The first thing that hooked me on the manuscript of Steve Puleo’s Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 (published 10 years ago this month) was the molasses. How could it not? I’d heard a bit about the molasses flood before, which is to say that I knew there had been a deadly wave of molasses, and that it had taken place in the North End. But I’m not a native Bostonian. I was surprised, then, to discover that no one had ever written a full-length account of the disaster. It’s such a dramatic and quirky bit of history; it’s irresistible.
What surprised me even more, however, was the full story Steve uncovered. The flood itself was a terrible tragedy, and Steve has a great sense of drama; he knows how to build narrative tension. Dark Tide dives deep into the specifics of why the molasses flood was so fast and so powerful, bringing to life the many people and animals who died terribly when the tank burst. (The death of fireman George Layhe, pinned beneath the collapsed firehouse, until he finally ran out of the strength to keep his head above the molasses and drowned, stays with me still.)
As soon as John Winthrop and his gang of Puritans landed on the little temporary island known to the locals as Shawmut, they started digging and delving and filling marshes and swamps and inlets to build more land. Nothing new in all that, it seems to be a habit of Western culture; Rome was constructed around the Pontine Marshes, the Dutch put up massive dikes to keep the North Sea at bay, and Venice was built on pilings set in the marshy Venice Lagoon.
Boston, as the Shawmut came to be called, was separated from the mainland by a narrow little strip of land (now, basically, Washington Street) that flooded in spring tides, creating a tight little island. By the 1650s, more tidal streams were channeled, more marshes were filled, and more land was created over the centuries—including the massive filling of the banks of the Charles to create the famous Back Bay.
But coastlines are a fickle things, always coming and going. There was at time, not that long ago as geologic time is measured, when Boston sat under a mile of ice. And there was also a time when you could have hiked out to Georges Bank. Now according to a new study by the National Academy of Sciences, Boston could once more be under water (literally, not financially). The town is one of many coastal cities, including New York and Miami, that could see high tides flooding commonly used streets and neighborhoods in the next decades or so as a result of rising sea levels created by global climate change. And more high water to come in the next fifty years.
The last time Boston flooded entirely was about 11,000 years ago, as a result of the melting of the glacier.
This time around, it will happen from the same reason—melting ice—only this time it will be the polar ice cap and the 600,000 square mile Greenland ice sheet. And this time around, it will be our own fault.
The trial of Whitey Bulger continues at the Federal Courthouse in Boston. One of the witnesses "on deck" for the prosecution is Paul "Pole Cat" Moore, so here's a timely excerpt from All Souls: A Family Story from Southie by Michael Patrick MacDonald. All Souls is, among other things, an excellent guide to Southie under Whitey Bulger's criminal empire. In this excerpt, MacDonald describes Pole Cat's connections to the local boxing world, the popular rock club the Rathskeller (or "The Rat") and Bulger's drug-dealing operations.
Hard hitting Frank MacDonald of South Boston met and defeated
a very comparable Jose Miguel from Cranston, Rhode Island. Frank
totally devastated his opponent with a series of crippling punches to
the body which succeeded in incapacitating Miguel, who was of great
courage but unable to fathom Frank’s awesome body attack—congratulations Frank, and corner men Paul "Pole Cat" Moore and
Tommy "Stove Man" Cronin.
—South Boston Tribune
Frankie was one of the few young people in the
neighborhood not being dragged down by drugs and crime in
1980. His boxing career was one of the only things that brought good
news to the streets of Old Colony in those days. Frankie was fast
becoming a neighborhood hero, not only in Old Colony, but all
over Southie. Everyone knew who he was, and he had a nickname
now, "Frank the Tank," for his "hard hitting" style that was bringing him championship titles, from Junior Olympics bouts at Freeport Hall in Dorchester to the New England Golden Gloves tournament in Lowell.
Mary and Kathy said all their girlfriends talked about Frankie’s
looks, and the guys who hadn’t yet got caught up in the world of
drugs talked about getting a ripped body like Frank’s. He was working out seven days a week, running from Old Colony, through the
Point, around Castle Island, and back to the project, always in his
combat boots from his days in the Marines—and sometimes he ran
backwards. Frank was welcome all over Southie. The little kids in
the neighborhood would run after him, asking him questions about
his bouts and begging him to show how he knocked out his opponents. That’s why Frankie was so intent on being what they called "a stand-up guy" in Southie. That’s what they called anyone who
would never snitch, even if it meant doing a life bid because of it.
But in Frankie’s case, it just meant he was clean-cut. Sure, he knew
all the top gangsters in the neighborhood; anyone with Frankie’s
status in the Southie boxing world would. But he never got involved
in their rackets, stayed away from the dust and coke they were
pumping into the streets, and refused to work for Whitey, telling
Ma that he never wanted to be "owned."
But still Frankie had "the boys," as we called Whitey’s troops,
working in his corner as he fought his way through four years of
New England Golden Gloves championships, starting out as a two-time middleweight champ in the novice class, and ending up a light
heavyweight champ for the whole region in 1982 and 1983. South Boston Tribune articles always pointed out the sound advice and leadership "the boys" were giving Frank in the ring:
Following closely the instructions of trainer Paul "Pole Cat" Moore
and manager Tommy Cronin, Frank pursued his opponent most aggressively with a savage body attack which . . . wore down O’Han to
the point of becoming a bit careless and somewhat frustrated . . . at
being unable to figure out MacDonald’s technique. Frank, once again following the instructions for his corner, succeeded in landing a barrage of lefts and rights to the jaw and head of his adversary. This
will prove to have been a most excellent victory for Frankie in the
upcoming bouts he is to have.
In Southie having the gangsters in your corner, in the ring or on
the streets, meant that you had the ultimate protection and power.
Grandpa didn’t believe that, though. He had warnings for all of us,
from his own days as a longshoreman on the Southie docks, where
he said he’d worked alongside some men who ended up in the
Brinks robbery of 1950, "the big one." Grandpa always told us how
the rule on the docks was to keep your mouth shut about the rackets
you saw. He said many a time the longshoremen were lined up by
the cops and asked to step forward and speak about crimes. That’s
how a waitress from the local diner got killed, after she stepped forward among the silent longshoremen. She was found murdered the
next day, her blood scrawled into the letters snitch all over her
cold-water flat. Grandpa had another rule of his own for the underworld: "Watch out whose hand you shake," he told us. He said there
was no such thing as a gangster giving something without wanting
more in return. "They’ll give you a quarter for a dollar any day," he
said. Grandpa had been trying to get closer to us since Kathy’s coma
and had even bought a condo in City Point. He got a closer look at
the neighborhood, and he kept coming around the house cursing
"that fuckin’ Whitey Bulger, a no-good bum if there ever was one," and wondering if the Bulgers were even Irish at all, with Senate President Billy Bulger’s insulting Irish brogue imitations at drunken St.
