After the most popular question I get on my tour, the second is: “Where’s a good bar to get a drink at around here?” Despite a dearth of great Italian restaurants, the North End is lacking in locations that focus on alcohol. Of course, most of the restaurants have a wine menu but the food is their emphasis.
Yet, there are some places in the North End or within short walking distance (10 minutes or less) where one can grab a beer or cocktail. All these serve food, too, some of which is quite excellent! Below I’ve included five of my favorites.
Saus began in the late 2000s with this tiny shop located on The Freedom Trail. Saus's notoriety is for their Belgian fries and accompanying dipping sauces. The fries are some of the best in the city. They also do excellent poutine (at least for one that’s outside Quebec) and have some tasty sandwiches and Belgian waffles.
But, Saus also has a wide array of beers. They always have a Belgian or two, which are some of my favorite beers so I try to get one when I have an order of fries. What’s on tap is rotating so you never know what you might get (although they usually list it on their social media). Almost all the beers are from New England, though, so you’ll get a taste of the local flavor. No Budweiser or Miller here—just some of the best of what the area has to offer in Belgian style but also IPAs, sours, and ciders. (They also do some wine.) If you like craft beer, you’ll find something to enjoy to go with your steaming hot Belgian fries paired with an array of dipping sauces.
I’ve been going to Caffe Paradiso almost every week for about two years now. But it’s not for espresso or a martini. I get cannoli there (it’s a long story, but they make some of the best in the North End). I love the vibe of the place. Caffe Paradiso is right on the main drag in the North End, Hanover Street, but it’s rare to find it inundated with tourists. Instead, it’s more of a locals' joint. I always hear people speaking Italian and it seems at least one of the TVs is playing an Italian station, especially if there’s a soccer match on.
Caffe Paradiso has been around since 1962 and is now operated by the third generation of a family from Italy. They’re open from 7 AM to 2 AM. So, you can come in early for a cappuccino and then end the night with a martini after your dinner at one of the nearby restaurants. Caffe Paradiso has a full bar and you can find everything from beer and wine, to over a dozen cocktails. Prices are reasonable and the staff knows their stuff.
As mentioned, they make some of the best cannoli in the North End and also offer well over a dozen gelato flavors. It's my recommendation of where to go if you want some of the delicious Italian dessert. A quick tip, though: Don’t ever refer to the gelato as ice cream. As in, “I’ll take a scoop of the strawberry cheesecake ice cream.” It’s gelato. There’s a difference. And the owner will let you know it. :-)
Sam Adams Taproom
Sam Adams couldn’t have picked a better spot for a taproom than the one at Faneuil Hall Marketplace. Why? It is a few yards from the statue of Sam Adams that dates back to 1880. The company has their headquarters and another taproom in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood in Boston, so I wasn’t sure I saw the need for a second location. But, I found it a pleasant surprise when I visited after it opened in January of 2020. I didn’t know what to expect but the design is modern and spacious with both bar seating and communal tables. And they serve their well-known classics such as the Sam Adams lager and the Boston area favorite, Brick Red. From the front the space may not look that big but once inside there’s room quite a ways into the back. Too, during warmer months there is rooftop seating.
Sam Adams is a huge company. They market themselves as a microbrewery but they’re one of the largest in the category. So, as someone who usually sides with the little guy, I want to dislike Sam Adams, but I’ll be honest: they make pretty good beer. (They also do a lot to support smaller breweries.) The taproom allows Sam Adams to showcase some newer, smaller batches that you won’t find in stores or on tap much of anywhere else. I tried many different options when I went. I left surprised by how tasty they all were. I also saw the mayor there and he waved at me and I said, “Howdy!” Yes, I met the mayor of our large, industrious city and my greeting to him was to sound like a cowboy. I’m not sure what I was thinking.
Night Shift Brewery at Lovejoy Wharf
Night Shift is an up-and-comer in the microbrewery scene. The company started in 2012 by three friends who began brewing in their apartment. They are now based in Everett, Massachusetts, north of Boston. The location at Lovejoy Wharf is on the waterfront on the first floor of Converse Shoes' world headquarters. It’s also a couple of blocks from TD Garden, where the Bruins and Celtics play. At this location there is some brewing and you can see some of the equipment when you enter, but there aren’t any tours. Instead, there is a bar area, a restaurant area and a small shop where you can get Night Shift merchandise and beer. The space is industrial without being dark or lacking any feeling. The artwork on the walls is very cool and tells the story of the company.
I’ve been to the Lovejoy Wharf location many times and it’s always interesting to see what the brewery is doing. The company calls this location an innovation house and the brewers have permission to try new things. So some of the stuff on the beer menu may seem out there but it’s always fun to try these experiments. Night Shift brews a wide variety of beer: sours, darks, IPAs, wheats, and light ones, too (their Lime Light is probably my favorite).
