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Handover from Baker to Healey begins with symbolic gifts, Lone Walk on Wednesday

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker presented traditional symbols, including a bound copy of the "The General Statutes of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts", to Gov-elect Maura Healey during a ritual exchange on Jan. 4 at the State House in Boston.Nancy Lane/Associated Press

When Governor Charlie Baker welcomes his successor, Maura Healey, to the State House on Wednesday, he’ll follow an elaborate set of customs that Massachusetts governors have observed for nearly 140 years, including the presentation of four gifts and his “Lone Walk” out the front door.

“The Lone Walk, really, it’s a wonderful tradition because … the governor leaves office and becomes a private citizen,” said Robert Allison, chairman of Suffolk University’s Department of History, Language, & Global Culture and a specialist on local history.

“I think the person who probably got the most out of this was James Michael Curley in the 1930s,” Allison said in a Tuesday interview, referring to colorful Democrat who served four terms as mayor of Boston, three as US representative from Massachusetts, and one as governor.


“He left the governor’s office [and] walked downstairs into a big crowd because he also had gotten married that morning,” Allison said. “Curley had a way of making everything about him.”

The Lone Walk began when Benjamin Franklin Butler left the governor’s office in 1884 while deeply unpopular and made his way out of the building bereft of friends and fanfare.

Butler, a longtime Massachusetts politician who had served as a Civil War general, “walked out by himself because by the time he was done, no one wanted to be seen with him,” Allison said. “Butler was an extraordinary guy but made a lot of enemies, which often you do as governor.”

Since then, the Lone Walk has become more of a celebration of the outgoing leader’s tenure, and it includes a 19-gun salute, as is traditional when honoring a governor (21 guns is traditional for presidents), Allison said.

Baker is scheduled to make his Lone Walk at 5 p.m. Wednesday, his last time leaving the building as governor. But he won’t be completely solitary — Baker will be joined by Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito and their spouses, Lauren Baker and Steve Rodolakis, according to the governor’s daily schedule.


Before the walk, Baker, a Republican, will meet at 2:10 p.m. with Democrats Healey and Lieutenant Governor-elect Kim Driscoll for the exchange of four gifts that symbolize the transfer of power.

  • The Pewter Key: the ceremonial original key to the governor’s office door. (When outgoing governor William Weld, not known as a workaholic, handed the key to Paul Cellucci in 1997, he had this to say: “This is the seldom-used key to the governor’s office that, I am reliably informed, works on weekends.”)
  • The Governor’s Gavel: made from the white oak frame of the original USS Constitution and accepted as the “permanent official gavel” of the Governor’s Council in 1906.
  • Massachusetts General Statutes: Two volumes, which date back to 1860.
  • The Butler Bible: left by Butler to his successors in 1884, since he found no bible in the office previously. (Butler’s other claims to fame: As a member of Congress in the 1870s, he authored legislation intended to destroy the Ku Klux Klan in the South and giving Black Americans the right to public accommodations.)

“It’s a simple list,” Allison said of the gifts. “The key to the office, the gavel for convening the Governor’s Council, the statutes — because you need to know what the laws are — and then, of course, Benjamin Franklin Butler’s bible. … Each governor also writes a little message in the bible to his successor.”

Material from previous Globe stories was used in this report.

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Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him @jeremycfox.