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Episode Info

Episode Info:

You may think taking the T is painful today, but back in the days of horsedrawn streetcars, public transportation was slow, inefficient, and frequently snarled in downtown traffic. In the 1880s, proposals for elevated railways and subways competed for attention as Boston’s rapid transit solution. Then, an ambitious inventor stormed the scene with a groundbreaking proposal for a monorail. He even went as far as building a mile long track in East Cambridge, showing that the monorail worked. If it hadn’t been for bad luck and bad politics, we might all be taking monorails instead of today’s Red and Orange lines, but instead the monorail turned out to be more of a Shelbyville idea.

Please support us on Patreon and check out the full show notes at:

A Genuine, Bonafide, Non-Electrified Monorail!

In this 19th century Photoshop job, see the elevated railway that Bostonians feared would block out the sun.

Our #mysteryphoto was really an #AprilFools photo! This photo is a mockup for an Elevated Rail on Tremont St that was never built. Its probably from 1894 or 1895. Here's a real photo of Tremont St in the same time period.

— Boston City Archives (@ArchivesBoston) April 1, 2019

And here is the construction of the actual Orange Line, proving that they might have been right to be afraid.

#onthisday in 1901, the Elevated Rail was being constructed in Roxbury. Click on the link to take a closer look!

— Boston City Archives (@ArchivesBoston) May 16, 2019

Boston Book Club

Greater Boston is high on the shortlist of my favorite podcasts, and it’s the only fiction podcast I currently listen to, what they would call an audio drama. If you’re listening to our show, you probably love not only history but also Boston, which makes you the perfect prospect for Greater Boston. It’s set in a slightly fictionalized, historically informed version of our city, where the streets of the North End are permanently sticky from the molasses flood, where the roller coasters at Wonderland can still scare you half to death, and where a garbage fire on Spectacle Island has been burning for decades.

The first season starts with a series of seemingly disconnected stories centering around a single family, but as the season moves along, the story lines slowly weave together into a tightly crafted tapestry, and the plot spirals outward to include dozens of central characters and encompass an elaborately constructed world that takes in all of Greater Boston, with occasional side trips to Alaska, Oregon, and even the mythical city of Atlantis.

In this version of Boston, the citizens are considering a ballot initiative that would have the the Red Line secede and form its own independent city. In this version of Boston, a dead man becomes one of the most important characters, after his soul is trapped in a crystal ball. And in this version of Boston, a Trumpian figure has risen in response to a series of terrorist attacks that harken back to the Boston Tea Party and the Great Molasses Flood.

The show just wrapped up its third season, meaning you have 38 full episodes, plus about 25 bonus episodes to catch up on. In the most recent story arc, the slightly sci-fi world of Greater Boston has served as a backdrop for a narrative that seems to be pulled directly from our contemporary world. It takes on Boston’s housing crisis, racist redlining, gentrification, and the rise of authoritarian government, while maintaining a playful sense of humor and never seeming to preach to the listener. And this is a show that you have to listen to from the beginning, since it has slowly spread out to encompass at least twenty main characters with deep back stories and an elaborately constructed world.

If it’s not clear, I am an unabashed fan of this show.

Upcoming Event

And for our upcoming event this week, we have a talk about a transportation method you might use if you’re not taking the red line or an experimental monorail. On Thursday, June 13, cycling historian Lorenz J Finison will be giving a talk at the Copley Square library about the resurgence of cycling in 20th century Boston.

Here’s how the library website describes the event:

At the end of the nineteenth century, cycling’s popularity surged in the Boston area, but by 1900, the trend faded. Within the next few decades, automobiles became commonplace and roads were refashioned to serve them. Lorenz J. Finison presents the evolution and renaissance that local bicycling witnessed in the 1970s as concerns over physical and environmental health coalesced. Whether cyclists hit the roads on their way to work or to work out, went off-road in the mountains or to race via cyclocross and BMX, or took part in charity rides, biking was back in a major way.

Finison traces the city’s cycling history, chronicling the activities of environmental and social justice activists, stories of women breaking into male-dominated professions by becoming bike messengers and mechanics, and challenges faced by African American cyclists. Making use of newspaper archives, newly discovered records of local biking organizations, and interviews with Boston-area bicyclists and bike builders, Boston’s Twentieth­ Century Bicycling Renaissance brings these voices and battles back to life.

The talk begins at 6pm in the Commonwealth Salon. Registration is required, but free.

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