"A first-class piece of journalism..." -- David Margolick, Vanity Fair*

Archive for the ‘History’ Category

John Horne Burns: Dissolute Genius

In Boston Individualists, Hidden History, History, LGBT History, Writers on December 10, 2013 at 10:05 pm

Originally published in October/November issue of Boston Spirit Magazine.

At the height of his fame. John Horne Burns

At the height of his fame. John Horne Burns

John Horne Burns was on top of the world.  It was 1947 and his book on World War II, The Gallery, was a smash hit. Gore Vidal told friends that Burns had beaten him to the punch in producing the first great book about the war.  No less than Earnest Hemingway praised the book and its first-time author. At 31, Burns was the toast of literary America.

Just seven years later, Burns was found dead in Italy.  He was broke, friendless, dissipated from drink, and artistically dried up.  Today, he is forgotten.

A recent New York Times story suggested that Burns was the “the great (gay) novelist you’ve never heard of.”  This is why readers of David Margolick’s new biography, Dreadful: The Short Life and Gay Times of John Horne Burns (Other Press, 2013), come away respecting his account of this troubled man for its own sake, but also grateful that an important, if brief, literary life is now saved from oblivion.

Burns came from an upper-middle class Irish Catholic family in Andover, a Boston suburb.  His mother Catherine, was a Smith graduate who suspected she had married beneath her “lace-curtain Irish” status to his father, although he was a Harvard-trained lawyer. Catherine doted on her oldest son from the start. Indeed, it seemed John and his mother stood apart from the rest of the family, poking fun at them while winking to each other.  Perhaps it was this example, set early in life, which caused John to take the outsider’s role of critic, never able to fully join any group. The brittle protection of the sarcastic barb made from the sidelines was a well-known technique of some gay men of the time (and even today).

After graduating from Harvard in 1937, Burns knew he wanted to write but work was a necessity and he found a teaching post at the Loomis School in Windsor, Connecticut. Though some students admired his passionate love of music and literature, Burns was not popular with everyone.  He ignored students who bored him and stood aloof from his fellow teachers whom he saw as minnows in a small fish bowl. Burns comments could be brutal. Gore Vidal would later call him “a monster.”

Burns was drafted in 1941 and although he and his family were pacifists, he was happy to leave Loomis.  At first, he was stationed in Spartanburg, South Carolina.  Young men and his sex life improved considerably now surrounded burns.  Burns wrote letters to a gay student he had become close to at Loomis, David MacMackin, regaling him with stories of life in the service including his sexual liaisons with gay men, whom Burns referred to in jocular code as “dreadfuls.”

Burns was soon shipped overseas and after a couple of stops, landed in Naples.  Fluent in Italian, Burns’s job was to read the outgoing mail of Italian prisoners of war to detect intelligence or coded messages.  As the war was winding down, Burns  fell in love with Naples. His hit book, The Gallery, came from this experience.

The Gallery consisted of nine portraits of men and women whose common thread is a connection to the Galleria Umbreto Primo in Naples, a majestic shopping arcade with a glass roof that was mostly shot out from bombs.  GI’s passed through the Galleria everyday as many Neapolitans do – to shop, meet for espresso, or for intimate assignations in its darkened corners.  The portraits included frank yet mater-of-fact descriptions of gay men and lesbians.  The most notable portrait was of “Momma,” who ran a gay bar for GI’s in one of the storefronts of the Galleria.

After The Gallery was published to rave reviews, Burns suddenly found himself the writer of the moment at a time when novelists enjoyed the acclaim that movie directors have today.  But with the accolades came the pressure to produce another hit book. Burns moved to Boston’s West End to write and to frequent nearby gay bars in Scollay Square.  His second novel, Lucifer With a Book was a searing satire of prep school life with characters closely based on his former Loomis colleagues.  The book bombed with the critics. Despite the book’s good sales, Burns was devastated by the critical reaction and he decided to return to Italy, this time to Florence.

Day after day Burns could be seen drinking at the bar in the Excelsior Hotel in Florence, looking straight ahead and rarely spoke to anyone.  He had always been a heavy drinker but now it turned into a daily drunk.  Despite this, Burns managed to publish a third book A Cry of Children. This time, the critics savaged the book. Charles Lee in The Saturday Review called it an “omnibus of depravity.”  According to David Margolick, “Burns had made himself a target, by being bitchy both in Lucifer With A Book and in his general behavior.”

