Wednesday, August 31, 2011


When we recently visited our family in Massachusetts we visited the North End with my brother Vinny and his wife Susan. The North End is a neighborhood of Boston which has the distinction of being the city's oldest residential community, where people have lived continuously since it was settled in the 1630s. The streets are narrow and compact and there is history
seemingly around each corner. 

The Old North Church, where two lanterns were hung on the night of April 18, 1775, signaled Paul Revere that the British troops were setting out for Lexington and Concord in boats across the Charles River. You may remember Longfellow's words, "One if by land and two if by sea".  Paul Revere's house, a two and a half story wood building where he was living that night is still there. There is also a park dedicated to Paul Revere where people enjoy a beautiful day.

    On Hanover Street stands St. Stephen's Church built in 1804.

 There seems to be a feast celebrating a different saint each week!!

The North End was one of our favorite places to visit even when we lived in Massachusetts. Getting back to see it again was a real treat. This is a place where the past meets the present, where history sometimes collides with traffic, where saints, sinners and everything in between have lived and continue to live.

Historically it is a great place to visit but I have to admit we have gone so many times not for the history but for the people, the ambiance and the food!!!! For a small neighborhood there are over 100 restaurants, mostly Italian!! You can find some of the best Italian food in Massachusetts right here in the North End. Many are located on either Hanover or Salem Streets but by no means all of them. Many are tucked away on little side streets. There are also many small neighborhood grocery stores selling Italian products.

In the summer months some restaurants open their windows to allow street side tables. Here you can eat great food and enjoy great people-watching.

          Looking through a window of an Italian grocery store.

An Italian neighborhood needs to have an Italian bakery and one of the best is Mike's Pastry which has been in business since 1943.

 This was about 11 AM on a Monday!! They do a terrific business.

                    Great bread, pastry and gelato.

In the early 20th century the North End was dominated by Italian and Jewish immigrants. But to understand the sheer size of the Italian immigrant population, one must first look back at the groups that preceded them. The Irish, at their peak, numbered roughly 14,000 and the Jews numbered 17,000. The Italians, however, peaked at over 44,000. 

This resourceful neighborhood has endured a few disasters in its history. The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918 hit the crowded North End severely; so many children were orphaned that the city created the Home for Italian Children to care for them. The following year in 1919 the Purity Distilling Company's 2.3 million gallon molasses storage tank exploded, causing the Great Molasses Flood. This may seem funny but it was anything but!! A 15 foot wall of molasses flowed down Commercial Street towards the waterfront, sweeping away everything in its path. The wave killed 21 people, injured 150 others and caused damage worth about $100 million in today's money!! 

In the 1950's the Central Artery was built to relieve Boston's traffic. The artery walled off the North End from downtown Boston, isolating the tiny neighborhood. Ultimately the artery was dismantled as part of another state project. I have to believe that  being walled off like that for over 50 years helped build the wonderful sense of community that has helped it survive all these years. 

We have found the people to be warm, helpful and family loving. I think they are more receptive to visitors than any other area of Boston I have visited. Now I will admit that I am proudly Italian American but I really think I would feel that way if my name was O'Brandon and not Brandano. 

These two gentlemen really were helpful in telling us where and how to park our car!!!

I think the true story of any neighborhood is told in the faces of the people who live there!!

Two 'belle signore'! Actually these two beautiful ladies are Phyllis and our sister-in-law Susan!!

   You can see the old and new all over the North End!!

If I'm writing about an Italian neighborhood that has been around starting in the 1600s, I guess I need to mention the Mafia!  The Mafia was rumored to be involved there. It is said that the Angiulo family was the leading Italian-American crime group from the North End during the 1950s and 1960s. As made guys they were placed in control of the racketeering throughout Massachusetts. 

That is until the Irish mobs such as the Winter Hill Gang decided to run the rackets in their own neighborhoods. During that time one of their members, James 'Whitey' Bulger was informing on their Italian mob colleagues by allowing the FBI to bug their headquarters during the early 1980s. After that the Italians lost power in the area altogether. But they stilled ruled in certain areas including the North End. 

I will not spend anymore time on this part because I do not want to take away from what all the law abiding citizens of this great neighborhood have accomplished all these years. Besides I do not get royalties from the renting of the Godfather movies. 

People here still use clotheslines and clothespins to dry their clothes.

                 A little alley way dedicated to all the saints!!

This is a great part of the city to visit, it still has that old world flavor to it: a real flavor not fabricated to make a few dollars. These are real people living here, many of their families have lived here for over 100 years. If you're in Massachusetts, I would recommend you visit the North End and enjoy the atmosphere, the great people and the truly wonderful food!!!!



Jim.. this is great.. specially the the explanation you gave alongside... :) Nice work jim.

I really like the sharpness of your pics, which my pics miss always :)

sHoNa said...

nice post !!!truly Mafia.. :)

Ravenmyth said...

Another great post combining history and photography. I love the way you linked it all together, making the reader feel like they were walking the streets of Little Italy with you. For me I love the feel of conviviality being shared in the many eateries...great food, great conversation and a feel of passion. I wanted to walk into that bakery and get some sweet treat to go with my coffee...great post Jim...

pamanner said...

Loved this post! The pics are amazing and my ancestors are Italian! What a treat! I must go there sometime!

Alpana Jaiswal said...

Great pictures Jim,its so life if I am seeing the place with my own eyes...and you make it so interesting with with the information u provide..always a pleasure to be here.

Abhisek said...

A really beautiful place.I loved every part of Little Italy.The place,the people and the food everything.Thanks again for sharing the history along with great pictures. :)

ankit said...

