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One on one on one.

A brief break from the Boston-specific history dead-ends …

Hardcore fans of Chrysler-Plymouth-Dodge cars have an old slogan: “Mopar or no car.”

But what about everyone else? Convincing the undecided buyer is a much more challenging proposition.

Recently, I’ve been enjoying the remnants of the fight for American car buyers. I’ve been watching old films, produced by Chrysler and distributed to Chrysler dealers, comparing their cars to similar models produced by other manufacturers.

As a communications professional, I can relate to these. I’ve spent more than a decade writing talking points that help my company’s representatives consistently and accurately express our view of an issue. These films are, at heart, illustrated talking points for Chrysler dealers: Wanna convince Falcon buyers to pick Dart instead? This year we’re stressing legroom, safety, and the dashboard redesign.

And, as a student of the ’60s and ’70s, I enjoy the thorough examinations of each vehicle. They’re skewed toward Chrysler, of course, but it’s still cool to see everything from the trunk to the suspension picked apart and discussed.

Here are a few of my favorites, with my no-value-added commentary after each one. (These have been upped to YouTube by users Osborn Tramain and, without whom, etc.)

1964 Imperial vs. Cadillac:

– It’s purely on a styling basis, I guess, but after watching this, I’d still totes buy the Caddy ahead of the Imperial. (Never cared for the Imperial’s weird spare tire-molded deck lid, for one thing.)
– Love the emphasis on bigger, heavier, longer, higher, wider — even in the armrests. Imperial’s armrests are just so much bigger and more impressive than Cadillac’s. (Actually, I find them kinda gross.)
– What kind of bathrobe is the scientist at 5:51 wearing?
– A subtle sign of the times: Imperial mentions that its five-year, 50,000-mile warranty may still be in place when the car is traded in, improving its trade-in value. Meanwhile, Caddy’s two-year, 24,000-mile warranty is likely to run out before the car is traded in. Do people still trade in cars within five years or 50,000 miles today? Do they still trade in at all? (I’ve never done it.)

1964 Imperial vs. Lincoln:

– Why they didn’t wrap this comparison into the Imperial vs. Caddy video, I dunno. (In other videos they took on two competitors at a time.) I guess Chrysler felt it had two separate films’ worth of points to make.
– The Imperial is $76 less than the Lincoln when comparably equipped. Now, granted, $76 went farther back then than it does now. But still, do you think the $76 difference was enough to trouble anyone wealthy enough to consider either car?
– No detail was too small to get picked out in these videos, and the winner here is the location of the gas tank. Did people really use that to make decisions? (And was it a complete given that someone in this income range would rely on the gas station attendant to fill them up, rather than do it themselves?)
– Curved glass is a “mark of distinction.” Remember that when next you shop for a vehicle, America.
– However, the Lincoln’s suicide doors are “impractical.” Unique design features are only a tangible plus when Imperial’s got ’em, apparently.
– God bless Imperial for working the push-button tranny, which has gone on in retrospect to become the very symbol of overdesigned, underbuilt American cars.
– Interesting that they mention gas mileage, even briefly. Wonder if anyone cared?
– Having watched both these films, I still pick the Caddy.

1977 Dodge Royal Monaco vs. Ford LTD and Chevrolet Caprice:

– Each of these films is made with a particular class of buyer in mind. And the choice of target consumer here is big families (the sort that would buy an SUV nowadays). That gives us a look at the distinct gradations and wrinkles of the car market: While the Royal Monaco is a large car, it’s not being pitched to luxury buyers and high rollers; it’s aimed at fecund families.
– This video is subtitled on YouTube as “Blues Brothers Movie.” I was sorta hoping that Belushi and Aykroyd would show up, coked to the gills, to tell Dodge dealers about the joys of the Royal Monaco. Alas, no such thing happens, and I assume the subtitle refers to the fact that Royal Monacos appear in “The Blues Brothers.”
– Oh, so that’s how you pronounce “brougham.” Never knew.
– I pretty much fail to detect the difference in visibility between the various cars; looks to me like all of ’em have about an acre-and-a-half of glass.
– The glovebox coinholder gets the prize as the most useless feature in this film. I guess some engineer at Chrysler put an hour or two into that, anyway.
– Is it just me, or do they drill Caprice a lot more than they do LTD?
– Oh, so those ugly concealed headlights are supposed to be “weather protected.” Is that what justified their existence?
– Weird little error at 7:07: The side vent windows are nice “but you can’t get them on Impala.” Impala isn’t the subject of comparison here; Caprice is. Hope Chrysler applies better quality control to its cars than it does to its videos.
– After watching that, I probably buy the Caprice, and tell my kids in the backseat to STFU.