After spending the day on a boat with his lover and friends, Burns suffered a severe form of sun poisoning which landed him in the hospital. He died several days later.  Did he want to die? Margolick does not think so: “Though Burns was slowly killing himself with drink, I don’t think he wanted to die…he wanted desperately to write something great again. …Even the tone of his last letter, describing the relish with which he was cooking and eating at his seaside resort, suggests he still very much enjoyed life.”

When Earnest Hemingway heard about Burns’s death, he wrote to a friend, “There was a fellow who wrote a fine book and then a stinking book about a prep school and then just blew himself up.”

Lifetime Companions: JFK and Lem Billings

In American History, Gay History, Hidden History, History, LGBT History on November 19, 2013 at 10:35 pm

Jack and Lem by David PittsHere is a bulletin from CBS News. In Dallas, Texas, threeshots were fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade in downtown Dallas. The first reports say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting.

Article originally published in Boston Spirit Magazine October/November 2013

Fifty years ago this month, on the afternoon of November 22, 1963, Lem Billings had just returned from lunch when he heard the news. He was an advertising executive at Lennen and Newell in New York and as he approached his office building at 380 Madison Avenue, Billings saw immediately that something was wrong.  Waves of people rolled out of the building onto the street, some looked confused, others wept. According to David Pitts, author of Jack and Lem: The Untold Story of an Extraordinary Friendship, a face in the crowd approached Billings and said, “I’m so sorry about the president.”

John Kennedy kept many secrets during his lifetime: poor health, drug use, and countless affairs with women. But one secret is still largely unknown today: Kennedy’s oldest and dearest friend, Lemoyne Billings, was a gay man.

Why would Kennedy risk having a gay man as his closest friend? According to Pitts, Ben Bradlee, former executive editor of the Washington Post and JFK friend, said Kennedy thought he could take care of any political damage that might occur, including a possible “outing” of Lem.  “(JFK) thought he could handle anything.”

Lem Billings and Jack Kennedy met as teenagers at Choate, a prep school in Wallingford, Connecticut, where they were boarding students. Neither boy took the rules and traditions of the school very seriously.  Jack was still in the shadow of his older brother, Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. For now, Jack would coast on his considerable charm and goodwill. Lem too, got by academically without too much effort or ambition.

As a teenager, Jack seemed to go from one illness to the next, usually involving stomach and back ailments. In early 1934, while at Choate, Kennedy became seriously ill. According to Billings, Jack had contracted a blood condition that almost took his life. Jack’s mother, Rose, never visited him while at Choate. It was left to Lem to care for Jack, cheering him up, getting him books and talking to him late into the night.  “We used to joke about the fact that if I ever write a biography, I would call it John F. Kennedy, A Medical History.  At one time or another, he really did have almost every medical problem – take any illness Jack Kennedy had it, Lem recalled later. This intimate caretaking, when both boys were away from parents, was a major factor in their lifelong loyalty to each other.

There was however, one problem, Lem was falling in love with Jack.  By senior year, they were roommates and Lem’s desire for Jack was too powerful for him to ignore.  He wanted to tell Kennedy but didn’t know how. Pitts describes what happened next: “There was an unspoken tradition at Choate …boys who wanted sexual activity with other boys…exchanged notes written on toilet paper…Toilet paper was used because it could be swallowed or easily discarded to eliminate any paper trail.”  Lem sent the toilet paper note. Jack wasn’t interested. While was recovering from another illness at a hospital in Rochester, Jack sent a letter to Lem full of news about his medical condition. Almost as an aside, he included the following line, “Please don’t write to me on toilet paper anymore. I am not that kind of boy.”

Kennedy’s rejection failed to cause even the smallest change in their relationship.  As far as anyone knows, the matter was never discussed again.

Given John Kennedy’s powerful attraction to women, it is noteworthy that all of his closest friendships were with men. “We don’t really have a word for that…for a man who relates to one sex sexually but the other emotionally. Of course, this was a time when women were seen as sex objects, perhaps it was not that unusual at the time to use women for sexual purposes and discount them in other ways,” says Pitts.