Paddy’s Day festivities. "They’re a shame to the Irish altogether,"
he said, "and what respectable Irish person would name their kid
William?" he asked. "That would be like a Jew naming a kid
Kevin started to go to the Rathskeller downtown, where Frankie
along with some of the other boxers and some of the boys were
working as bouncers. They were big and tough looking, and good
for keeping the college students and punk rock types in line. Frank’s
corner man, Pole Cat Moore, worked at the Rat, and introduced
Frankie to Ricky Marino, an ex–state trooper, who became Frankie’s
best friend. Then there was Kevin "Andre the Giant" McDonald,
not to be confused with my brother Kevin "Mini Mac" MacDonald.
He was a Southie champion too. Ricky and Paul Moore were pretty
high up in what the papers in later years would call the "Southie
underworld." But Frankie knew his little brother wasn’t going to
get involved in their plans, no matter how much he wanted to. They
were too high up to be bothered with Kevin, who despite his involvement in some of the big stuff was still just a kid to guys like
these. They also had a position to maintain, and weren’t about to
bring someone with Kevin’s potential into their rackets.
My brother Joe would go to the Rat too, whenever he was on leave
from the Air Force. Joe told Ma it was weird how Frankie’s friends
pulled each other aside when they were "talking business." We all
knew Joe was the tattletale in our family—he told Ma everything—and the boys must have sensed this too. But one night at the Rat, he
did overhear Pole Cat Moore telling Ricky that he’d be getting his
cocaine directly through Whitey’s Colombian connections, rather
than going through Ricky. Pole Cat had a job with the Boston Housing Authority, and an apartment with his brother, right next to ours on 8 Patterson Way. Pole Cat never touched the stuff. He was too
into his body, coming and going from our building with a gym bag
and a clean white towel around his neck. But he was starting to make
a killing on the coke, by the looks of the number of kids knocking
on his door day and night. Joe said he would know if Frankie was
into that stuff, though, and that Frankie had never been involved in
Pole Cat’s huddled conversations with Ricky at the Rat.
Then I started showing up at the back door of the Rat most
nights. Ever since I was fifteen I’d gone there to see bands. Frankie’s
friends knew who I was, and snuck me downstairs through the piss-puddled hallways, to where the bands played. Frankie snuck me in
too, but he didn’t know I was there on weeknights, and I told his
friends to keep it quiet. I hadn’t returned to Latin School since Kathy’s coma. They’d tried to make a deal with me that I could be
promoted, despite all my absences, if I left Latin and went to Madison Park High School in Roxbury. "Yeah, right," I said, "and be the
only white kid in the class."
Latin had been my only escape from the busing, and now I felt
guilty for messing it up. I couldn’t believe I was a high school dropout. I’d always been the straight-A student Ma bragged about, along
with Johnnie, and Davey. For a while I was still pretending to go to
school, even after Kathy was out of the coma. I’d wander around
Boston all day, freezing at bus stops when I didn’t have money for
the three-hour-long coffee refills at Mug and Muffn, trying to stay
awake after a night at the Rat. Ma eventually found a letter I’d written to myself about my guilt for being a dropout, and she was bullshit that I had pulled one over on her. She confronted me about it
and said I’d have to go right to work the next day. She too knew high
school in Roxbury wasn’t an option. That’s when I switched from
pretending to go out to school every day to pretending to go out
looking for a job. I was still freezing at bus stops, or getting warm at
Mug and Muffn; and I still snuck out of the house at night to go to
I had my own group of friends at the Rat. While Frankie, Pole
Cat, Andre the Giant, and the rest of the gang hung out upstairs, I
was down in the basement with misfits from all walks of life. Some
were working-class kids, others were suburban white-picket-fence
types, and others were rich. "What’s a trust fund?" I remember asking. "Ah, man, it’s nothing—just ’cause my dad’s rich doesn’t mean
I am. I gotta wait on it. Got a dollar for a beer, dude?" But wherever
these people came from, they didn’t like it. I’d always preferred
black music—soul, then disco, and now hip-hop and rap. The words
made more sense to me. But I also liked the energy and rage of punk
rock; I just couldn’t relate to the lyrics about life in the suburbs, and
having strict parents. Then I discovered the original version of
punk, from England. I’d never thought about the fact that there
were poor and working-class English people who hated the Queen,
and her mother, and the whole British establishment. I could get
into that. This was a movement of people who didn’t fit in where
they came from, and they’d made that cool. I could get into that too.
Punk music became an escape for me, but I still had to come back
to Old Colony every night. I often hitched a ride with Frankie’s
friends, the whole way home not knowing what to say to men as
powerful as "the boys." Other times I had punk rockers drop me off on the outskirts of Southie, so they wouldn’t see that I lived in the
project, or accuse me of being a racist for living in my neighborhood. But I was protecting them too; I didn’t want them to get bottles thrown at them for being different in Southie.
Beacon Press calls Boston home. While we are all back at work this week, we mourn the lives lost in the bombings and the pursuit of the suspects, and our thoughts are with their loved ones and the victims still recovering from their injuries in our area's hospitals. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino have set up a fund to help those most affected by the bombings: One Fund Boston.
We have found words of comfort and valuable analysis from our authors in the days since the Marathon bombings.
Scott Korb (Light Without Fire) and Suhaib Webb (Imam of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center) co-wrote this piece for the New York Times answering attacks against American Islamic communities by Rep. Peter King and others:
Mr. King’s hypothesis, and the widespread surveillance policies already in effect since 9/11, assume that the threat of radicalization has become a matter of local geography, that American Muslims are creating extremists in our mosques and community centers.
But what we’re learning of the suspects, the brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, suggests a different story, and one that has itself become familiar: radicalization does not happen to young people with a strong grounding in the American Muslim mainstream; increasingly, it happens online, and sometimes abroad, among the isolated and disaffected.
