Boston 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.
.