When Jack married Jackie Kennedy, Lem was never far away. Though they developed a warm relationship, it sometimes frustrated Jackie that she had to share her husband with Lem. Even in the White House, he had his own room and often showed up unannounced on weekends. His presence was a tonic for Jack, who almost never discussed politics with Lem, instead, they laughed and gossiped.  When Jackie declined to go on foreign trips Lem went along as he did to Berlin when Jack made his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech.

Lem was extremely careful to hide any sexual encounters he had in order to protect the president. While he had lovers, there is no evidence of a long term relationship.

Even though his romantic feelings were never requited, Lem’s devotion to Jack remained complete until the day of the assassination. BU Professor James Whalen calls Lem’s life a cautionary tale, “If you devote your life entirely to someone else, is it worth the price, I would argue, no.”

Prescott Townsend: The Brahmin Who Became A Gay Rights Pioneer

In American History, Boston Individualists, Gay History, Hidden History, History, LGBT History, Provincetown on October 6, 2013 at 11:32 am

This story first ran in the September/October 2013 issue of Boston Spirit magazine.

by Mark Krone

Young Prescott Townsend_web.jpg

Townsend during World War I

Prescott Townsend may be the most influential Boston gay rights pioneer you have never heard of. If so, hang on; before we’re through, Townsend will cross paths with Andre Gide, 1960s hippies, John Waters and his star, Mink Stole. And that’s not counting the army of young men who lived with him on Beacon Hill and in Provincetown, as long as their waist sizes hovered very close to 30-inches.

Born in 1894, Townsend was Brahmin from head to toe. He claimed relation to no fewer than 23 Mayflower passengers and bragged that his third great-great grandfather signed the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. Author Douglass Shand-Tucci quotes a sardonic Townsend who referred to this relative as “the only man to be so inconsistent.”

Townsend’s early life followed a prescribed Brahmin path of prep school, Harvard, and military service. That path soon veered sensationally.

At Harvard, he had his first homosexual encounter “with a polo player.” Restless after graduation, Townsend decided to travel in search of a more vital world. He worked at a logging camp out west where he lived among men who seemed not to miss the company of women. That some of them were members of the Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies), which opposed capitalism must have influenced Townsend, though he was never particularly sympathetic to organized labor and was a lifelong Republican.
Returning to Boston, Townsend moved to Beacon Hill where he met Elliot Paul, an experimental theater producer. Writer, Lucius Beebe, a contemporary of Townsend’s, described Paul as the quintessential 1920s Bohemian who wore a Van Dyke beard and favored broad-brimmed hats. He and Townsend quickly became inseparable. Together, they created The Barn Experimental Theatre in 1922. Townsend’s steady if modest trust income came in handy. Beacon Hill during the Roaring Twenties bristled with Bohemian culture.

Soon, Townsend and Paul traveled to the tip of Cape Cod were they met members of the Provincetown Players, who were also staging avant-garde productions, including those of Eugene O’Neill, that helped create modern American drama. If O’Neill and Townsend ever met is not known, but he became friendly with other members of the group, including journalist, Mary Heaton Vorse and playwright, Susan Glaspell. Again, Townsend’s trust fund was tapped. Adrian Cathcart, Townsend’s authorized biographer, noted that Vorse “gave (Townsend) to know in no uncertain terms, just how his money could best be spent.”
Townsend loved to travel. In the early 1920s, he and Elliot Paul visited Paris, which was at its Bohemian peak. Since Paul already knew Gertrude Stein, Picasso and Earnest Hemingway, it is impossible to imagine that Townsend failed to meet them. But for Townsend, his most significant encounter was with André Gide. Since coming out in print in 1926, Gide was already known as a potential successor to Oscar Wilde. Years later, Townsend claimed that Gide had presented him with a Bedouin cloak first owned by T.E. Lawrence.

During the 1930s, Townsend entered history by testifying at the State House for a gay rights bill. As a Brahmin, he was politely received but swiftly dismissed. He was back the next year and the next after that, meeting with the same polite indifference. The Depression did not slow Townsend down. He opened several “tea rooms” on Beacon Hill: the Joy Barn, the Brick Oven, and the Saracen’s Head. Though he had no license, liquor was served discreetly.

