Category Archives: Hidden Gems

Hidden Gem: Charlestown’s Potato Shed Memorial

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In homage to the starch that brought us tater tots, French fries, and hash browns comes a cast stone tribute under Boston’s I-93 overpass.

All partial to potatoes take note: our latest hidden gem is Boston’s little-known memorial to a beloved tuber.

Technically the Potato Shed Memorial isn’t just dedicated to the idea of spuds, but a part of Boston life going back to the Antebellum era. At this time in the mid-nineteenth century the city was still working on land reclamation, or filling in the waterfront for further acreage. What is land now used to hold the Millers River, which had previously divided Cambridge from Charlestown. As a staple of travel and commerce, storage sheds lined the banks of the Millers with goods for the locals. They came to be known for storing potatoes, coming into its own as a popular destination for residents with plenty of taters for sale.

Interestingly, the popularity of the potato sheds corresponds with a massive influx of Irish immigrants streaming into Boston and Charlestown, starting in the mid-1840s. By 1850 Boston’s Irish population would swell to 35,000 strong, and their descendants (including the Kennedy family) would go on heavy influence local politics.

For roughly a century these potato sheds were a cherished part of the community, where locals would greet each other on their weekly trek for delicious tubers. Others worked in the potato sheds and corresponding railyards, and where mischievous children could sneak in and steal potatoes from any number of hefty piles in the warehouses.

This all changed in the early 1960s (or mid-1930s, according to the memorial plaque) when the potato sheds burned down and were never rebuilt. Millions of pounds of food were lost in the fire, which were bound for other cities along the East Coast. Rumor has it that Charlestown smelled like baked potatoes for weeks as a haunting last hurrah from these bygone spud sheds.

Today this industrial area looks decidedly more pedestrian. Millers River has been filled in as part of the land reclamation efforts, and this area now plays host to walkways and parks beneath the Zakim Bridge. But the great potato sheds of yesteryear are not forgotten, cast forever in a grand Potato Shed Memorial of an even grander vegetable.

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Maybe our nickname should change from Beantown to Tatertown, no?

Source: Wikipedia,
Image Credit: Andy Woodruff

Spooky Hidden Gem: Boston Light

Boston Light haunted

As one of the oldest cities in America, Boston has more than its fair share of spooky history. An often overlooked location for this is Boston Light; it is both the first lighthouse to be built in the United States and the home to multiple chilling catastrophes.

Located on Little Brewster Island in the Boston Harbor, Boston Light was first lit in September of 1716. Its first keeper, George Worthylake, had a starting salary of £50 guiding all vessels bound for the Hub. It wasn’t long after this humble beginning that disaster struck. In 1718, when returning from a visit to Boston, Worthylake drowned with his wife and daughter when their boat unexpectedly capsized. The tragedy inspired a ballad written by a young Benjamin Franklin, who sold the “wretched” poem as a printer’s teenage apprentice.

BL1The misfortune surrounding the island, however, continued to affect those working in and around the lighthouse. When held by British forces during the American Revolution, the redcoats sustained “heavy losses” after an ambush by the colonists. Ever since reconstruction in 1783, it has witnessed the deaths of both light keepers and sailors alike. From Confederate prisoners to shipwreck victims, Boston Light has seen the demise of countless individuals on and near her shores.

Are the spirits of Boston Light’s dead still haunting the lighthouse and the island it sits on?

BL2Members of the Coast Guard, after taking over management in the 1930s, have reported numerous sightings and events that aren’t easily explained. Sometimes a man in an old-fashioned uniform is spotted in the lantern room; others times it has been a woman in a white gown, both disappearing before others could enter and investigate. Visitors and workers have also heard ghostly sounds, including “horrible maniacal laughter” and a little girl crying for a long-passed slave.

Whatever noises that the dead may make has no effect on the “Ghost Walk,” an area nearby that no sound can pierce. This part of the sea spooked even the most seasoned mariners, as neither the lighthouse bell nor its powerful cannon could be heard within it. Not even a team of MIT students, who studied the phenomenon in 1893, could crack the mystery. The silence of the Ghost Walk remains an unsolved anomaly to this day; an ominous counterpart to the haunted Boston Light.

Source Credit: New England Lighthouses
Photo Credit: Boston Harbor Beacon and New England Lighthouses

Hidden Gem: The Museum of Modern Renaissance

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The Museum of Modern Renaissance has given many Tufts University students and Somerville residents pause at its eye-catching location near Powder House Square. Originally a Unitarian Church and then a masonic lodge, the building at 115 College Avenue was transformed in 2002 into a vibrant “Temple of Art”.


