Boston, 1930

Governor Joseph B. Ely throwing out the first pitch on opening day at Braves Field, April 14, 1931.
Governor Joseph B. Ely throwing out the first pitch on opening day at Braves Field, April 14, 1931.

I am working on projects related to Boston nightlife, but there are others. A project I’ve tagged “Boston 1930” looks at Boston in the later years of Prohibition and the early years of the Depression—the late 1920s and early 1930s.

This is a fascinating but often overlooked period in Boston history, a time when the city was generally in decline and facing an uncertain future. Some aspects of these years have received serious scrutiny, and I do not intend rehash what is already known about James Michael Curley or Sacco and Venzetti. I would rather shed some light on the lesser-known characters of the town, like Prohibition-era policeman Oliver Garrett, dance band leader Mal Hallett, newspaperman Larry Goldberg and governor Joseph B. Ely, a “wet” who led the effort to repeal the 18th amendment.

These were the years when people were fascinated by all things related to aviation, took up miniature golf by the thousands, and first enjoyed the Pops at the Hatch Shell under the baton of Arthur Fiedler. These were years of grand openings: the Sumner Tunnel, the Ritz-Carlton and Statler hotels, the Boston Garden, the mighty Metropolitan Theater (now the Wang Center), and the art deco United Shoe Machinery Building. It was a time of police corruption and political hijinks, bootleggers and speakeasies, cults and conspiracies, Raytheon and radio. H.L. Mencken and Upton Sinclair were banned in Boston by the all-powerful Watch and Ward Society. Bostonians were enjoying the comforts of the electric home, with refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, toasters and washing machines that plugged into the wall. There were four daily newspapers in multiple editions every morning and four more in the afternoon.

The 1920s were a decade of social upheaval in urban America, and Boston wasn’t immune to it. The city may have been facing hard times but it was still very much alive, and the facets of that life make up the story I want to tell.