November 20, 1874: James Michael Curley is born

James Michael Curley was born and bred in Boston of good Irish stock. His parents, recently from Galway, lived in Ward Seventeen where his father sometimes found work as an unskilled laborer and his mother as a scrubwoman. When his father died when James Michael was just 12, he left school and had to pick up what learning he could in the public libraries. He held a variety of jobs, but by the time he was eligible to vote in 1896, he found his true calling –  politics.

At the age of 23, James Michael Curley won a seat on Boston’s Common Council.  His one motto — “Work harder than anyone else, preserve your self-respect and keep your word” was soon coupled with his other – “Do unto others before they do you.” He spent part of every day meeting with needy constituents and helping them find jobs, fuel, or food, or fend off creditors, the police, or the courts.Curley

By 1903 he was running for alderman. A barely literate constituent needed a job with the post office, so as a favor Curley took the civil service exam for him. Curley was recognized, prosecuted, and convicted for fraud; he was sentenced to 90 days in jail. The public was incensed by the authority’s actions. “He did it for a friend” became the slogan that aroused public sympathy. Campaigning from his jail cell, Curley won the election in a landslide.

In his first run for mayor in 1914 Curley called the powerful Democratic City Committee a group of “empty eggshells” and labeled the ward bosses a “collection of chowderheads.” The Good Government Association he called “Goo Goos” and business leaders the “State Street wrecking crew.” When Mayor John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald decided to run again, Curley was ready. The challenger knew that the incumbent was enjoying the charms of a woman not his wife, the young and lovely “Toodles” Ryan. Rather than overtly accusing his rival of infidelity, Curley announced that he would deliver a series of lectures including “Great Lovers, from Cleopatra to Toodles.” Fitzgerald dropped out of the race.

Curley had no use for Boston Brahmins, with their “clubs of female faddists, and old gentlemen with disordered livers or pessimists croaking over imaginary good old days and ignoring the sunlit present.” The day after he was sworn in, the “Mayor of the People” proposed to sell the Public Garden just off Beacon Hill and use the proceeds to build new gardens in neighborhoods “more easily accessible to the general public.”

Curley declared “The day of the Puritan has passed; the Anglo-Saxon is a joke; a new and better America is here.” What Boston needs is “men and mothers of men, not gabbing spinsters and dog-raising matrons in federation assembled.” In a classic gesture, he procured long-handled mops for City Hall scrubwomen because “a woman should only get on her knees to pray.”

Curley was elected to a second term over John R. Murphy, the candidate of “the Goo Goos” , calling him “an old mustard plaster that has been stuck on the back of the people for fifty years.” In 1929 Curley won his third term over Frederick Mansfield who was “as spectacular as a four-day-old codfish and as colorful as a lump of mud.”

In 1932, in a maverick, but prescient move, Curley backed Franklin Roosevelt over Al Smith for the Democratic nomination. Al Smith was an enormous favorite in Boston, so popular that for months the Boston people wouldn’t turn out to hear their mayor speak, and Curley was shunned from the delegation to the Democratic convention. Snubbed, but not discouraged, he travelled to Chicago alone. Somehow his blarney charmed the Puerto Rico delegation into handing him their standard. When the roll call finally got to Puerto Rico, “Alcalde Jaime Miguel Culeo” rose and, to tumultuous applause, delivered the Island’s one vote for Roosevelt.

Curley would be elected Congressman and Governor, but it was as Boston’s Mayor that he thrived. In 1947 he was sentenced to a term in federal prison for mail fraud. He ran for mayor for a fourth term from his cell in Danbury Prison. He was reelected, and then pardoned by Harry Truman. When he returned from Danbury to City Hall the band played “Hail to the Chief”.

Always sociable, Curley came back reporting that his closest friend in prison had been a Harvard graduate, and that he had, indeed, become acquainted there with representatives of all the Ivy League campuses.

October 2, 1844: Herman Melville finally lands in Boston

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”

On Christmas Day, 1840, a young man of twenty-one signed aboard a newly built whaling vessel registered in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. As the Rockwell KentAcushnet slipped its moorings on the third of January, 1841 and fetched Buzzard’s Bay, Herman Melville was able to look aft and watch New Bedford fading from view, along with his torment of an overbearing mother, the self-inflicted death of his father, and a lifetime of parental favoritism to his older brother.

Melville soon found life on the Acushnet to be another sort of torment under the sadistic Captain Pease. After 18 months at sea, he jumped ship in the Marquesas Islands, looking to enjoy life with the native islanders for an idyllic spell. His shore leave lasted until August of 1842 when he signed on to the Lucy Ann, a whaler which proved to possess a particularly disgruntled crew. The ship arrived in Tahiti six weeks later and, when the crew threatened mutiny, Herman and ten sympathetic souls were off-loaded in leg irons and imprisoned on shore.

Fortunately, the island prison proved “free and easy”, allowing him to come and go nearly at will, and in November Melville secured a berth on the Charles and Henry, a Nantucket whaler bound for Hawaii. Five months later, Melville was a free man in Honolulu where he found employment setting up pins in a bowling alley and then as a clerk for Montgomery’s.

Returning again to the sea, he signed aboard the U.S.S. United States, the flagship of the Pacific Fleet, as an able-bodied seaman. The ship sailed back to the Marquesas and Tahiti, then heading for South America. Calls were made at Lima, Peru and Valparaiso, Chile, before rounding Cape Horn for Rio de Janeiro.

After 14 months the flagship arrived in Boston in October 1844. Herman Melville was discharged with the first dollars in his pocket he had seen in four years. He would never go back to sea again as a working sailor.

He returned repeatedly, however, through his novels. His first three tales, Typee (1846), Omoo (1847), and Mardi (1849) were all set in the South Sea Islands. Then followed his epic quest, Moby Dick (1851). Even at his death forty years later in 1891, Herman Melville was working on another novel of the sea. Billy Budd, which, after extensive editing, was published thirty-three years later in 1924.

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