Monday, October 31, 2011

The Lady in Black and Tales of Confederate POWs at Fort Warren

Happy Halloween, everyone.

Salem hogs all the limelight when it comes to haunted happenings, but there are plenty of ghostly tales in Boston as well, including out on Georges Island. And this October 31 marks the 150th anniversary of a particularly noteworthy date in the history of Fort Warren, that granite garrison out on Georges Island.

It was on October 31, 1861, that the first Confederate prisoners of war arrived at Georges Island. Colonel Justin Dimick, a West Point graduate and veteran of the Mexican-American War, was told to ready the fort for the arrival of 150 prisoners, so he was understandably shocked when the steamer docked at the island with more than 800 political and military prisoners. Fort Warren was overrun and ill-prepared, which resulted in food rations and prisoners sleeping on floors. A newspaper account from November 1861 reported that when the prisoners arrived at Fort Warren “pity rather than the hatred of the visitors was excited by the sad spectacle.”

What’s remarkable is how Bostonians responded to the plight of the enemy. They donated food, beds, and other supplies to assist the Confederate prisoners, hoping that proper treatment of the prisoners might inspire equal compassion toward Union prisoners of war. The story of Boston’s response to the crisis at Fort Warren and Dimick’s role in ensuring the prisoners were treated humanely is a remarkable one, and you can read more about it in an article I wrote for The New York Times Disunion blog.

While Dimick’s story is little known, if you were to ask anyone familiar with Georges Island what its most enduring story is, they would respond by telling you about “The Lady in Black.” Popularized by historian Edward Rowe Snow, this tale is now an essential part of the island’s fabric. According to the legend, the wife of a Confederate prisoner, dressed as a man and brandishing a pistol, snuck into the fort in an attempt to free her newlywed husband. She succeeded in reaching her husband’s cell, but as they tried to escape the dungeon, Union troops discovered their scheme and notified Colonel Dimick. When the colonel came upon the pair, the wife fired at Dimick, but her gun exploded and killed her husband instead.

 To make a bad day even worse, Dimick had no choice but to order the woman to hang as a spy. Before her execution, she requested that she be properly dressed in women’s clothing. She was given black robes and hanged from the gallows.

Now we never like to have history get in the way of a good ghost story, but there are no recorded instances of Confederate soldiers or Confederate sympathizers being executed at Fort Warren. However, from the Civil War through the Second World War, many a soldier stationed on the parapets claimed to see the frightening ghost of the Lady in Black, who is said to prowl through the fort’s many passageways to this day. As far back as January 1862, the Gloucester Telegraph reported that sentinels keeping midnight rounds saw a spiritual phenomena near some of the rebel graves. The soldiers reported spying the image of an old woman “vindictively frisking about the ruins of an old building from which she was ejected some time previous to her death.”

I’ve yet to have the pleasure of meeting the Lady in Black. But if any of you have seen her, let me know!

Monday, October 17, 2011

NBA Lockout Alternatives for Celtics Fans

Jonesing for some basketball? Hungry for hoops?

Well, maybe not.

With the NBA in a lockout and the TD Garden's parquet floor locked up in storage, basketball fans (those who love the game like Rodney!) are going to have to be a little creative to get their fix, at least until college hoops starts up in a few weeks. Here are some ideas for Boston basketball fans:

Visit the game's birthplace. Get that Fastlane pass out and head west on the Mass Pike out to Springfield, where Dr. Naismith invented hoops and where you can visit the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. The Celtics certainly have their fair share of enshrinees. You could spend hours looking at the artifacts in the galleries, including Naismith's original rules of the game, confined to two simple typewritten pages. Afterwards, you can shoot some hoops on the hall's regulation court. While in Springfield, check out the new monument at the location of the first basketball game and the statue of Dr. Naismith with his peach basket at Springfield College.