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The creation of the museum was the dream of two Russian artists, Nicholas Shaplyko and Ekatrina Sorokina. They fashioned a playful space filled with their own artwork that brings the visitor into another dimension. Covering almost every surface of the Museum with fresco-like paintings called “Mystical Realism,” the artists transformed their home into a fantasy world full of mythological themes. From the front hall, which they call the “Parade of Planets,” to their workroom that also serves as an indoor garden in winter, to the teapot-themed bathroom, their artwork graces the entire building. All the art is a collaboration of the two married artists.


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The outside of the building (pictured above) is as kaleidoscopic as the interior. The facade is reminiscent of an Incan ruin, with a large stone face above the doorway and a colorful bull on the door. Although the museum is not open to the public, there are tours available by appointment. The doors also open for various concerts and the annual Somerville Open Studios.

Source Image Credit


Hidden Gem: The Judson B. Coit Observatory

Boston University Hidden Gem

Have you ever wanted to see the Moon, Saturn, Jupiter or the other planets and stars close up? Then the Judson B. Coit Observatory at Boston University is the place to go. Members of the pubic are allowed to view the wonders of the solar system on their Public Open Night, held most Wednesday evenings throughout the year, weather permitting. Visitors are given telescopes and binoculars to observe the night sky. Since weather is a factor, observations are canceled when there are clouds, haze, or rain. As well as observing the stars, you will also have a great view of Boston from the roof.

Boston Hidden GemsThe Observatory is named for Judson Coit, who spent the major part of his professional career as Professor of Astronomy at Boston University where he created the Department of Astronomy. He also developed a teaching and research observatory, which is named in his memory. The Observatory was originally located on the roof of the College of Liberal Arts Building on Boylston Street until the late 1940s, when it was moved to its current location on Commonwealth Avenue.

Hours & Admission: The Open Nights are held most Wednesday evenings throughout the year, weather permitting. Admission is free.

Source | Image Credit

Hidden Gem: America’s Oldest Car Collection

museum5-300x294The Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline is home to America’s oldest car collection. The museum was the idea of Larz and Isabel Anderson, a wealthy Brookline couple who embarked on a life of political service and philanthropy. In the late 1890s the Andersons would open the doors to their carriage house in Brookline to share their collection of American and European vehicles with the public.

The first vehicle the Andersons purchased was an 1899 Winton 4-hp Runabout. This vehicle is still on permanent display in the Museum. The Andersons purchased an automobile almost every year, acquiring a total of 32 brand new cars during their lives. Fourteen of these vehicles and many of the Andersons original horse drawn carriages are on display as part of the permanent collection.

The carriage house where the Museum is located LA car collectionwas constructed in 1888. It was inspired by the Chateau de Chaumont-Sur-Loire in France and designed by Edmund M. Wheelwright, a well-known Boston Architect. Today the Carriage House is on the National Register of Historic Places. A visit to the Museum not only includes the vehicles on display but the historic Carriage House as well as the beautifully landscaped grounds.

Source | Image Credit

Hidden Gem: Boston Public Library Marionettes


The Dwiggins Marionettes at the Boston Public Library

Tucked away on the third floor of Boston Public Library in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department is an entertaining miniature theatre complete with beautifully carved wooden Marionettes.

Donated in 1967 by the widow of William Addison Dwiggins, a well-known graphic artist, typographer, illustrator and woodcarver this collection includes all of his various art activities.

Dwiggins was born in 1880 in Ohio, studied art in Chicago and settled in Hingham, MA where he lived for the rest of his life. He worked in advertising and was known for his type design. To relieve the pressures from work he created a miniature theatre and a puppet group named the Püterschein Authority in a garage behind his home. Later he built a theatre at his studio where he held many performances.

The collection includes his marionettes, his workbench and tools, self-designed furniture, original drawings for his typefaces, more than 400 sketches for his book illustrations and 300 books of his designs

SourceImage Credit

Hidden Gem: “Arts on the Line” Glove Cycle


“Glove Cycle” by Mags Harries

In 1984 The MBTA’s Porter Square Station opened in Cambridge and Glove Cycle was created as a part of the MBTA and the Cambridge Arts Council’s “Arts on the Line” program.