1971 Dodge Charger vs Ford Torino 500 and Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu

– Is it just me, or does this video get off to the coldest possible start? We’re talking vintage Detroit coupe-style power here (just look at that purple Charger!) and the start of the video connotes absolutely nothing in the way of performance, power, joy or youth. Tell Don Draper to strike the first two minutes and start again.
– Three minutes in and they’re talking about the door handles, door locks and warning buzzers. Dude: If you have nothing better to say at this point, just stop. Seriously: Look again at that car in the screen grab above, and then see what a poor job the film does in conveying its appeal.
– This time around, they seem to be hitting the Ford a lot harder than the Chevy. In fact, they spend an awful lot of time saying, “Malibu is like Charger.” Work harder, guys.
– Which do I buy after watching this video? Maybe the Charger, maybe the Chevelle.

1976 Chrysler Wagons vs. GM and Ford

– I wish I had one of these right now, and hang the gas expense.
– A new level of cheese-paring: Chrysler’s fake woodgrain is better because it’s surrounded by bright metal, not vinyl. God bless the Chrysler dealers in Moline and McKeesport who said, with a straight face, “Look at that metal around the woodgrain! Won’t find that anywhere else.”
– The vent-window option appears at 1:47, and gets called out as a great way to clear smoke from the car. The decline of cigarettes makes that a less relevant sales pitch … though who knows? Maybe the gradual legalization of pot will bring the vent window back into the mainstream.
– Hey, that clamshell back gate is pretty cool. I want one, even though it seems like just the sort of part that would stop working and freeze half-closed in, like, 1982.
– Chrysler keeps going on about the gauge that shows you the condition of the electrical system. Wonder how much that ever resonated with drivers. Do most people care, or do they just want to know when something’s broken?
– Which one would I buy? Well, having grown up riding in station wagons and eventually owning two of them, I say these are all glorious. But in this case, I think the demonstrated features of the Chrysler-Plymouth wagons might actually have won me over to buying one.
– (I mean, how about that metal trim around the woodgrain? Just look at it.)

1971 Plymouth Barracuda vs. Ford Mustang

– OK, let’s finish off with some real vintage muscle.
– Give Chrysler’s marketers some credit here. They don’t waste any time nattering about wheelbase length or glovebox access. Instead, they hammer from the get-go about the real issue at hand here — the increasing size and grossness of the late ’60s/early ’70s Mustangs.
– The shot of the Mustang’s limited rear visibility makes a great point … until they put it up against a photo of the ‘Cuda’s rear visibility, and you find out that you really can’t see a hell of a lot of anything out of either car.
– “The Sportsroof is exclusive to Mustang … which is fine with us.” Oh, snap, this is getting good! Glad I kept watching these silly old films.
– “With the armrest up, there’s room for three in front.” If you’ve got three people in the front of your ‘Cuda, it probably means there’s three in the back. And who the hell wants to ride six people in their Barracuda? There’s a headline in this whole discussion — and it says something like “BEER BASH CRASH INJURES SIX AREA TEENS.”
– Another mention on how easy it is to lock the doors. C’mon, folks. Give the dealer something substantial, or just be quiet and make the video shorter.
– “It’s embarrassing to an owner to be kidded” about the awkwardness of his seat release? I can think of a lot more embarrassing things to be kidded about than that. Still, extra points to Chrysler for feistiness. Ooooooh, Barracuda!
– Which would I buy? I’d take a long look at Barracuda, and might well drive one off the lot.
– I have to say, though, that while most of the Mustangs shown are kinda unappealing, the Mustang Mach 1 pictured at 3:00 into the video is all kinds of sleek and silver and awesome and, to steal a phrase from Gord Downie, “hero incredible.” I might just buy one of those instead … and do my absolute goddamnedest to never, ever, ever put it in reverse.


Autumn in Boston, long ago.

The region-specific history just keeps on comin’. Tune me out if you want.

I left the Boston Evening Transcript — the long-ago paper of the upper crust — out of yesterday’s historical newspaper piece because, unlike other dead Boston papers, it’s easily read online.

And so we find ourselves reading the Transcript from 105 years ago today — Oct. 15, 1913. As luck would have it, it’s a good one … one of those old newspapers that mixes signs of its times with stories that still seem relevant today.

I won’t take you to every single page … but I will hit on some of the highlights. As follows:


– We’ll start at the bottom right of the front page. Wait a minute: There’s a major league ballpark for sale?

