As the 1900s dawned, the city’s fine arts blossomed, and great art houses grew from the ground up. Stories of artists bringing consolation and eliciting wonder, hope and surprise fill the Globe’s archives. Here is a small selection, starting with the day the Globe commissioned poetry for the front page in honor of a fallen president.
September 27, 1881
Front-page poetry for a fallen president
Just after 11 p.m. on September 19, 1881, the news broke: President James Garfield, ailing for months after being shot, had died. For a memorial edition on the day of his funeral, the Globe commissioned poems from New England luminaries for the front page. A few lines:
“Fallen with autumn’s falling leaf / Ere yet his summer’s eon was past, / Our friend, our guide, our trusted chief / What words can match a woe so vast”
— Oliver Wendell Holmes
“But we, hard toilers, we who plan and weave / Through common days the web of common life, / What word, alas! shall teach us to receive / The mystic meaning of our peace and strife?”
— John Boyle O’Reilly
“Our sorrow sends its shadow round the Earth. / So brave, so true! A hero from his birth! / The plumes of Empire moult, in mourning draped, / The lightning’s message by our tears is shaped.”
— Julia Ward Howe
“The sobbing of the bells, the sudden death-news everywhere, / The slumberers rouse, the rapport of the People, / (Full well they know that message in the darkness, / full well return the sad reverberations).”
— Walt Whitman
June 9, 1948
The first TV broadcast from Boston
The night WBZ-TV Channel 4 went on the “visual airwaves,” officials estimated pretty much every TV set installed in the area — all 2,300 of them — was tuned in. Archbishop Cushing and Rabbi Joshua Loth Liebman spoke of a chance to renew religious interest, and Mayor James Michael Curley joked that politicians would now need to worry about their faces as well as their voices. “Well,” a prescient Bostonian said, “like beer and pretzels, television is here to stay.”
Overheard by Globe reporters during the broadcast:
“Just like going to the movies — only you don’t have to pay.”
“Ya don’t have to pay, huh. Why, I could buy a car for the price of that [TV] model.”
$985: The cost of some TVs (installed) in 1945, the equivalent of more than $15,000 today.
April 5, 1968
James Brown Helps a City in pain
The day after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, the streets of American cities were in turmoil, and James Brown was due to take the stage at the Boston Garden. City Councilor Thomas Atkins persuaded a reluctant Mayor Kevin White to let the show go on, and soon the Godfather of Soul’s show was promoted on Black radio station WILD and shown on WGBH-TV Channel 2.
Brown put on an electrifying show, in between numbers talking to the audience, at the concert and at home. He told them a boyhood story about shining shoes outside a radio station — which he later went on to buy. “Do you know what that is? That’s Black power.”
In the next day’s Globe, Atkins thanked Brown for the show: “I think the City of Boston owes James Brown a tremendous vote of thanks.” In a 2018 column, Renée Graham observed that “for a few anxious hours on a stage in a mostly empty Boston Garden, Brown embraced his community, soothed the unimaginable grief that still haunts this nation, and helped keep Boston whole.”
— Matthew Reed Baker
On the Biggest Art Heist in History . . .
In the early hours of March 18, 1990, two men disguised as Boston police gained entry into the Gardner Museum, tied up the guard, and made off with works of art conservatively valued at $200 million, including Vermeer’s The Concert (pictured) and Rembrandt’s only seascape. Reporters Andy Dabilis and John Ellement described it the next day as “the biggest art theft since the 1911 robbery of the Mona Lisa.”
. . . And The Other Biggest Art Heist in History
In 1911, a Louvre employee slipped out of the museum with Mona Lisa under a coat, and wouldn’t be caught until December 1913. A Globe story that month said “the first clew” had actually come early on from MFA curator Jean Guiffrey, back when he’d been at the Louvre. Guiffrey had said an employee was likely the culprit. If the tip had been followed at the time, authorities admitted, “Mona Lisa would have been discovered long ago.”
May 20, 1993
Boston rolls out the red carpet for “Cheers’” last call
As television’s longest running sitcom prepared to air its 275th and final episode, all eyes were on Boston, home to the bar where everyone knows your name.
The Globe reported crowds shouting “Norm!” and “Cah-la!” inside the State House as Senate President William Bulger fruitlessly banged his gavel for order. Outside, Governor Bill Weld proclaimed the occasion “Cheers Day,” saying the show had brought Boston “more fame than Paul Revere’s ride, as much hometown pride as the Boston Red Sox, and more pseudo-intellectualism, if you can believe that, than a Harvard Square cafe.”
Then, a limo pulled up and out popped Ted Danson, Rhea Perlman, George Wendt, and Kelsey Grammer to thank the crowd. The city set up massive video screens on the Common for Bostonians to watch the finale live, and closed streets it expected to be gridlocked, urging everyone to take the T. Reporter Thomas Palmer Jr. even asked an East Boston psychic if she could divine a way home.
After the show aired, Andover’s Jay Leno hosted The Tonight Show in front of the Bull & Finch with an alfresco audience of 500. By the following morning, the numbers were in: Some 64 percent of all viewers nationwide had watched the finale, and locally its viewership was higher than even the 1986 Super Bowl when the Patriots faced the Bears.