“Children take cues from their parents about how to make sense of all kinds of events in the world,” said Groves. She urged parents to assess their own feelings, and then determine what they will say and how they will say it before having a conversation with their kids. “I think that parents need to just give themselves permission to collect their own thoughts.”
Honesty is critical, she added, noting that opening a dialogue with children signals that it’s OK to discuss a difficult subject. “If parents take the initiative to bring it up, it makes the topic less scary to start with.’”
At Guernica, Rafia Zakaria (whose book The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan is forthcoming from Beacon Press next year) wrote why attacks in America are "far more indelible in the world’s memory" than bombings in other places where they happen more frequently:
There may be fewer victims and less blood, but American tragedies somehow seem to occur in a more poignant version of reality, in a way that evokes a more sympathetic response. Within minutes American victims are lifted from the nameless to the remembered; their individual tragedies and the ugly unfairness of their ends are presented in a way that cannot but cause the watching world to cry, to consider them intimates, and to stand in their bloody shoes. Death is always unexpected in America and death by a terrorist attack more so than in any other place.
It is this greater poignancy of attacks in America that begs the question of whether the world’s allocations of sympathy are determined not by the magnitude of a tragedy—the numbers dead and injured—but by the contrast between a society’s normal and the cruel aftermath of a terrorist event. It is in America that the difference between the two is the greatest; the American normal is one of a near-perfect security that is unimaginable in many places, especially in countries at war. The very popularity of the Boston Marathon could be considered an expression of just this. America is so secure and free from suffering that people have the luxury of indulging in deliberate suffering in the form of excruciating physical exertion; this suffering in turn produces well-earned exhilaration, a singular sense of physical achievement and mental fortitude. The act of running a marathon is supposed to be simple, individual—a victory of the will over the body, celebrated by all and untouched by the complicated questions of who in the world can choose to suffer and who only bears suffering.
In America, just about everyone is some sort of hyphenated hybrid of race, religion and ethnicity/nationality. Irish-Catholic-American, African-American Pentecostal, Jewish-American secular Humanist, and so on. As Walt Whitman said, "I am large / I contain multitudes."
When interfaith cooperation is done well, it not only helps people from different faith and philosophical backgrounds get along, it creates space for the diverse identities within each of us to become mutually enriching rather than mutually exclusive. When interfaith events raise the question, what do I have in common with people of different religious and national identities, the natural internal dialogue that ensues is: What do my own diverse identities have in common with each other?
Religious extremists try to separate people's various identities and pit them against each other. The extremists that got to the young London 7/7 bombers somehow convinced them that their Muslim identity was at war with their British identity, and the former had to destroy the latter. While the facts are still coming in, this may also have been the case for the Tsarnaev brothers. It was a clash civilizations in their souls.
In a nation of hybrids, it's important to have loyalty to both sides of the hyphen. What if the Tsarnaev brothers were involved in discussions with people from other backgrounds about how their faith identity was mutually enriching with their nationality and citizenship? Perhaps they would have been less susceptible to the divide-and-destroy tactics of extremists.
At her Being Both blog, Susan Katz Miller (Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family, forthcoming Fall 2013) speaks about her Boston ties and the ways that interfaith communities and families can offer solace:
We do not need to share a conception of God in order to comfort each other. No matter our religious beliefs or lack thereof, we can still pause to sing together, meditate together, hug each other.
I write as someone who chooses to live fulltime in this “interfaith space.” Interfaith families raising children with dual-faith education experience the benefits of interfaith celebration and contemplation and mourning–the synergy, the joy, the healing of reflecting together as an interfaith community–week in and week out. And as we model interfaith love, and radical inclusivity, we hope to play some small part in preventing intolerance, alienation and violence in the world.
At Huffington Post, Rabbi Marc Schneier (co-author of Sons of Abraham: A Candid Conversation about the Issues That Divide and Unite Jews and Muslims, forthcoming Fall 2013) speaks out against the tainting of American Muslims with the actions of the Tsarnaev brothers:
Since Friday (April 19), when the news broke that the likely perpetrators of the bombings, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, were Muslim, many of the top American Muslim spiritual and organizational leaders have unequivocally denounced the Boston Marathon bombings as morally repellent and antithetical to the basic values of Islam. Their passionate comments on this issue; following the hundreds of pronouncements by Muslim leaders in the years since Sept. 11, 2001 denouncing terrorism and violence need to be heard and acknowledged; especially by those who knowingly or unknowingly continue to peddle the canard that American Muslim leaders turn a blind eye to -- or even approve of -- terrorist acts committed by fellow Muslims.
Some of the stories we tell about the nation are delusions that cloak weaknesses and wrongs, which fester unacknowledged. David Ortiz brags that "nobody is going to dictate our freedom," and I assume he hasn't heard of the Patriot Act or warrantless wiretaps, much less the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act. Dennis Lehane can be excused for declaring that "they messed with the wrong city," but don't take seriously his confidence that not much will change: "Trust me," he adds implausibly, "we won't be giving up any civil liberties to keep ourselves safe because of this."
Of course we will. We've been surrendering liberty in the hope of keeping ourselves safe for the past decade. The marathon bombings will hasten our surrender of freedom from the watchful eye of law enforcement. The Boston Globe is already clamoring for additional surveillance cameras, which are sure to be installed to the applause of a great many Bostonians. You can rationalize increased surveillance as a necessary or reasonable intrusion on liberty, but you can't deny its intrusiveness, or inevitable abuses.
On Radio Boston yesterday, Judge Nancy Gertner (In Defense of Women) and Alan Dershowitz spoke about the legal issues surrounding the Tsarnaev case: venue changes, death penalty charges, the definition of weapons of mass destruction, Miranda warnings, and more. Listen here.
Baseball legend Jackie Robinson was born on this day in 1919. In honor of his birthday, we share this excerpt from Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston by sports journalist and author Howard Bryant. Bryant is also the author of The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron.
Jackie Robinson was already fatalistic about the
tryout. He didn’t believe the Red Sox were serious about integration and wasn’t
especially thrilled about his own situation. He had only played for the Negro
League’s Kansas City Monarchs for a few weeks and was already disappointed by
the league’s air of gambling and disorganization, the very type of lowbrow
behavior that made white baseball people hesitant about allowing blacks into
the big leagues. Robinson was fastidious in his adherence to his own personal
code, and seeing the chaos of the Negro leagues only frustrated him further. It
was the stereotypes of corruption and anarchy that not only plagued black
baseball, thought historian Edmund G. White, but also gave whites a secure
excuse to keep blacks out of the major leagues:
When the Negro
Leagues had come within the consciousness of those within organized baseball,
they had been seen as a reverse mirror image. If Organized baseball was free
from gambling and corruption, the Negro Leagues were run by racketeers. If
Organized baseball was premised on the roster stability of the reserve clause,
the Negro Leagues were the province of contract jumpers. If Organized baseball
was structured around the permanent franchise cities and regular schedules, the
Negro Leagues were a kaleidoscope of changing franchises and whimsical
scheduling. If Organized baseball was a clean, wholesome, upwardly mobile
sport, Negro League games were the scenes of rowdy, disorderly, vulgar
behavior. By being the opposite of Organized baseball’s idealized image, the
Negro Leagues served as their own justification for the exclusion of blacks
from the major leagues. They appeared to demonstrate just how “contaminated”
major league baseball would become if blacks were allowed to play it.
When Robinson arrived in Boston, the tryout was
delayed for two more days in the wake of Franklin Roosevelt’s death. He told
Smith of his disappointment during the days of delay. “Listen, Smith, it really
burns me up to come fifteen hundred miles for them to give me the runaround.”
Nearly fifty-five years after Cap Anson engineered
the removal of the last black major leaguers in the late nineteenth century,
the tryout finally took place at Fenway Park at eleven on the morning of April
16, 1945. Two above-average Negro leaguers, Sam Jethroe and Marvin Williams,
joined Jackie Robinson. The Red Sox players were white and were mostly minor
league pitchers. Starting the season the following day in New York, the big
league roster was given the day off by Joe Cronin. The routine was mundane. The
players fielded, threw, and took batting practice. Hugh Duffy, the former great
Red Sox out- fielder, ran the tryout and took notes on index cards. Cronin sat,
according to one account, “stone-faced.” Another depicted Cronin barely
watching at all. Muchnick marveled at the hitting ability of Robinson, whose
mood apparently darkened. When it ended, he, Williams, and Jethroe received
platitudes from Duffy. Joe Cashman of the Boston Record sat with Cronin
that day and reported that the manager was impressed with Robinson. He wrote
cryptically, with virtually little comprehension, that he could have been
witnessing a historic moment. “Before departing, Joe and his coaches spent some
90 minutes in the stands at Fenway surveying three Negro candidates. . . . Why
they came from such distant spots to work out for the Red Sox was not learned.”
The Boston Globe did not cover the tryout.
Robinson himself was satisfied with his
performance, although by the time he left Fenway he was smoldering about what
he felt to be a humiliating charade. As the three players departed, Eddie
Collins told them they would hear from the Red Sox in the near future. None of
them ever heard from the Red Sox again.
Eighteen months later, the Dodgers signed Robinson,
who would begin a legendary career a year and half later. Jethroe, at age
thirty-three, integrated Boston pro baseball with
the Braves in 1950 and would become the National League Rookie of the Year.
Williams would stay in the Negro leagues, never again coming so close to the
The remaining details of that morning are
completely speculative. Robinson never spoke in real detail about the tryout.
Joe Cronin, who next to Collins and was the most powerful member of the Red Sox
next to Yawkey, also never offered a complete account about the tryout except
to say that he remem- bered that it occurred, although he and Robinson would
Thirty-four years later, Cronin would discuss the
tryout; he explained the Red Sox position as well as the game’s:
I remember the
tryout very well. But after it, we told them our only farm club available was
in Louisville, Kentucky, and we didn’t think they’d be interested in going
there because of the racial feelings at the time. Besides, this was after the season
had started and we didn’t sign players off tryouts in those days to play in the
big leagues. I was in no position to offer them a job. The general manager did
the hiring and there was an unwritten rule at that time against hiring black
players. I was just the manager.
It was a great
mistake by us. He [Robinson] turned out to be a great player. But no feeling
existed about it. We just accepted things the way they were. I recall talking
to some players and they felt that they didn’t want us to break up their
league. We all thought because of the times, it was good to have separate
Clif Keane would give the day its historical
significance. A reporter for the Globe, Keane said he heard a person
yell from the stands during the tryout. The words—“Get those niggers off the
field”—were never attributed to one person, but they have haunted the Red Sox
as much as Pinky Higgins’ proclamation a decade and a half later. Numerous Red
Sox officials, from Joe Cronin to Eddie Collins to Tom Yawkey himself, have
been credited with the taunt, if it was ever said at all. Keane has always
believed it was Yawkey.
What cannot be disputed about the events of that
April day are the final results and the consequences that followed. It was an
episode from which the reputation and perception of the franchise have never
It was lunch time, and several members of the Beacon Press staff headed out in a chilly April drizzle to Boston's Downtown Crossing--not for a tasty sandwich from Falafel King, but to take part in World Book Night. Each staffer had signed up to hand out twenty free books to perfect strangers walking by on a busy street corner. Director Helene Atwan summed it up by saying, "Lots of different people going in and out of the subway were puzzled, skeptical, and finally, curious and grateful. A wonderful way to spend the lunch hour. We're all already looking forward to World Book Night 2013."
We've loved hearing stories from other givers, and must admit that it gives us a particular thrill to hear about people giving away Kindred by Octavia Butler--Beacon's literary contribution to the project.
At the Silver Spring Metro station, Politics and Prose floor manager Susan Skirboll had a pretty straightforward strategy for her giveaway approach: “I’ll try to look respectable and not like a total freak.”
Skirboll calls the story she selected — “Kindred,” by the late science-fiction writer Octavia Butler — a book “everyone should read.” Though it contains a little bit of science fiction and fantasy, “it’s done in a way that’s kind of believable,” Skirboll said. “It talks about the slavery experience in a way I had never read before.” --Washington Post
And on Twitter...
Have given out my 4th copy of Kindred by OctaviaButler for #wbnamerica & am excited that #4 is drinking her coffee and reading the book!!!! -- @misscecil
Learned during #wbnamerica: let them see what you're offering. know your book. saying "it's one of the best books i've ever read" helps. -- @corpuslibris
Our favorite story, hands down, involves a very unconventional delivery vehicle. (Photos by Shmuel Thaler of the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Used by permission.)
Handing out free books to surfers while paddling out in waters off Cowell Beach doesn't seem logical.
But Hilary Bryant made it look easy, if not natural, Monday when the wet-suit clad vice mayor took several copies of the novel "Kindred" into the surf wrapped in Ziploc bags. Not green - she knows - but how else could she keep the books dry?
