Like so many other destinations, the unusual and offbeat facts about Boston are a huge part of its charm and excitement. Here are a few.
See also: Boston must-see sites. »
The Sacred Cod
The Massachusetts State House, House of Representatives
This gilded wooden cod was made as a memorial to the importance of the fishing industry in the commonwealth of Massachusetts. It was first hung in the Old State House in 1784. When it was transferred to the new State House in 1895, it was carried wrapped in an American flag. Today the cod casts its doleful gaze north when the Democrats have control of the House and south when the Republicans are in power.
The Bell in Hand Tavern
45-55 Union St.
Jimmy Wilson opened this tavern in 1795 after retiring as Boston’s town crier. The tavern was located on Boston’s waterfront in colonial days and since many of his patrons were illiterate sailors, he hung a distinctive sign depicting a hand holding a bell above the entrance.
Granary Burial Ground
Elizabeth Goose, who died in 1757, raised 10 of her own children and then another 10 children of her second husband. Later she moved in with her daughter and 14 grandchildren. Over the years she spent some time reading nursery rhymes to these children by the fire. Legend has it that her son-in-law, who was a printer, published a book of these rhymes titled Songs for the Nursery or Mother Goose’s Melodies, although no copies have ever been found.
Midnight Ride of Paul Revere
Paul Revere was not the only rider warning of the British soldiers approach the night of April 18, 1775. The other riders included William Dawes and Samuel Prescott. Also they would not have called out “The British are coming!” because they were also British subjects. Rather they would have called out “The Regulars are coming!” or “The lobsterbacks (redcoats) are coming!”
Breeds Hill, Charlestown
On the night of June 16, 1775, the patriots erected a small fortification atop Breeds Hill, not Bunker Hill (a last minute change of plans caused confusion about the battle’s name). On June 17, 1825, the cornerstone of the obelisk to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first battle of the Revolutionary War was laid by General Lafayette. If you look off in the distance, you’ll see the steeple of St. Francis de Sales Church atop a hill … that’s Bunker Hill.
The Warren Tavern
Pleasant Street, Charlestown
The Warren Tavern is one of Charlestown’s most historic buildings, erected in 1780. It is named after General Joseph Warren, who died in the Battle of Bunker Hill. President George Washington stopped here for “refreshments” in 1789. The tavern is still open for food and refreshments today.
Atop Faneuil Hall
It is uncertain why Peter Faneuil, one of Boston’s wealthiest merchants, chose this insect to stand above his market/meeting hall building, which he gave to the people of Boston. The grasshopper has been there since 1742. The weathervane is made of copper and gold leaf and it has glass door knobs for eyes. It is 52 inches long and weighs approximately 38 pounds. Inside the “vest” are coins and other mementos. During the War of 1812, suspected spies who claimed to be from Boston were asked to describe the weathervane above Faneuil Hall. If they answered incorrectly, they were found out.
The T Colors
On August 26, 1965, the T adopted a new color-coded system for its subway lines. The Orange Line is so-named because it once ran along Washington Street, which was once called Orange Way. The Blue Line was the first subway line in the world to travel under the ocean blue — also because it stops at Logan Airport (blue skies) and Revere Beach (blue waters). The Green Line travels past and through the Emerald Necklace, a series of green spaces. The Red Line once terminated at Harvard, whose school color is crimson.
The 60-foot square red, white and blue neon Citgo sign has been looming high above Kenmore Square since 1965 and has become symbolic of the Boston skyline. It is quite prominent, especially during Boston Red Sox home games at nearby Fenway Park. Its lights were turned off during the energy crunch in 1975 when it was in danger of demolition. However because of the efforts of the Society for Commercial Archeology, it has been relit and maintained to this day.
Fenway Park/Boston Red Sox
Lansdowne Street and Yawkey Way
Fenway Park opened on April 20, 1912, when the newspapers were still filled with stories of the sinking of the HMS Titanic only five days before. The Red Sox won the opener and went on to earn four world championships in the first seven seasons in their new home. Fenway was actually the fifth home for the team, originally called the Pilgrims, then the Red Stockings and finally the Boston Red Sox. Fenway Park is the oldest ballpark in the country. The highlight of the park is the 37-foot-high left field wall, known as the “Green Monster.”
Parker House Hotel
School and Tremont streets
Harvey Parker left his farm in Temple, Maine, in 1826 at the age of 21 with just a few coins in his pocket. After arriving in Boston, he labored for a short time in a mill before securing a position as a coachman for a wealthy woman. While she did her errands, Parker took his horse to a stable and he ate at a nearby eatery on Court Street. He became friendly with the proprietor and, in 1833, Parker went to work for him. After a very short while, he bought the place and named it Parker’s.
Parker established his reputation for serving the finest food right away and later, he imported and hired a French chef and paid him a hefty salary. In 1854, his dream of owning a fine hotel with an exquisite dining room came true when construction began at its present location. This grand hotel contained the first passenger elevator in Boston and became the first hotel to adopt the “European plan,” which separated charges for room and board.
Parker’s soon became the most popular venue for club meetings, the most famous of which was the Literary Club, where many of the day’s most popular authors would meet on Saturday evenings. Even Charles Dickens would attend whenever he was in Boston. Over the years, many of the world’s most famous people have been known to stay here, including the actor John Wilkes Booth shortly before assassinating President Lincoln. Some employees of historical note were Ho Chi Minh in 1915, who later led the revolution in North Vietnam, and Malcolm X in the 1940s. The hotel’s claim to fame is the fact that Boston Cream Pie and Parker House Rolls were invented and first served here.
This section of Boston was once a large swampy extension of the Charles River that created a terrible smell at low tide. The city commissioned to have the area filled in during the middle of the 19th century. The massive project continued seven days a week for over 17 years. A special railroad line was built to bring the dirt and stone from the town of Needham to the site. Once a block was completed, elegant mansions began to appear. The cross streets in the Back Bay are arranged in alphabetical order starting at Arlington Street and ending at Massachusetts Avenue and each is named after a duke or earl of England.
All of the streets change names after crossing Washington Street with the exception of Massachusetts Avenue.
Between Devonshire and Washington streets in the Financial District
When the Puritans arrived, they settled in Charlestown in 1629, however they were not able to locate any drinkable water and after a spring was found on what is now the downtown Boston side of the river, they moved across the river in 1630. Today Spring Lane marks the spot.
This narrow short street with its cobblestones, red brick sidewalks and gas lamps is just what people expect to find when they think of Boston. It’s the most photographed street in the city.
Spanning the Charles River
This bridge was constructed between 1900 and 1907 and was originally called the New Cambridge Bridge. In 1927, it was renamed after the famous poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The T’s Red Line travels along the center of the bridge, where a spectacular view of the Boston and Cambridge skylines can be seen when the trains emerge from the tunnels in either direction. It has been nicknamed the “salt and pepper bridge” because the four stone towers resemble salt and pepper shakers. This bridge is frequently filmed as backdrop scenes of Boston for movies and television shows.
Harvard Bridge a.k.a. The Smoot
Spanning the Charles River
Bostonians call this bridge “The Mass Ave Bridge” because Massachusetts Avenue traverses the bridge between Boston and Cambridge. In 1958, Oliver R. Smoot Jr. was as a pledge to one of MIT’s fraternities. As part of a pledging prank, he was taken to the Harvard Bridge, where he was laid down repeatedly along the entire length of the bridge. Every 10 “smoots,” they calibrated the bridge by painting marks. Their result was that the bridge is exactly 364.4 smoots plus an ear.