Your memories and pictures of Scollay Square
I guess this page is our "catch all," you know, it's kind of like that kitchen drawer we all have that is crammed with items we need but for which can't seem to find a place. So if you have anything you'd like to add to our collection, then email it to us today and we'll put it here in our kitchen drawer, I mean this web page...
How much fun is this? A few years ago the Boston Sunday Globe began soliciting for 50 word stories about Boston and today (June 5, 2022) they printed this memory, one I have heard variations of since I began researching Scollay Square back in the 1980s. Enjoy...
A few years ago a woman named Cynthia wrote with this absolutely fascinating story:
I believe my great uncle (Russel Conn) and his wife (Verna Blattner Conn) may have been working at the Howard, most probably in the mid to late 1930s until very early 1940s. I believe they were there when she became pregnant with my cousin sometime around 1940. My uncle, born in 1890, had been a backstage type (set design, construction, back stage managing) and Verna or Verne, born in 1907 (conceived during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake) would have been a performer. Of course, you never get the straight scoop (or I didn't when I was younger) but most probably she was stripping by then, either as a feature performer or part of the chorus (although she decidely did NOT like being thought of as only a member of the chorus. She had started out as a child dancer (a student of Gracie Allen's mother, Pearl) in the San Francisco area and performed with other Allen dancers at the Pan Pacific Exposition in 1915 when she would have been about 8 years old. She started out with Fanchon & Marco in California in about 1922 at 15, and I know was in San Francisco in 1924; at the Baker in Portland in 1925, and the Lyric in Dayton in 1929, although perhaps by then with someone other than Fanchon & Marco.
I vaguely remember my grandmother (Russ' sister) saying that when Russ' and Verne's son was due, she (my grandmother) had gone to Boston to help out. That would have been in February 1943. I was born in 1950, and I believe Russ and Verne had moved back to California in the late 1940s and were active in little theatre and light opera set and costume design in the San Jose area. My first remembrance of them was when they came for a visit to Ohio in the 1960s, and my conservative family wasn't into discussing "my stripper great aunt" with me.
I'm not sure what originally took them to Boston and the Howard, but it was undoubtedly a job offer for Russ. I believe they would have been relative newlyweds at that time, and I know they were married in New York City in the late 1930s, I think.
Cynthia wrote us again in August, 2005, to add this information:
I saw a family friend a couple of weeks ago in San Jose. He confirmed that Russ and Verne were at the Howard in that mid- to late-30s time frame. The only additional information he had was that he thought Verne's "stage name" was Mille Verne, the Parisien Doll. Hope this might jog someone's memory who was also there. Thanks, Cindy
WE HAVE AN UPDATE TO THIS STORY!
Always so grateful when people take the time to actually read what's been posted. In January 2020 a fellow named David wrote:
I am an estate liquidator based in San Dimas, CA and came across a file folder of original vaudeville and burlesque photos and ephemera during the course of an estate clean-out. In the folder were a number of photos and programs relating to Verna Blattner Conn, nee Verne of THE GINGER GIRLS. The information I found on your site helped me fill in some of the blanks. I was curious as to her background and Cynthia’s post was very helpful. I have attached a photo of Verne dating from the 1920’s, as well as a copy of an old Los Angeles burlesque theater program with Verne on the cover. I am sure Cynthia would enjoy and she is welcome to contact me if she wants me to forward digital copies of any more of her aunt’s theatrical pics.
By the way, from all the information I had poured through, it appears that Verne was with the theatrical troupe, THE GINGER GIRLS. The Ginger Girls were prominent on the theatrical circuit during Vaudeville's heyday as all-around dancers, comedians and singers. Many old newspaper articles can be found online about The Ginger Girls, including the one of performer Winifred Greene, who in 1912, committed suicide in her dressing room at Kansas City's Gayety Theater immediately following her on-stage song, the "Skeleton Rag". Another article reported that year earlier in 1911, they were performing their comedy dance routine in New York's Tammany Hall while the building was on fire, perpetuating the theatrical maxim, "the show must go on" (fireman were pouring down water on the smoldering stage while The Ginger Girls continued to dance). It appears that Verne (billed as "The Beautiful French Doll") did not join the troupe until the 1920's, becoming a starring performer (taking the overall role of 'soubrette' once held by the aforementioned Greene).
Wow, thank you David, I'll be sure to forward this great inforation to Cynthia. We both appreciate the time you took to write.
From eBay is a screen capture of a recently posted item of a promotional postcard for bookstore in Pemberton Square, which specialized in law books (made sense, the courthouse was right across the street.)
Thanks to the Dirty Old Boston Facebook page I can share this great photo of the country's first Radio Shack, located right here in Scollay Square, at 46 Brattle Street. Accompanying this great photo is an advertisement for this very store from the December, 1937 issue of QST (a ham radio magazine) for a what was then a "state-of-the-art" transceiver (but which is today called a valuable antique ;)
Here's another one from the webmaster - I have been researching and writing about Scollay Square for (yikes) decades so it is always a kick to hear a story or see an artifact or picture I've never encountered. This picture, of Boston City Censor Walter Millikan outside the Old Howard Burlesque theater, is from the Boston Globe November 10, 1953, the day after members of the Vice Squad brought a secretly-made film of stripper "Irma the Body" performing her act to Judge Elijah Adlow, who promptly closed the theater for lewdness. Millikan is about to serve the manifest that will close the Old Howard for good.