— Matthew Reed Baker
The decade that an arts city arrived
If Boston was going to be a world-class city, it would need a world-class arts scene. That’s a sentiment threaded throughout the early years of boosterish Globe coverage. But the idea was perhaps nowhere clearer than on November 9, 1909. Splashed across the front page, under a glowing banner headline, was an image of the new Boston Opera House on Huntington Avenue (it was demolished in 1958). Then, several pages in, readers got a sneak preview of the Museum of Fine Arts’ new home, soon to open in the Fenway. Those two openings marked the end of a decade-long building boom in iconic institutions. Here are five of them, with a few of the glowing words the paper wrote about them at the time.
Symphony Hall (Opened 1900): “Perfect in All Requirements, a Delight to the Eye and Heart — New Scheme in Ventilation and Heating — Acoustic Properties Perfect”
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Opened for personal tours, 1903): “The dream of Mrs. Gardner is almost realized . . . destined to be regarded by the public at large as an important treasure of the city, like the public library, the art museum, Trinity Church, or the State House.”
Jordan Hall (Opened 1903): “A place of entertainment that European musicians who were present that evening say excels in beauty anything of the kind they ever saw.”
Museum of Fine Arts (Fenway location opened 1909): “Boston’s New Museum a Temple of Fine Arts”
Boston Opera House (Opened 1909, razed 1958): “Boston at last has taken her place among the cities of the world which have permanent opera, in their own opera houses.”
The BSO Takes Its First Bow
“The opening concert of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Georg Henschel, occurred at Music Hall (then located on Winter Street) on Saturday evening. The large and brilliant audience filled every portion of the house and were as enthusiastic as they were numerous.”
The popular music arm of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, headed by Keith Lockhart for some 27 years now, dates to 1885. Here are some key numbers on the maestro’s predecessors.
50 - years of Arthur Fiedler’s tenure, starting in 1930 and spanning through disco and beyond
52 - Number of Oscar nominations (including 5 wins) earned by John Williams, Fiedler’s successor
Boston Ballet Becomes a Reality
After seeing E. Virginia Williams’ students perform, George Balanchine recommended her for a Ford Foundation grant, the Globe’s Christopher Lydon reported. That $144,000 let her start Boston Ballet, New England’s first professional repertory ballet company.
The A.R.T.’s golden touch
In a city that often hosts traveling productions from New York, the American Repertory Theater has a knack for sending shows in the other direction. About a 2018 production, the Globe wrote that admirers of artistic director Diane Paulus will recognize “another illustration of what is special about the Tony Award-winning Paulus: her singular gift for delivering a jolt of creative adrenaline to whatever she touches.”
Six of the productions A.R.T. has sent to Broadway:
1. The Gershwins’ Porgy And Bess (2011)
2. Finding Neverland (2014)
3. Waitress (2015)
4. Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 (2015-2016)
5. Jagged Little Pill (2018)
6. 1776 (2022)
The four lives of the Citizens Bank Opera House, told through four opening nights
October 29, 1928: B.F. Keith Memorial Theatre
One of the grandest vaudeville palaces anywhere costs $5 million to build and it shows. Joseph P. Kennedy (an investor) speaks on opening night, and Al Jolson is among the 3,000 in attendance. Babe Ruth and Charlie Chaplin send congratulatory telegrams.
August 3, 1965: The Sack Savoy
A growing movie theater chain buys the building for some $1 million and opens with Morituri, starring Brando and Brynner, on Boston’s biggest screen. In 1967, a promotion for a 4 a.m. screening of Bond-spoof Casino Royale gets out of hand, and as many as 15,000 people riot in the streets.
November 1, 1978: The Opera House, Take One
Opera visionary Sarah Caldwell takes over and, after 10 days of round-the-clock renovation (including scraping “tons of gum” from seats), stages Tosca for opening night. “Welcome to our new home,” she says. But over the years it proves to be a money pit, and is forced to close in 1991.
July 21, 2004: The Opera House, Take Two
With Mayor Tom Menino in its corner, Clear Channel reportedly spends some $38 million restoring the theater to its original glory. “Can you feel the love tonight? You definitely could last night,” the Globe’s Ed Siegel writes, “as the official opening of The Lion King also served as the festive unveiling of the magnificent Opera House.”
ICA makes a statement
In 1948, the Institute of Modern Art changes its name to the Institute of Contemporary Art. The rebranded museum’s main goal: “to distinguish the good art from the bad; the sincere from the sham; the perceptive from the obtuse.”
A Few Great Moments from Boston’s Jazz Scene
In May 1976, the Globe wrote about Terri Lyne Carrington, a 10-year-old musical prodigy who sat in on drums with Rahsaan Roland Kirk at the Jazz Workshop on a Sunday, and then was back in her fifth-grade classroom in West Medford on Monday. She’s now the founder and artistic director of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice.
Ella Fitzgerald first introduced “A-Tisket A-Tasket” in 1938 in Levaggi’s Flamingo Room at the Back Bay’s Hotel Gardner.
Opened in 1947 as Wally’s Paradise, the South End cafe was a regular stop for Charlie “Bird” Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Branford Marsalis.
At Roxbury’s after-hours Pioneer Club, it wasn’t unusual to find Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, or Duke Ellington performing an impromptu set at 3 or 4 a.m.