Yup: The Huntington Avenue Grounds, site of the very first World Series, was for sale, two seasons after the Red Sox abandoned it for then-new Fenway Park. The property owners must have thought a Transcript reader might make a likely buyer. (It’s not clear to me whether the structure of the ballpark was still in place in October 1913, or whether the property had been cleared.)

The property eventually made its way into the ownership of Northeastern University. The area of the park is now a private/unofficial walking “street” called World Series Way, with a plaque and a life-size statue of Cy Young. I was there just a weekend or two ago.

– Elsewhere on the front page: A somewhat lengthier weather report than I would have thought common in 1913, including the notation, “Auto lamps to be lighted at 5:33 p.m.” It appears the state was in the habit of telling drivers exactly when to light up; critics who perceive today’s government to be an overly controlling nanny-state might find that of interest.

– The front page features a truly swingin’ list of “What Is Going On Tonight.” The hippest trips in Boston that night included a Verdi concert on the Common at 8 p.m.; a meeting of the Sunday School Superintendents’ Union; a banquet of the New England Postmasters’ Association; and an illustrated lecture on the Canadian Pacific Railway.

– Also tucked onto the front page: A brief note in which National League president Ban Johnson throws his support behind the continuation of the World’s Series in its present form, despite unspecified “necessary evils.”

The rest of the stories on the front page – from bond sales, to society engagements, to a summary of Gov. Eugene Foss’s speech on railroad regulation – are the kinds of things you’d think upper-class readers might be interested in. A brief on baseball sticks out a little bit. I interpret its presence to mean that baseball in those days was a real social leveler — a subject bankers might be just as firmly interested in as newsboys.

(Johnson also notes that ballplayers will almost certainly be banned from writing stories for newspapers. God forbid ballplayers make a few bucks on the side and/or express an opinion. Wherever he is now, I hope Ban Johnson is choking on a thousand ballplayers’ tweets.)

-Page Two brings us Gov. Foss again, watching the Filene’s store get drenched in water in a fire test, as well as a charming feature about an auction of city-owned property. The auctioneer’s name was John Kiley; one wonders whether he was an ancestor of another John Kiley who later became famous around these parts.

-We leap to Page Six (there’s interesting stuff on Three through Five, but I’m not writing an encyclopedia on a Monday night) for the Sporting News, headed by an ad for Steinway pianos. When was the last time Steinway or a Steinway dealer bought ad space on the sports page, d’ya think?

Anyway, the sports page notes the growth of lacrosse and soccer among East Coast colleges — early stirrings of sports that are now well-established — plus a story calling on the Harvard football team to be more aggressive.

And, tucked in at bottom right, there’s a paragraph about how Connecticut Literary Institute tackle Frank Thompson is recovering nicely from a concussion that rendered him unconscious during a game. Hmmm, good thing that whole head-trauma thing isn’t an issue among football players any more.

-An ad on Page Seven reminds us that the saying about New England’s fast-changing weather is neither new nor fictive.


-On Page Eight, we find a lengthy feature on Yee Wah, the unofficial “mayor” of Boston’s Chinatown, making a trip home to China to see his dying mother. I wouldn’t have expected a story about a Chinese person, however locally famous, in the Transcript; and to add to my wonder, it’s not condescending. Whaddya know.

-The stock market roundup on Page Ten includes this classic bit of analysis: “That this rally should come in the face of Mexican news and talk of further advance in the Bank of England discount rate goes to show that when everybody knows what is going on, or likely to happen, stocks act in the opposite manner.”

Ninety years after this was printed, I worked on the business desk of a newspaper with a reporter who used to read each day’s stock roundup and laugh. He was convinced — and he was probably right — that 90 percent of the time, the stock analysts were really just spitballing when they talked about what was moving the market. Once in a while, the market forces were obvious; but on many others, the “experts” were clearly grasping at whatever sounded most logical.

That’s eternal, I guess.

-A bit of history lurks among the stock prices on Page Eleven, where an ad advises readers to know what the “new” income tax law means to them.

Sure enough, the Sixteenth Amendment — which created federal income tax — had only been ratified in February of that year, and lots of captains of industry probably still didn’t know what it meant to them.


-Steamer comings and goings on Page Twelve, including — if you look closely — the RMS Lusitania, traveling from New York to Liverpool.

Pages Fourteen and Fifteen bring help-wanted ads (“A Protestant cook and parlormaid-waitress wanted;” “Protestant from the provinces preferred;” “state age, nationality in answer”) and rooms to let — including an ad for the Hotel Buckminster in Kenmore Square, which all these decades later is still there.