Which makes this ticket from the Old Howard even more special, as it was for a show that never took place...
This new memory was sent to me by John, whom I met after presenting at a marketing conference in Boston (part of the duties for my "real" job.) John sent along this story with the caveat that it comes second hand, but I'm going to post it anyway, if for no other reason than to include John's great Red Sox story...
Scollay Square... was before my time, but my Dad (1919-2010) had a lot of stories about it, from when he was young and foolish. A friend of his was a former vaudevillian (he and his wife were a roller skating act) who owned a costume rental place called the Broadway Costume Co., which I think was not far from there. My Dad had a number of other friends who were performers — and several of them had planned to go to the Cocoanut Grove the night it burned down. They didn’t go only because my Dad ended up being asked to come to work early the next day, or something like that — otherwise, he’d have been there. He said that some of his friends were able to get out, because being performers, they knew how to get to the backstage exit — but many people didn’t make it!
In an unrelated bit of Boston history, my Dad and I were in the right-center field bleachers at Fenway Park for Game 6 in '75. We got a great view of Carbo’s homer and a fantastic look at Evans’s catch off Joe Morgan in the top of the 12th. As for Fisk’s historic shot, I’m afraid I misjudged it — I saw it off the bat but thought it was going to be off the wall! I still have my ticket stub.
So here is what is both good and bad about the web. In 2005 I got the following email and picture:I enjoyed your website. My great uncle, Arthur O'Brien [see picture below] was a stagehand at the Old Howard from approximately 1913 through 1947. Family lore tells me he was a born again christian who attempted to convert all of the female dancers. I am not sure how true this is. If any of your contacts from the Old Howard remember my great uncle and have info to share, I would love to hear from them and have their help in piecing some family history together. Thanks! Jerry.
After getting Jerry's email I contacted Terry Mixon, who was so very helpful with her photographs and memories when I was putting together the Arcadia book, and she remembered Arthur, and wrote the following:
I believe there was a stagehand at the O.H. in 46 and 47 by the name of Arthur but I don't remember his last name.Could have been O'Brien. If he is the one I remember, he was a nice guy, and he palled around with a stage hand named Maxie. I think Maxie's last name was Potash or something like that. The head stagehand( the one that ran the lights) his name was Kelly. Al Kelly was also the one who told us if a censor was in the audience. I seem to remember that the girls thought Arthur and Maxie were an odd duo as Arthur was very Christian and Maxie very Jewish. They use to kid that maybe they were trying to convert each other. But they (the girls) never said that where Maxie or Arthur could overhear them.
Okay, so now it is 2012 - seven years after Jerry first emailed me, and I get an email from my old friend "Mister Boston," the postcard collector whose last name is also O'Brien. He was doing a genealogy search for information on his father’s family and was searching through the WW 2 draft card registrations to see if he had registered. He wrote me that "I haven’t found him yet but came across an Arthur Michael O’Brien (no relation to me as far as I know) who worked at the Old Howard. I thought you might like to see it."
Arthur O'Brien's draft registration card
So now the bad part of the web, which is that people change email addresses like underwear. Jerry's email has bounced, so I cannot tell him of this terrific find. If anyone else knows where Jerry is, please email me so I can let him know? Thanks.
What better way to sell shoes than with a sexy girl? Works just as well today as it did back around the turn of the last century, when this promotional photo advertising Stage Shoes was taken for the Pemberton Shoe store, and probably in a photography studio in Scollay Square. Thank you, Frank, for sending along this gem, which led us to search the web and find this 1902 advertisement for the store from the Boston Evening Transcript.
In June 2010 we received the following image with this story:I just found your website and thought that this might have a place there. I have had this bit of "Old Howard" memorabilia for the better part of my 66 years. I believe it was originally acquired by my dad. It is a plaque (it was used for many years as a 'hot plate' in our house) ... It appears to be made of some kind of bakelite material. It's about 4 1/2 inches wide by 6 3/4 inches long and 1/4 inch thick and, so far anyway, indestructible. The text indicates that it predates the final destruction of the building but I can find no information to confirm the actual year it was produced. It has no identifying marks other than what appears to be a signature attribution just below the sketch. It is a beautiful piece and one of my treasures. JoeWe replied to Joe that "this etching comes from a booklet titled 'The Old Home Town' which was published by The Hawthorne Press in Boston in 1945. But while I have the booklet (which includes the Old Howard etching) I have never seen the page reproduced in any other book, nor was I aware of the strange (but completely believable, given this is Boston) ritual of having to rope off the sidewalk to maintain title to the land."
Anyone who can vouch for this old law - or who has seen a similar hotplate - is encouraged to email.
I am an 83 year old ww2 veteran living in the North End of Boston. I used to go to the Casino Burlesque theater and loved it especially a featured star called Peaches" In my opinion the most naturally beautiful stripper with a statuesque impeccable body who specialized in a shimmy act You mentioned making the girls look better than they were well, when peaches would be down to her pasties and g-string she had a length of satin material turn around and have her back facing the audience with the satin stretched across her majestic buttocks and the the lights would turn purple the drummer would work the cymbals to sound like water flowing and peaches would shake and shimmer and shimmy nobody before or since ever did that in their act.Thank you, Joe, for your service to our country and for the eye-witness account of Peaches. Certainly if anyone can help with any photos of this beauty we both would appreciate it.