Besides their beers, there is also a great food menu with something for everyone, including delicious hot pretzels. Some of the items on the food menu also have Night Shift beer worked into them, such as with sauces or dressings. It’s another way Night Shift is keeping things interesting.
The Ginger Man
The Ginger Man has over 100 beers between those on tap, in bottles, and in cans. They have over 100 whiskeys from all over the world. And you can drink in an old bank vault located downstairs. That’s really all you need to know. While the other locations on this list are great and highly recommended; The Ginger Man is one of a kind.
Don’t forget! Before you go out drinking, make sure and go on our North End Crime Tour! Click the Book Now button on this page to purchase tickets.
Let’s say you’re coming on Historic Boston Crime Tour’s North End tour. It starts at 5 PM, so what to do before then? Sure, there is always The Freedom Trail or plenty of Italian restaurants in the neighborhood. But what else is within half a mile of the starting location of the tour? Below I list five sites I like and think are worth a stop for any guests. You can find more info on them by clicking on their name. If you have a favorite activity in the area, feel free to leave it in the comments!
Paul Revere House
19 North Square
This house is the oldest structure in this part of Boston, dating back to 1680. (Fun fact: The oldest structure in Boston is the James Blake House dating to 1661 and located in the Dorchester neighborhood.) Revere and his family lived here from 1770 to 1800. Since his time, the building was a bank and grocery store, amongst other things. At one point, there was a third story, too. In the early 1900s, the Paul Revere Memorial Association renovated the building to get it to look more like it did at the time when Revere resided there.
Given how young much of the United States is, many visitors don’t have a chance to see buildings from hundreds of years ago. This makes the Revere house a unique site. (Meanwhile, European visitors shrug at its age as they have structures dating hundreds of years before Revere's birth.) The architecture is in a style called Elizabethan Tudor, unique in this part of the city.
The Paul Revere House is a quick visit since it consists of only a few rooms. Tours are self-guided and there are information plaques in each room, as well as staff who can answer questions. A visit to the house isn’t only about seeing the architecture, though. It’s also a chance to learn more about the life of Revere and his family (he had 16 children from his two marriages). Revere was much more than a man who rode a horse to warn colonists in Lexington and Concord of the approaching British army in 1775. He was also a silversmith, owned a foundry, and was the occasional dentist.
For a few dollars more, one can also visit the structure next door, the Pierce Hitchborn House. It’s one of the oldest brick structures in Boston, dating to 1711.
Rose Kennedy Greenway
Extends from the North End to Chinatown
Given that Boston is almost 400 years old, the Rose Kennedy Greenway is a very young part of the city. But it’s a welcome and vibrant change from what used to stand in its place. For decades in the twentieth century there stood an elevated interstate; an eyesore that cut the city in two. In fact, to get from downtown to the North End, one had to go underneath this elevated highway.
Starting in 1991 an almost twenty-year journey began to tear down the interstate and place it underground. It took much longer than expected and went way over cost. A complex array of MBTA tunnels, the interstate, and water and sewer lines had to be interwoven, all while keeping the city running. As an engineer who worked on the project once explained it to me, it would’ve been a lot simpler if they could’ve shut down the city for a couple of years. Instead, he said, it was like trying to do open heart surgery on a tennis player while he was playing a match.
Finally, by the late 2000s the project was complete. On top of the tunnel, in the space where the elevated roadway once stood is the Rose Kennedy Greenway. It’s a park that stretches for over one mile from the North End, where the crime tour starts, to Chinatown. Its namesake is the matriarch of the Kennedy family. Rose was mother to nine children. They include President John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Massachusetts Senator, Ted Kennedy. His work helped secure a great amount of money for the Greenway's completion.
The Greenway is much more than a simple park, though. There are fountains, swings, an amazing carousel, and open green spaces to picnic and relax. Also, there are food trucks and a farmers market. The National Parks Service has an information station there. A range of public art installations are on the greenway every year, too. Being a greenway there is a wide range of flowers, trees, and plants to take in. It’s a real gem in the city. Although the process to get it completed was arduous, I’d like to think it was worth it.
Boston Public Market
100 Hanover St.
A place that’s even newer than the Greenway is Boston Public Market (BPM). Founded in 2016, this market took over an empty location on top of the Haymarket MBTA station. In its place is a lively gathering site for dozens of vendors from the New England area. The market is indoors and open seven days a week, all year long. The BPM also offers cooking classes in their kitchen.
At the BPM one can find for sale everything from coffee to Thai food to stonecraft. Some of the vendors sell food that’s ready to grab and go, but there are also ones who sell produce or seafood to take home. A great thing about the market is the opportunity one has to speak with some of the vendors. They can go more in depth about their products and explain where it comes from or how it’s made. Some even offer tastings or samples.