-On Page Seventeen is a royal wedding. Didn’t we just have one of those the other day? In between royal weddings and royal babies it’s hard to keep it all straight. (These particular nuptials united Prince Arthur and Princess Alexandra, for the Anglophiles out there.)

Page Eighteen brings an ad for Fiat motor cars — I assume the same Italian make that has made a couple of unsuccessful bids  in the States, but I could be wrong. The dealership is at 839-841 Boylston Street, which is only a few doors down from today’s landmark Prudential Tower at 800 Boylston. I should wander past and see if the shell of the old dealership is still there, probably now occupied by a Trader Joe’s or a Walgreen’s or a place selling expensive salads.

-Round about Page Twenty we get into the indigestible think pieces, on everything from the Indian’s lot in society to a new street-sweeping machine to Dame Nellie Melba. The hour grows late.

Page Twenty-Two includes an ad for the infamous (or perhaps unfortunate) Evelyn Nesbit Thaw at the Shubert Theatre and George M. Cohan at the Colonial.

-Leverett Saltonstall, mentioned yesterday, shows up in a Page Twenty-seven blurb about Harvard men running for student government. I’m sure a couple of the other mentioned names turned out to be big wheels too, but I don’t immediately recognize them.

(OK, Lampoon editor Theodore Sizer turned out to be an art historian and Yale professor, fellow editor Harold Weston became an artist, and Harvard Crimson editor candidate Christian Herter became U.S. Secretary of State and governor of Massachusetts. I’m not Wiki-ing any more of these damned names. OK?)

Page Twenty-Eight brings an ad for a product I could have used on a few mornings in Boston….


-After that comes the Transcript’s famous genealogical page, and row upon row of corset ads, and then more classifieds.

The school from which I would graduate eighty-two years later has a big ad promoting night MBA classes. The appeal of such self-improvement is timeless: Not six hours ago, when I was in Back Bay station waiting for the train home, I was looking at electronic ads for Northeastern’s professional MBA program.


Also advertising: Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery on Huntington Avenue. Fannie Farmer herself might have been teaching: According to Wiki, she gave her last lecture 10 days before her death in 1915.

And damn, even though this is getting long, here’s another name I recognize. I’ve heard many times of the Longy School of Music in Cambridge. Turns out the O.G. Monsieur Longy was still in business in 1913.


-A page or two later, there are dueling ads for Cunard and the White Star Line, because port city, and of course there are.

Wow, it’s 11 p.m. Time to put the paper down, blow out the oil-lamp and retire.

There will be more news tomorrow … new, old, and somewhere in between.

Moar history.

I continue to devote weekend time to my own perverse Eastern Massachusetts History Tour, and you continue to get the updates here, such as you want to read about them.

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Since coming back here, I’ve felt a reconnection with and renewed interest in journalism, my original profession.

It might be because, every morning, I’ve got two old-but-new papers in the office to take a look at. I’m familiar with the Globe and the Herald, but I’m still sussing out how they’ve changed over the past 15 years (besides shrinking), and seeing how many bylines I recognize still appear in each paper.

Or, it could be because the last time I lived here I was a journalist, and so I connect Massachusetts with journalism on some basic cellular level.

At any rate, I spent a couple hours yesterday at the Boston Public Library, taking a look at some of the Boston dailies that died off before I got here. There was nothing instructive or immediately useful in this endeavour; I just decided it would be fun, and in its own fashion, it was.

Boston, now a two-paper town, had seven dailies as recently as 1941 — the year the upper-class Evening Transcript died. (This accounting excludes the Christian Science Monitor, which is an interesting paper but isn’t out there covering City Council meetings.)

The Post — once the biggest daily paper in New England — closed its doors in 1956.

And then, in the ’60s and early ’70s, the Record, American, Herald and Traveler took part in a complicated four-way fandango: First the Record and American merged, then the Herald and Traveler merged, and then all four came together in what was initially called the Herald American but eventually just became today’s Herald.

Every paper has a personality. And while I didn’t spend enough time or effort to really become an expert, it was cool to get a sense of each of the now-gone papers.

The Record and American were on the trashy-tabloid end of the spectrum — particularly the American, whose every front page seemed devoted to some sort of screaming regional crime story. If it bled, it led. (No prizes for guessing that the American was a Hearst paper.)


On an ordinary day, when another newspaper didn’t close, STOLEN BABY FEARED SLAIN would have been the American’s banner headline.

I checked out issues of the Post from the early ’50s, and it seemed … kinda gray and jumbled and not sure of itself.

Of course, newspaper design from the old days always looked gray and jumbled, what with all the stories they used to cram onto the front page. But the Post seemed to be trying to be all things to all people — running sports and crime and state government and international news together, in such a way that I suspect it failed to be anything to anyone in the end.