I used to enjoy going to Scollay Square for the shows the food the drinks what a waste it was to demolish that wonderful oasis of fun and replace it with that monstrosity called government Center. I still have a western leather jacket I bought at Johnny Walkers across the street from the Casino and it looks like new.
Joe, the ex sailor
Thanks to Ken, the author of "The Road to Scollay Square" (see his website here) I learned that Jack Kerouac, in his classic "On the Road," wrote of Scollay Square...
"In 1942 I was the star in one of the filthiest dramas of all time. I was a
seaman, and went to the Imperial Café on Scollay Square in Boston to drink;
I drank sixty glasses of beer and retired to the toilet, where I wrapped
myself around the toilet bowel and went to sleep. During the night at least
a hundred seamen and assorted civilians came in and cast their sentient
debouchements [sic] till I was unrecognizably caked. What difference does it
make after all? -anonymity in the world of men is better than fame in
heaven, for what's heaven? What's earth? All in the mind."
Jack Kerouac "On The Road" (pg 246 Viking 40th Anniversary Ed.)
I had found Ken's website and written to ask why he chose Scollay Square for the title of his collection of poems. Ken wrote back that "Every reader is best served reading Kerouac for what it means to them, but for me, this passage represents a moment of awakening to the abject behaviors that we use to judge others and ourselves, and the lengths to which we go to convey those judgments. I think Sal Paradise finds peace in the knowledge that people will treat him badly even when they are embroiled in the same place and time. A lack of such knowledge leaves many people sad, depressed, and confused why their fellows treat them negatively, especially in social arenas. Kerouac's picture is both a literal view and emotional view of this treatment. So why did I choose to use Scollay Square in my poem "On the Road to Wakefulness" and in the title of my chapbook? I think places like the square -or other "bohemian" locales-- is a result of, at least in literature, their becoming symbols of cultures within cultures and representations of the good and ill effects these internal cultures bring to a society. I really don't know all I want to know about what I'm saying here . . . I'm sure it will come in time."
Thank you Ken, for the great email and for making us aware of this Scollay Square connection to Jack Kerouac!
At a recent slide show I gave on Scollay Square (at the Medford Public Library) I met Joe Moscaritolo, who proudly showed off the following photograph. That's a 12 year-old Joe giving a man a shoe shine in Scollay Square. Joe said "I charged a nickel, but the sailors would give me 25 cents. And if they had a girl on their arm, they would pay me 50 cents, to look like a big shot!" In the photo below, which Joe says was taken in 1943, we can see some sailors making their way to Joe's stand, just a few store fronts away from the famous Rialto Theater on Tremont Row.
Joe Moscaritolo in Scollay Square.
Paula's dad owned and ran the Hub Barbecue. She wrote:
My father Leo Shray along with my grandfather Saul Shray owned and ran the place. My uncle Milton Shray also worked there. Unfortunately, when Dawn quoted me there were some mistakes made. My father used to serve Pastrami sandwiches piled high and that came along with french fries and a pickle. My father used to say "Make them thirsty and they'll drink more." He was quite a man. He had a heart of gold and everyone loved him. At his funeral there was an over flow into the street. The Rabbi said if someone came and didn't know my father and had seen the crowd who had come to say good bye, they would wonder who had died? A king. At the house men from the bar came with a paper bag full of money. They had taken up a collection and brought it to my mother. My mother thanked them and asked that they donate the money to cancer.
Paula's dad Leo, in Scollay Square, in a photo taken in the 1940s across the street from the Hub Barbeque
(Note the marquee for the Theatrical Bar at the Crawford House behind Leo)
This photo, sent in by another visitor to this site, was also likely taken in the 1940s. According to John P. (who was kind enough to write us) "The photo appears to be taken during a fire prevention parade. I believe I have seen it or a similar one before. Behind it in the line are what (I must also say) appear to be a Pumper and Rescue and Lighting Units. For many years the Fire Prevention Parade was a big deal. Often fire apparatus would come from other communities to participate in the Boston parade. There were usually demonstrations of firefighting techniques and equipment. A special favorite was the "Dandy Drillers" an exhibition team of firefighters doing "High Wire" style evolutions with ladders and ropes including the "Slide for Life." These always took place in October during the anniversary of the great Chicago Fire."
Thank you John, for your email.
Pete, a book dealer from "Down East," wrote to us with this gem:
The Old Howard was an integral part of my teen years...Just before the Old Howard was demolished, Frank [Francis W. Hatch, composer of "Some Coward Closed the Old Howard"] visited the site, slipped the foreman some cash and they saved two seating units from a loge. That evening before Frank left for the North Shore - Beverly - he took a rented pickup over to the demolition site, loaded the seats and drove them to Maine. I neglected to say this was a Friday in early summer so Frank was commuting weekends. Every summer after Labor Day before the "6 monthers" left Castine for warmer climes, Frank would have a big party at his home for which he usually wrote a skit or one-act play. This year some of Castine's "high society" elderly gals enjoyed the show sitting in Old Howard seats.
