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

Posts Tagged ‘Boston’

Bulger’s Boston is Gone Baby Gone

In Boston Individualists, Criminals on June 24, 2011 at 11:53 am

South Boston High School. Bulger attended but did not graduate.

It’s impossible to avoid the news that local gangster, Whitey Bulger, was arrested in Santa Monica yesterday.  I was listening to the radio at 5 a.m. when the BBC reported it. I came downstairs and one of the people I am staying with was already up.  The third person, who grew up in South Boston, was still asleep.  I wrote “Bulger caught in L.A.” on a piece of paper and passed it under his door.  In a few minutes, he came out holding the paper, saying “I got an alert on my phone last night.”  So, he already knew.

We three sat around the TV watching images of his cozy, rent-controlled, hideaway a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean.

Bostonians interviewed on TV said they would not have recognized the aging Bulger if they saw him on the street.  But I don’t think Bulger would have recognized Boston either.  The city he terrorized is gone.  Gone baby, gone.

In the past few years, the seamy side of Boston has provided fodder for a string of movies.  It is not a side I am that familiar with.  I do know that the city is no longer the atavistic, inward, suspicious place it was when I moved there in 1975. Through the movies, the city is becoming famous for being a place it no longer is.

Sometime around 1995, Boston opened.  It could finally make eye contact with the outside world.  Race relations were better as first Mayor Raymond Flynn and then Mayor Tom Menino, provided the healing leadership missing in years past. Economics played a big roll, too.  Gentrification pushed working class rivals out of the city while those who remained, were the ones less parochial, less fearful.

Busing had inflamed racism in some but not all of Southie’s residents.  It was never the racist place it seemed.  Politicians and gangsters like Bulger, played on fears that were more economic than anything else.  The irony was that the drugs, suicide, crime, and unemployment that was eating away at Southie were doing the same to the  predominantly black neighborhoods of Roxbury and Mattapan.

In 2008, I was in a car driving down Broadway, the main street in South Boston, and saw a giant poster on a building, “Obama-Biden 2008.”  I did a double tack.  A poster for a black candidate, even the Democratic nominee, was unthinkable in that spot just a decade before.  Times had indeed changed.

When Mayor Menino was asked his reaction to Bulger’s arrest, he congratulated the FBI and other agencies and said, “He’s arrested.  Let’s move on.”


James Allen, Highwayman, Who Bound His Memoir in Human Skin

In Boston Individualists on May 27, 2011 at 12:13 am

James Allen’s memoir of his days as a highwayman is one of the rarest books in the rare book collection of the Boston Athenaeum, America’s oldest private membership library.  The one man who fought back when Allen attempted to rob him was John Fenno.  This impressed Allen so much that he asked to have a copy of his memoir bound in skin from his own back and presented to Fenno.

But is this true?

Yes, within the past several years, the Library had a visitor:

The interpretation always accepted here has been that the highwayman’s own skin was used (as the book binder). This belief has recently been confirmed in a striking manner. A visitor to the Athenæum a few months ago announced himself as the son and namesake of one George Arnold, who did cataloguing work at this Library some ninety years ago. The visitor’s grandfather, Peter Low, had come to Boston from London, where his father and grandfather were in the book business. Here he was engaged in bookbinding, for the Old Corner Book Store and other clients. The grandson relates the story that the skin used for binding Walton’s book came from Massachusetts General Hospital on the very day of his death. Walton was a Jamaican mulatto, and the skin, taken from his back, had been treated to look like a gray deer skin. Peter Low had not realized at first the precise nature of the material placed in his hands. By the time his day’s work was done, however, he was in great distress of mind and nightmares filled the night that followed.

–Boston Athenaeum Website