A fine January 5th, cold, a little windy, just what I would expect in Boston. I had an appointment with Adam at The Charles Realty scheduled for eleven o’clock. Otherwise my day was my own.
Old South Church is only a couple doors down from the hotel, on the corner of Dartmouth and Boylston Streets. It’s a Gothic Revival beauty; I don’t think I ever went in before today. Henry Hobson Richardson’s Trinity Church, on the other side of Copley Square, was my main interest in the area.
Old South has been the beating heart of Bostonian independence of thought and dedication to freedom since the 17th century. Samuel Sewall, a prominent leader, was a judge at the Salem witch trials of 1692 and the only one to publicly apologize for his participation in the travesty that took the life, among other people, of my eighth-great-grandfather, Samuel Wardwell. He also helped fellow church member Captain John Alden, eldest son of Mayflower adventurers John and Priscilla Mullins Alden, escape jail after being arrested for witchcraft in May 1692. The captain eventually did show up in court in April 1693, but no accuser confronted him, and he was proclaimed innocent. By that time, the mania was largely over. My Tattooed Boy is delighted to have yet another tie to the Witch Trials.
Paul Revere, famed for his “midnight ride,” may have hung a “lantern aloft in the belfry arch / Of the North Church tower as a signal light,” but Deacon William Dawes, galloped out ahead of his more famous compatriot. I discovered several ancestral names on various lists at the church as well. The mission of the institution is the pursuit of social justice. If I were ever to attend church, Old South might be my choice.
The Boston Public Library
I crossed the street to the Boston Public Library, https://www.bpl.org/locations/central/ entering the Philip Johnson building designed in 1967. While most of its education, collecting and research functions take place in this space, there are magnificent reading rooms on the upper level of the original McKim, Mead and White Beaux-Arts palace adjacent. The mural cycles by Puvis des Chavannes (1824-1898), Edwin Austin Abbey (1852-1911), and John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) are a treat, too.
In the manner of classicizing traditions, the facades of the McKim building are rich with symbolic ornament and philosophical declarations. Over the main portal on the east, we read that, “THE PUBLIC LIBRARY OF THE CITY OF BOSTON • BUILT BY THE PEOPLE AND DEDICATED TO THE ADVANCEMENT OF LEARNING • A.D. MDCCCLXXXVIII.” Even more relevant today, on the north façade on Boylston Street, these words resonate: “THE COMMONWEALTH REQUIRES THE EDUCATION OF THE PEOPLE AS THE SAFEGUARD OF ORDER AND LIBERTY”.
Not just the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I think, but whole of the United States of America. Now more than ever.
Too soon I had to dash a few blocks westward on Newbury Street to the realtor. But that turned out to be a delightful meeting, informative and even, dare I say, inspiring.
As I left the office, I thought about Vose Gallery, the most venerable gallery in Boston and still a bastion of great American painting. I had always enjoyed my visits, and once or twice been helped by staff with research projects.
It hasn’t changed. Well, not much. The upper floors no longer are the private home of “old Mr. Vose;” art fills all the rooms. But that’s about it. There is still a well-behaved hush and a friendly welcome to visitors. No sales pressure whatsoever. Francisco de Borja Herraiz Garcia de Gaudiana, aka “Boe,” manned the front desk. What a name and what an engaging young man he is. Turns out that he used to work at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the magnificent Fenway Court, and we had a righteous gab about visitors behaving badly.
The Guild of Boston Artists occupies a building a few doors further down Newbury Street. The “Boston School” is alive and well there, upholding the tradition of representational painting touched by impressionism or a bit of modernist elegance. While such work is not to my personal taste, a couple of artists caught my eye.
The Copley Society almost adjacent was installing the “New Members Show 2024.” This is one of the oldest galleries anywhere, the oldest non-profit organization for the artists in the United States. Artists are not so adamantly Boston School as at the Guild, but they are generally conservative. Not much that surprises but a great deal that might please.
My Birthday Dinner
By this time, it was after two. Brisk weather had whetted my appetite. I remembered seeing the Map Room Lounge at the BPL, and knew they closed at four-forty-five. Perfect for a birthday treat. Good drinks, an interesting menu. A glass of chardonnay. A flatbread with figs and prosciutto. Coffee and panna cotta for dessert. Nothing better.
After a slow nosh—no reason to hurry—I signed the check and headed back to the Charlesmark.
Happy Birthday to me!