Some of my favorites include Red Apple Farms and Boston Beer Alley. The former has awesome cider donuts and the latter an amazing selection of New England beers. The BPM is a great option for those who want to try some local flavors. And given that it’s right on the Rose Kennedy Greenway, I recommend grabbing some food and taking it out there for lunch or dinner.
On Fridays and Saturdays, located right next to Boston Public Market, is the Haymarket. It dates back to 1820 and is one of the oldest open-air markets in the United States. The dozens of vendors located on this street sell produce of all kinds (although there is some seafood and flowers, too).
The prices are dirt cheap. We’re talking three apples for a dollar or a quart of blueberries for two bucks. How are they able to sell for so little? Much of the produce is what wasn’t able to sell in the past week at local grocery distributors. And with some fruits, especially, it’s gotta go before it rots. That’s not to say that these are rotten products, but you’re not going to find a green banana here. Heartier veggies such as potatoes are fine. And everything is a steal. You can’t find cheaper prices anywhere.
One thing I love about the Haymarket is the variety of sellers and shoppers. Vendors come from more than 20 nationalities. You’ll hear all kinds of languages spoken and see people of every background. The shoppers are here because they have one thing in common: they know a good deal.
Another reason to check out the Haymarket is that it is lively. Vendors are barking out prices. They’re not always the most patient, so you better know what you want instead of hemming and hawing over which apricot you wish to buy. Amidst all the selling, people walk around to see which vendor can undercut another by 20 or 30 cents on a product.
A couple tips to maximize your experience: bring cash. Nobody takes credit cards. Also, if you’re patient and wait until five or six PM on Saturday, vendors start cutting their already ridiculous low prices. They’re seeking to move this stuff before they close and they’ll take whatever they can get. In fact, every Saturday night a lot of the produce is left behind, especially if it’s already going bad. One of my favorite things I ever saw at the Haymarket was a Saturday night after the market closed. A bulldozer came and swept all the empty containers and rotten fruit down Blackstone Street and loaded it into a dump truck.
Old North Church
193 Salem Street
There are two great old churches in Boston: King’s Chapel and Old North Church. Both date back to the 1700s and both have crypts in their basements (with Old North being the larger of the two). Both also have boxed pews, which you'll find at few churches nowadays. Also, both are active congregations: King’s Chapel is Unitarian and Old North is Episcopalian.
Yet, I lean a little more toward Old North for a few reasons. First, the inside architecture is more elaborate and regal than King’s Chapel. Second, they’ve got the history of Paul Revere. This is the Church from which the lanterns hanged to warn Revere that the British soldiers were coming to Lexington and Concord by sea. (As you may remember from the line in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's famous poem: "one if by land, two if by sea").
Built in 1723, Old North is the oldest standing church in Boston. It is also the tallest structure in the North End. (I heard that a regulation exists that states no building in the North End can be taller than the church's 174 feet.) The steeple that exists today is its third. The other two fell down in hurricanes but the weather vane is original.
Another reason I enjoy Old North is the eight bells that ring before church services. They create some beautiful music. The Bellringers Guild at MIT oversee their care and play them. On Wednesday nights if you’re in the area the Guild practices so one can get a nice little concert.
And don’t forget, after visiting any of these sites, come on the crime tour of the North End. But make sure to purchase tickets in advance!
The most asked question I receive on my tour is, “Do you recommend any place to eat dinner?” My usual joke is: until one of the restaurants starts paying me to say otherwise, all the places in the North End are the same.
But here is my serious answer. All the restaurants range from good to great. Out of 5 stars, most have a ranking of 3.5 to 5 stars. (The reason they’re all so high ranking is that the competition in the North End is fierce—if you’re not good, you don’t survive long.) All the restaurants are a little expensive compared to other places you might eat in the city. In some cases, the difference between places comes down to service.
In this blog post, I’m not going to mention pizza joints, of which there are a number. I will focus on that in a separate post in the future. Instead, I’m going to write on a few of my personal favorite restaurants in the North End and mention others that receive rave reviews.
First things first—I’m a vegetarian and most traditional Italian food doesn’t mesh well with my diet. Locations in the North End use beef and pork in most dishes, or at least in the sauces. So for you carnivores out there, your options are pretty endless. As a vegetarian, I’m forced to be a bit pickier. That said, there are still a few solid options.
211 Hanover St.
You can’t get a better location than Mother Anna’s. Located at the front of the North End on the main street in the neighborhood, you can’t miss it. Opened since 1932, it’s one of the oldest (if not the oldest) restaurants still operating in Boston’s Little Italy. There is seating both on the main floor and in the basement, which has dimmer lighting and is more intimate. There’s also outdoor seating that looks onto the Rose Kennedy Greenway and is great for people watching. The menu is huge with everything from your basic kinds of pasta to dishes that come with seafood, veal, chicken, and steak. The prices are fair and the portions are generous. As a vegetarian, I found many options. There’s a reason Mother Anna’s has been around for so long—they serve good food with quality service in a pleasant atmosphere. Going here for a meal is always a sure bet.