Beautiful country

eigroj said...

So beautiful photos you've got Jim... I admire the sharpness and how u did it... Amazing!! More Pics from Italy...

Larry Lewis said...

I love people watching, and i love italian food, as well as Italian people ... i love the cities within cities you find all over the world, with the mix of cultures, and the history. Your blog satisfies my curiousity, your photography is just so natural.

Bongo said...

Beautiful makes me wanna go back there again...and now I'm hungry...As always....XOXOXOXO

Ann said...

Love this area! When I was growing up in Melrose, we went into the city every weekend to Haymarket Square to the open air butcher shops & push carts--i was surprised one of the last times I was up there that the carts were still there!
What a nice trip doen memory lane!

Lily Brenner said...

Great pictures and a wonderful fact packed article. I was rather astonished about the Great Molasses Flood and it's outcome. That is one I'd not heard of before.
Thank you. :)

Anonymous said...

All you have done here is reinforce my desire to visit Boston. I might even be tempted to move there if I wasn't freaked out by the hurricanes and now earthquakes. Who knows though, one day maybe.

The photos tell one part of the story whilst your words told the historic side. I need a bakery such as that for birthdays, nothing like a special homemade cake to say "glad you're here."

Great job Jim, I really enjoyed this piece.

Martha J. M. Orlando said...

Loved the photos and your narration, Jim! My husband's father was the son of Italian immigrants who settled in NYC. My relatives, for the most part, live in Massachusetts, so I really loved discovering the north end of Boston. I also loved your interjection of historical facts about this area. My great-grandmother died in the flu epidemic of 1918 while nursing others.

As always, thanks for an informative and entertaining post!

Nelieta said...

This does look like a Little Italy Jim! It is funny we always hear the story of an Italian man that came to fix machines here in Argentina, many years ago. His wife came with him and within the first week he told her to go back to Italy and pack their things, they are moving here. The reason? He also found his Little Italy in one of our small Argentinian towns :)

Jan said...

Fantastic post Jim. Love the photos, makes me me wanna visit. Your narrative was interesting and well written as they always are.Thank you sharing this with us.

Bec Owen said...

You've done it again, Jim, with another wonderful post! I just love reading your narratives which expand on the gorgeous almost everyone else here, I want to visit this wonderful part of Boston!

I always feel good and have a smile when I visit your blog...thank you so much!

David said...

I've never visited Boston but have always wanted to and your post has increased that urge tenfold. Loved the pics and your descriptions of the North End, sounds like a wonderful neighborhood to get lost in. Thanks for sharing!!!

P.S..I find myself craving Italian food :)

JIM said...

Thank You everyone, this was a fun visit to photograph and to have lunch lol.

Sumit__ Your good keep working at your art!!
Raven nice to have you back and thank you
Pamanner and Alpana your input is always welcomed
Larry- Saying my photography is natural is a great compliment Thank you
Ann- I went to Haymarket back then also and remember it well. The stands are still there but it is not the same!!

Hi Lily thank you for dropping in. I agree that most people have not heard about the Molasses flood. Sounds like something out of a comedy till you see what happened

Martha Phyllis and I were amazed that someone reading our blog would have a relative involved in the epidemic , really great to hear from you!!!

To everyone who said they were hungry after reading this.. you can imagine how we felt being there lol..Lunch was very good lol

Tameka said...

I could see this as a segment on The Travel Channel! As a Celtics fan I really need to make my way to Boston and I definitely want to visit the North End after reading this lovely post! All of the photos helped bring the neighborhood to life for me along with your historical accounts, but one of my favorite things here was the pic of the peanut butter cupcake! I love peanut butter so my eye really gravitated to that! LOL! Thanks for taking me on a trip as I haven't been on vacation yet! :-)

Rimly said...

I love the way you tell the history of a place with your visuals. I can almost imagine being right there and relishing all those sights. Loved it Jim

Dangerous Linda said...

Love this, Jim! As a photographer it was GREAT to see the amazing images! The clotheslines and the portraits -- wonderful! Also, I was born in Boston and I miss it so much since I was transplanted to the Midwest. Very nostalgic -- thank you!

PS When I was in 5th grade I went to school with a boy named Paul Revere who was descended from the American hero. Paul's family lived in his namesake's old house and we went on a field-trip to visit it;-)

Mari Sterling Wilbur said...

This really takes me back to my younger days in Connecticut. We loved going to Boston and the Cape. Your photos are marvelous and really tell the story of North Boston. Man, I'd love a meatball sub and some Italian pastry right about now. And pasta for supper!

melissa said...

Oh you know how I delighted I am whenever mention of Italy is made :) It's like second home to me...I feel so confident in such a place---so if ever I get to visit US, I'll make sure it'll be in the N. End :P...

I loved every image that you put in there---Very historical. The dates you've mentioned are oh, wow 'antique'... and yes, I agree, the faces of the people recorded more story...

Would love to taste the gelato and pastries in Mike's bakery ;)...oh, chocolate creme brulee..yummy!

Phyllis and your sister-in-law are very lovely :*

What's with the O'Brandano? :P

That segment on the Great Molasses Flood was quite interesting...

Oh, isn't it great to see both worlds coming together?

Loved this post Jim...

Mi e' piaciuto tantissimo :) Grazie :)

Judie said...

I learned of your blog from Ravenmyth's blog. Your photos are wonderful. I would like to put one of them on my blog with a link back to your site. I'm legit! Leeann can vouch for me! Please get back to me on this.


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