"They were very appreciative," Bryant said of the effort, which was part of the World Book Night celebration in the U.S. and Europe. "It was easier to start the conversation on the water than on the cliff. You have a captive audience." --Santa Cruz Sentinel
And now onto our staff and their experiences at Downtown Crossing in Boston.
Tom Hallock: Associate Publisher and Director of Sales and Marketing
Pictured right: Helene Atwan, Director of Beacon Press, with Tom Hallock.
So how did World Book Night, or World Book Lunchtime, go for you?
It was great, just great. We went to Downtown Crossing, the historic heart of the Boston retail district. There were a lot of people there at lunch time. There used to be a lot of retail bookstores there: a Globe Corner Bookstore, a Lauriat’s, a Barnes and Noble and a Borders—none of them are there now. And we just thought it would be a place where we would find some people who are not exposed to books regularly, and we were right.
People would come up with wary looks on their faces. I think maybe they thought we were handing out religious tracts or political propaganda or something, and we would assure them that they were really good books, and people got really excited about it.
In a sense, you were espousing the religion of reading.
Exactly, and I think we got a lot of converts.The best thing was seeing the expression on people's faces change as you got into the conversation, and you could see them open up to the idea that a stranger was about to hand them a book that they would really enjoy reading.
How do you feel about Kindred by Octavia Butler being included in the giveaway?
We were really proud of that and so glad thatCarl Lennertz and the people at World Book Night made it possible for Kindred to be part of the program. It's a great book that can be read by all ages, and it‘s been wonderful to hear stories from around the country about people introducing it to new readers.
Marcy Barnes, Production Manager
Pictured right: Kate Noe, Will Myers, and Marcy Barnes.
There were a couple of really enthusiastic people who came up to us, and a lot of people were really grateful. To choose people to give books to, I basically just chose anyone who wasn't wearing headphones. I wasn't thinking, "Is that a reader or not a reader?" I felt that it was more a celebration of reading and saving books, and a lot of people were really appreciative of the concept.
Ryan Mita, Digital Marketing Assistant
Here’s what went through my mind, and what happened while I was giving away World Book Night Books:
I thought giving away books on a wet, windy day would be a difficult, but it wasn’t!
I gave a jeweler something to occupy his interest on his lunch break.
I interested a groups of teenagers in picking up a book.
I felt really good sharing a great book with strangers and supporting an activity I love to do.
Will Myers, Editorial Assistant
It was nice to see people light up when they were given a free book. We had the World Book Night lanyard, so I think people thought we were from Oxfam or something along those lines. But once they knew we weren't asking for an email address, they were less suspicious.
At the Lambert's outdoor fruit stand--they were big boosters of World Book Night, and they were cheering us on. They kept asking, "Do you have this book? Do you have this book?" That was cool. It was a great experience, and I would absolutely do it again.
Kate Noe, Production Assistant
I got involved because my friend works for a counseling center for young mothers, and she was really excited for World Book Night because she was able to get free books for these young women who don't ever read. So she inspired me to reach out, too.
I would definitely do it again, but it was frustrating being rejected. Going up to strangers and having them ignore you... But those moments when people were curious and wanted to learn more, that was cool.
Crystal Paul, Assistant to the Director
Pictured right: Helene Atwan, Ryan Mita, and Crystal Paul.
I'm glad that we were handing out Junot Diaz and Zeitoun—multicultural literature that is applicable to everyone. I think it's great that there were such a wide variety of authors and types of books, because it encourages you to reach out to all kinds of people. And I was excited that Kindred was part of World Book Night. I love Octavia Butler.
I've always said that books sort of raised me. I grew up in a house where there wasn't a strong parental figure, so I turned to books not because I just wanted stories or escapism. But, literally, because I was looking for how I'm supposed to live life, the things I'm supposed to do. A lot of young adult literature in particular is about these orphan children, and then I started reading Sci-Fi. Octavia Butler was one of the first authors I read-- Xenogenesis which is now called Lilith's Brood And it was about a black woman going out into the world and being abducted by aliens. Basically, just completely abandoned and on her own, and how she navigated this totally new world.
When I was in high school, civil disobedience excited me. I participated in a school walkout in protest of the Iraq War, staged a demonstration outside of a conference for anti-gay "reparative therapy," and regularly got together with friends to make T-shirts boasting our political positions. Though the underlying political motives behind these actions were sincere, I recognize in hindsight that a big part of why I was drawn to such activism was that it hinged on solidarity and cooperation.
I was reminded of these efforts this weekend, when I decided to take my Saturday night off to check out the Occupy America (a national movement born out of Occupy Wall Street in New York City) effort in my city.
I decided to go because I have been tracking it online for some time, and many of my friends and peers have been involved from the beginning. While the participants I encountered on Saturday ranged in ages, Occupy America has frequently been referred to as a "youth-driven" movement, and the statement isn't without merit. Though participation has been and continues to be intergenerational, there seems to be a particularly strong representation from young people.
As a 24-year-old, I'm part of the Millennial Generation -- the generation following Generation Y, born in the 1980s and 1990s. We're a generation that, according to studies by Pew and others, is supposed to be unconcerned and unengaged with the political process. Yet we defied such classification by coming out in droves for the 2008 Presidential election, and I believe that the Occupy America movement is demonstrating once more that we can surprise prognosticators and muster up unanticipated energy and organization to mobilize for social change.
Still, we remain a generation that is, in some ways, defined by apathy. This is perhaps no more obvious than it is in Millennials' relationship with religion.
Some 22 percent of Americans age 18-29 report having no religion. However, only about 2 percent of Americans describe themselves with labels such as atheist, agnostic or Humanist. That suggests that the majority of nonreligious Americans consider themselves either spiritual but not religious, religious but not practicing, or irreligious and apathetic.
This certainly seems to be the case among many people I know. Many people I talk with across the country say that religion doesn't concern them and is unimportant; they claim to not even think much or care much about religion.
