Saturday Night in Scollay Square: Burlies, Girlies, Bars, and Bums

Before new students come to Harvard they hear a great deal about the cultural riches of Boston; unfortunately most men fall to take advantage of the situation. Scollay Square is probably the one part of Boston that is regularly visited by a really large number of Harvard men.

Old Elihu Yale, founder of the New Haven school that bears his name, would be a surprised man if he could see his birthplace today. On the exact spot where he was born in 1648 now stand an amusement gallery and a Waldorf Cafeteria.

"The place has changed," he might murmur, and his words would be echoed by the shades of John Endicott, George Washington, and Daniel Webster--all of whom dwelt on the spot known today as Scollay Square.

The Yale Club of Boston, when it decided in 1927 to mark the birthplace of its founder, evidently felt slightly embarrassed about the change that has come over the old neighborhood. A plaque was erected--just outside of Scollay Square--with the notation that Eli was actually born a few yards away.

Very little of old Boston is left in Scollay Square, but what does remain seems to be ageless. The greatest staying power is found in the bars that line the Square and the alleys that lead out of it. Boston's first taprooms were located in the area, and if the current population has anything to say about it. Boston's last taprooms will be there.

Harvard men have their own places to drink. For them Scollay Square is primarily the home of the Old Howard, one of the nation's oldest burlesque houses. The Howard Athenaeum has been operating as a theatre continuously since 1845. The building it inhabits was originally built as a Millerite church, and later it was made into a theatre at which Edmund Kean and other great actors appeared. It is now the oldest American theatre.

Down Hanover is another legitimate skin show, the Casino. The Casino, less conscious of tradition than the Old Howard, offers "Burlesk," rather than the more genteel "Burlesque." Boston's famed Watch and Ward Society and other public indignation groups take little heed of either the Casino or the Old Howard.

Municipal Censor Walter R. Milliken and his staff attend the first performance of the week in order to judge for themselves. For that reason patrons who are in the know also catch the first Monday show.

Most (but not all) of Scollay Square's attractions are just as openly displayed as they are at the two burlesque houses. It all depends, of course, on what you're after.

No Five Cent Beer

Places like the Crawford House provide beer at fifty cents a bottle, along with comics, whiskey-sopranos, and strippers. The Crawford House's patrons range from visiting sailors and students to young ladies and middle-aged men who live in and near the Square.

Such drink-and-gape spots are not as numerous as the ordinary bars, however. At these oases maturer individuals--chiefly indigenous to the Square--gather nightly for the serious business of drinking.

Scollay Square's bars are not particularly lush--sawdust serves for a rug in a good many--but one can get as completely, unconsciously drunk in them as in the Copley's Merry-go-Round. That is enough of an attraction for their patrons.

After a few hours at one of these taverns, a sailor might feel the need to be tattoed. He won't have to go far, since there are five late-working jab artists within easy walking distance. The best of these, a rotund gentleman named Frank W. Liberty, claims to have had the honor of applying pigment to the undergraduate arm of one of the Roosevelt boys; he doesn't know which.

The Need to be Tattoed

For those whose idea of fun doesn't include being jabbed in the arm with a needle, there are other divertissements. For years there used to be a tall, cadaverous man standing in front of Jack's Lighthouse whose hobby was matching single men with single women. He wore a black suit and tie and a high stove-pipe hat that held a sign labeling him "The Mayor of Scollay Square."

His Honor has retired from his spot as doorman and his avocation as match-maker. He is now happily married to a former WAC, and is living on a chicken farm in New Hampshire. They say he is very happy, but occasionally he returns to the Lighthouse to say hello and to look around.

Other inhabitants of the Square have disappeared too, but for different reasons. The mammoth lady bouncer at the New Ritz isn't seen any more, since the place is now closed down.

To balance the ledger, this past winter also witnessed one of the brighter events in Scollay Square's recent history. The Rialto Theatre, which had been closed and out of repair for a year recently reopened as the only all-night movie house in Greater Boston. If you're lonesome, you'd be surprised how much of an old friend "Rocky" Lane can be toward 4 a.m.

Can't Compete with Rialto

Upstairs in the same building is the Calvary Rescue Mission. The Mission does its best as a refuge, but it can't compete with the Rialto by staying open all day and night. Consequently most people with nowhere to go end up at the Rialto, which seldom turns away a man who has a quarter.

Another type of refuge is provided by the Boston Police for breakers of the law and offenders of public etiquette. Scollay Square is a quiet place, and seldom does anything really to get out of hand. Most bars are well behaved; nevertheless the proprietor of perhaps the best-behaved tavern in the Square estimates that the law is broken in his place about twenty-five times every night.

The Salvation Army, not to be outdone by the Calvary Rescue Mission, holds occasional serenades, but not many people in Scollay Square are interested in the redemption of their souls. So the Army plays for a while and then goes away.

Across the street, where Epstein's Drugstore now stands, was an inn that housed President George Washington during his visit to Joan Hancock, Harvard 1754. Later Daniel Webster opened his law office in another building on the same site.

Scollay Square was named after Colnel William Scollay, Class of 1804. Scollay was Chairman of the Board of Selectmen of Boston and his family was one of the first in the city commercially, socially, and civically. The Scollays were a dignified and staid family, but are now extinct in Boston. It is just as well