Dirty Old Boston Is Now a Book
It was on a Saturday afternoon two years ago that Jim Botticelli sat down in his house, just days before his official retirement from the Boston Public School system, and on a whim created a Facebook page where he could post images of the city’s pre-gentrified past.
“I had no clue whatsoever what I was really doing. But I did it, and ran some pictures I had—and some I found on the web— and all of the sudden people started ‘liking’ the page,” said Botticelli. “A couple of months later I was like, ‘wow, people really like this.’ The word was out and the page kept on growing, people started sending stuff in, and they would tell me what they could about the picture and what they knew.”
Fast forward to 2014, and that page, called “Dirty Old Boston,” has now ballooned to more than 100,000 “likes,” and, to Botticelli’s complete surprise, has been turned into a 271-page coffee-table book that’s packed with rare photos and stories provided by the people who have been rooted in the city for decades.
“I didn’t plan this, any of it,” said Botticelli of being contacted by Union Park Press, the publishing company that asked to work with him on turning his Facebook page into a tangible version of the memorabilia. “I was just trying to find something to do while I was pondering my next move after retirement. I don’t want to sit in a rocking chair—I’m not an old man—I’m active. And then [Union Park Press] just came out of the blue.”
In November, Botticelli’s book, which shares the same name as the popular Facebook page, will hit store shelves ahead of the holiday season. While the release is still days away, Botticelli said the initial response to news of the book coming out has been positive. During the Boston Book Festival last weekend, Botticelli said he sold hundreds of autographed books.
“We did well at the book fair itself. I had no idea what to expect, I have never been to a book fair. I showed up and signed copies. It was a nice experience,” he said. “There has been a great response.”
Botticelli said aside from picking up a new hobby in retirement, the impetus for the original online version of “Dirty Old Boston” was to show the trend in the city’s changing landscape from the 1930s through the 1980s by using gritty images that captured what life was like during those decades. He said he wanted to document a time “when anyone could afford to live in Boston,” which he thinks ended after the Orange Line’s elevated track came down in 1987, long before the high-rise luxury condos started taking over the skyline.
“That was a significant moment because it led to gentrification in areas that may not have seen it otherwise,” he said.
For his book, Botticelli made the dismantling of the Orange Line track the cut-off point for photos included in the collection, many of which were submitted by fans of his project. He said he sifted through more than 2,000 images over the course of a year before the book was finally published.
Botticelli said the reason he was eager to see the Facebook page take shape in the form of a print edition was because it would keep the memories of the city’s former self fresh in people’s minds in a time when entertainment on the Internet lacks permanence.
“Here they get a permanent collection of photos. It’s a collection of pictures to own and have that they can’t go out and see very simply,” he said. “The age of the Internet is temporary; they see the picture and it’s gone. People don’t spend time going back and scrolling through the images. This is something for the bookshelf.”