Historical facts every Bostonian should know

The Boston Massacre. (File photo) The Boston Massacre.
By Elizabeth Gehrman
Boston Globe / September 30, 2010

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What happened during major events The Boston Massacre (1770): Two years after nearly 4,000 British troops had been sent to Boston (population 15,000) to help maintain order amid civil unrest following the enactment of a series of new laws called the Townshend Acts, there was a riot on what is now State Street. Five civilians were killed, and the unrest led to the start of the American Revolution.

The Great Fire (1872): On the evening of November 9, a fire broke out near what is now South Station that consumed 65 acres of the city’s downtown, resulting in $75 million in damages and the demolition of 776 buildings. Many churches and businesses took the opportunity to move to the Back Bay.

The Curse of the Bambino (1918-2004): When Red Sox owner Harry Frazee traded Babe Ruth to New York in 1920, it supposedly set off an 86-year streak during which the Sox could not win the World Series. The curse was broken in 2004 with a sweep against the Cardinals.

The Molasses Flood (1919): When a five-story tank filled with 2.3 million gallons of molasses broke in the North End around lunchtime on January 15, the neighborhood was hit with a 15-foot-high wave of the stuff moving at 35 miles per hour. Twenty-one people were killed and 150 were injured.

The Gardner Heist (1990): The largest art theft in history occurred when two men entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the early hours of March 18 and stole 13 masterpieces – including five Degas, three Rembrandts, and a Vermeer – valued between $300 million and $500 million. None of the paintings have been recovered.

Which tales are really tall The American Revolution’s Battle of Bunker Hill was not fought at Bunker Hill, but at nearby Breed’s Hill.

Joseph P. Kennedy Sr.’s fortune wasn’t built on bootlegging. Most of the liquor he imported from England arrived after Prohibition was repealed; the rest was considered medicinal.

Paul Revere never said, “The British are coming”; he said, “The regulars are coming out.” And he wasn’t the only rider that night – William Dawes and Dr. Samuel Prescott also gave the alert. All three were arrested, too late, by a British patrol.

The Boston Tea Party was not sparked by higher taxes. The catalyst was actually a tax break that made imported tea cheaper for the colonists; what riled them was that they had no say in the government that ruled them.

Not only women were tried during the Salem witch trials; six men were put to death, too. Convicted witches were not burned at the stake but hanged.

Elizabeth Gehrman, a frequent contributor to the Globe Magazine, is a freelance writer in East Boston. Send comments to


101 things every Bostonian should know:
  • October 3, 2010 cover
  • Globe Magazine