Taking digs at Boston is almost a national pastime. The city is a little cold, a little snobby, and a little full of itself—as we’re constantly reminded by the barbs of national politicians and the frustrated, if more affectionate, grousing of Bostonians themselves.
Roll back the clock a hundred years, though, and you’ll find...actually, you’ll find the exact same complaints.
In 1911, most of an entire magazine issue was published simply to make fun of Boston. The illustrations here come from Life magazine, which at the time was something of a New Yorker-style mix of news, commentary, fiction, poetry, cartoons, and humor. (The magazine later sold its name to Henry Luce and became the more famous photojournalistic version of Life.)
On the cover of this October 1911 “Boston number” is a delightful map illustration by Paul Goold that sets the tone: a scholarly child, looking a bit gaunt but glowing healthily, points to a “Map of the World” which, of course, consists only of Boston. It evokes Saul Steinberg’s famous 1976 New Yorker cover, “View of the World from 9th Avenue,” and closer to home a satirical 1930s map by Daniel K. Wallingford, “A Bostonian’s Idea of the United States of America,” a faux-parchment map showing North America dominated by a wildly outsized New England.
The Boston issue of Life follows with a number of Boston-themed short essays, jokes, and poems about Boston. It opens with “Hail, Boston!”
Many attempts have been made to bring Boston down from its proud pedestal of superiority, but so far every one has failed. Boston still leads everything else...Nothing ever happens to America that has not previously taken place in Boston. This is why every true Bostonian sniffs complacently when someone else tells him “news.” He knows where the impulse first originated.
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