Every Picture Tells a Story
... Stories about People

Chinese Funeral Ceremony on Harrison Avenue, 1910

Chinese Funeral
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Paying respect to those gone before, the funeral ceremony in this photograph took place in Boston’s Chinatown . At the time, there were about 900 Chinese immigrants—largely male laborers—living there. The Chinese population in Boston remained small and segregated until well into the 20th century, due to federal policies like the Exclusion Act of 1883 and the Immigration Act of 1924, both of which limited Chinese immigration. Today, Boston’s Chinatown is the fourth largest Chinese community in the United States.



Mayor Curley Speaks from the USS Constitution, c. 1920 Donald LaPointe Collection

Mayor Curley

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James Michael Curley’s political career included 38 years in elected office. A gifted public speaker, Curley addresses a crowd from the deck of the USS Constitution in this photograph. Curley served as a city alderman, U.S. congressman, governor of Massachusetts, and mayor of Boston for four terms. An incredibly popular and colorful public figure, he was re-elected as alderman in 1904 even while serving 60 days in jail after taking a civil service examination for a friend. With a working-class background and little formal education, Curley was “born, not with a silver spoon, but a wooden ladder in his mouth, which he proceeded to climb.” Known as the “People’s Mayor,” he became a larger-than-life figure and a champion for working-class Bostonians and immigrants.

Boston Marathon, 1927

Boston Marathon
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Clarence DeMar runs past cheering crowds at the intersection of Exeter and Boylston streets en route to his 1927 Boston Marathon victory. DeMar won his first Boston Marathon in 1911 at the age of 22, but then decided to stop running after he was diagnosed with a heart murmur. In 1922, against doctor’s orders, he began running again, and won the marathon another 6 times. Dubbed “Mr. DeMarathon,” DeMar earned his final victory in 1930, but he continued to race until 1954. When DeMar died of cancer at the age of 71, an autopsy revealed that there was nothing wrong with his heart; in fact, the blood vessels feeding it were twice the average size.




Police Patrolling Fenway Park, 1934
Police at Fenway Park
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Mounted policemen patrol the over-fill crowd at Fenway Park, the legendary home of the Boston Red Sox. Fenway was constructed for the 1912 season by then owner John L. Taylor. In their first game at the new park the Red Sox defeated the New York Highlanders—later known as the Yankees—7-6. With a manually operated scoreboard, odd dimensions, and the famed “green monster,” Fenway Park remains one of the oldest baseball stadiums in the country, and is a much-loved Boston landmark.


...Stories about Places

Theatre Comique, Scollay Square, 1916

Theatre Comique
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Theatre Comique, which opened in 1906, was the first theater in Boston built expressly for motion pictures. The price for the half hour show was 10 cents. In the early 20th century Scollay Square was the center of the city’s nightlife, with theaters, arcades, bars, and night clubs. Scollay Square got its name from a building owned by the Scollay family which was the transfer point for several stage coach lines in the city, prompting people to “meet at Scollay’s.” In the 1960s, the Theatre Comique, along with the rest of Scollay Square, was demolished to make way for Government Center Plaza and the current City Hall building.


Newspaper Row, 1898
Newspaper Row
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Billboards hanging from the Boston Journal Building at 264 Washington Street announce the commencement of the Spanish American War, formally declared April 25, 1898. At one time eleven newspapers and four news wire services were concentrated along this stretch of Washington Street, dubbed “Newspaper Row.”




The Custom House Tower from Blackstone Street, 1921

Custom House Tower, Blackstone Street
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The Custom House tower rises above a crowd of Blackstone Street shoppers on market day. For over thirty years the Custom House tower was the tallest building in New England. Designed by Peabody and Sterns, it was constructed between 1912 and 1915. The 495 foot, 25-story tower was federally owned and thus exempt from local zoning statutes restricting the height of buildings to 125 feet. Although now dwarfed by the skyscrapers of Boston’s financial district, it remains a tangible reminder of Boston’s history as a major port. Now called “Haymarket,” Blackstone Street is home to vendors selling fresh produce, fish, and meat every Friday and Saturday throughout the year. Blackstone Street also serves as the northern boundary of the cobblestoned “Blackstone Block,” where you can still see remnants of Boston’s 18th century streets.

India and Central Wharves, 1857
India and Central Wharves
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This picture shows India Wharf to the left and Central Wharf to the right, with the Norris and Baxter Dining Saloon in the foreground. Boston is the oldest continually active port in the western hemisphere and for much of the 18th century it was the largest port in the Americas. At the time of this photo, Boston’s ship-building industry was at its apex.


...Stories about Events

Washington Street, c. 1870, and Washington Street
after the Great Fire, 1872

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These two photographs show the same portion of Washington Street before and after the Great Fire of 1872. The fire destroyed 40 acres and 775 businesses in Boston’s downtown commercial district. It began in a dry goods warehouse and quickly spread through the city’s crowded, narrow streets. Washington Street marked one edge of the fire zone. That’s why, in the second photo, the eastern side of the street remains unharmed, while the western side is reduced to rubble. You can see the spire of Old South Meeting House in the background; it barely escaped the flames.


Molasses Flood, 1919
Molasses Flood
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On January 15, 1919, a steel tank 5 stories tall and filled with 2.3 million gallons of molasses collapsed on Boston’s North End waterfront, spewing a wave of sticky liquid 15 feet high and traveling at 35 miles per hour. The disaster killed 21 people and injured many others. It also killed scores of animals and caused widespread damage to homes and businesses. The wreckage, seen here, took weeks to clean up. Molasses from the tank had been used at a distilling plant in Cambridge, where it was converted into industrial alcohol.


Harvard Aero Show, 1910: Harvard Air Meet Collection

Harvard Aero Show
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Onlookers marvel at planes overhead during the Boston-Harvard Aero Meet in 1910. Held just 7 years after the Wright Brothers’ famous flight, the air show featured a speed race between the Harvard Air Field on Squantum Peninsula and the Boston Light lighthouse on Little Brewster Island. The race was won by British pilot Claude Grahame-White, who claimed the $10,000 prize put up by Charles Taylor, owner of the Boston Globe. At this time scientists and engineers were still exploring the possibilities of flight for travel and pleasure, and as a weapon of war.


Construction of the Fitzgerald Expressway, 1954 Central Artery Collection


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Traffic congestion in Boston has long been a problem. One significant attempt to tame the city’s traffic was the John F. Fitzgerald Expressway, completed in 1959. Dubbed the “Central Artery,” it was less than 4 miles long and cost over $100 million dollars. To make room for it, nearly 500 buildings were demolished. The expressway was recently dismantled as part of another expensive, disruptive, and never-ending public works project: the Big Dig.