O'Connor is BC's Man About Town

This quiz on information contained in University Historian Thomas H. O'Connor's new book, Boston A to Z, may determine if you're a "Real Bostonian" or just a "Tourist." See answers at the bottom of the page.
1. Who is Logan International Airport named for?
2. Whose pen saved the USS Constitution from the scrap heap?
3. Where do Mrs. Mallard and her family live?
4. What is the name of the Boston-based African-American military unit that was celebrated in the Civil War movie "Glory"?
5. Where did the MBTA's Red, Blue Green and Orange Lines get their names?

O'Connor is BC's Man About Town

From A-Z, historian's latest book celebrates life and times of Boston

By Reid Oslin
Staff Writer

Over the years, University Historian Thomas H. O'Connor had amassed enough anecdotes and yarns about Boston to fill Fenway Park.

But O'Connor never thought about filling a book with them, until last year when a local publisher asked him to attempt the task.

"I agreed to try it for a couple of months," O'Connor said, "and it was like eating peanuts - once you begin, it is hard to stop."

The result is his latest book, Boston A to Z,which features some 200 historical essays, legends and little known facts on Boston's people, places, politics and personality. Equally informative and entertaining, and intended for natives and newcomers alike, it is an affectionate look at the life and times of a city by its foremost chronicler.

Historical tidbits presented in O'Connor's book range from the construction of municipal bath houses - the L Street Bath being the best known - to the story of the "Ice King," Frederick Tudor, who in 1836 devised a way to insulate Boston ice for delivery all over the world. Tudor is memorialized on a plaque located near Old North Church in the city's North End.

Boston A-Z is not limited to historical facts, however. Alongside familiar colonial era sagas concerning John Hancock, Sam Adams and Paul Revere, O'Connor writes on more recent Boston lore, events and controversies, such as the Big Dig, the 1970s busing crisis and the significance of Melnea Cass Boulevard.
"This type of book could have a tendency to stay with the 'old Boston,' and a lot of that is there," O'Connor said. "But Boston has greatly diversified in terms of places and people since that early period."

O'Connor also includes sections about the Citgo Sign, a familiar sight to generations of baseball fans visiting Fenway Park, and Albert DeSalvo, the notorious "Boston Strangler" who terrorized the city in the early 1960s. Boston traditions such as the Swan Boats, the Pops, and the old Scollay Square receive equal attention.

"It was like eating peanuts," says University Historian Thomas O'Connor about writing his new book, Boston A-Z. "Once you begin, it is hard to stop." (Photo by Geoff Why)

Boston A to Z is already a hit with Hub readers, vaulting into seventh place on the Boston Globe's local nonfiction best sellers' list in its first week in area bookstores.

Each topic O'Connor considered during his preliminary writing stages "generated two or three more," O'Connor says, and the book quickly began to take shape.

While "about 75 per cent of the material in the book was 'residual' - things I had worked on over the years and had put into a 'mound' of research," O'Connor said, "there were a lot of things I was anxious to learn more about. I knew names and maybe a little bit about them, and I thought that there may be a lot of people who would like to know more, too."

Among O'Connor's personal favorite Boston icons are "The Curse of the Bambino" - the supposed cause of the Red Sox's failure to win the World Series since trading away Babe Ruth - and downtown's landmark "Steaming Kettle" which captured the attention of his own children when they were youngsters.

The only drawback to writing such a book, O'Connor noted, was that not every Boston institution and landmark could make it into print. "It was not an attempt to be comprehensive, but to be representative of the city. People can get an idea of its diversity," he said.

"People never seem to ask me about the things that I put in the book," O'Connor added with a laugh, "but about those that I left out.

"I'm keeping those suggestions in a little notebook. We'll use them in Volume II."

1- Major General Edward L. Logan of South Boston, commander of the Yankee Division during World War I. He reputedly never flew in an airplane in his life.
2- Oliver Wendell Holmes' poem "Old Ironsides" spurred a public fund-raising effort to save the Navy's oldest commissioned warship.
3- The statues of Mrs. Mallard and her eight offspring, characters in the classic children's book Make Way for Ducklings, are in the Public Garden.
4- The 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment.
5- The Red Line was named for the crimson of Harvard University, the original terminus of the line; the Blue because it was the first to travel under the ocean; the Green because it connects points on the "Emerald Necklace;" and the Orange for Orange Way, the original name of the Washington Street route.


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