Gotta love old papers that run motivational quotations high on A1.

The Traveler, examined in 1965, and the Herald American, seen in 1973, seemed like much more readable papers — more consistent and thoughtful in tone — though the Herald American gave signs that a little bit of the American‘s tabloid nature still ran in its veins.

(A sample lead story looked at the company that sold highway barrels — you know, the kind you sometimes see at construction sites — asking whether the state was overpaying for all the barrels it needed to have for highway construction. It was at once clever, probing, and pretty well useless.)



(I didn’t seek out the Evening Transcript at the BPL because I can read it at home — a substantial archive of Transcripts is online through Google Newspapers. I wouldn’t be shocked if a Transcript post was on its way at some point soon.)

I came away from my afternoon at the microfilm machine with renewed appreciation for the work of all the reporters and editors who made those back issues happen.

I can only imagine what it was like to work on, say, the Traveler in 1950, and to be sent to cover an event, and to be expected to come back with something better, fresher or more interesting than the guys at the Globe, Herald, American and Record would get out of it — knowing that the city editor would read all the papers page by page and would mark your performance.

I thought of prose stylists stuck at the American, longing to write meaningful stories, but having to write about landladies getting stabbed in Walpole … and, perhaps, the reverse — somebody covering a State House hearing for the Globe but secretly wishing he could tell stories with some blood and vinegar to them.

(I thought of subterfuge and fraud, too. Do you think all those quotable strangers who happened to see all those fatal car accidents were real? How often did a reporter with his back against the wall invent some visiting witness who then disappeared? Abundant coverage is not always more trustworthy coverage. Or at least it wasn’t then, when sources couldn’t be Googled.)

I’ve been told more than once that college journalism programs are booming in recent years. We’ll never again see a seven-newspaper daily market … but I could get to like the idea of all these kids colliding with the same kind of friction and competition that once fueled all these daily papers in Boston.

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You can do a lot of things at the Boston Public Library, and on yesterday’s trip, I also spent some time peeking through the windows of the rich.

You can blame my visit to Harvard Stadium, which took me down a totally unexpected Boston-cultural wormhole.

While doing research for that post, I was introduced to the Harvard class report, colloquially called a “red book.”

It seems that every Harvard class, upon reaching an anniversary ending in five or zero, invites its members to write in and let their classmates know what they’ve been up to, personally and professionally. Just about anything they choose to submit is allowed to reach print. The results are then hardbound and shipped out to all class members.

(This roundup from the official Harvard magazine provides an excellent view of the tradition, including a few particularly memorable submissions. Go check it out. If you don’t come back to the rest of my post, you won’t have lost much.)


A sample red book entry from one of the Class of 1914’s long-ago books. I’ve intentionally chosen a public figure: The “sober married man” went on to become a U.S. Senator and three-term governor of Massachusetts.

The school says adamantly that red books will never be placed online. Making the books easily accessible to the public would make alumni clam up, thus permanently changing the character of the books. Plus, exposing the personal information of Harvard grads would provide a golden opportunity to thieves, social engineers and other online nogoodniks.

But, the magazine story says, a few places on earth keep hard-copy stashes of Harvard red books … and one of them is the BPL.

So, at the same desk where I procured five microfilm reels worth of old newspaper, I requested and got two more-or-less-randomly selected Harvard red books. (You can’t take them out of the library, but you can look at them at leisure under the green-capped lights of the reading room, and you’re not required to provide any reason or justification for your interest.)

Why did I want to poke my nose into these?

I’ve always been interested in history and American life as lived by the man on the street — as shown on Hope Street — and any time you can read about history in the direct words of the man on the street, so much the better. Harvard men might tend to live on nicer streets than the rest of us, but that doesn’t mean their view of their lives as they pass is any less interesting or worthwhile.

Based on my small sample size, though, I’m not sure the Harvard red book is really that interesting as a historical vehicle. Most of the updates I read tended toward the personal, and tended to be exactly what you’d expect. Poignancy, poetry, or larger insight was scarce and far between.

Depending on career paths and time periods, their jobs were either very challenging (stockbrokers during Wall Street crashes) or perfectly wonderful (Mr Chips-type schoolteachers putting on another ring of tweed at the academy year by year).

And on the home front, when the kids are young, there’s lots of struggling to keep up; when the kids are out of college, there’s lots of pride and lots of “where did the years go?”

As it happened, novelist Anton Myrer — whose 1978 novel The Last Convertible told the coming-of-age story of five Harvard men — was a member of the class I picked at random.