Head to the Sports Museum. Closer to home, you can explore the history of the Celtics and New England basketball, at the Sports Museum. There are lots of exhibits on the Celtics dynasty years, including Larry Bird's locker, as well as an interesting exhibit on the evolution of women's basketball. Check out the gowns worn by the college players in the 1890s. Not exactly form fitting. Added bonus: the museum is located in the TD Garden, so you can peek inside and see the Celtics banners hanging from the rafters.

Get your Chuck Taylors on. Right around the corner from the Garden is Basketball City. Inside you'll find six full-length basketball courts with glass backboards and electronic scoreboards that are available for rental. You can also register for clinics and leagues.

Crack open a book. I've got a whole host of basketball books in my library that I still need to dig into: A Season on the Brink, A March to Madness, A Season Inside. But if you have felt that you haven't had time to dig into Bill Simmons' 752-page tome, The Book of Basketball, well, here's your chance.

Get your passport out. That's what some NBA players are doing. Rather than eating fried chicken and biscuits like Red Sox pitchers, they're staying in shape by playing in Europe. The Euroleague Basketball season kicked off October 17 with the blockbuster you've all been waiting for: Zalgiris vs. CSKA Moscow. Not inspired to buy a plane ticket to Russia? Then you can get a season pass to watch online for $93.

Get the popcorn out. How about a great basketball flick? No, not Teen Wolf. (Sorry, Boof.) Hoosiers! Hoosiers! Hoosiers!  Man, I love that movie. I could watch Hickory run the picket fence all day long. "Now boys, don't get caught watching the paint dry!"

Go old-school. Get those short shorts out. With the lockout, the NBA Network can't put on any programming with current players in it. So, in between showings of Teen Wolf (seriously, Boof) you're going to find plenty of Larry and the rest of the '80s Celtics. As I write this, the NBA Network is showing Bird v. Jordan in the '86 playoffs. And tonight: 6 PM Larry Bird's 50 Greatest Moments; 7 PM Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals; 9 PM Lakers/Celtics from the 1984 Finals. Oh, you're going to be out tonight? No problem, it all repeats starting at 11 PM. I'm sure you won't wait long for Teen Wolf to follow.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

New Map and Poster Exhibit Celebrates the Golden Age of Travel

I’m definitely a map geek. Mercator is a rock star to me, and I can’t wait to dig into Maphead, the new book from Ken Jennings (the Jeopardy! guy). I also love vintage travel posters. I’ve got a few of them hanging up around the house, including this great one from the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

So I’m really looking forward to the October 14th opening of a new exhibit at Boston’s Grand Circle Gallery: “Journeys through the Mediterranean: Maps, Guides and Posters from the Golden Age of Travel.” The exhibit will pair Grand Circle Gallery’s collection of vintage travel posters from the region with a selection of antique maps and pocket travel guides from WardMaps.

Not only are the vintage travel posters so colorful and evocative of a different age, but the rare maps that will be on display, including those from German publisher Wagener & Debes that depict cities and historic sites as they were in the late 1800s and early 1900s, are works of art as well.

Of particular interest will be a display from WardMaps’ collection of antique Baedeker travel guides and maps covering destination sites in Italy, France, Greece, Northern Africa, Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine. The Baedeker travel guides date from the mid-1800s. With their red leather cover and regal, gold lettering, Karl Baedeker’s guides were considered superior to other travel guides of the day due to their detailed and accurate information on accommodations, transportation, pricing and rating system of the given destination.

The opening of the exhibit coincides with the Fort Point Fall Open Studios the weekend of October 14-16. More than 150 artists’ studios in the district will be open to the public for this popular weekend event; there is no charge for admission and free parking is available.

While it may not rise to the level of Venice’s Grand Canal, the Fort Point Channel neighborhood will also be represented in the exhibit as a small selection of antique maps of the neighborhood will be on display.

The Grand Circle Gallery is located at 347 Congress Street. Hours are Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, 11:00am-6:00pm and Thursday, 11:00am-8:00pm. Admission is free, and the gallery is handicap accessible. The exhibit runs through January 28, 2012.

For more general information, to schedule a private tour, or for more details about special programming, please visit or call 617-346-6459.