In 1944 I was a 17 year old merchant seaman on a ship in Boston Harbor. Every night we'd go in to Scully Square, take in a show, walk the streets and frequent the bars which didn't require age ID. One night I was so drunk I was running, diving and sliding on my stomach and chest over the ice and snow. A Boston cop on duty at Scully Square tried to get me to stop to no avail. He finally gave up and went on his way. Anywhere else I would have been arrested for public intoxication.
The above comes from Bill, who hosts his own site containing personal and historical memories: www.billstrain.com
Ron, a visitor to our site, wrote us this wonderful story:
When I was in high school, sometime about 1955, a few friends and I skipped school and went to the Old Howard in Scollay Square. We were excited--the featured stripper was named Candy Barr and she had quite a reputation. But at the same time we were nervous that we might get caught, or worse, get into trouble in that run-down section of Boston. Being from a small conservative town about 12 miles north of Boston, this was all new to us.
I remember that as we entered the Old Howard it was so dark inside we had to stand at the back of the theatre for quite some time to let our eyes get adjusted to the low light. And once they did and we looked around at the audience, we realized we were entering a strange environment of undistinguished gentlemen.
A burlesque comedy act was on, so we snuck down the right-hand isle and grabbed some seats at the very end of a row just opposite an exit door. We figured it was safer to have two options in case we needed a fast exit. I was seated in the first seat just off the isle and noticed a set of metal steps that ran up the side wall to a door on the second level. It looked like an inside fire escape, but I didn't give it much thought.
Candy Barr came on next and we were mesmerized by her act. A real live pinup girl that exceeded our wildest 15 year-old imaginations. But before we knew it, it was over and she was gone. We sat there, arguing over whether to stay for another act or leave while our luck was holding out. Just when the temptation to stay was winning, the door at the top of the metal staircase opened and several strippers stepped out onto the metal platform and started down the stairs toward us.
We sat there with our mouths open. Was this luck, or what? Four beautiful strippers, dressed in scanty costumes covered only by loose wraps, were going to walk right by us. We could reach out and touch them if we dared!
The last one in line was none other that Miss Candy Barr herself. My heart was beating so fast I figured I'd be the youngest person in the theatre to have a heart attack. And, just as she hopped off the last step, her high heels caught on something and she stumbled toward me. I started to rise to catch her but it was too late. She bumped into me and we both went sprawling back into my seat.
I was sitting there with Miss Candy Barr in my lap!
She smiled at me, murmured something about being sorry, and was up and gone in a flash. But the memory of her body heat and smell lingered for a very long time. All the way back home on the MTA and for several days afterwards.
Of course, I was a local hero for a short period of time--too short. But as I look back on that event I have to smile at how naive I was and how wonderful it was to be 15 in 1955. Ron Peters (Click for his web site)
Thank you, Ron, for that wonderful, well-written memory, although the date of your "encounter" with Ms. Barr means you likely went was the Casino Theatre, located down Hanover Street and renamed "the Old Howard Casino" after the venerable burlesque house on Beacon Hill was shuttered in 1953. David
Our mother's father had a younger sister, Miss Ruby KERR, who married a Hobart PHELPS. They were married a long time and had several children. One son became a famous builder of church Organs, Lawrence PHELPS. What I just was reminded of is that, in his younger adult years, Hobart PHELPS, was an entertainer in Scollay Square. It seems his "act" was to dress up as a woman and .. actually I don't know what he did once he got on stage. (I think it was at "the Old Howard" but I'm not positive.)
He must have done this for a while, as his wife, my mother's Aunt Ruby, would make his costumes for him (When I married in 1967, Aunt Ruby, being a very good seamstress, volunteered to make my bridesmaids' gowns for me) Have you ever come across the name of Hobart PHELPS? He might not have used his real name - while entertaining - so he probably had a "stage name." My grandfather was born in 1888, so Ruby was born around 1898, so Hobart was probably born around 1895. This means he probably "performed" there, possibly from the 1920's to 1940's.
In response to the above, this email was received in October, 2008: Ruby Kerr and Hobart Phelps were my grandparents. Their daughter Muriel was my mother. My Grandmother used to make ballet costumes for the Boston Ballet when I was a little girl and often made me dresses, etc. As older children we did hear that Grandpa used to dress up as a female for some type of show. We were never given details.
Does anyone have the details? Email us here.
I have a strong connection to Scollay Square even though I was born right around the time its' days were becoming numbered. My Grandfather, John F. "Terry" Kinsella worked as a stage producer, lighting director, special effects coordinator, in other words, a jack of all trades at the Old Howard, The B.F. Keith and other local theaters. He also worked on Broadway in New York City and specialized in creating and designing sets that could be easily broken down and transported for Broadway Shows that were going on the road.
My Mom and Aunt have told us many wonderful tales about their experiences "with Dad" when they went to work with him at the various theaters in Scollay Square. They lived in the West End of course! He became very good friends with the likes of Jimmy Durante, Lou Costello and many other famous Vaudeville actors (my Grandmother, a singer, didn't like her husband being associated with burlesque by the way so no matter what, as far as she was concerned, it was all and always "vaudeville."