Several of his classmates praised The Last Convertible in their late-’70s writeups; one man went so far as to say that Tony Myrer had captured his life so well that there was no point in his submitting additional info to the red book.

So, if you want to know about how the smart and the rich navigated the 20th century, fiction may, in the end, be a better read than truth.

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A few old, old red books are available online if you’re interested in getting the flavor of the enterprise. The Class of ’14 book that includes the Leverett Saltonstall update posted above can be read here.

Historic concrete.

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I go someplace else new, you get some words and pictures out of it. Seems like a pleasant enough solution to a holiday weekend, no?

I spent my overcast, nippy Columbus Day in Boston and Cambridge. I have a monthly pass that gives me substantial travel range on the regional commuter rail and subway network, so when I don’t have any other plans, I try to put it to work. (Will I continue this when it gets really cold? We’ll see.)

Anyway, I went into a neighborhood I wasn’t previously familiar with, and saw a landmark I’d always wanted to see.

I suspect it was a place my paternal grandfather — a football fan and a sightseer — would have wanted to see as well. Perhaps he even managed to make his way there at some point.

My sense is it hasn’t changed much since he lived in New England:


Harvard Stadium was built in 1903 — not in Cambridge but in Allston, a neighborhood of Boston that’s just across the Charles River.

Over the years, the U-shaped stadium has sprouted and then shed a set of bleachers at its open end. It’s also been surrounded in recent decades by other Harvard athletic fields, including what looks from the outside like a nice hockey rink.

But the core of the stadium doesn’t seem to have changed much at all — rings upon rings of cement plank-benches, upon which the arses of the sifted few have shivered for more than a century now.

(Some of them have shivered on the field, as well. Former Crimson lettermen Bobby and Ted Kennedy would have practiced and played here.)

The closed end still bears a dedication cast in cement by the Class of 1879, honoring “the joy of manly contest.” One imagines the university’s women have some thoughts on that … but the Class of 1879, like City Hall, is tough to fight.


You’ll note the “seat” numbers painted on the concrete in the above pic. While those appear freshly touched up, other parts of the stadium are cracked and faded, giving the whole place a bit of a run-down feel.

Could be that’s part of the vibe …if you’re going to do business in a 115-year-old stadium, there’s no point in making it look new.



The old cement horseshoe also has a couple of more lowbrow claims to fame.

In the summer of 1970, it hosted Janis Joplin’s last concert appearance. Many years ago, for my college newspaper, I interviewed a guy who worked security at the show. Memory says he told me that the sound was lousy and, in keeping with the time, the organizers were worried that revolutionaries were going to seize the moment to do something violent. But the show passed without incident, and was actually quite good for those who relaxed and enjoyed it.

That same fall, Harvard Stadium also played host to the first NFL season of the Boston Patriots. That season marked the end of the team’s 10-year nomadic period, during which it bounced from field to field in search of a permanent home. For 1971, the team moved into Schaefer Stadium in Foxboro and has been in Foxboro ever since.

The ’70 Patriots posted the worst record in the league, going 1-6 at home and 2-12 overall. Regrettably, the game-by-game box scores at Pro Football Reference don’t include attendance numbers; I’d be curious to know how many people showed up to see the worst team in football.

(Lacking that, there are always this clip from Week Five, and this from Week Nine. The “Take Five” pastiche in the second clip is a particular hoot.)

The Pats have been a juggernaut for so long that one sometimes forgets the lengthy periods when the franchise hasn’t had two shoestrings to tie together — and would probably have tripped over them if it had.

Anyhow, I hung out at Harvard Stadium for maybe 10 minutes. The football team was doing some sort of drill-contest on the field; the losing squadron dropped and did push-ups at the end. In the empty stands, people were running stairsteps, an activity for which Harvard Stadium is exceptionally well-suited.

Pulled by gravity to the highest part of the stadium, I looked through an opening and noticed something else: Harvard’s baseball team was getting in seven innings’ worth of fall ball against UMass-Lowell on the adjoining O’Donnell Field.

So I bid the ghost-crowds of fur-coated, megaphone-toting Harvard rooters adieu and went to enjoy a precious, unexpected gift of the sport I really like watching.


A view of the ballgame from Harvard Stadium.

A couple more shots:



The losers pay their dues.


Harvard Stadium bulks over the action at O’Donnell Field.


Didn’t see this sign until after I left. Honest.

A common afternoon.

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I goes on a road trip; you gets the writeup, a day late.

With a gorgeous autumnal New England Saturday on my hands, I decided to do something New England with it: I drove out to visit the Quabbin Reservoir and surrounding area.