The year 1943 marked another turning point for Townsend. He was arrested for “committing an unnatural and lascivious act” and sentenced to 18 months hard labor at Deer Island House of Correction. As it turned out, he was released on VJ Day. He said later, when he saw the celebrations in town, he thought they were for him. This arrest severed ties with most members of his family and got him thrown out of the Social Register, which delighted him.

In the 1950s, Townsend started the Boston chapter of the Mattachine Society, the first national gay rights organization that had began in Los Angeles under Harry Hay. He organized meetings, wrote letters and subscribed to One Magazine, an early gay publication. He also developed his “Snowflake Theory” which essentially posited that a person’s sexuality is as unique to them as one snowflake is to another.

When the 1960s arrived, Townsend enthusiastically welcomed hippies and runaways to his Lindall Place and Phillips Street buildings and his house made of driftwood in Provincetown, called “Provincetownsend.” Joe McGrath recently recounted a story from his time as “one of the boys.” At 15, he had gone to Provincetown in the summer of 1962 with some friends. Somehow, he had gotten separated from them. Without enough money to get back home, he sat dejectedly on a bench front of Town Hall when another young man approached him. “He asked me why I looked so sad and I told him my story. He said, ‘I know where you can stay for 35 cents a night.’ He took me to Prescott’s place. When I got there, Prescott welcomed me and showed me to the second floor where I slept.” There were always boys coming and going. A few years later, John Waters met his future star, Mink Stole, who was staying at Provincetonsend. Waters later described the house and its occupants as “a lunatic Swiss Family Robinson,” meaning of course, that he loved it.

In his last years, Townsend’s adamant eccentricity began to backfire. Hustlers and drug addicts replaced the arty young men who had for so long delighted him. In 1968, “Provincetownsend” burned to the ground, some say, suspiciously. His Beacon Hill buildings, which for years, had failed to meet city code, were also destroyed by fire. With nowhere to live, Townsend moved to a friend’s apartment where in 1973, he was found dead near his bed, in a kneeling position.

Prescott Townsend’s death effectively ended the Boston branch of Bohemia. Power politics had replaced the satiny metaphors and masked allusions of art that had sustained, but failed to protect, LGBT people for generations. [x]

Meet Me at Trafton’s

In Boston Individualists, Celebrities, Hidden History, History, Uncategorized on May 5, 2013 at 3:42 pm
August 31, 1967. Judy Garland performs on Boston Common

August 31, 1967. Judy Garland performs on Boston Common. Boston Globe reported crowd at 100,000.

 

Published in Boston Spirit Magazine, May/June 2013

Here’s one:  Judy Garland, Anthony Perkins and Liberace walk into a bar…

The bar was Charles Trafton’s place on St. Botolph Street, one of the most colorful and storied after-hours places in Boston. Through the years, it attracted sailors and stars, including Judy Garland, Liberace, Anthony Perkins, and a slew of bartenders and theater people who just did not want to go home.  For sheer stamina, Trafton was without peer.  Alone, he ran the illegal operation from his kitchen seven nights a week from the mid-1940s to the early 1990s.  The Boston police, to whom he made payments, raided him regularly, but perfunctorily.

Charles Edward Trafton was born in New Hampshire around 1913 and moved to New York City in the 1930s to become a dancer and chorus member.  At a little over five feet tall and reed-thin, Trafton resembled a sprite with wavy blond hair and large blues eyes.  He soon found steady work performing in operettas and dance productions along the Eastern seaboard.  He met and briefly roomed with actor Gene Barry, when they performed in Rosalinda and The Merry Widow.  The night of January 24, 1944, must have glowed for Trafton as he and Barry opened in Rosalinda, produced by Max Reinhardt, at the Schubert Theatre in Boston.   The History Project, Boston’s LGBT archive, has a rave review of that night’s performance.

What led Trafton to retire from dancing in the mid-1940s to open an after- hours bar is unknown.  As an ex-dancer, he may not have had other marketable skills.  An after-hours operation allowed him time and money to attend opera productions and plays in Boston and to earn a steady income while socializing with fellow gay people.  By all reports, Trafton was a unique character who created a world that adjusted to him and not the other way around.

Not everyone liked Trafton.  He was opinionated and grandiose.  Bill Conrad, who worked at many local gay bars in the 1970s, recently recalled their falling out. “I don’t even remember what it was over. It was kind of too bad because we had a lot of interests in common.” Jeffrey Miller, who worked at the 1270 disco and runs the “1270 Boston” Facebook page, saw a kind side.  He recalls Trafton taking gay men into his rooming house and lending them money.  “He took in lost souls and looked after people.”