My Mom and Aunt were taken to Joe and Nemos for a hot dog by none other than Jimmy Durante. He adored both of them and they have fond memories of him and many other personalities they encountered while spending days with dear old Dad.
Although he did just about everything, including "acting," his claim to fame was his ability to work wonders with lighting and sound. I have to ask my Mom who the actress was, but there was atleast one famous Broadway actress who insisted on having my Grandfather handle the lighting for her shows because, as she put it, "he made me look 10 years younger."
I am hoping to some day find someone left who knew my Grandfather. From the sounds of things, he was a quite a character and he was pretty well known throughout the stage business.
How about it? Does anyone have information on Mr. Kinsella? Email us here.
I'm the family historian and you've mentioned things in the book that parallel my family history and fleshed it out in some ways for me. When I read about J.J. Hawes's studio on Tremont, it rang a bell. I then searched through old photographs of my great great grandfather and found that a few of them were taken by Hawes, with the 19 Tremont Row address printed on the back.
There's no date but it had to be taken sometime in the 1860s-70s because by the looks of him, he must have been in his late 20s to early 30s in a couple of them; he was in the Civil War when he was 23-27, so it's probably shortly after that.
My great great grandfather, Charles Howland, was born in 1838, so he wasn't old enough to have been at Papanti's to meet Dickens in 1842, but coincidentally, he married Dickens's niece, Amy, years later. He lived in Rockland, MA so it must have been a big deal to make the trek into Boston to get his photo taken on Tremont Row on at least three occasions. Besides the literary connection to Dickens, he was also cousin to both Emerson and Longfellow, and was a direct descendant of Mayflower Pilgrim, John Howland. His obituary mentions that he met Lincoln, was the civil engineer who built the Marshfield/Brant Rock sea wall, and that he was the McPherson G.A.R. Post's chaplain in Abington, MA, for fifty years, up until his death in 1933.
I've spent half the day tracing Charles Howland's mother's (Deborah Cushing) side of the family and found out that not only was her grandfather, Elijah Cushing, a captain in the Revolutionary War, but his first cousin was William Cushing, a MA Supreme Court judge who was appointed to US Supreme Court Justice by Washington himself, and he also swore Washington into office in 1793. He ran against Sam Adams for Govenor in 1794 and John Adams said of him: "I Shall be happier if Cushing succeeds, and the State will be more prudently conducted." It just keeps getting better.
On the bawdy side of Scollay Square lore -- my father often talks about hanging out in the square, eating at Joe and Nemo's, going to the Olympia, and on one particular day while playing hooky from Braintree High in 1954, he got his first tattoo at Dad Liberty's (Dad's, he calls it) --- a dagger piercing his arm. He was 16 at the time.
Thank you Paul for sharing your very interesting family history and these great photographs.
In 1938, soon after the great "New England Hurricane", my mother, just recently out of the hospital from major surgery, left New York by train to meet my father's ship in Fall River. (Father was a merchant marine captain). In New Haven CT, the train tracks were covered with debris, wrecked boats etc so all passengers were switched to buses. Mother arrived in Fall River and found that the pier, at which father was to dock, had been washed away. His ship was sent to Chelsea. How mother got to Boston and on the MTA late in the evening I do not know. I only that she was weary and feverish and got off the MTA at Scollay Square. She asked the lady in the change booth where she could find a hotel and was referred to the Crawford House. It didn't take any imagination on mother's part to realize that the hotel catered to "working girls." She locked herself into her room, slept soundly and called the pier in the a.m. leaving only a telephone number where my father could reach her. (Never mentioned the name of the place.) Obviously the number was well known on the pier because as soon as my father stepped into the pier office he was informed that his wife was at the Crawford House. He phoned immediately and demanded to know what she was doing in that establishment and to stay in her room until he could get there to escort her out.
My family - both sides - had lived in Winthrop for years. I now have a nearly 10' bar, which had been in my grandparents house from the time they bought the house. Family Legend has it it is 1/2 of the 20' bar that had been in the old Silver Dollar Cafe (bar?) in Scollay Square. Two brothers owned a plumbing supply house that did work for the Silver Dollar. When the bar did not pay, the brothers got to keep the bar. They cut it in half and each got a piece. A few questions. 1. can anyone verify the story? 2. Does anyone have pictures of the old Silver Dollar? I'd love to be able to put up old pictures of the place along side the bar. I can work with nearly any picture posted on the website. 3. Assuming the story is true does anyone have any idea how old the bar might be? Thanks for any help.
Even though the Silver Dollar Bar was not in Scollay Square, we posted Andrew's message in the hope that if you can help, you'll email email him by clicking HERE
My family owned the Crawford House, along with the Rialto movie theatre, plus a photo studio in the square. The Crawford House was owned by Harry Swartz, but when he died in 1935 by father took over as manager, then when my cousin Alan Swartz, got out of the service, he took over as he and my father did not "see eye to eye" My sister, my mother, and I, plus Alan's mother, my Aunt Mollie would have to work as cashiers at the various bars in the Crawford House on weekends or/and holidays, especially during the war when the place was so crowded. Sally Keith was real close to our family and came to our house for dinner alot. Sally's real name was Sylvia, but took Sally after Sally Rand when she was in the Chicago World Fair. Sally's favorite saying about her yellow Cadillac, "If I could only learn to drive as well as I can handle my tassels."
