What People Used to Write About Boston

map of bostonMap via Shutterstock.


Back in the depths of the Great Depression, the Federal Writers Project was started to document everything from foodways in Arkansas to the history of Armenians in Massachusetts. The Project lasted from 1935 to 1943, and in this short period, thousands of documents were produced, including guides to each state (and Puerto Rico!) and some very elaborate guides to cities like Philadelphia and New Orleans.

In my own wanderings through this treasure trove, I encountered the altogether delightful and wonderful “An Almanack for Bostonians.” The frontispiece offers a gentle send-up of the Olde Timey English of a like-minded farmer’s almanac of the 18th century, and it reads:

“Being a truly amazing and edifying COMPENDIUM of fact and fancy, designed primarily for the DELECTATION of those who live within the Shadow of the Bulfinch Dome, but one which may be used with Profit and Pleasure by dwellers in the outer Darkness of Cambridge, Somerville, Chelsea, Newton, and even more OUT-LANDISH PLACES”

And so on.

As an almanac, it offers up historical information from each day in the calendar year, along with practical advice for those seeking things to do out-and-about in Boston. It’s fascinating to see what made the cut here and the events include an exhibition at the MFA (titled “The Sources of Modern Painting”) which began on March 1. On May 9, interested parties could converge on the Statler Hotel (now the Boston Park Plaza Hotel & Towers) for the Convention of New England Protection.

These historical tidbits are rather fun, and it’s clear that the authors of this volume had a good time sifting and winnowing through 300 hundred years of local history to insert events both humorous and curious. On the humorous side, there was the scandalous occurrence on July 14, 1826, which was when “the cows pastured on the Common were on a jag from eating waste rum currants.”

On the curious side, there’s this historical curio from August 4, 1830: “Any number of really dependable people saw a sea serpent cavorting merrily along the coast between Boston and Portsmouth on this day in 1830”.

Curious, indeed.

You should take the time to consult this rather intriguing compendium, and if you have a recipe for rum currants, please pass it along.