Always Something Doing and Scollay Square may be the only non-fiction books devoted to Scollay Square, but there have been plenty of others, both fiction and non-fiction, in which the Square makes an appearance. (Several sources were used for this page. Gerald Richman at Suffolk College assembled a rather extensive list of fiction set in Boston. A Google Books list search on Scollay Square will return dozens of pages of results, as will a search at Amazon.com.)
Going to start off with something fun that was found by a friend in January 2019: When the authors of the American Heritage College Dictionary needed a photo to accompany the entry for "demolition," look what they chose!
(Courtesy New American Heritage Dictionary (c)2000)
John Updike, Robert Parker, Dennis Lehane and dozens of other best-selling authors have found Scollay Square grist for their creative mills. Here are just some of the works of fiction that also include Scollay Square as part of (in some cases almost entirely) the narrative:
Aiken, Conrad. King Coffin (New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1935) From page 123: "...the little man once again advanced to Tremont Street, once more resumed his interrupted journey to Scollay Square..."
Connelly, John. The Burning Soul (New York: Atria/Emily Bestler Books, 2016) A new find, this prolific author wove Scollay Square - and it's replacement, Government Center, in his latest thriller. From Google Books, here is page 154:
Dos Passos, John. 1919 (New York: Washington Square Press 1961) From page 101: " 'Fellow has to do a lotta damn fool things, Dick.' 'But people like that... picking up a salior in Scollay Square... so damn risky,' he said weakly."
Eaton, Seymour. The Roosevelt Bears: Their Travels and Adventures (Philadelphia: E. Stern., 1906)
Forbes, Stanton. Dead by the Light of the Moon (Garden City, N.Y.: Published for the Crime Club by Doubleday, 1967) On page 114, Forbes uses a lifeless corpse as an analogy for the city lost to urban remewal: "..the bloodless body of a bum, when there was a Scollay Square before they tore it down to build sky-high buildings; a bum lying dead in the gutter, dead for his shoes..."
Gallant-Simpson, Cynthia. Sinister Images on a Square Screen: A Murder Mystery Set in Scollay Square, Boston Circa 1920-24 (Cgs Books, 2008)
Lehane, Dennis Lehane is a local boy who seems unable to get enough of Scollay Square, as amply demonstrated three of his novels...
- Darkness, Take My Hand (Patrick Kenzie/Angela Gennaro Novels) (Harper-Collins, 1997) Scollay Square makes a brief appearance on page 140 of this crime drama, but it is strangely anachronistic (especially given Lehane's attention to local details in his work) as it describes the finding of a body in a "flop house in old Scollay Square in September of seventy-three." Unless Lehane meant 1873 that wasn't possible since the Square - and all the flop houses - were gone by 1962.
- The Given Day (Harper-Collins, 2008) In this novel Lehane goes back in time to the Boston Police Strike, providing a graphic description of the events in Scollay Square, including the charge of the cavalry used to break up the mob that had been destroying property in the area.
- Sacred (Harper-Collins, 1998) Here, Lehane uses his knowledge of the Square and its relation to other neighborhoods to full advantage on page 135: "The West End had looked a lot like the North End, if a bit dustier and dingier in places due to its proximity to the red-light districts of Scollay Square and North Station. The Red Light districts are gone now, as is the West End, as are most pedestrians after five o-clock."
Martin, William. Back Bay. New York: Crown, 1979
McKenna, Richard. The Sand Pebbles, 1963
McKenna gives us a superb example of Scollay Square as portrayed in fiction. Before it was a movie, the Sand Pebbles was first a best-selling book, published in 1963. We pick up the story from Chapter 32 just as a man joins the Sand Pebbles (the sailors from the gunboat San Pablo) at their table in a Far East bar....
The man draped his white scarf on the back of the chair and sat down. He unbuttoned his overcoat and put a full bottle of White Horse on the table.
"It's whiskey weather tonight, fellers," he said. "I'm Don Fahey. Call me Don. What the hell, I'm South Boston Irish and I belong in this kind of place."
"Arf! Arf! Red Dog said. "Scollay Square!"
"Revere Beach! You're a Mick yerself!"
"Red Dog Bite 'em-in-the-ass Shanahan at your service!"
Author Richard McKenna clearly captured the spirit of Boston sailors far from home.
Parker, Robert B. Promised Land (A Spenser Novel) (1992) Parker's Spencer plied his trade long after the Square had been razed, in this book he mentions it in passing:
“Kinjo’s bounty,” I said. “What are you buying with it, a boat? I bet it’s a boat.”
Connor’s tie flew away from his chest and he yanked it down and stuck it under his lapel. He looked around us again. “Shut the hell up.”
“Makes you miss Scollay Square,” I said. “The criminals were more honest.”
Pipkin, John Woodsburner: A Novel (Doubleday, 2009). Google Books provides us with the references in this story that is set against the backdrop of a devastating forest fire that Henry David Thoreau accidentally set in 1844....