But what this irreligious, apathetic stance toward religion and the religious doesn't account for is the fact that we live in a world where many people do think and do care about religion -- a lot. Even in America, religious fundamentalism is experiencing a radical surge. The 2010 Pew study on American Millennials found that not only is "the intensity of [religious Millennials'] religious affiliation... as strong today as among previous generations when they were young," but that "levels of certainty of belief in God have increased" and that religious Millennials are "more inclined than their elders to believe their own religion is the one true path to eternal life." Sociologists once predicted that religion would decline as a result of modernization, but precisely the opposite phenomenon has occurred as religious movements have grown by leaps and bounds in recent decades both in the United States and around the world. Sociologists, as such, have since changed course on those predictions. As Peter Berger recently wrote in The American Interest: "Most sociologists of religion... [have] looked at the world and concluded that secularization theory -- that is, the thesis that modernization necessarily leads to a decline of religion -- does not fit the facts of the matter."
It seems that, for now anyway, religion is unlikely to become irrelevant. And in a world where religious conflict is in the headlines on a daily basis and religious illiteracy is widespread, it actually feels increasingly relevant. The dangers of acting like it isn't are clear: when fraught issues related to religion arise, being unable to contextualize them or understand their implications makes it difficult to know how to respond.
This is why I've committed myself to the cause of encouraging interfaith cooperation. Cultivating positive relationships between people of diverse religious and nonreligious identities not only helps prevent conflict by creating invested relationships -- it also combats ignorance by giving people the opportunity to educate one another about their beliefs and backgrounds.
The night I spent at Occupy Boston was eye opening. Seeing the general assembly meeting and all of the structure on site -- including my friends at the Protest Chaplains tent--was fascinating. Everyone had a role in helping things run, and everyone had a voice.
As an interfaith activist working to mobilize people from diverse religious and nonreligious backgrounds toward cooperation, it was an inspiring sight. The collective commitment to work together and give voice to the disempowered was a testament to the power of uniting people from different backgrounds for a common goal. Like the interfaith coalition that led the American Civil Rights movement, there was a recognition that success will require respecting the many different reasons people come to the table.
Unless we strive to understand people's religious beliefs and practices, efforts that hinge on solidarity will fail. Without knowing and understanding the spectrum of moral and religious beliefs that compel people to act, we will remain siloed. As the Occupy America movement continues to occupy our collective moral imagination, coming together to talk about our convictions, our challenges, and our values seems more important than ever.
We, as Millennials but also as Americans, must reject apathy -- about politics, yes, but also about religion.
Have you seen the movie “The Departed”? Jack Nicholson played a character based on James “Whitey” Bulger, a Boston mobster and FBI informant who disappeared, seemingly into thin air way back in 1995. The now 81-year-old Whitey, who has been connected to 19 murders, had a $2 Million dollar reward on his head and managed to escape capture, despite sightings in London and around California. But it was his longtime companion, Catherine Greig, and her commitment to the beauty project that led to FBI to finally track him down yesterday.
The arrest came after the F.B.I., stymied in its efforts to find Mr. Bulger, had doubled the reward for information leading to the arrest of Ms. Greig, to $100,000, and began broadcasting public service television advertisements on shows geared to women viewers, such as Dr. Oz, as part of an effort to find Mr. Bulger through Ms. Greig.
Ms. Greig liked to have a nip here and a tuck there (as well as lots of cosmetic dental procedures). Which is why the FBI targeted women’s shows as well as cosmetic surgery publications in their latest campaign to find Whitey.
In fairness to Ms. Greig, they were living in Santa Monica and letting herself go would have probably attracted more attention than her strict cosmetic maintainence did. But one does wonder what sort of love held these two together that they remained a couple despite the obvious fact that it made them easier to track down?
Perhaps they were concerned about the increased stigma attached to divorce? According to recent article, divorce is now less and less common among the upper middle classes (and with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in their apartment, these two certainly were of a certain set). Not only is divorce less common, but there’s an increasing amount of shame attached to it, especially when there are children involved. And although Whitey and Ms. Greig did not have children, they did have a dog. Perhaps they thought it would be too traumatic for their canine companion if they did not stay together through thick and thin?
Whatever the reasons, it was beauty that brought down the beast. And although many in Boston may be mourning the end to a legend, a man of the people who escaped the law, we ought to be mourning how beauty and love are a trap for all of us, even a cunning criminal like Whitey.
"No one made us feel better about where we lived than Whitey Bulger. Whitey was the brother of our own Senator Billy Bulger, but on the streets of Southie he was even more powerful than Billy. He was the king of Southie, but not like the bad English kings who oppressed and killed the poor people of Ireland. No way would we put up with that. He had definite rules that we all learned to live by, not because we had to, but because we wanted to." -- Michael Patrick MacDonald, All Souls: A Family Story from Southie
Whitey Bulger was apprehended yesterday in California, after sixteen years on the run, a time during which Whitey sightings were greeted in Boston with an excitement to rival those of Elvis Presley or Sasquatch. But unlike Big Foot or the late King, Whitey was really out there--a fugitive from justice, wanted for racketeering and murder--and still very present in the Boston media and minds of everyone around these parts (and the FBI). Now, an old man, he's surrendered and, allegedly, confessed his sins.
Whitey was a larger-than-life presence in profoundly poor South Boston, where Michael Patrick MacDonald grew up, and a driving force behind the violence that claimed the lives of many--not just those nineteen souls for whom he's been officially charged. The Southie of MacDonald's youth was an insular community that, out of desperation, embraced Bulger as its king, but suffered under his rule.
I'd "gotten out," as we like to say -- though we don't say it too loud because it insults the people that are there and offends a lot of people. But when I went back, I saw a lot of the people that had been affected by crime and violence in the '80s, who had lost family members, and who were still living in silence. [...] The world that was created by organized crime and Whitey Bulger -- the culture of death, the culture of drugs, death, and denial.
Of course, Bulger was not the only terrifying force in the neighborhood where MacDonald grew up. In the same interview, Sarah McNaught asks him, "Did you ever draw back for a moment and think, it may not be good, it may not be in my best interests to tell this story?" to which MacDonald responded, "I wasn't scared of neighbors, I wasn't scared of organized crime -- I was scared of my mother."
My outdoor choice is Castle Island in South Boston. Great place to walk anytime, but particularly with the onset of Spring when the ocean air smells great and a hot dog at Sullivan's is the perfect reward for circling the whole Sugar Bowl.
The historic spot is the Old South Meeting House. Though there are many wonderful spots in Boston to experience its history, anytime I'm in this church, I can practically feel the place pulsating with 5,000 angry colonists on the eve of the Boston Tea Party.
