November 22, 1966, first day on the job, my job for life.
Reported at 7 am for an 8 o’clock shift, Morris Ostroff, the man in charge of the lab, comes in at 8 smoking a cigar as long as he is tall.
Morris hands me an apron, sponge and states, “follow me.” It is my job to keep the 5 wet darkrooms clean, make sure the chemicals are fresh and bring Morris’ daily play of numbers to his bookie. I learned how to play the numbers in more ways than I already played it.
It is three years after the assassination of JFK and I hear the story of how the paper put out a extra edition of the shooting and when the paper hit the streets the headline was okay but the first editions did not have the story inside the paper. It was corrected quickly.
Less than a month on the job I had my first big story, 8 dead after a gasoline tanker and a commuter rail train collide on the Everett/Chelsea line. I owned the paper and resentment for my 24/7 work habits irked my fellow photographers. Nothing has changed 45 plus years later. Won my first contest with the page one photo.
During the turbulent 60s there was always something to cover. We had hurricanes, blizzards, nor’easters, flooding and any other havoc weather could play.
There was draft card burnings, the Pentagon Papers with Daniel Ellsberg at the Boston federal building along with many anti Vietnam War demonstrations which many times led to riots.
Martin Luther King’s assassination and the reactions of the Boston people. Bobby Kennedy’s murder with coverage locally and nationally.
William Randolph Hearst, Jr., dropping in to use the phones while on a visit to one of his children attending a Boston school. He told the city desk he was not there if anyone was looking for him, especially his wife. Long before cell phones were even thought of.
Working with Sam Cohen the sports editor who in his reporting days walked out of a Jack Dempsey press conference at the old Boston Garden after Dempsey made an anti-Semitic remark. Cohen also held out the great Ray Lussier photo of Bobby Orr scoring the winning goal to win the Stanley Cup to get an extra day of newspaper purchasing for souvenirs.
Red Sox “Impossible Dream” 1967, got them to the World Series!
Listening to overnight city editor John Bishop talk about the executions he covered at Cherry Hill Prison in Charlestown.
Morris Ostroff telling how he stood outside the prison with his 4/5 graphic camera and flash powder waiting for the hearse with the bodies of Saco and Vanzetti.
Watching copy editor, Eddy Gray reading and pasting the wire copy of the Sharon Tate murder in August of 1969. Tate was married to Roman Polanski whose saga is still being played out and her murderer Charles Manson is still in a California Prison.
Hippies in the Boston Common with the marijuana smokers blowing the weed smoke in everybody’s face including the cops.
BPD used to send in their TPF squads with riot sticks and canines and thankfully the dog that was running behind me just missed as I could hear the growling and managed to keep him inches away from losing part of my butt.
I had the same thing happen in Methuen, MA covering the floods along the Merrimack River. I walked into a backyard and saw the doghouse and a chain laced inside it. I knew to start running and the only thing that saved me was the chain was shorter than my footsteps were long. Just think, twice I beat the nickname half ass instead of ass—-. I covered all types of crime when crime ruled the pages of the local newspapers and I didn’t get beat often.
While covering Ted Kennedy and the Chappaquiddick fatal car crash in 1969 I stayed at the Harborside Hotel on Martha’s Vineyard ate steak and eggs for breakfast and lobster and steak for dinner and I only had to sign for it.
I was sent down there for 1 day and ended up staying for ten. I learned how to wash my clothes in a sink till my parents put some clothes for me on an airplane.
Martha’s Vineyard was the last place I drank vodka as on a Saturday afternoon starting around 4 pm I started drinking Bloody Mary’s with the best celery stalks ever, laid down at six and was for the most part paralyzed for 24 hours. Of course, at six the paper was looking for my photos which I did not have till I dragged myself down to the ferry dock and captured the page one image.
One of the funnier incidents in the building was when I set up a very nosy photographer. We all knew he was reading our mail and or notes in our little cubby mailboxes in the photo department. I put a note on my mailbox addressed to me and taped it to the opening. I left enough of an opening so he could read it. My note was to him and I wrote things about his snooping calling him, well, I cannot repeat it. Best part was he could not say anything.
I did the same thing at Channel Five when another photographer I worked with liked checking all our mailboxes. We have a seniority shift pick at the station thus I worked evenings for many years. To get him I put a note in my mailbox directed to the news director Emily Rooney, thanking her for putting me in a better shift. I said, “I am sure this will be upsetting to this photographer, but I appreciated it. Within a day the photographer went in complaining and of course Emily did not know what he was talking about. In this case the photographer came up to me and admitted, “You got me!”
On Saturday nights we used to set up a wood plank between two chairs and have a feast of Chinese food from the House of Roy in Chinatown.
The Christmas Eve that photographer Carroll Myett lite himself on fire using rubbery cement to seal his falling apart shoes.
Then of course there was the great photographer Gene Dixon who had gotten from the joke store these little plastic shaped molds, which looked like dog poop. Usually on Saturdays when the bosses left he would plant them around the building for the custodian Frank to find. Then one Saturday night Frank saw what he thought was one of Gene’s toys, reach down to scoop it with his hands and you know the rest, Gene had brought his dog to work that night.
When we moved to 300 Harrison Avenue in Boston’s South End I don’t think anyone regretted the move. A newer building, parking, air conditioning and a chance to compete with a bigger staff.
At our new building we had a much larger newsroom, more offices for different departments and more enlargers to print our pictures.
We were now a broadsheet newspaper for almost 10 years and the bigger the paper the more copy we needed, very exciting.
For me, this building is packed with memories also, but with an escalator instead of a shaky elevator. Wow when I think of the old elevator at 5 Winthrop Square, scary.
There was the day I was pulling out from the front of the building and struck a young kid on a bike. He was not injured but his bike suffered fatal injuries. I gave him $100.00 and took him and the bike home to his parents.
At the old building, I also had a commuter end up on my hood after the sun’s glare blinded me. He was also not injured and would not even let me buy him a cup of coffee. He must have been jay walking.
Tom Sullivan, our Saturday city editor, running down to the photo department yelling place crash at Logan “everybody go!” It was a cargo plane, which crashed, and six dead.
The same Tom Sullivan standing there in his pajamas after the editor of the paper had called looking for him before his shift ended and he had to come in from home to answer the phone the next time Sam Bornstein, the editor called.
Eddie Gray the copy editor, lighting the wastebasket on fire as he flipped his cigar ashes as he edited copy.
Editor Sam Bornstein, yelling at a copy person because he did not get the cream cheese spread on his bagel.
How many times did I run out of the newsroom, down the steps to jump in my car racing to a story, including the fire escape collapse? Probably always looking foolish but it worked for me.
I worked with the best news people there was in Boston starting with the old rewrite system when reporters called in their stories and someone was there to rewrite it for our many editions. As the years went on there were more reporters writing their own copy.
I could list so many great news people but I know I would leave some out so I will take a pass.
Ed. Note: I was motivated to write this after Joe Fitzgerald, long time writer, both sports and news of the Herald did a remembrance of 300 Harrison Avenue after they moved to that office building I mention. A lot of the people and incidents I mention have a more in-depth story in my other blogs.
Link to Joe Fitzgerald column: