the Boston Athenaeum, which is up for sale. I had no idea the building held such an interesting archive on artifacts, such as the ledger in which the baptism of Benjamin Franklin is recorded and the oak beams of the church in England that the Pilgrims left. Hollywood has used the exterior of the building as the home of the law firms in both Ally McBeal and A Civil Action.

I've only noticed the fantastic bas-reliefs on the outside of the building. According to the article, they depict the Pilgrim and Puritan ideals of law, faith, education, and evangelism. Here are some pictures I took a few weeks ago of the exterior.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Grape Island Alarm Article in Patriot Ledger

An article I wrote on the Grape Island Alarm appears in this weekend's edition of The Patriot Ledger. The Grape Island Alarm was a relatively unknown skirmish between the British and patriots during the Revolutionary War that took place on one of the Boston Harbor Islands. Click here to read the article. More of the letters of Abigail and John Adams referenced in the article appear in Discovering the Boston Harbor Islands.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Mount Auburn Cemetery Article in AAA Horizons

Mount Auburn Cemetery is one of my favorite places to visit around Boston. The Garden of Graves is filled with such history and beauty. And just a few weeks ago a new Visitors Center opened in the cemetery's Story Chapel, just inside the main gate. The Visitors Center includes interpretive displays on the creation, history, and operation of the cemetery and an introductory video. An article I wrote on Mount Auburn Cemetery appears in the May 2008 issue of AAA Horizons, the monthly periodical sent to members of AAA Southern New England. Here is a link to the article.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Boston's Top Buildings

Architects from around the country are descending upon Boston today for the annual convention of the American Institute of Architects. (No word on whether Art Vandelay will be in attendance.) As part of the coverage of the convention, Architectural Record magazine released a list of Boston's Top 10 buildings. The magazine's top 10 are

1. Harrison Gray Otis House
2. Massachusetts State House
3. Trinity Church
4. Boston Public Library
5. Baker House
6. Kresge Auditorium
7. Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts
8. Christian Science Center
9. John Hancock Tower
10. Institute of Contemporary Art

I certainly can't argue with the State House, Trinity Church, the BPL (not crazy about the newer part of the building designed by Philip Johnson), and the John Hancock Tower. (And possibly the Christian Science Center.) The Hancock is probably one of my favorite skyscrapers. Even though its design is sleek and relatively simple, it's still very dynamic depending upon the weather and the angle at which you view it. I would have had any of these buildings rated at the top rather than the Harrison Gray Otis House.

The rest of the buildings wouldn't have been on my top 10. I'm reserving judgement on the ICA for now to see how it fits in with the rest of the South Boston Waterfront when it's developed. The ICA is one of those buildings I think looks better lit up at night rather than in the plain light of day, and from some of the sightlines available from the undeveloped land around the museum I don't find the ICA too captivating.

What other buildings would have made my list? Custom House, Old City Hall, Boston Athenaeum, and Boston Light (if Boston Light could be considered a building).

Understandably, Architectural Record didn't name the city's worst buildings. I would have to give the nod to the Lindemann Mental Health Center on Staniford Street. This brutalist architecture is really depressing, particularly when it rains. An example of form follows function? I guess I just don't like brutalism because City Hall and the New England Aquarium don't do anything for me. And why is the harbor view from the nearby Harbor Towers one of the best in Boston? Because it doesn't include the Harbor Towers.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Gilded Grasshopper Edges Jiminy Cricket has come out with a ranking of America's 25 most-visited tourist sites, and the list is pretty interesting. (For example, more people visit the Delaware Water Gap than the Grand Canyon? Who knew?)

One of the surprises to me was that Faneuil Hall Marketplace was fourth on the list--ahead of Disney's Magic Kingdom in Orlando and Disneyland in Anaheim. According to, 20 million people visited Faneuil Hall Marketplace last year, while 17.1 million visited the Magic Kingdom and 14.9 million people visited Disneyland. Now before we go thinking that Peter Faneuil's gift to Boston holds a greater place in the heart of Americans than Cinderella's castle and the country's most beloved rodent, most of the visitors to Faneuil Hall Marketplace undoubtedly are hitting the stores and eateries of Quincy Market and skipping a visit to the Cradle of Liberty--Faneuil Hall itself. (And I think the Disney World number may be undercounted because the story just mentions the Magic Kingdom and not the other theme parks at Disney World.) Still, we can delude ourselves in thinking that Faneuil Hall's gilded grasshopper is more of a draw than Jiminy Cricket.

The top 10 most-visited sites in America are:
1. Times Square
2. Las Vegas Strip
3. Washington, DC Mall and Monuments
4. Faneuil Hall Marketplace
5. Disney Magic Kingdom
6. Disneyland
7. Fisherman's Wharf/Golden Gate National Recreation Area (San Francisco)
8. Niagara Falls
9. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
10. Chicago Navy Pier

Looking at the list, I realize I've been pretty fortunate to have been to each one of these places. Guess I have to get cracking to visit the Delaware Water Gap.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

New England Travel Article on Minor League Baseball

Check out the current issue of New England Travel magazine for an article I wrote on a minor league baseball road trip across New England. With tickets to Red Sox games at such a premium--both in terms of supply and price--the only affordable way to catch a game is head down to the farm. Luckily, there are three affiliates of the Red Sox within easy driving distance of Boston. The article maps out a good old-fashioned road trip to see the Pawtucket Red Sox, Lowell Spinners, and Portland Sea Dogs.

The current issue of New England Travel was piggybacked along with the May issue of Boston magazine to home subscribers and can also be found on newsstands. There's a picture of me on the field in Lowell that runs with the article. It's on the web site and also fills about three-quarters of a page in the magazine.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Abigail Adams Cairn

There is a scene in the second part of the recently concluded HBO miniseries John Adams where Abigail and the Adams children are awakened from their sleep in the early morning by the thunder of British cannon fire during the Battle of Bunker Hill. In the early morning dusk, Abigail leads John Quincy and Charles up a nearby hill from their homestead where they see in plain sight the British ships bombarding the patriots and Charlestown aflame.

That hill is Penns Hill in present-day Quincy, and it is located about a half mile from the two saltbox houses owned by the family in June 1775. Those houses still stand and are part of Adams National Historical Park. And atop Penns Hill is the Abigail Adams Cairn, a stone monument that marks the spot where Abigail and the young future president watched the burning of Charlestown during the Battle of Bunker Hill. A plaque on the cairn reads: "From this spot, with her son, John Quincy Adams, then a boy of seven by her side, Abigail Adams watched the smoke of burning Charlestown, while listening to the guns of Bunker Hill. Saturday, 17 June, 1775." The marker was dedicated by the Society of the Daughters of the Revolution on June 17, 1896.

The Adams birthplaces are now located at the corner of a busy intersection on a main road filled with businesses and with a Dunkin Donuts right down the road, and suburban Quincy has now filled the land around Penns Hill. The cairn is located right in the middle of a residential neighborhood, and with the tall trees and houses that fill the landscape today, it's no longer possible to spy Bunker Hill.

The Abigail Adams Cairn is located on Viden Road in Quincy, just off Franklin Street.

UPDATE: A time capsule has been been found inside the cairn as it was being reconstructed. Find out what was inside