During World War II, Trafton acquired a townhouse of single rooms at 124 St. Botolph Street where he rented only to gay men, according to his friend, Stephen Nichols. His bar patrons sat at a long oak table in the kitchen, listening to opera and Broadway show tunes (Trafton strictly controlled the music). The entrance was in the back alley where a row of trashcans were lined up near the door (to some, Trafton was known as “Charley Trashcan,” much to his disapproval).  Early on, patrons were mostly sailors and theatre people.  Later, when gay bars sprang up in the 1970s, Trafton’s clientele was mostly staff from The 1270, Sporters, and Buddies.

In a recent phone conversation, Nichols recalled meeting Trafton for the first time. “I was a doorman at Sporters and Trafton came in one night with Jimmy Boynton and Michael Buckley. Buckley talked like Tallulah (Bankhead), a real flamboyant queen.  He says to me, ‘Stephen dahling, I want you to meet Charles Trafton.’ There was this diminutive man, in his 60’s with wavy white hair and those thyroid eyes that looked like they would pop out of his head. He had this flowery shirt, open to the navel. He extended his hand to be kissed, saying ‘charmed to meet you.’ I was 26 at the time and I thought, this is a hoot.”

According to Nichols, Trafton ran a tight ship.  “Your hands had to be on the table. If you came in with a date, you couldn’t hold hands or put your arm on his shoulder.  And no kissing.  Charles would always say, “Don’t fool around. We don’t do things like that here.”

Not everyone obeyed, however.  When Liberace  (Lee to his friends) came to Boston to perform about once a year, he would arrive at Trafton’s with a “pretty boy.” “Charles would tell Lee not to grope his friend and keep his hands above the table but he never listened. One time Lee got so sloshed, Charles had to put him to bed. He let Lee sleep it off until 8 am and then put him in a cab back to his hotel. Charles said after a performance, Judy Garland would go to the Napoleon Club and then to his place. Tony Perkins liked to dance at a gay club and then went to Trafton’s.  They all got sloshed.”

When Trafton first told Nichols about his famous patrons, Nichols made the mistake of expressing skepticism.  Out came a photo album with pictures of the stars sitting at the very same table where Nichols sat.  “Do you recognize the sink, do you recognize the table, (pointing to Garland) do you recognize her,” asked Trafton.

One night there was a knock at the door.  “Charles always knew it was the cops because they knocked instead if using the door bell.  All of the drinks were put away.  He opened the door, in walks a young cop.  Obviously, they knew each other and the cop says, ‘Oh, come on Charley,’ as if to say where are you hiding the drinks?  So, Charles said to us, ‘I’ll get my coat. Hold down the fort, I’ll be back.’ He was sashaying back into the kitchen within 90 minutes and said, ‘I’ll have to raise my drink prices for a month’ (to make up for the payment he had made).”

For all his individuality, perhaps Trafton was not much different from other gay men of his era.  He kept a low profile in the straight world but let loose within the safety of his bar.  “Charles loved the spotlight incognito.  In his kitchen, he was the center of attention, but on the street he wanted anonymity,” says Jeffrey Miller.

By the late 1980s, Stephen Nichols had quit drinking and hadn’t been to Trafton’s place in several years.  They bumped into each other at the old Star Market in the Prudential Center in the early 1990s. “He (Trafton) was looking fragile.  I told him the only reason I had not been in to see him was because I stopped drinking and went to bed early.  He told me to come on over anyway, just call ahead.  The man was one of a kind. He was up and serving right up to his final illness.  We won’t see anyone like him again.”

Rudy Kikel: Boston Poet Who Influenced How A Generation Saw Itself

In Boston Individualists, Hidden History, History, Reading, Writers on March 2, 2013 at 1:51 pm

DSC_0192Published in Boston Spirit Magazine January/February 2013

Before gay rights, there was gay writing.  Author Christopher Bram wrote recently that “the gay revolution began as a literary revolution.”