Also Frank Fontaine got his start at the Crawford House. He was the MC for many years. He got his first big break when the Major Bowles Amateur Hour called for him to appear. The hardest part my father had was to keep Frank sober. Frank lived at the Crawford House in his MC days. I also remember Harry Kelly from the gym and he use to get my sister and I tickets to the Braves or Red Sox's games. My father was Joe Kantor and Dr. Henry Kaplan who was the night manager at the Crawford House should remember him well. I have alot of memories of Sally Keith and the Crawford House. After the Hotel part fire (DK: in March, 1948) my cousin Alan had my father work as a bartender in the corner front bar. Did you know that Frankie Lane appeared at the Crawford House?
Thanks for listening.
There's currently (July 2001) a thread on the qrp-l (a list devoted to ham radio under 5 watts) that is discussing Radio Shack. A side issue came up that the original Radio Shack was a store across from The Old Howard in the mid '50s. Not clear on the list whether the Old Howard or the original Radio Shack (or the little electronics shop apparently next to it) was the greater attraction (the word nerd hadn't been invented yet, but would have been useful).
I have to confess I went upon occasion to the Old Howard and was captivated by Irma "The Body" Goodneighbor. I was also smitten by a blond young lady in the chorus line who looked younger and less hardened than the others. But the women were far more discrete than what is typical of striper bars today.
If I recall, an orchestra of about four pieces struggled along, but in retrospect its pathetic sound was part of an atmosphere now lost forever. Also, although irritating at the time, but much part of the atmosphere, were the periodic interruptions for selling boxes of candy (one, we were assured would certainly contain a wrist watch).
[David's reply: The theater to which you refer was the Casino, which was on Hanover Street. When the Old Howard was shut down by the city in 1953, the owners transferred the license to the Casino and renamed it The Old Howard Casino as a way of drawing customers. That's why many people confuse the Casino with the Howard. Anyway, it was on Washington Street where, to my knowledge, the first Radio Shack was located.
Oh, and it was Irma "The Body" who was the very dancer on stage when the vice squad, armed with a 16 mm camera, took the film that caused Judge Elijah Adlow to shut the OH down! You have good taste!]
I just finished reading "Always Something Doing" and relived a lot of memories from the early 1950's when I was a young Navy man. One vivid memory was on my 24th birthday when two of my buddies took me to the Crawford House. One of the acts was a comedian, who as part of his act, made balloon animals. He was told it was my birthday and of course gave me one. We left the Crawford House and a car pulled up to the curb and an arm with an automatic pistol came out of the window and a voice said hold it up. They laughed and drove on. Only in Scollay Square. Thanks again.
The photos of Scollay Square and the Old Howard take me back to 1953-54 when I (from Alabama and Tennessee) was stationed at Fort Devens. Several times I popped in on a Saturday afternoon. God, I recall the comedy skits, the salt-water-taffy pitchman, and the tacky dance routies. Once I sat in the loge box at the right of the picture and managed to snap a couple of pictures with a Rolleiflex (a nice quiet camera) of dancers on the stage before being spotted by one of the dancers. Being in uniform made my case easier to plead.
I was a teen-ager in the 40s and spent many happy afternoons in the Old Howard. Just across the street was Joe and Nemo's where you could get a great beer and a hotdog for, something like a quarter. My favorite performers at the Old Howard were Mike Sacks and Alice Kennedy. They did a superb routine called "Down at the Saint James Infirmary." Alice played a new widow crying and telling Mike her sorrows and with each new crying session some more of her clothes came off. Their performance was just great.
Ran across your site and great bits and pictures. Sure brought a smile to my face as well as many happy memories.As a young lad from Winchester used to go to Boston often and Scollay Square was a great hang out. The Old Howard, the shows, the old yellow movies and the huys selling candy in between acts, " A prize in every box", yeah sure. And Joe & Nemo's. Remember them well, not so much for the hot dogs, but when a kid at the Boston Navy Yard, remember getting my first check and they were the only place that would cash it for me. Your book will shortly be in my library. Thanks for the memories. Hey, remeber Izzy Ort's Bar and Grill???
I am a grad student in American & New England Studies at Univ. of Southern Maine in Portland. I'm about to propose research to the Houghton Library at Harvard to get access to e.e. cummings' papers. I have been a cummings fan since I was a high school junior, and have done 2 papers about him, have read all of his poetry, some of his fiction and non-fiction prose, and have looked at his paintings. I know that cummings "hung out" at The Old Howard as well as other Scollay Sq bars. [NOTE FROM DAVID - THE ORIGINATOR OF THIS EMAIL WAS KIND ENOUGH TO SEND SNIPPET OF AN e.e. cummings POEM THAT MENTIONS THE OLD HOWARD:]
my humorous ghost precisely will
stray from the others on the hill
if only to hear someone say
exactly what someone has said.
Straying as softly as a puma,
it will come to Boston
and sit in the Howard Atheneum
up under the non si fuma,
(up in the ceiling with the old men.
With the wrinkles and eyes and tumours.)