For the uninitiated, the Quabbin is a massive man-made lake in the central part of Massachusetts that was built in the 1930s to supply drinking water to Boston and dozens of surrounding communities.

Where it sits in the worldwide ranking of artificial lakes, I know not; but the first time I lived in Massachusetts I had an interest in the place, and it seemed worth revisiting.


Me at the Quabbin, 1998. I don’t miss the weight I’ve lost since then but I do sometimes wish I had the sideburns back. I still own both the shirt and the baseball cap.

I spent most of my day behind the wheel (Route 9 through Worcester lasts longer than a mid-’60s Elvis movie) but the best part of the day involved a lengthy hike into the unknown and abandoned.

Way back when, when the state of Massachusetts went looking for a place to store a whole arseload of potable water, they identified the Swift River Valley as an ideal place to fill with water.

It just so happened that such a plan would flood significant parts of seven or eight towns. Four of those towns — Dana, Enfield, Prescott and Greenwich — were dissolved and wiped off the map in April 1938 (the formal term is “disincorporated.”)

The residents of those towns were paid based on their land holdings, and given time to move elsewhere. Some features of the towns were relocated above the flood line (more on this later). Then, after a last round of photographs, the buildings were cleared, and the water was left to take over.

Some parts of the four doomed towns remained above water. And the town common of one of them (Dana) is preserved as a very simple sort of park, deep in the woods, for those who wish to go think about it.

People like me on my Saturday in October.


Representing with my Pittsfield Mets cap. They don’t exist any more either.

To get to Old Dana Common, you follow a numbered state route to a poorly labeled turnoff chiefly intended for access to a fishing area. You park near the gate, and walk for a half-hour or so on what used to be one of the roads into and out of town, enjoying the stillness and the color of the trees, hearing only birds and the faraway banging from some shooting range.

And then the old town common — so similar in layout to countless other Massachusetts town commons — comes into view, occupied only by a memorial or two; some overgrown cellar holes; a street sign or two to track the former road layout; and photos mounted in appropriate spots to show you where the key buildings (town hall, school, hotel) used to be.


The former site of Dana Center School.


“Site of Dana Common. To all those who sacrificed their homes and way of life.” Cannons and a monument to local soldiers used to occupy this area.



I’d passed the annual Apple Festival in one of the Brookfields on the way in (Brookfield, East Brookfield and West Brookfield are independent and separate towns, and Route 9 runs through all three.) It was easy to imagine some alternate universe in which the citizens of Dana were swarming their common on this glorious, temperate Saturday to a similar end — buying cider donuts, tossing cornhole bags, grumbling about youth soccer practices, what have you.

But Dana long ago drew the short end of the stick in the matter of the public good … and there was no such gathering on its town common; only the occasional hiker.

This is not necessarily a great public tragedy. The people of Dana got help, and time to move, and most of them probably ended up in one of the surrounding towns so they didn’t have to say goodbye to the region they knew. Governments have done worse to their people.

Still, the experience of standing in the onetime heart of their town as it sits silent will make most anyone think a little bit about the nature of communities and what it means to lose — or discard — one.


From the adjoining picture – not shown here – you can tell that this bit of sidewalk used to lead to the front door of Town Hall. Some young man with his heart singing probably walked up this in 1910 to file for his marriage license.

One last illusion: Walking back to my car, I briefly imagined myself a little kid in Dana in 1890 or 1920, hoofing it out of the town center with a fishing pole and a stick of penny candy, thinking the day and the season and the town might last forever.

If the place were closer, I’d probably be a regular visitor. As it is, I’ll keep the memory in my back pocket as a nice meditative destination on a long fall weekend.

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A couple other shots from the day:


Flannel Guy at the reservoir itself.


At the visitors’ center. Damn, I missed the bobcat.


One of the views from the Quabbin Tower, a five- or six-story structure overlooking the reservoir.


Over the course of two years, the bodies from cemeteries in to-be-flooded areas were moved to a new cemetery, Quabbin Park. That couldn’t have been a pleasant job.


The municipal war memorials from the four disincorporated towns — like this one from Dana — were moved to Quabbin Park Cemetery as well. If you could squint, you’d see the 1917-1918 conflict referred to only as “WORLD WAR;” by the time there was a reason to distinguish between the First and Second World Wars, Dana and the other towns were no more.


Boys in wartime want to eat apples.

A bit of the personal, then.

– I am exploring a new-to-me library (are there any greater treats? well, yes, we’ll get to one in a second) whose selection of books and music stomps the library I’m used to.

