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Officer Burke Retires After 15 Years in a Traffic Booth


The voice of the Square is gone.

Cambridge patrolman Thomas F. Burke, whom Harvard students knew as the voice from the traffic booth at the Coop corner, retired this week.

Burke, had been a Cambridge gendarme 34 years. For 15 of them he patrolled Harvard Square or chided jaywalkers from his traffic cubicle.

Burke found four generations of Harvard undergraduates "good lads, on the whole, but not very careful about lights." He never had a serious argument with one, he says, and one many occasions, a student or two would stop by the booth for a long chat.

Father Confessor

"They were always telling me how they lost money at those card games and then they'd write the Dad for more money," recalls Burke. "The father or mother always sent it, too."

Saturday afternoons in the Fall were the gayest times of all for students and Burke alike. Sometimes two or three men would cram into the booth with him and get the "best view in the Square" as the Band marched by, and often Burke would follow the Band to the Stadium to watch the games.

"Of all the Harvard games I saw, though," says Burke, "last Fall's Army game was the best. The Mrs. and myself saw it from two very good seats. I liked that game, but the rest of the year that team couldn't even work up a sweat."

When summers came, Burke missed the students. For a week is June he said goodbye to dozens of men, even the ones whom he had cornered with his standard scolding. "I used to ask those jaywalkers, 'Why didn't you watch that light?' They always said, 'I followed the guy in front of me.' And I asked them, 'If he jumped off the Harvard Bridge, would you follow him?'"

During his years in the booth, Burke resisted inversions by countless mike-crazy students who wanted to talk over the public address system, guided visitors to every corner of Cambridge; he was also badly inured when a truck hit the booth and rolled it several feet.

"Beat question I ever was asked was last week," he says. "Man asked, 'Where can I find gallstones?' I was going to say, 'In a hospital.' But I maneuvered around and found out he really wanted Colestone's."

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