Precisely straying like a leopard
or a music, will my ghost
visit queerly the naked girls who
wiggle at the end of second avenue
in the Burlesque . . .
[ANOTHER NOTE FROM DAVID - cummings MENTIONS THE OLD HOWARD IN ANOTHER POEM TITLED "humanity i love you" THAT WAS FOUND AT A SITE RUN BY THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO. HERE IT IS, IN ITS ENTIRETY:]
Humanity i love you
because you would rather black the boots of
success than enquire whose soul dangles from his
watch-chain which would be embarrassing for both
parties and because you
unflinchingly applaud all
songs containing the words country home and
mother when sung at the old howard
Humanity i love you because
when you're hard up you pawn your
intelligence to buy a drink and when
you're flush pride keeps
you from the pawn shop and
because you are continually committing
nuisances but more
especially in your own house
Humanity i love you because you
are perpetually putting the secret of
life in your pants and forgetting
it's there and sitting down
and because you are
forever making poems in the lap
of death Humanity
i hate you
I GREW UP IN BOSTON AND SCOLLAY SQUARE WAS MY SHOE SHINE GROUNDS...I USED TO STAND OUTSIDE OF THE RIALTO THEATER...AND THE SILVER DOLLAR TO SHINE SHOES...FOR 25 CENTS.NOT TO MENTION A PLACE WHERE MY MOTHER PERFORMED AS A ACCORDIAN PLAYER...BILLS HUB BARBQUE...RIGHT NEXT TO THE RIALTO...MANY A NITE I WOULD GO INSIDE THE HUB BARBQUE TO WATCH MOM PLAY...AND SHINE SHOES AT THE SAME TIME...I ALSO WORKED AS A PIN BOY AT THE BOWLING ALLEYS JUST BELOW THE RIALTO THEATER...THERE WAS ALSO SOME COLORFUL PEOPLE,,ONE I CAN RECALL WAS A FELLOW THAT SOLD THE RECORD AMERICAN AND THE GLOBE OUTSIDE OF THE SCOLLAY MTA STATION IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SQUARE HIS NICKNAME WAS "JIMMY PUSH PUSH". HE WAS SORT OF A THREE STOOGISH TYPE PERSON...RESEMBLING CURLY. AND I ALSO REMEMBER..NOT AS FAMOUS "BOWDIN SQUARE. BECAUSE I USED TO HANG AROUND THE BOWDIN SQUARE FIRE STATION ALL THE TIME. AND ALSO THE BOWDIN SQUARE THEATER WHERE I SAW MY FIRST HORROR FLIK...THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL...GETTING BACK TO SCOLLAY SQUARE...MY FATHER WAS A CHEF AT THE OLD PATTENS RESTAURANT ON THAT SIDE STREET WHERE THE STEAMING TEA KETTLE IS...
My dad (who was known as Snuffy) was a boxer - the featherweight champ of N.E. back in the 1930's. He was known as Dominic (when he was the fighter). He had to use his brother's name to fight because at the time he wasn't old enought to fight by the boxing commissions regulations! He fought at the Boston Garden, Boston Arena, etc. My dad was very well known and loved in the North End. Grandma owned apartment buildings on Stillman Street there and we used to go to visit every weekend and look forward to checking out the markets and carts selling fruits, veggies and our favorites, roasted peanuts and cooked crabs!!! We'd walk down the street and people would yell out from everywhere, " hey Snuffy". I was so so proud of him!!!! Oh well, so much for the past, it's gone and so is Scollay square, I thank God for the memories and only wish kids nowadays had the same opportunity to enjoy that quality of life! Eleanor
(Eleanor and Donald are responsible for the Howard poster featuring Edwin Booth on the HISTORY page)
I loved looking at the photos and reading all the stories. I remember Scollay Square in the mid 50's because my farther had a restaurant at 100 Tremont St., the Coach Grill. I used to come up the escalator from the subway and walk right up to get some candy at the news stand then go to Eric Fuch's hobby store ( go in and look at all the trains,) walk past Cobbs Restaurant, and when I returned to Scollay Square for the return train ride to East Boston I would run down the old wooden (up) escalator to avoid paying the fare. I love those days.
I WAS YOUNG IN THE LATE FORTIES AND EARLY FIFTIES....BUT I UNDERSTAND MY UNCLE....WHO WAS NAMED 'NATHANIEL RECINA'..... WAS CALLED...'THE MAYOR OF SCOLLAY SQUARE'..... HE COULD DO ALMOST ANYTHING...AND WAS PROUD TO CALL HIM MY UNCLE...... HE MARRIED MY MOTHER'S SISTER ELEANOR AND HAD A CUTE DAUGHTER 'JEANNETTE'....WHO LOOKS JUST LIKE HIM.... IS THERE ANY ARCHIVE ON MY UNCLE....JUST LOOKING FOR VALIDITY... Really would appreciate any feedback on Natty Recina... Thanks... EMAIL Frank by clicking here
Artist John Wood was kind enough to share with me this wonderful painting of Scollay Square
he recent;y completed. It's so good, I can practically smell the hot dogs... Thanks, John!
This picture comes, from all places, Castle Island. It is part of a collection of old Boston photographs on display at Sullivan's (great French Fries there!) which is located near the fort.