The installation was created by artist Mags Harries and consists of 54 separate bronze sculptures of gloves. The gloves are featured on a turnstile and in the space between the up and down escalators. Situated at the bottom of the escalators and on the inbound platform are smaller sections of the gloves. While more gloves are inserted in the floor of both platforms as well as the mezzanine.

Originally Harries considered creating bronze tree roots to appear on the walls and into the station. The concept was turned down by the architects of Porter Station since the station is one of the deepest underground stations and the architects did not want to bring attention to that fact. Harries’ next idea was to create a flock of sheep-shaped turnstiles. This concept never materialized as the snow from a blizzard in Boston began to melt. Harries began to find lost gloves appearing through the snow. “They were wet, compacted, squashed, – really beautiful.” These lost gloves gave her the idea for the “Glove Cycle”.

Source | Photo Credit

Hidden Gem: The Church of the Covenant

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The Church of the Covenant located at 67 Newbury Street in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston, is a historic church and a National Historic Landmark. Built in 1865-1867 by the Central Congregational Church its stunning interior is defined by the work of Tiffany & Co.

Constructed in the Gothic Revival style with puddingstone it was one of the first churches to relocate to the Back Bay and was funded with donations by Benjamin Bates, an industrialist who founded Bates College. It has a 240-foot high steeple that looms over the Bunker Hill Monument. In the 1890s the sanctuary was re-modelled by Tiffany & Co. with stained-glass windows, mosaics and an electric-light chandelier. The church has the largest intact Tiffany-designed ecclesiastical interior in its original location in America.

The Tiffany windows are important elements of the exquisite Tiffany church interior.  All totaled there are 42 Tiffany windows – 22 ornamental windows in the clerestory and 20 figure windows throughout the sanctuary.  They all include “opalescent” glass with subtle tones and variations that create painterly effects. The windows were created by Tiffany’s finest designers in a variety of styles – linear, Pre-Raphaelite, mosaic. classical and Art Nouveau.

The church was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2012 (as “Central Congregational Church”) in recognition of its unique interior decorations.

Source | Image Credit

Hidden Gem: The Bonsai Collection

IMG_0103A trip to the Arnold Arboretum is not complete unless you visit the Larz Anderson Collection of Japanese Bonsai Trees. Located approximately 10 minutes from the Arborway Main Entrance is a beautiful wooden structure that houses 35 bonsai trees.

This collection of Japanese Bonsai Trees at the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain was originally imported into the United States by Larz Anderson in 1913, after his return from serving as ambassador to Japan. When Anderson died in 1937, his wife Isabel Anderson donated the majority of their bonsai collection (30 plants) to the Arnold Arboretum. When Isabel died in 1949 the rest of the collection came to the Arboretum. The core of the collection consists of 6 bonsai that are between 150 and 275 years old.  Since the donation of the original collection additional bonsai have been added for a total of 35 trees.

In Japan, the cultivation of Bonsai dates back 1,000 years. With the use of techniques such as pruning, root reduction, defoliation, and grafting, bonsai growers create attractive miniature trees identical in shape and style to full-size trees.

Normally bonsai can be left outdoors all winter with minimal protection but with New England’s severe climate the plants need to be protected. During the winter months the plants are stored in a concrete-block structure. The plants go into cold storage in November and come out in mid-April.

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The collection is on view daily from 8 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. from mid April through mid November, excluding holidays.

 Source: The Arnold Arboretum
Photos: Angela Mark

Hidden Gem: Japanese Temple Bell


Located near a path in the Back Bay Fens is a 17th century Japanese Buddhist temple bell. Cast in 1675 the 450-pound bell rang for centuries in religious ceremonies at the Manpuku-ji temple in Sendai, Japan. The bell was original dedicated to Bishamon, a Buddhist god of children and good luck.

During WWII the Japanese government pressured its citizens to donate metals to be smelted down and turned into artillery, including all temple bells.  Japan lost 95% of all their temple bells as a result. During the American invasion of Japan, Navy soldiers found over 500 bells waiting to be turned into weapons of war. Sailors from the USS Boston (CA-69) salvaged the bell and presented it to the city of Boston in 1946. In 1953, Kyukichi Anzai, Representative of the Believers’ Committee of Manpukuji Temple, Sendai (Japan), formally donated the bell to Boston to create a cultural bridge between the citizens of Boston and the citizens of Sendai as a link for the attainment of peace in the world. In 1993, the bell was restored through funding from the Japan Foundation and can be seen today in the War Memorial area of the Fens.

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