Photo: J.P. Licks

11 Facts About Boston That Will Surprise You

by Julia Kitlinski-Hong Sep 7, 2016

1. Cow paths are not to blame for the confusing city streets.

There is a popular myth that Boston’s lack of order with its streets is due to the cow paths that were there before the city was built. It turns out that the real reason was the first settlers in Boston claimed where they wanted to live, but left the urban planning including the streets as an afterthought. Thanks to this oversight, you can easily be swallowed up by the tangle of Boston’s streets that makes no sense to anyone, including the locals.

2. The weather and Red Sox announcements are broadcasted on top of the Old Hancock Building.

For those who have a daily view of the Old Hancock Building in Back Bay, there is no need to ever check their local weather forecast. All they have to do is look at the top of this building and remember the rhyme: “Steady blue, clear view. Flashing blue, clouds due. Steady red, rain ahead. Flashing red, snow instead.”

During baseball season, if the weather beacon is flashing red it not only means a storm is brewing, but more importantly that a Sox game has been canceled. In 2004, when the Sox won the World Series, the lights flashed both red and blue and a new line was added to the poem: “Flashing Blue and Red when The Curse of the Bambino is dead!”

3. Those named Isabella get special treatment.

If your name is Isabella, you are granted free entry to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, where you can spend hours wandering around the stunning Venetian-themed grounds admiring the artifacts. Not lucky enough to have the golden name? Another way to guarantee free entry is if you come to the museum on your birthday. If you wear some Red Sox gear, you get a $2 discount.

4. Spring is welcomed by a pair of swans.

Romeo and Juliet are the reigning avian couple of the Public Gardens and have been a warm weather staple since 2003. Unlike their namesakes, they are actually a same-sex couple, whose genders were discovered not long after Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage.

Locals eagerly anticipate their return each May, which officially signals that the long harsh New England winter is over. During the colder months, these lovebirds are transported to the Franklin Park Zoo, where they are kept nice and toasty until their debut in the spring.

5. Strict liquor laws rule the land.

It wasn’t until 2014 that you could buy alcohol at 10 a.m. at Boston liquor stores and supermarkets. The reasoning behind this is the “blue laws” which date back to the 17th century when certain laws were in place for social controls. Nowadays this idea still influences modern drinking regulations and dictates that Sunday mornings are believed to be a time of rest and wholesome recreation.

6. Ice cream has a cult following.

When you think of local delicacies for Boston, ice cream may not be the first thing that springs to your mind. Surprisingly, though, local ice cream institutions like J.P. Licks and Emack & Bolio’s are year-round favorites, even when it’s hit subzero temperatures outside. Some people believe that we’re all obsessed because we have such easy accessibility to dairy farms, or that eating ice cream in the winter reminds us that summer is coming. Plus it’s hard to pass up on seasonal flavors like peppermint and frozen hot chocolate.

7. The nation’s first chocolate factory was built within Boston city limits.

The Baker Chocolate Company was the very first chocolate factory in the U.S. and was located in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. The company was started by a physician named Dr. James Baker and an Irish chocolatier, who instilled a money-back guarantee if their customers did not like the chocolate. The brand now belongs to Mondelez International.

8. Boston is home to the oldest subway in the country.

The T, the city’s main mode of transportation has been serving commuters since 1987 and was originally called the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). Boston beat out New York in the race to build the U.S.’s first subway and solved the growing congestion issue on the city streets. The Tremont Street Subway is the oldest subway tunnel in the entire system and was originally used to get streetcars off the crowded streets.

The CharlieCard pass that was available to the general public in 2006 was named after a fictional man in the folk song “Charlie on the MTA,” who was confined to the train because he didn’t have the 5-cent surcharge to exit.

9. One of the country’s skinniest houses was built in the city.

According to legend, during the Civil War, two brothers inherited their father’s land and while one brother was away fighting, the other built his home on most of the shared property. As revenge, the other brother decided to build a “spite house” in the remaining area, which purposefully blocked the river views from his brother’s home. The house measures at just 10.4 ft. at its widest point and 9.25 ft. at its smallest. The ceilings are only a little over 6 feet tall. Talk about major sibling rivalry.

10. We’re a city of walkers.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Boston had the highest percentage of people who walked to work at 15.1 % percent. Even during the cold winter months, Bostonians still like to commute on foot. With a city that has a compact layout that makes walking desirable and many beautiful historical landmarks and public parks, it’s not hard to see why this is the case.

11. A rare triple transportation phenomenon resides over the Charles.

Boston is home to a unique meet-up of a triad of transportation methods. If timed right, a car on the Boston University Bridge can cross over a train on the Grand Junction Railroad Bridge below and a boat on the Charles River below that. This junction of pathways makes it the only place in the world where a train, car, and boat can all pass over and under each other simultaneously.

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