Purdy, Douglas Graham and Thomas O'Malley Serpents in the Cold (Boston: Mulholland Books, 2015) These two fellows have had several books published (We Were Kings, The Cold Bites are two others) that all seem to be set in Boston in the early 1950s. No surprise that they cannot write of this era without mentioning Scollay Square. The fun bit about The Cold Bites is that apparently it was published only in French! But even with my poor high-school French I can still recognize the places they reference (and I'm sure that you can, too!)
Savage, Sam Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife (Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 2006) An interesting book in which the era of redevelopment and the destruction of Scollay Square is seen through the eyes of a rat who lives in a bookstore in the dying Square.
Schiff, Pearl Scollay Square (New York: Rinehart, 1952) Ms. Schiff was a resident of Beacon Hill who told me that she was forbidden by her mother from visiting the Square when growing up, but after her marriage she and her husband would frequent the bars and restaurants as part of hre research for what would be a New York Times bestseller in 1953!
Segal, Erich The Class (New York: Bantam 1985) The "Love Story" author returned to Harvard to tell the fictional story of the class of 1958. Unfortunately - and I hate to keep pointing out mistakes - but as you can read in the excerpt below (a screen grab from Google Books) Segal has his protagonist going to the Old Howard in 1954, over a year after the venerable theater was closed by the city. Nice that he used "Irma the Body" as the performer, especially since it was her bump and grind that was captured on film by the Vice Squad!
The works of non-fiction that include references to Scollay Square (in some cases citing one of David's books on the Square) numbers over 900, and the authors are indeed a diverse bunch that includes Sylvia Plath and Jack Kerouac along with Thomas O'Connor and James Howard Kunstler. A few examples are listed below, but you also might want to try Google Books and Amazon.com
Allen, Fred Much Ado About Me (Little,Brown 1956) Read the entire chapter on Scollay Square HERE
Bergen, Philip and The Bostonian Society Old Boston in Early Photographs, 1850-1918: 174 prints from the collection of the Bostonian Society (Courier Dover Publications, 1990)
Connelly, Michael Rebound!: Basketball, Busing, Larry Bird, and the Rebirth of Boston (Voyageur Press, 2010) A fascinating look at Boston during the critical years of the busing crisis. Connelly weaves urban redevelopment, race relations, and the Boston Celtics into a riveting story of a city's resurrection that includes some fascinating details about the redevelopment of Scollay Square. Learn even more on Michael's web site here.
Inman, Arthur Crew (Editor Daniel Aaron) The Inman diary: a public and private confession (Harvard University Press, 1985
Kerouac, Jack On The Road (Viking 40th Anniversary Ed.) Here's the Scollay Square reference, from page 246:
Read more about the excerpt here on the Memories page
"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.
Kerouac, Jack and Burroughs, William S. And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks (Grove Press, 2009) (NOTE: Some consider this early work of theirs fiction, as it is a free-wheeling take on a real-life murder committed by a friend of the then unknown writers)
Kunstler, James Howard The city in mind: meditations on the urban condition (Simon and Schuster, 2003)
Lynch, Kevin The Image of the City (MIT Press, 1973)
Neil Miller Banned in Boston: The Watch and Ward Society’s Crusade against Books, Burlesque, and the Social Evil (Beacon Press, 2010)
O'Connor, Thomas H. Building a New Boston: Politics and Urban Renewal, 1950-1970 (UPNE, 1995) Read Dr. O'Connor's terrific chapter on the redevelopment of Scollay Square into Government Center (which includes some wonderful insights into the political process that was - and is - Boston) HERE.
Perkins, David The Eureka Effect: The Art and Logic of Breakthrough Thinking (W.W. Norton & Company, 2000) Part psychology, part sociology, and part history book, Dr. Perkins' also presents paradoxes in physics, one of which involves an old friend from Scollay Square...
Plath, Sylvia (Editor Karen V. Kukil) The unabridged journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962 (Random House, Inc., 2000)
Reynolds, Bill Rise of a Dynasty: The '57 Celtics, the First Banner, and the Dawning of a New America (Penguin, 2010) A prolific writer, Reynolds' book on the 1957 Celtics includes a nice summation at the start of Chapter 3 on the state of Scollay Square in the year that the Celtics won their first championship. (It's a fun read for me, as I worked with Johnny Most, who was the Celtics play-by-play announcer back then and when I worked at WRKO in the 1980s)
Shteir, Rachel Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show (Oxford University Press, 2004) I list the book here even though there is still no confirmation of what Ms. Steir wrote on page 240: "Buddy Wade's tap shoes caught fire, the sparks igniting her costume, and she burned to death one night at the Old Howard in Boston." Ms. Shteir is unable to recall the source of the story of this tragedy, nor can she remember the date it is alleged to have occurred, and she is unable to find the notes for this book, so I am asking for if you remember when this incident took place, or if you knew Buddy Wade and can confirm (or deny) the facts of this story, I very much want to hear from you. Please email me today.