And of course, the North End touches me personally in a way no other place in Boston does. All three of my immigrant grandparents lived there, my dad was brought up there, my parents dated at restaurants in the neighborhood, and the Italian experience is still vibrant and unrivaled. I feel comfortable there always, at one with my past, whether walking the crooked, narrow streets, spending a few minutes inside St. Leonard's Church, or enjoying dinner with friends. I've never lived there, but it's always felt like home.
Photos of North End by Jessie Bennett. Photo of St. Leonard's interior by wgdavis on Flickr.
John Hanson Mitchell is the author of The Paradise of All These Parts: A Natural History of Boston. concentrated much of his earlier early work, including, most famously, Ceremonial Time, on a square-mile tract of land known as Scratch Flat, located thirty-five miles northwest of Boston. He is the author of numerous books and editor of the award-winning magazine Sanctuary, published by the Massachusetts Audubon Society. Mitchell lives in Littleton, Massachusetts.
Not an easy question, actually, there are so many favorites, but two stand out:
The main one is probably the little warren of cobblestone streets in the North End between the Copp's Hill Burying Ground and the Paul Revere Mall and Hanover Street. I don't even remember the names of the streets and enjoy very much getting lost there.
Do Cambridge or Somerville count? Two of my favorites are: True Grounds Cafe in Ball Square, Somerville-- the best scones and most artful lattes in town. Also Porter Square bookstore in Cambridge, a wonderful independent bookstore with a warm atmosphere and a great series of readings.
Editor's note: I don't usually chime in with my own opinions, but I have to add that Beacon Hill is one of the most beautiful places in the Boston area, and it's an absolute joy to work here, especially in the springtime. Here are a few photos of my favorite spots, including, of course, Beacon Press headquarters! -- Jessie
Dropkick Murphys collaborate with Michael Patrick MacDonald to bring the story of Cornelius Larkin to life
Win signed copies of Dropkick Murphys' latest CD Going Out in Style and Michael Patrick MacDonald's All Souls! See Beacon.org for details.
On March 1, 2011, Dropkick Muphys released their seventh full-length studio album, Going Out In Style. The songs take the band's own personal experiences and family folklore and roll them into the story of one fictional character, Cornelius Larkin. Fueled by fiery riffs and unforgettable choruses, Going Out In Style traces Larkin's journey, whether it's the Irish immigrant's first person account of his own wake or the band's in depth interpretation of his life and lineage throughout the album's lyrics. Ken Casey (lead vocals and bass guitar) reveals, "Cornelius has passed on to the other side, and the album becomes a retrospective of his life. He's one of those guys who immigrated to America at 16, got drafted into the Korean War, married young, had lots of kids, worked hard, and lived a full life rife with different characters, ups and downs, and trials and tribulations. Some of the stories are fictional, but most are odes to our grandparents, friends, and loved ones."
The Dropkicks felt that there was no way to tell a man's whole story in just thirteen songs. In order to round the story out, the band called on their friend, best-selling author Michael Patrick MacDonald (All Souls, Easter Rising). MacDonald wrote an eloquent obituary for Cornelius Larkin in the album's liner notes, along with the beginnings of a more extensive narrative about the album's main character for listeners to delve into. MacDonald became immensely engrossed in the character's development, particularly as Cornelius began to take on elements of MacDonald's own family history. At that point, the story grew into a much longer saga that is available on the band's and MacDonald's websites in conjunction with the album release.
"Collaborating with the Dropkick Murphys is, for me, a family affair," says MacDonald. "Cornelius Larkin represents all that we come from. And this story is about embracing the good, the bad, the ugly and beautiful that we all come from; ultimately learning to work with all of it. Past is truly prelude."
Casey elaborates, "I wrote an outline which began leading to songs. At the same time, I wanted the obituary to have that author's flair, a little more description, a more detailed narrative, and a deeper story. Michael listened to the songs we'd written, and he fleshed out the story and really put a name and a face on the character. It's a new approach and a unique partnership, especially in this day and age. The songs inspire the story, and the story inspires the songs. It's a deep record, and it celebrates a life."
In the book, Miller relates the scintillating story of how a powerful band of Brahmin moral crusaders helped make Boston the most straitlaced city in America, forever linked with the infamous catchphrase "Banned in Boston." You can read a sample chapter on Scribd.
In their heyday, the Watch and Ward operated from the lofty heights of Beacon Hill, in their headquarters at 41 Mt. Vernon St. This address is very familiar to those of us here at Beacon Press...
... because it's where we work!
Given Beacon's great commitment to publishing "dangerous" work, and our numerous books examining the history and importance of free speech (From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act,Free for All, Worst Instincts, to name a few), it's interesting to think about the meetings held here by the city's moral guardians. The Watch and Ward, in their efforts to keep scintillating material out of the hands of readers, sent out secret orders from this address banning countless works, including modern classics by Hemingway, Faulkner, and Sinclair Lewis, and went to
war with publishing and literary giants such as Alfred A. Knopf and The Atlantic Monthly (who, in another ironic twist, also once had offices at 41 Mt. Vernon).
In this video, Neil Miller explains another surprising connection to the Watch and Ward.
When Charles Dickens visited Boston in 1842, he might have had the Irish in mind when he told guests at a dinner in his honor: "Virtue shows quite as well in rags and patches as she does in fine linen . . . she goes barefoot as well as shod . . . she dwells rather oftener in alleys and by-ways than she does in courts and palaces." He urged Bostonians to "lay [your] hands upon some of these rejected ones whom the world has too long forgotten" and to understand that "these creatures have the same elements and capacities of goodness as yourselves."
But Dickens's message went unheeded during the height of Irish immigration to Boston.
Thousands of Boston Irish, who had witnessed such devastation in their own country—who saw it transformed from a nation of bucolic splendor to a blight-infested isle of death—arrived in their adopted city to find not succor but prejudice, not welcome but suspicion and contempt. Boston's closed Yankee society, its deep anti-Catholicism, its intellectualism—all of these were completely foreign to, and conspired against, the bedraggled Irish who stepped weakly off the coffin ships and sought refuge among her narrow streets. Beginning in earnest with the ransacking and torching destruction of the Ursuline Convent in Charlestown in 1834, the Athens of America, one of the most progressive and educated locales in the New World (or the Old World, for that matter), rejected the Irish with an unprecedented, unrelenting, white-hot vitriol that rocked the newcomers and left them dispirited and disillusioned.