So far I have plowed through the first volume of Robert Caro’s mammoth biography of Lyndon Johnson, as well as a critical work on the poetry of Robert Lowell that I read over the course of several days on the morning train. (LBJ and Lowell didn’t much like each other, as it happened, but that wasn’t a factor in my choice of reading.)

Still to come in this head-feeding frenzy are the collected poetry of Elizabeth Bishop, and the following albums: Piper at the Gates of Dawn by Pink Floyd; Girls In Peacetime Want to Dance by Belle & Sebastian; We Are the Same by the Tragically Hip; and Barefoot in the Head by the Chris Robinson Brotherhood.

– I have broken a streak of several weeks in which I went to sleep each night listening to Glenn Gould playing Bach.

My brother-in-law thoughtfully gifted me a CD box set many years ago with 10 CDs worth of Gould playing Bach. Somehow it occurred to me that this might make nice music to calm down to in the dark. And it did, for a while, until maybe a week or so ago when I broke out of the habit. Didn’t much matter which piece I was listening to; they were all convivial bedtime companions.

(Not perfect, though: I usually found myself waking up a few hours later, probably the result of my thrifty-cheap unconscious badgering me to turn off the CD player and stop wasting energy.)

I should probably not have changed my routine: Any time you can train your body and mind to respond to a given prompt by going to sleep, that’s a nice card to have in your hand.

– Work took me to Manchester, N.H., today.

I knew that my favorite poet, Robert Lowell, was buried in Dunbarton; but I had no idea where that was until a day or two ago, when the map told me that it’s only about 20 minutes outside the city. So after my obligations were completed, I went there, my copy of Collected Poems in hand. (It would have been roughly 41 years to the week – or maybe the fortnight – after Lowell was laid to rest there, though that didn’t have anything to do with the timing of my visit.)

Stark Cemetery in Dunbarton is tree-shrouded and so tiny I wondered whether it was open to the public. But I didn’t see anything posted about privacy or trespassing. So in I went for a few quiet moments of contemplation.



– On the long, meandering journey home — scored, as my road trips usually are, by the Grateful Dead — I stopped on a whim at a local farm stand in a little town and splurged on a box of fresh Jonagolds. They are so thoroughly wonderful that I’ve eaten five of them. They’ll probably mess with my stomach but I couldn’t care less. It’s fall in New England.

– Oh, yeah, and after years of wistfully thinking, “I bet it would be fun to be an uncle,” I’m an uncle. My older brother and his wife have welcomed a baby boy.

I need to do some more thinking, quick-like, about my preferred style of uncling. I’m probably not cut out to be one of those flaky uncles who waltzes in for a visit, cheerfully upsets the apple-cart (mmmmmm, apples) and leaves again. But I don’t want to be horribly boring either. Wonder where the middle ground is?

I am hoping the young lad gets to know me as Uncle Meat … but this is the sort of thing that can’t be forced, and I suspect my eventual name will be organically stumbled upon. I look forward to finding it out.

Lonely is only a place.

Is there anything more cruel than stealing a song from George Harrison and going unpunished?

I had that thought today while listening to Cheap Trick’s “If You Want My Love.” It’s an above-average pop song whose bridge — a three- or four-note melodic phrase, set over a descending chord pattern — is a mildly restructured rip from the verse of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

It starts at about 1:14 into the video, though I imagine you could have spotted it without the cue.

When the record came out in the fall of 1982, Harrison was just about to start a five-year hiatus from the music industry he’d come to strongly dislike.

If he heard the song, I imagine it only reinforced his desire to get out of the business: “I didn’t even mean to rewrite ‘He’s So Fine’ and they crucified me. These guys obviously steal from me, and nobody cares.”

(Of course, there are very few songs in the classic Cheap Trick catalog that don’t include a stolen riff, a broad wink, or a knowing nod in some other band’s direction. Still, the notion of nicking from George Harrison has a certain meta/ironic extra dimension that steals from other sources don’t have.)

On the other hand, Harrison might never have heard the song. A lot of people didn’t.

Surveys in the ARSA radio database show the song performing well in Australia and decently in Canada.

But in the U.S., the song only further cemented Cheap Trick’s post-Dream Police slump, missing the Top Forty. “If You Want My Love” shows up on only 54 surveys in ARSA, with Chicago and Dubuque the only U.S. markets to clock the single for even one week. It had a reasonable run on WLS in Chicago in the late summer of ’82, but by this point in the year, it seems to have been clear that the song wasn’t going to make a move on a national level.

Karma? Poetic justice? Or just rock radio — which was full of worthwhile stuff in ’82 — missing out on a good one?

Depends how you look at it, I guess.