241 Hanover St.
I share this one with a caveat; I’ve never eaten at Bricco. But, I have had their breads and cheeses around the corner, tucked down an alleyway at the salumeria and panetteria. (See the video below.) The cheeses I’ve had are some of the best I’ve ever eaten and the bread is out of this world, made even better with some olive oil. If they’re this awesome (and the bread is the same as you’ll receive at Bricco), I can’t help but think the actual food is even better. I need to get off my butt and get to Bricco. Or really, any of the other restaurants owned by Frank DePasquale in the North End. DePasquale has been running restaurants in the neighborhood since 1987 and has seen a lot of success, so he’s doing something right. I’ve had co-workers and guests tell me the Italian subs at the salumeria are phenomenal. Once again, I need to get off my butt and grab an eggplant parm and give it a shot. But if the cheeses and bread are any sign, I’m pretty confident about my suggestion here.
98 Salem St.
Terramia is a one-of-a-kind place for my vegetarian tastes. They’re the only restaurant I’ve found in the North End that has a special menu for vegetarians and vegans (as well as one for people who have a gluten-free diet). With most North End joints there is usually only one option for me; maybe two if I’m lucky. At Terramia there are five entrée options and soup, as well as vegan gelato. That said, there are still plenty of meat options: veal, beef, and seafood are all found on the menu. Once again, the ambience is intimate—there are about a dozen tables. The wine selection compliments the food well. This is my go-to place in the North End and not because of my diet. It’s got good service, great food, and the intimacy I’m looking for whether it’s a dinner amongst family or a romantic date. On a related note, the owners of Terramia also own Antico Forno, located right across the street. It’s a wood-fired pizza joint which guests have told me is excellent.
Some other recommendations and thoughts
This next suggestion may seem odd coming from a vegetarian. But given the lines I see outside Neptune Oyster every day before it opens (even in the winter), I can’t help but think they’re doing something right. Not to mention, they are up for a 2020 James Beard Award for best restaurant in the country. (If you don’t know what the James Beard Awards are, they’re kind of like the Emmys, Grammys, or Tonys, but for restaurants.) Neptune Oyster is also on just about everyone's best restaurants in Boston (or America) list and feedback from tourists I’ve sent there is that it’s excellent and not just for oysters. A common suggestion I’ve heard is that they make one of the best lobster rolls around. Given the fact there’s always a line, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn Neptune doesn’t take reservations.
Speaking of restaurants with lines, another very popular place in the North End is Giacomo’s. (It's pronounced Jah-co-moes—I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people mispronounce it.) There is almost always a line there after 5 PM, especially in the summer. Giacomo’s focuses on seafood with their pasta, but has options for the meat eaters and vegetarians out there. Even though there’s a line, it moves quick. Giacomo’s isn’t the type of place where you go through many courses, have numerous bottles of wine, followed by an after-dinner cappuccino. They’re generally interested in getting people in and out. That’s not to say they do so in a rude way. But if you’re looking for a casual evening where you can relax and take your time in conversation and eating, this isn’t the place. Still, the vegetarian options available and the line tells me I should check this place out. Giacomo’s doesn’t take reservations and they are cash only. There’s also another location in Boston’s South End neighborhood.
A helpful hint: try out a restaurant in the North End for lunch. Many places offer a special lunch menu that although limited is cheaper and still has sizeable portions. Not every restaurant is open for lunch but the ones that are don’t require waiting in line. So while it may not be a romantic dinner, if you’re on the Freedom Trail and worked up an appetite, it’s an easy and cheap option.
One last note: I can’t emphasize enough the importance of reservations. While some places don’t take them, check a restaurant’s website ahead of time to see if it’s an option. If you take one of my tours on a Friday or Saturday night in the summer, you’re going to need reservations at about any place since the tour ends around 6:30 PM.
If you don’t have a reservation anywhere but still want some Italian food, you won’t be entirely put out (unless you have a big group). In that case, I recommend walking down one of the two main streets in the North End, Hanover or Salem, and check out menus in the windows at restaurants. See what looks good, fits your price range, and doesn’t look like it has a two-hour wait. Keep in mind many of the restaurants only have 10-20 tables. But with dozens of restaurants and cafes in a neighborhood of less than one square mile, you’ll certainly find something that will give you a great meal.
And don't forget to book a crime tour with us before you go out to any of these great restaurants!
Travel is tough right now but for those who can’t make it to Boston, there are still some awesome ways to check out the sights of the city: virtual tours.