In Boston, no gay male writer has had more influence or staying power than poet, Rudy Kikel. Publishers Weekly called his work “in the tradition of Oscar Wilde, stylish, elegant, and clever.”  In 1992, Kikel won a Cultural Achievement Award from the Greater Boston Lesbian/Gay Political Alliance. In 1997, he won the Grolier Award for poetry.  He has published five books of poetry and edited two collections.

Kikel’s work is autobiographical and strikingly personal.  While gay men recognize themselves in the details (cruising, coming out) Kikel also addresses universal themes: school, dates, parental relations and finding one’s own path.  His poems are so accessible, it is easy to miss the double meanings and careful structure.  For example, in “Show Dancing,” Kikel reveals how he and an ostensibly straight member of his college fraternity, often ditched their dates early in the evening for quiet encounters together.

…(dates) had been deposited

at their homes, talks in the blue

sedan would ensue, during which

Bob’s hands would be innocently

called into play upon your

person — or your nerves — as on

a musical instrument…

Kikel’s poems consist of alternating lines of seven and eight syllables.  The lines roll along with ease of sound and meaning but the small variation in syllables prod the reader to look deeper.  Critic George Klawitter has dubbed these metered lines, “kikels,” in Rudy’s honor.

Although not overtly political, Kikel’s poems fostered an emerging gay identity. Scholar Michael Bronski met Kikel in the late 1970s.  Bronski stands by a statement he made in a 2004 interview, “…while other people who saw themselves as artists were adamant in always distancing themselves from any political movement, Rudy saw his art as part of – I don’t know whether he’d use this word – part of the enormous upsurge of gay literature.”

Born in Brooklyn in 1942 of immigrant parents, Kikel came from a family of outsiders.  His parents came from Gottschee, a tiny province in what is now Slovenia.  Gottscheers are a distinct ethnic and linguistic group whose dialect resembles medieval German.  Over the centuries Gottschee was invaded by Turks, occupied by Napoleon, and swallowed up by Yugoslavia.  This outsider perspective served Kikel as a gay poet.

After attending Catholic schools, Kikel entered St. John’s University in Queens, NY in 1960. On the outside, he was a conventional student majoring in English.  He joined a fraternity and had a girl friend.  But on weekend nights, he frequented gay bars in nearby Jackson Heights and on Long Island.  It was around this time that he brought his sister (his only sibling) to a gay bar called the Hayloft.  He wanted to introduce her to his other life.  When she saw Rudy kiss another boy, she cried and ran out of the bar.  Later, she called him a “faggot” in front of their parents who had no idea what the word meant.

After college, Kikel earned a master’s degree from Penn State and in 1975, he completed a PhD in English from Harvard. He taught at Suffolk University for a short time but disliked it and soon quit.  He moved to an apartment on Charles Street on Beacon Hill where he became the building’s superintendent, while he wrote poetry.

For Kikel, the 1970s were filled with bars, sex, and dinner parties.  He was still writing and hanging out with other writers.  Kikel still recalls the night he attended a party on Beacon Hill at which the late writer Paul Monette, famously met his future partner Roger Horowitz.  (Monette wrote about the meeting in Becoming A Man: Half A Life Story). As they left the party, Monette turned to Horowitz and said, “Welcome to the rest of your life.”

By 1983, Kikel was ready for a change.  He wanted to move to New York City to be closer to family and to ramp up his sex life at the clubs along the Hudson, including a favorite, the Mineshaft, which even by the standards of the time, was notorious.

But as Kikel prepared to leave, local entrepreneur, Sasha Alyson asked him to stay.  Allyson was starting a gay weekly newspaper focusing on local news from a mainstream progressive perspective.  The other gay paper in town, Gay Community News, founded in 1973, had a national focus with a militant tilt. Alyson’s newspaper became Bay Windows, New England’s weekly GLBT newspaper, which will turn 30 years old this year.  Allyson ultimately convinced Kikel to remain in Boston, a decision Kikel says may have kept him from succumbing to the AIDS epidemic that took many lives, including his lover Craig Rowland who died in 1991.

Alyson, who now lives in Southeast Asia, recently recalled a brain storming session with Kikel about the naming of the new paper. “(Rudy and I) looked through a list of words and phrases associated with Boston and came upon “bay windows.”  Kikel argued that in addition to being a familiar Boston architectural element, “bay windows” suggested multiple views on Boston’s GLBT community.  The name stuck.  Kikel served as the paper’s arts and entertainment editor for many years.

