Life: The Boston Number

Ah, the satirical map.

Bostoniensibus Omnia Bostonia

The other day we ran across this delightful 1911 map illustration by Paul Goold on the cover of Life magazine. A child, simultaneously having a healthy glow but looking rather sickly, and clearly being what we would today call a total nerd, points to a “Map of the World” which, of course, consists only of Boston. Nice to see attitudes haven’t changed in the past 100 years—and let’s not forget that Daniel Wallingford map along the way. Hub of the universe, folks. (By the way, can someone give an exact translation of ‘Bostoniensibus Omnia Bostonia’?)

Turns out the whole October 19, 1911 issue is Boston-themed—a “Boston number”—and includes a number of short short essays, jokes, and poems about Boston. (This isn’t the photojournalistic Life magazine of later years, but rather an earlier incarnation as a “humor and general interest magazine.”) It opens with Hail, Boston!

Pilgrim Turkey

MANY attempts have been made to bring Boston down from its proud pedestal of superiority, but so far every one has failed. Boston sill leads everything else.

Nothing ever happens to America that has not previously taken place in Boston. This is why every true Bostonian sniffs complacently when someone else tells him “news.” He knows where the impulse first originated.

Much is made of Boston as an intellectual city, a reputation it still holds today but with a less aristocratic flavor. Sure, there’s a thread of satire through the issue on this “Perfect City” that has “[m]ore culture than Athens (Ga.)” and “[m]ore art than Paris (Ky.)” but if we can’t laugh at ourselves—or at least our predecessors a century ago—what can we laugh at?

Back Bay/Beacon Street

The most notable artwork besides the cover is a two-page cartoon by Harry Grant Dart depicting a busy Boston street scene, replete with humorous signs. There’s plenty of other art, too; it just isn’t about Boston. And one mustn’t discount the advertisements, which to our 21st Century eyes can be fascinating or entertaining. (“Sexology” illustrated for only $2! A Peerless automobile in front of the Museum of Fine Arts!)

If you haven’t noticed by clicking on any links so far, the entire issue is available for viewing on Google Books, along with perhaps every other issue of the magazine. Not every item in this “Boston number” is about Boston, but there are other Boston bits that I haven’t mentioned here, which range from resentment of immigrants to baked bean poetry. Look through them and marvel at how some things have changed but how many things still sound familiar today. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to buy some Boston Garters.

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5 Responses to Life: The Boston Number

  1. Richard Cobbe says:

    Regarding the translation, I’d guess that this is semi-jokey Latin for “To Bostonians, Boston is everything,” or possibly “To Bostonians, everything is Boston.”

    For the Latin geeks: Bostoniensibus looks like the dative plural of Bostoniensis, which is one way of forming an adjective from the name of the city in Latin. BU’s Latin name, for instance, is apparently Universitas Bostoniensis.

  2. Adam Gaffin says:

    Also worth noting is that this whole “Hub of the Universe” thing began as a mild insult – Holmes was commenting on Bostonians’ self centeredness:

    “Boston State-House is the hub of the solar system. You couldn’t pry that out of a Boston man, if you had the tire of all creation straightened out for a crowbar.”

    But he then continued that this was hardly unique to Boston – inhabitants of pretty much every city thought “the axis of the earth sticks out visibly” through their town.

  3. Tess says:

    Hi Bostonography!

    My MBA team and I have created a blog on GIS and its multiple business applications. We’ve become quite interested in the topic. We’d love for you to check out our blog and let us know what you think!

    Thanks!