There’s something about seeing a hall filled with great works of art in person. But the depth of work put into these virtual tours gives more context to buildings and artwork than you might find were you walking down a street or strolling a gallery. Videos, historic photographs, background info, and more are in the virtual tours listed below.
The four sites included here aren’t an exhaustive list of virtual tours to take in Boston. Yet, as a fan of history and as a tour guide, I find them to be the best of the best. So, if you’re on a staycation but still want to see some great attractions in Boston, I recommend these.
The Museum of African-American History
This museum began in 1963. It covers life for African-Americans in Boston (and at a location on Nantucket, too) from colonial times through the 1800s.
When I moved to Boston in 2008, one of the first things I did was take a tour of Boston’s Black Heritage Trail (BHT). It’s a 1.6-mile route led by the National Park Service (NPS). The Trail takes the guest past houses of black citizens from centuries ago who were prominent in the city’s history. I was the only person on the tour and had an NPS ranger all to myself, so I had a great time. Although the NPS gives tours of the BHT, it’s actually overseen by the Museum of African-American History (MAAH).
An online tour of the BHT is available through the MAAH’s Google Arts & Culture site. Through a series of Google street view snapshots and historical photographs, the user follows the path of the Trail. They also receive a good amount of historical context about who the people were who comprised this community. Residences, schools, and a meeting house are all visited along the way.
Also, the MAAH has as part of its Google Arts & Culture site an exhibit called “Freedom Rising: Remembering the Abolition Movement and Campaign for Civil Rights in Boston, 1770s-1930s.” This exhibit contains great visuals including maps, newspaper articles, historic photographs, and flyers.
Before doing research into these virtual tours, I was unfamiliar with Google Arts & Culture, but it is very impressive. The user can zoom in on objects that comprise the exhibit and look at them on their own as part of a collection without needing to find them in the exhibit. The text is easy to read and the exhibits flow well. Using it is pretty straightforward with a clean, crisp design.
The exhibits on the MAAH Arts & Culture site aren’t a tour of the facility. But, they’re a great peek into the surrounding community of Beacon Hill (one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city). Too, the exhibits showcase a wide range of materials available in the MAAH’s collection.
Massachusetts State House
Located on Beacon Hill, a few blocks from the Museum of African-American History is the Massachusetts State House. In fact, the Black Heritage Trail begins right across the street from the State House. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that visiting this building was also one of the first things I did when I moved to Boston.
Completed in 1798 and designed by Charles Bulfinch, the Massachusetts State House is an impressive structure that overlooks Boston Common. (Bullfinch also designed the Maine State House, the addition to Faneuil Hall, and many other Boston buildings.) Since 1798 the State House received two additions due to more space needed.
The virtual tour takes the user through the second and third floors of the State House. It allows the user to not only see pictures of the internal layout of the public areas but also zoom in on some specific items. There are many sculptures and paintings of such individuals as Bullfinch, Charles Sumner, and John Hancock. (The State House is actually built upon land Hancock gave to Massachusetts.) Also, one can enter the Senate and House chambers. The latter also allows the visitor to see amongst our more celebrated items: the sacred cod.
There’s a lot of possibility for growth—for example, I’d love to see even more history of pieces in the collection. Yet the panoramic views of the Great Hall and legislative chambers and history of some state leaders make this a worthwhile tour.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
A wealthy socialite, Isabella Stewart Gardner founded her museum in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood in 1903. Over the decades in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, she purchased art in Europe and brought it back to Boston. The collection is exhibited in her mansion.
The collection includes sculptures from Asia and Ancient Greece. Also, there are paintings from the Middle Ages up through the 19th century. There is ornate wooden furniture and tapestries from Europe. The museum has on display letters from famous individuals such as George Washington. Amongst the most stunning aspects of the museum is its courtyard that extends from the ground floor to the glass ceiling stories above. The flowers and plants rotate each season. (The Gardner has its own greenhouse which guests can visit.)
One of the primary reasons for the Gardner Museum's fame is that it was the site of the largest art heist in history. The 13 items taken from the museum in 1990 were worth $500 million. The pieces are still missing and the crime remains unsolved. Yet, the Gardner Museum's Google Arts & Culture site allows the visitor to explore this crime. There's also a closer look at one of those stolen pieces, Jan Vermeer’s painting, The Concert.
Guests can also explore a large part of the museum using Google street view. This allows the visitor to walk the rooms and zoom in on objects to get a better view. The Gardner Museum doesn’t have information about objects on the walls. (Gardner's will states that things stay as they were when she died in 1924.) Thus, some works are a focus on Google Arts & Culture. That said, what makes this museum unique is the large quantity and range of items.