The patriotic bunting draped over some of Tremont Row suggests a Fourth of July celebration or the grand opening of a business. The pick-up truck tells us that we're well into the era of the auto and the style of clothes - dig the feathered hat on the woman near the kiosk - suggests the photo was taken before World War One.
Next comes a photo sent to us by Bev, another which we've never seen. Taken from Pemberton Square, we can see the subway kiosk and, across the street, the Sears Crescent building: But what makes this such a great picture is the horse drawn fire truck, with the horses seemingly in full gallop. Our friend Chris, a fireman in a local town, wrote that the fire apparatus is a "Water Tower" He believes it is a Kansas City FD model of 1890 (55 ft) or the American LaFrance model of 1912 (65 ft.) Chris wrote that "both were motorized in 1915-1916 with American-British tractors, and received chassis mounted deck guns. If I were a betting man, I would go with the LaFrance."
Thanks, Beverly, for sending this great photo!
Acquired from an eBay auction in the summer of 2007 is a photo taken from a family album. We see the Scollay Square subway station, surrounded by the newsboys who used to gather there to collect their papers before setting off to "hawk" them at city corners. This gathering point was known to the paperboys as "the Canada Point"
(What does "Canada Point" mean? See this web site for an explanation.)
From a 1906 guide book of Boston, this really fine aerial view of Scollay Square, probably from Pemberton Square, looking north. Down Brattle Street, on the left, we can see the Quincy House and on the right, down Court Street, is Young's Hotel. The Sears Crescent Building, on Cornhill, anchors the center of this picture.
We just LOVE eBay, where heretofore unknown items related to Scollay Square show up - like this article from the November 1948 issue of Sport Life Magazine, on Earl Torgeson of the Boston Braves, which was titled THE EARL OF Scollay Square.
Funny thing is, there is no mention of Scollay Square anywhere in the article. It would seem to have been used by author Bob Holbrook as the headline for the piece on Torgeson simply because he was playing in Boston and - even though he was only in his second year in the majors (see his whole career record here) - Torgeson had already developed a reputation as a character.
Here's another recent eBay find. It's an October, 1898 issue of "The Youth's Companion," a large format magazine that featured an article (click here to read the entire piece) on the building of Boston's subway system, quite a feat of engineering for its day. The cover, as you can see here, featured the Scollay Square subway kiosk.
A third eBay story: a Boston area resident was selling a lot of antique items, one of which was the following photograph, what appears to be a First Holy Communion portrait of a mother and daughter. As you can see from the magnification at the bottom, the photo was taken at one of the many photo studios in Scollay Square, proving, if nothing else, that they weren't just for sailors on leave!
Last eBay story, for now, is about an item we didn't win but which we have a picture. It's an amazing view of Scollay Square in 1876, showing what we surmise was a Centennial Parade as it wound its way through Boston.
A kind reader sent us this never-before-seen 1930s image of
Tremont Row, apparently taken from the Crawford House.
Click on the image to see the full-size high-res scan.
A really fine view of Tremont Row in the 1930s, taken by Leslie Jones (BPL)
The Harvard boys LOVED Scollay Square, as indicated in this 1951 Crimson article titled "Saturday Night in Scollay Square: Burlies, Girlies, Bars, and Bums"
Another visitor sent us the following image, with the question:
What are these two bears doing in Scollay Square?
The answer is that this page was from a book called "The Roosevelt
Bears: Their Travels and Adventure," originally published in 1906.
LOOK WHO VISITED SCOLLAY SQUARE!
Recognize the man in the car heading up Hanover Street towards Scollay Square?
If you said General Dwight D. Eisenhower, you'd be right. And isn't it appropriate
after all those soldiers and sailors under his command visited the Square,
that the Supreme Allied Commander in World War Two do the same?
One of the most acclaimed American etchers of the early twentieth century was Dwight Case Sturges, who was born in Melrose and studied at the Cowles Art School in Boston. Sturges made this etching of Scollay Square probably in either 1912 or 1913, when the subway line from East Boston was extended to Bowdoin Square and points north.
The alley between Brattle and Cornhill, sometime in the late 1950s. The Brattle Bookstore had yet
to make it's first of many moves around the Square to avoid the wrecking ball.
You can't say that the people at the Social Law Library at the John Adams Courthouse in Pemberton Square (where I gave my Scollay Square speech several years ago) have forgotten their roots. This is the cover to their 1996 annual report; a really fine painting of Scollay Square in the 1950s.
A fantastic photograph of the Square taken on September 19 1945, just 17 days after the
official end of World War Two. The Square would never be the same...
Patrick is the Great-Grandson of one of the proprietors of the Coleman & Keating bottling company, which was located, as the imprint on these bottles indicate, Sudbury Street in Scollay Square. Coleman & Keating figure in the story of Boston Police Strike of 1919, as one of the places where criminals took advantage of the city which was, for a few nights, without protection. Thank you, Patrick, for the photo.
In Boston's Transportation Building, near the Theater District, is a splendid mural of Boston landmarks from the present and past. How surprised - and delighted - we were to see this rendering of the facade of the Theater Comique, which was located on Tremont Row and was, when it opened in 1906, the first theater in Boston built expressly for showing motion pictures.
You never know where you will run into Scollay Square.