Boston Public Library
Frequently Asked Reference Questions (and Answers)
Research Services Department
2nd Floor, McKim Building, Central Library
Contact via 617-536-5400

Where are vital records for Massachusetts cities and towns stored?
The Boston Public Library has vital records prior to 1850 for much of Massachusetts. The Massachusetts State Archives (220 Morrissey Blvd., Boston, MA 02125; 617-727-2816) has vital records from 1841-1905 for the entire state. Vital records from 1906 to the present are available from the Massachusetts Registry of Vital Records and Statistics (150 Mount Vernon St., Dorchester, A 02125-3105; 617-740-2600).

When was the Cocoanut Grove fire? How many people died?
On November 28, 1942, many fans from the Boston College/Holy Cross football game flooded Boston's nightclubs. A tragic fire broke out that night at the Cocoanut Grove. Among the 491 fatalities was Western movie star Buck Jones.

What was the Molasses Flood or Explosion?
On January 15, 1919, two million gallons of molasses burst out of a tank owned by Purity Distilling Company and flooded the streets of Boston. Twenty-one people died and over 50 were injured. Cleanup took weeks to complete. Purity Distilling Company and its parent company eventually paid over $1,000,000.00 to settle the 125 lawsuits filed against the company as a result of the flood.

What was the name of Paul Revere's horse?
No one knows. Many names have been suggested over the years, but there is no historical record to verify any of them. What is known is that Paul Revere rode a horse provided by Deacon John Larkin. No contemporary Larkin family records give a name for the horse. The naming of horses was not common at the time.

How much tea was dumped into Boston Harbor during the Boston Tea Party?
Benjamin Labaree's The Boston Tea Party (N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 1964) states that 342 chests holding over 90,000 pounds of tea worth 9,000 British pounds were thrown off the ships Dartmouth, Eleanor, and Beaver on December 16, 1773. The Salada Tea Company estimated that the figure was more like 20,000 pounds of tea. They base this on the fact that the type of chest would have been a "half chest" holding about 65 pounds of tea each.

What do the lights on the Hancock Tower signify?
The lights indicate the weather conditions expected 3 hours later. The color code usually is recited in rhyme:

Steady blue, clear view
Flashing blue, clouds due
Steady red, rain ahead
Flashing red, snow instead

In summer, flashing red indicates that the Boston Red Sox baseball game has been postponed.

What towns were flooded to create the Quabbin Reservoir?
The Swift River Valley towns of Dana, Enfield, Greenwich, and Prescott were evacuated in the 1930s to allow for the creation of the Quabbin Reservoir.

What is the background of the Swan Boats in the Public Garden?
In 1877, Robert Paget was inspired by the opera Lohengrin to add swans to his fleet of boats. The Paget family had begun running a rowboat concession in the Public Garden in 1870. They adapted the boats to be powered by pedals in 1877 and hid the mechanism between giant swan figures. The swans serve both a fanciful and practical purpose.

What are the Boston Post canes?
Edwin A. Grozier, Boston Post publisher, created a publicity gimmick in 1909 that became a New England tradition. Grozier announced his intention to send gold-headed canes to 700 New England towns. The canes were to be presented to the oldest citizen of each town. Grozier further stipulated that the canes were to be passed on to the next oldest citizen upon the death of the original recipient. Although many canes were lost or kept by heirs, there are still towns in New England where the cane is passed down from one oldest citizen to the next.

Who was the last person executed in Massachusetts?
Philip R. Bellino was executed on May 9, 1947, in the old Charlestown prison after being convicted of murder. His is the last execution to date in Massachusetts.

Why is there a grasshopper on top of Boston's Faneuil Hall?
There was a similar grasshopper weathervane atop the London Exchange in England. Peter Faneuil had been a member of the Exchange and ordered a grasshopper for his Hall in Boston. The Grasshopper was put in place for the dedication of the Hall in 1742.

Where are Boston Public Schools high school yearbooks located?
Boston Public Schools high school yearbooks are usually collected by the individual high school's library.  A new are available at Boston Public Library branches. The policy on access and years available may vary.   Individual schools should be contacted directly.