Museum of Fine Arts
A few blocks from the Gardner Museum is the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), housing a collection that tops almost half a million pieces. It’s been around since 1870 and its current location in the Fenway opened in 1909. I know some may think I’m biased since I live in Boston, but it’s one of the best art museums I’ve been to in the United States. When people tell me they’re going to visit the MFA, I make it clear that if they’re serious about art and like to take their time, one day will not be enough. The MFA’s special exhibits are always top-notch, too. I’ve seen shows on everyone from Ansel Adams and Dale Chihuly to Frida Kahlo and Winnie the Pooh there.
When I went to the website, I figured the MFA would have something nice as it’s a big institution. Little did I realize I could explore almost the entire museum virtually. The MFA is another organization that has taken advantage of Google’s Arts & Culture platform. Using this I could walk the halls, zoom in on paintings, and check out their information signs. I try to go to the MFA once or twice a year and it’s been so long since I visited that I spent some time walking the halls because I miss the place!
Using Google it means that not only is the street view option possible to stroll the hallways of the MFA but there are also exhibits to view. There are 16 online exhibits; the primary areas of focus are fashion and conservation. Other exhibits explore specific pieces of art including one on art by African Americans in the MFA collection. It not only shows the art but also gives context and analysis by art experts that provide insight into the pieces. It’s like having a tour guide there with you!
On top of this, there is also the option to look at over 500 items in the collection. The organization of these items is by popularity, date of creation, and color. As is the case with visiting the MFA in person, I would encourage any fan of art who wants to check out the museum virtually to plan to spend some time digging in. I know I put in way more time than I thought I would.
Of course, the most important of all these tours is Historic Boston Crime Tours’ virtual tour. This is a live, online, 90-minute tour that takes you through the same stories as on the walking tour. Yet there's the added context of videos, historical photos, maps, and artwork. To read more about the tour, see this blog post. And to book, click “Book Now” at the bottom of the page.
On my tours I talk about Luigi Galleani, an early-20th century anarchist whose followers in Boston's North End took up violence for their beliefs. In this video I talk about a sticker and biography of Galleani I have in my apartment.
Want to learn more about the crime history of Boston? Take our virtual or walking crime tour!
An old proverb says “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Much of the tourism industry has come to a screeching halt due to COVID-19. This means many tour operators are looking for new ways to generate income. Well, if people can’t travel to Boston due to travel restrictions, why not take a bit of Boston to them? Hence the virtual tour.
I first heard about virtual tours because the travel site Airbnb started running them. They are successful but their focus is more on learning a skill or trying an activity as opposed to experiencing a walking tour. (I did do a walking tour of Prague during the Black Plague that was very well done.)
I wanted to create a virtual tour for guests that told the same stories as my walking tour of the North End. But I didn’t want people to sit and stare at me for 90 minutes while I told those tales. People want something that will hold their attention: videos, photographs, and so on. I knew I needed to dig deeper.
The process of putting together a virtual tour would need a lot of research. First I had to think about my stories. I outlined them and looked at the who, what, where, and when. I then looked for pictures, drawings, and maps that would give people context to that time and place, as well as the individuals involved. Most of the images are from Google image searches, which provide a wealth of possibilities (almost too many, sometimes).
Even with historical photographs and maps, some people were hard to find. One of the characters about who I speak, Goody Glover, was a poor immigrant who lived in 1688. There aren't photographs of her. But by using a woodcut from the time and a drawing from some centuries later, it gives you an idea of how she might’ve dressed. Thus, even when there aren’t images of the individuals in question, other materials can give clues and fill in the gaps.
In the end, I came up with over 80 slides and dozens of photographs, maps, drawings, and paintings. It’s safe to say I put in well over 50 hours of work researching and finding sources for the tour. While I tell the seven stories on this tour, you’ll get to see the results. The tour is live; this isn’t a video you sit and watch. I ask questions and interact with you throughout the 90 minutes.
Finally, I knew guests would want to know what the places looked like where the actual stops are on the walking version of the tour. I went to the North End one sunny May afternoon. I took my smartphone and a stabilizer to help film scenes from each of the locations where I tell the stories on the walking version of the tour. At first, I thought of filming the entire walk. Given the equipment I had at my disposal, stabilizing the camera would’ve required me to walk slowly and on some uneven surfaces. I knew that wasn’t going to be a possibility. Still, I got 30-90 seconds at each stop, showcasing the location and the area surrounding it. It’s the next best thing to being there!
Nothing can exactly match being at the sites of the event in a story. Yet, the virtual tour offers things the walking tour never could. First, you get more context for the stories. It’s one thing for me to tell you about the Reverend Cotton Mather. It’s another thing to see paintings of him. I share maps that show how the area has changed over the years. When there is a tour of 25 people, it’s not as though I can pass around photographs or hold up images above my head. With the virtual tour, you not only get the engaging stories but the images and videos bring them to life.