Slowed by illness in recent years, Kikel’s sense of humor is undiminished.  When asked where he met his husband, Sterling Giles (they married in February 2012), Kikel eyes brighten and he laughs quietly, “We met on the Esplanade about 25 years ago – during the day!” Long seen as a night time gay cruising area, the Esplanade runs along the Charles River.  Life in the shadows was never for him.

Cold Case

In Hidden History, History on June 17, 2011 at 9:34 pm

Samian ware pot. Roman Museum in Butchery Lane, Canterbury, Kent .

In 2009, archaeologists working on a Roman settlement in Kent, (England) found the body of a young woman who’d been bludgeoned to death at the time of the Roman settlement, about 50 A.D.  They speculate that she was put to work while the Romans were in residence but when they moved, her use to them ended. The Romans had a habit of burying their trash. Sadly, this is where they dumped the body of the young woman.  The Kent Archaeological Field School was in charge of the excavation.  I’ve checked their website and cannot find more information on this tragedy.  See the entire story here.

The closest I’ve come to a Roman settlement is London. In 1990, I spent two weeks in London with my late mother.  The plane touched down about 8:30 a.m. London time and by 10:00 a.m. we were seated in a double decker sightseeing bus, groggy but thrilled.  I recall the bus slowing as it approached a section of the London Wall near The Tower of London.  Built by the Romans around 200 A.D., the London Wall formed a perimeter around the original City of London, which only encompasses the financial district today. What I recall most were the bullet holes in the London Wall left by German aircraft in World War II, as pointed out by the driver.

In human artifacts, aggression is recorded, even if specific crimes remain unsolved.

What Paul Revere Did That Night

In History, Politics on June 10, 2011 at 6:30 pm

Revere's Account. Mass Historical Society

While in New Hampshire on an early tryout for the presidency or a TV show, Sarah Palin recently spoke of Paul Revere’s ride.  With unwarranted self-confidence, she mentioned at least twice that Revere rang a bell (he did not).

While in New Hampshire, is it possible that she had just seen one of those 1950s motel lobby murals of Revere on a horse, holding a bell?   Perhaps she decided on the spot to fill her void with that visual impression. There is freedom in open spaces, as she reminds us often.

Sensing a talking point opportunity, she also said Revere was riding to stop the British from “taking away our guns” (he wasn’t). Most curious was her assertion that Revere was “warning the British,” which is an odd thing for a colonial patriot to do.

Here is what Revere said he was up to that night.  Longfellow’s poem obscures how dangerous the mission was.

 I set off upon a very good Horse; it was then about 11 o’Clock, & very pleasant. After I had passed Charlestown Neck, & got nearly opposite where Mark was hung in chains, I saw two men on Horse back, under a Tree.

When I got near them, I discovered they were British officer.
One tryed to git a head of Me, & the other to take me. I turned
my Horse very quick, & Galloped towards Charlestown neck,
and then pushed for the Medford Road. The one who chased
me, endeavoring to Cut me off, got into a Clay pond, near
where the new Tavern is now built. I got clear of him, 


and went thro Medford, over the Bridge, & up to Menotomy.
In Medford, I awaked the Captain of the Minute men; & after
that, I alarmed almost every House, till I got to Lexington.
I found Mrs. Messrs. Hancock & Adams at the Rev. Mr. Clark’s; I told
them my errand, and inquired for Mr. Daws; they said he had
not been there; I related the story of the two officers, &
supposed that He must have been stopped, as he ought to
have been there before me. After I had been there about half
an Hour, Mr. Daws came; after we refreshid our selves, we and set off
for Concord, to secure the Stores, &c. there. We were overtaken by a young Docter Prescot,
whom we found to be a high Son of Liberty. I told them
of the ten officers that Mr. Devens mett, and that it was pro-
bable we might be stoped before we got to Concord; for
I supposed that after Night, they divided them selves, and that
two of them had fixed themselves in such passages as were
most likely to stop any intelegence going to Concord.
I likewise mentioned, that we had better allarm all the In-
habitents till we got to Concord; the young Doctor much ap-
proved of it, and said, he would stop with either of us, for the
people between that & Concord knew him, & would give the
more credit to what we said.

–From Mass Historical Society website