Tonight at 6pm, Howard Bryant will speak at the Boston Public Library. From the BPL website:
Howard Bryant delivers a definitive biography of Baseball Hall-of-Famer Henry Aaron. Bryant's research here is exhaustive, but it only serves to add texture and context to Aaron's compelling story, which starts with an impoverished but proud Mobile, Alabama boyhood, then follows Aaron's long and steady trajectory as the greatest home-run hitter (if not player) of his generation, ending with Aaron's public and private responses to the breaking of his home-run record by Bonds in 2007.
Howard Bryant is the author of Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston, which was a finalist for the Society of American Baseball Research's 2003 Seymour Medal, and Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power, and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball. He is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine; appears regularly on ESPN's The Sports Reporters, ESPN First Take, and Outside the Lines; and serves as sports correspondent for NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday.
After lamenting the absence of a One Book, One City program in Boston, the Globe decided to launch an experiment: a citywide reading program of its own. The comments that followed the story after it ran in the Books section and on Boston.com confirmed what we suspected — local citizens are certainly among the country's most opinionated readers. What better place to host a reading program than Boston? Here's how the Globe online book club will work: What follows is a list of 10 books, many of which were culled from readers' suggestions. The list — we hope — has something for everyone; each book certainly has plenty of meat for discussion. The only theme: All the books have local interest. Readers will have one week to vote for their pick (voting closes July 13). Once the winner is announced participants will then have a month to read the book. At the end of the month Boston.com will host a discussion with an expert moderator.
Go to the Globe website and vote now for the title you'd like to read. The poll closes tomorrow, so cast your vote now!
We received this note from Michael Patrick MacDonald about how he spent this past Monday, All Souls Day. MacDonald is the author of the critically acclaimed All Souls: A Family Story from Southie, a bestselling memoir of growing up in a poverty and violence stricken Boston neighborhood.
Spent today, All Souls Day, visiting students at four Boston Public Schools which use All Souls (and usually Easter Rising) in the classroom... I launched the entire Boston Public School marathon last week with an appearance at assembly for 150 Charlestown High School students who'd all been assigned All Souls. At Codman Academy today, students read passages of All Souls to me and talked about their personal connections to each passage, e.g. one young woman related to my outrage at the injustices in my brother Steven's case, telling me -- and the assembly of students and faculty -- that she experienced similar rage at her sisters imprisonment on murder charges. I was so moved by the experience at Codman Academy that I announced that this would become an annual institution, making pro bono appearances in the Boston Public Schools every year on All Souls Day (and the following days), thus bringing the intentions of the All Souls Day vigils we once held in South Boston, into the schools (where they are as relevant as ever).
Here's a picture from the Codman Academy website of MacDonald with students who participated in the event:
MacDonald visited several Boston schools: Charlestown High, Codman Academy, Fenway High School, Boston Day and Evening Academy, East Boston High School, and Boston Arts Academy, which is, incidentally, the setting for another Beacon Pres book: Linda Nathan's The Hardest Questions Aren't on the Test: Lessons from an Innovative Urban School. Here he's with students from Boston Arts Academy and with Linda Nathan: the two authors are holding each others' books in the picture.
It's been ten years since Beacon first published All Souls (which the Boston Globe named one of 100 Essential New England Books, and which readers currently have ranked #1 on that list), and in honor of that milestone, ads are running on the Red Line T trains, which pass under Beacon's offices in downtown Boston as well as through Southie.
As a couple of local Boston area papers have reported, the board of selectmen in the town of Falmouth, Massachusetts, recently voted to allow one parking space at the Old Silver Beach to be used from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day by a group of local churches. The churches can set up shop in the parking space and talk to people who come and talk to them first, but the churches are not allowed to proselytize to people who just want to come and get some sun and surf.
Understandably, this decision has raised some concern that the town has violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, which prohibits the government from making any law "respecting an establishment of religion." This is the part of the Constitution that typically people mean when they talk about "separation of church and state." Well, the use of the prayer parking space, without more, does not itself violate the First Amendment. It's weird--maybe even, as we like to say in Boston, wicked weird--but not unconsitutional. What would be unconstitutional, however, would be if some other religious group--say a Jewish group or a Buddhist group or a Satanist group--asked the town if it could also set up shop in the parking lot, and the town said no.
On a perfect Memorial Day morning, I bicycled out of Boston to a Veterans Affairs medical center in Jamaica Plain, to see if there might be a commemorative service for patients. It's no longer an inpatient facility, and was closed for the holiday. But as I rounded a corner not far from the hospital, I heard The Marines' Hymn ("From the Halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli...") and a medley of other armed forces songs booming off the walls of a highway overpass. At American Legion Post 76, small flags were stuck in the lawn, and spectators snapped pictures as a color guard formed up in the parking lot. A half dozen former soldiers, young and no longer young, stood at parade rest holding flags and old bolt-action carbines and exchanging a few wisecracks while the sound system was adjusted. There were short speeches, a prayer and a song with the refrain "God Bless the U.S.A," and several of the spectators sang along. The parade was short because the post is close to the highway and an intersection, and the color guard marched out of the driveway, around the building and back to the starting point.
I was struck by the span of their ages and the conflicts in which they served. The post's last World War I soldier died a couple years ago, someone said. The World War II veterans moved with deliberation, and a couple of the Vietnam vets looked to be getting creaky knees, although Vietnam seems not that long ago.
One Navy man there was Eddie MacDonald, in his late eighties. MacDonald was an underwater demolition specialist and among the first to hit the shores of France clearing mines in advance of the D-Day landing. Another Navy man, in uniform and with a lot of stripes on one sleeve, was gently said to have "seen a lot of war service"; everyone shook his hand or patted him on the back.
Joe Ratta, aged 81, an Army tank driver in World War II, was there and so was his younger brother, Frank, an infantryman in Korea. Next to Paul DeCoste, a six-foot-plus Marine who served in Vietnam, were two young men – both named Mike – from our current Iraq and Afghanistan era. When the speeches were over and the service plaques had been handed out, the good-humored crowd ambled past the flags and headed for the bar.
"This goes on in every little town across the country on Memorial Day and Veterans Day," Joe Ratta told me later. He added that every civilian cemetery in the country is covered by a veterans' organization such as the Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars. "Ever notice the small flags in the cemetery on Memorial Day?" Joe asked. "We put them there every year." This year the Jamaica Plain post placed 1,500 flags on veterans' graves in Forest Hills cemetery alone.