Another thing the virtual tour offers is that you can enjoy it from the comfort of your home. Sit back in your favorite recliner, or cuddle up with your partner on the couch. Grab your favorite beverage. All that’s necessary is your interest in entertainment and a sense of curiosity.
That all said, if you’re interested in trying out the virtual tour, it’s only $5 per screen! That means you buy one ticket and you can watch it by yourself or with your roommates. Or watch it with your spouse and college-aged kids. Whoever is there, it’s only five bucks (although I appreciate tips)! I wanted to keep the price low to get more people involved.
There’s a lot going on in the world right now. Many of us aren’t going to travel anytime soon due to health concerns or travel restrictions. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a bit of Boston history brought to you. My hope is that by signing up for the virtual tour, you’ll have something to take your mind off of your surroundings for 90 minutes. At the same time, you'll find some entertainment and education. I can’t wait for people to try this out, so please sign up today! Tours are Tuesday through Sunday at 2 PM Eastern time!
Want to learn more about the crime history of Boston? Take our virtual or walking crime tour!
A deck of cards leads me to talk about Black Lives Matter protests regarding an 18th-century building that became a tourist destination, aka Faneuil Hall. And how it all relates to the crime of slavery.
Want to learn more about the crime history of Boston? Take our virtual or walking crime tour!
The story of Anthony Burns involves two of my favorite themes in history: riots and those standing up to injustice. It also parallels what is happening in the wake of the death of George Floyd. Both events pushed the public in the direction of advancing equality for blacks.
In 1854 Anthony Burns was a nineteen-year-old slave in Virginia. In March of that year, he escaped and stowed away on a ship in a compartment that could barely hold his body. He made it from Richmond to Boston by the end of the month. At the time, Boston was not only a literary and political Athens, it was a hotbed of abolitionist sentiment. The fiery preacher William Lloyd Garrison ran his newspaper, The Liberator. Abolitionists—both white and black—met often at the African Meeting House.
It’s likely Burns could have escaped for good except for one thing. He sent a letter to his enslaved brother in Virginia, in which he disclosed his whereabouts. The letter was intercepted and given to Burns’ master, Charles Stuttle. Stuttle then went to retrieve his "property." He did this according to a law Congress passed in 1850 called the Fugitive Slave Act.
Among its many points, the Fugitive Slave Act denied an escaped slave the right to a trial by jury. Also, more federal government officials received the task to hunt down slaves. It was permissible to capture even those blacks who were free. After all, these freemen and women had no legal recourse to contest a slave owner's declaration that someone was his slave.
Stuttle came up from Virginia to retrieve his slave in May 1854. Burns tells the story of his arrest in an 1855 article from the New York Tribune:
When I was going home one night I heard someone running behind me; presently a hand was put on my shoulder, and somebody said: 'Stop, stop; you are the fellow who broke into a silversmith's shop the other night.' I assured the man that it was a mistake, but almost before I could speak, I was lifted from off my feet by six or seven others, and it was no use to resist. In the Court House I waited some time, and as the silversmith did not come, I told them I wanted to go home for supper. A man then come to the door; he didn't open it like an honest man would, but kind of slowly opened it, and looked in. He said, 'How do you do, Mr. Burns?' and I called him as we do in Virginia, 'master!'
The response to Burns’ arrest was fierce. A meeting of free blacks and some whites met at Tremont Temple. Another meeting of abolitionists numbering around 5,000 met at Faneuil Hall. The meeting at Faneuil Hall concluded. The audience agreed they would go to the courthouse (which included the jail where Burns was being held) the next morning to free Burns by force. But, as they concluded, someone entered the Hall informing the crowd that many from Tremont Temple had gone to do that very thing right then!
The two crowds converged on the courthouse, and although some had departed, the mob still numbered about 2,000. The doors to the courthouse locked, and the U.S. Marshal, Watson Freeman (I know, I see the irony, too), stood ready. Approximately 50 deputies were inside waiting for trouble. The Reverend Thomas Wentworth Higginson and some black and white protestors breached the door with a battering ram. They swarmed inside. After fierce fighting with swords, knives, fists, and guns one deputy was dead (who killed him was never discovered) and others injured. Arrests were made of thirteen protestors. The crowd, thwarted, withdrew. Burns was still held in the courthouse, awaiting his return to Virginia. A company of US Marines came to keep order that night.
There were court hearings for the next week. Burns refused to put up a fight and declared that Stuttle was his owner. That was the only thing necessary for Burns to go back to his slave owner, according to the Fugitive Slave Act. Burns' attorneys argued that the law was unconstitutional, but the judge declined to declare it as such. Anthony Burns was going back into what one protest flyer called “the Hell of Virginia slavery.”
