Wicked Good Guide to Bizarro Boston /


Compiled by Adam Gaffin

Share your opinions of these bizarro attractions - click on the "Comment" links below. Is something missing from the list? Report it.

Ether memorial

Public Garden near Arlington Street

Look for the statue of the "Good Samaritan" metaphorically (and melodramatically) comforting the afflicted with some ether. In hero-mad Boston, the first question that comes to mind is why doesn't the statue show William Morton, the dentist who first used the stuff (in an 1846 operation at Massachusetts General)? At the time sculptor John Quincy Adams Ward (now there's a Boston name to reckon with) began working on the statue, it wasn't clear Morton was the true inventor - another doctor had called dibs. Hence the symbolic discovery, which prompted Oliver Wendell Holmes, Boston's 19th-century quipster (he dubbed Boston the Hub), to call the statue a "monument to ether - or either."

The Mass. General Ether Dome, where Morton applied the gas, is still around and open for public viewing (when it's not used for lectures) - and features (for no apparent reason) a mummy and a skeleton.

Conquering surgical pain: Four men stake their claim - More on the controversy, includes a photo of the top of the statue.

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The Ho Chi Minh Memorial Gas Tank

I-93, Dorchester

Uncle Ho figures more prominently in the history of the Boston Gas Keyspan tank in Dorchester. The tank is covered in a giant rainbow design (the largest copyrighted piece of work in the country) by artist Corita Kent. As you drive by, look at the left side of the blue stripe. A face begins to emerge. It's Ho Chi Minh! Keyspan has always claimed it's a coincidence; some suspect Kent, an anti-war activist, included Ho in her 1971 opus as a subtle protest (Kent herself isn't talking; she's dead). Note: There used to be two tanks there. In 1992, Keyspan tore down the Kent tank and hired painters (including at least one Vietnamese refugee) to repaint the mural on the other one. One of the things they did was to give the profile a more rounded, less Ho-ish nose; the company claims this was truer to Kent's original design.

Did she or didn't she? - A more in-depth look at Kent and her art.

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The Leif Eriksson memorial

Commonwealth Avenue mall at Charlesgate, Back Bay

The Commonwealth Avenue mall, a linear park down the middle of Comm. Ave. in the Back Bay, features statues of several prominent Bostonians - and Leif Erikson.

Eben Horsford, a 19th-century Harvard professor who discovered baking powder, was convinced that Vikings had sailed up the Charles to found Vinland - the lost Viking colony on the North American mainland. Horsford even claimed to have found evidence of Viking buildings in Cambridge and Watertown. So he commissioned a statue to commemorate the landing spot - and a tower in Weston that provides some of the proof: that area of the Charles is known as "Norumbega," which is obviously an Indian corruption of "Norway." At least, that's what he insisted.

More info:

The Norumbega tower - Background and a photo.

Why let the evidence get in the way? - The Globe's resident curmudgeon, Alex Beam, doesn't buy any of it.

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The Sacred Cod

New State House, Beacon Street

A five-foot long carved wooden codfish hangs over the entrance to the House of Representatives chamber in the State House. More than just a reminder of the state's seafaring past, the Sacred Cod is an essential part of lawmaking in Massachusetts - and not just because it is pointed toward the party in power.

In 1933, some pranksters from the Harvard Lampoon "codnapped" the fish. For four days, the State House was thrown into turmoil as anxious reps milled about, refusing to conduct any business until the fish was returned. Finally, a tipster told police where to find the fish, and the lawmaking resumed.

Sacred Cod photo

Theft of the Sacred Cod - More on the Harvard heist.

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You say you want a revolution?

Parker House Hotel, 60 School St. at Tremont

Forget Faneuil Hall or Old North Church. They're ancient history. Modern revolutionaries work at the Parker House. Ho Chi Minh was a busboy; Malcolm X a waiter. Oh, and John Wilkes Booth stayed here a week before he shot Lincoln (his brother, Edwin, a well known Shakespearean actor, was in town to do a play).

More on the hotel's history

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