Globe Calendar Feature:
By Jim Sullivan
It seems every tour bus in town stops by the Old State House Saturday
afternoon. A dozen of us board one for a Boston-Cambridge trek that
includes stops at Mass. General Hospital, Harvard Yard, and the Telephone
Museum. This tour, like Boston By Sea, is put on by the Boston History
Collaborative, with the script also by Lipsky.
Our guide is Lori Glaser, who grew up in St. Louis, studied theater
in London, and now lives in Arlington. As the bus starts rolling she
takes on the persona of a genie, replete with genie hat. (Yes, it's
a little cornball.) In the course of the tour, she wears other hats
as she talks about the area's inventors and innovators.
The first stop is the hospital to visit the Ether Dome. After climbing
a set of stairs, we take our seats in the semicircular theater. Glaser
dons a white lab coat to tell us about the birth of modern surgery.
This took place, mind you, before the advent of electricity - hence
the dome, so the surgeons could get the best light possible for their
gory work. In those days, one person's role was to restrain the patient
while the doctors did their carving and cutting.
Behind Glaser is a painting of a dental patient surrounded by a group
of doctors. The year is 1846, and you do not envy this man; he's a
guinea pig for newly discovered anesthesia. Glaser tells us of William
T.G. Morton and Horace Wells. She plays Wells, who discovered ether
by accident and was not pleased that Morton always got the credit.
She also takes on the role of a mother who has a cancer-stricken child
treated by Dr. Sidney Farber.
We're back on the bus and passing Beacon Hill - slumville in the early
1800s. Glaser notes that its open sewers were like a spa for disease-carrying
organisms. In the 1880s, MIT chemistry professor Ellen Swallow Richards
developed a test to determine the level of pollution in groundwater
and forced Boston to be accountable for providing safe water. Some
consider her the mother of the environmental movement.
Crossing over to Cambridge, we're told of Raytheon's contribution
to the development of radar and the pivotal role it played in World
War II, and in the pioneering work done by Percy Spencer (a byproduct
of which is the microwave oven).
Glaser then takes on the persona of a computer geek, Windows McWonk
(groan) to recount MIT's role in advancing computers and creating
the Internet. After the obligatory Al Gore joke, Glaser gets serious
and stresses that no single genius, but a team of them, were behind
the Net. She did, however, single out Ray Tomlinson for sending the
first e-mail message and making the @ key a star.
Glaser sings a bit of "A Bicycle Built For Two" and describes
Albert Pope, who invented the chainless bicycle, which paved the way
for the horseless carriage.
At Harvard Yard we stop, get out, and walk past the statue of John
Harvard, which we learn wasn't based on him, but on a model. We gather
around an old water pump where Glaser becomes Onesimus, a slave of
the minister Cotton Mather, whose father was president of Harvard.
(Ah, the Harvard link!) In those days, smallpox was raging. Onesimus
told Mather that back in Africa, members of his tribe would coax the
"juice" or pus out of an infected person and spread it on
a small cut in the arm of a healthy person, "to tease the breath
of death." Curiously, Mather and another local notable, Dr. Zabdiel
Boylston, tried this on their children, to great consternation of
the community. But it worked.
Back on board the bus, we pass Genzyme and hear about genetic research,
and Biogen, which developed the multiple sclerosis drug Avonex. Over
the Longfellow Bridge, Glaser tells us Boston is the world's third
most important market for money management - behind London and Zurich
- and sings "Money makes the world go 'round." She points
out how important financing is to innovation and cites L. Sherman
Adams for creating the first mutual fund.
The last stop is the Telephone Museum at the Verizon building near
Government Center. On display is vintage equipment, including beautiful
old telephones. Glaser becomes Alexander Graham Bell's right-hand
man, Thomas Watson, recounting the struggle to invent and market the
phone. She also plays Bell's deaf wife, who helped manage the finances.