Burns marched in shackles and chains down State Street to Long Wharf. Along the way, 50,000 Bostonians lined the streets. They booed, hissed, and screamed at the soldiers who took Burns away. American flags flew upside down and black funeral bunting draped along the windows. In total, almost 2,000 Marines, militia, and police officers accompanied Burns on his walk to a ship that carried him back to slavery.
Burns wasn’t in Virginia for long, though. There was an agreement reached before he even left Boston. A black pastor and abolitionist, Leonard Grimes, would pay for Burns’ freedom from his owner. Thanks to $1,300 in contributions from black parishioners, by the end of 1854 Burns was back in Boston. He would go on to get a degree from Oberlin College and become a pastor in Indianapolis, and Canada, where he passed on in 1862.
The death of George Floyd sparked a big change in how people all over the world view issues surrounding race and the government. In the case of Anthony Burns, it was similar. Reports of his arrest and return to the South enraged Northerners, both white and black. As Boston businessman Amos Lawrence wrote, “We went to bed one night old-fashioned, conservative, Compromise Union Whigs and waked up stark mad Abolitionists.” The people of Massachusetts saw to it that Anthony Burns would be the last slave ever taken from Massachusetts by the Fugitive Slave Act.
Want to learn more about the crime history of Boston? Take our virtual or walking crime tour!
A sticker of the Reverend Cotton Mather inspires me to tell a story about an African-born slave who saved hundreds in Boston.
Want to learn more about Boston criminal history? Take our virtual or walking crime tour!
Thomas Hutchinson (1711-1780) was a man of many talents. He was a historian, lawyer, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Lieutenant Governor, and Governor of Massachusetts. He was also an ardent loyalist to the British government.
In March 1765 Hutchinson was Lieutenant Governor. That month, British Parliament passed the Stamp Act. This act was a tax levied on colonists in North America. But calling this specific tax a stamp tax was a misnomer, as it applied to much more than stamps. It was a tax on over 50 different paper products: newspapers, playing cards, contracts, wills, stationary, and more. So, anytime you wanted to write a letter or read the newspaper, you had to pay a tax on each piece of paper.
Why was this tax imposed? From 1756-63 there was a conflict in North America between France and England called the French and Indian War. The French lost but there were still many British troops stationed in the colonies. The threat from the French no longer existed. Yet these soldiers and their officers (who were sometimes well-connected to Parliament) were not paid if they went back to Britain. So the government kept them overseas and thus they could receive an income. And the way to pay these extra soldiers in the North American colonies was through the tax on paper products.
Yet the colonists objected to the stationing of these troops. They believed their colonial militias were capable of handling any problems that may arise.
In addition to this, the government required payment of this tax in British pounds. This may not seem like an issue except that many colonists used their own form of colonial paper money. The British currency was difficult to come by. Also, the tax was steep.
Today, an unfair tax levied might cause one to appeal to their elected representative for relief. Yet, if one remembers the rallying cry of the American Revolution (“No taxation without representation”) it’s clear the colonists had no recourse.
So what is one to do at that time? Well, if you’re in Boston in colonial times, there is one solution that often solves this problem: rioting. Boston, in fact, had more riots than any other city in the North American colonies: 28. And the reasons for rioting were many: anti-Pope sentiment, food shortages, impressment into the British Navy, etc.
On the night of August 26, 1765, colonists decided to show their displeasure for the Stamp Act. They headed to the house of Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson, located in the North End. The reason for the mob’s fury toward Hutchinson was due to rumors spread around Boston that he was in support of the Act. In reality, he worked to tone down the severity of the language of the bill before it passed as law.
A messenger found Hutchinson at dinner with his family and warned him a mob was coming. Hutchinson and his family made their way to a neighbor’s house as the mob took axes to the front door, and proceeded to ransack the house for hours. They ate the Hutchinson’s dinner, drank their wine, tore apart their fruit trees, stole their silver, and broke down the walls. The only reason the mob stopped was due to the sun coming up the next morning.
And while a few arrests occurred, no one received a trial or conviction for taking part in the destruction of Thomas Hutchinson’s mansion. Why? First, in a town of Boston’s size in 1765 (approximately 16,000), most people knew one another. Few wanted to turn in their neighbor, friend, or family member for taking part in this activity. Second, residents of the town saw the work of these rabble-rousers and didn’t wish to cross them. Third, many despised the Stamp Act, too, so it’s not as though they couldn’t relate to the frustration of the rioters. Finally, Hutchinson was quite wealthy. He had another estate in nearby Milton where he could live while his house was rebuilt; it’s not as though he’s going homeless by this riot.
Ultimately, due to the mass protests throughout the Colonies such as the riot at Hutchinson's mansion, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act in March 1766.
Want to learn more about the crime history of Boston? Take our virtual or walking crime tour!