Boston: America’s Liverpool

 

Boston’s a great place to visit, and (as Bostonian and Liverpool FC owner John Henry has noted) when you’re there it might remind you of home. Here’s why…

From sea to shining sea

Boston is very much a maritime city. Once the world’s third busiest port, like Liverpool it’s experienced serious economic decline followed by more recent rejuvenation. The city’s waterfront has been transformed, and the long Harborwalk takes you past converted warehouses, fine public buildings and attractive green spaces. Boston’s dramatic skyline, with old brownstone buildings nestled amongst soaring glass-fronted skyscrapers, is best viewed from the water, and the city’s ferries are popular with locals and visitors alike. Our duck buses may sadly be out of action, but in Boston refurbished World War Two amphibious landing vehicles still take tourists along the city’s streets and out onto the Charles River. Boston even has its own Cunard Building, and Liverpool’s Ropewalks district has its counterpart in the quarter mile long Ropewalk Building, where ‘ropewalkers’ once joined together strands of rope for the US navy. In fact there are reminders of Liverpool everywhere you look, though the whale watching excursions should help you remember where you are.

Home of sporting giants

One name currently signifies the deep sporting connection between Liverpool and Boston: John Henry, whose Fenway Sports Group owns both Liverpool FC and the Boston Red Sox, the city’s celebrated baseball team. Liverpool fans will be encouraged that Henry’s ownership of the Red Sox has coincided with a major upturn in the team’s fortunes, with World Series wins in 2004, 2007 and 2013. The first of these victories came after their 1918 triumph was followed by an agonising 86 year wait for the next one. The hiatus was attributed by some to the ‘Curse of the Bambino’, which is said to have been inflicted when the Red Sox sold the legendary Babe Ruth to their deadly rivals, the New York Yankees. When the drought finally ended, John Henry said it was ‘the biggest thing since the Revolutionary War’. Boston also has major basketball, ice hockey and American football teams, as well as hosting the world’s oldest marathon and its biggest rowing event (the Head of the Charles Regatta).

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In a speech to the Boston Chamber of Commerce, John Henry explained to his American audience why he’d bought Liverpool football club. Here’s some of what he said:

‘The larger part of the story that struck us when we were considering buying Liverpool out of a bankruptcy situation created by Americans was the similarities of the two cities, the two teams, the two histories, the two stadia.

Liverpool has a large Irish Catholic population, it’s a seaport on a famous river, both cities are about 45 square miles in size, both have around 600,000 people, both are college towns. Boston had the first public library, Liverpool had the first lending library. Both cities have pioneered medical advancements during the decades and both have the largest economic powers in the world exactly 213 miles to the south by car…

It’s no coincidence that the Beatles came out of that small town 50 years ago, and that the soccer club there is one of the most successful and biggest sports teams in history despite the local economic climate. There is a culture of toughness, intelligence, creativity that reminds me of New England. So I am sure I have answered your questions on, “Why Liverpool?”.’

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Pahking the cah

The Boston accent is as instantly recognisable in America as the Liverpool one is in Britain. And since John F Kennedy (and Mayor Quimby in The Simpsons) we’ve become familiar with it on this side of the Atlantic as well. Its most distinctive feature is embodied in the much-quoted example – it’s even on t-shirts sold to tourists – ‘Pahk the cah in the Hahvahd Yahd’. As comedian Jon Stewart once said, when the Massachusetts Constitution was approved ‘they ratified everything except the letter “r”’. As with Scouse, there are many variations of the accent: Loyd Grossman (no stranger to Liverpool) speaks an especially idiosyncratic version.

Architectural wonders

Boston’s buildings, like Liverpool’s, are a strikingly varied mix of the old and the new, vividly combined in the John Hancock Tower, a sixty storey skyscraper whose massive mirrored walls literally reflect the much older buildings around it. Or, for a good example of the old adapted to serve the needs of the new, there’s Quincy Market, a food and retail complex created out of the historic Faneuil Hall buildings. Boston’s a fine place to eat, drink and shop and here you can do all three. Rather like Liverpool in the period leading up to its year as Europe’s Capital of Culture, Boston has endured its own Big Dig, a major redevelopment project which, now it’s finally over, is generally thought to have been worth it: transport flows more freely, the waterfront’s been opened up, several eyesores have been removed, and the city’s architectural heritage has mostly been protected. There are plenty of open spaces too, notably Boston Common, which may not have been the world’s first public park (Birkenhead of course has that claim) but was America’s. There’s even an ‘emerald necklace’ of parks, corresponding to the ‘ribbon of parks’ around Liverpool’s centre. The parks were designed in the 19th century by Frederick Olmsted, the creator of Central Park in New York who was famously inspired by his visit to Birkenhead in 1850.

Where Irish eyes smile

In Boston people of Irish descent form the city’s largest single ethnic group, most of the original 19th century migrants having begun their journey in Liverpool, which itself has the strongest Irish heritage of any English city. These early arrivals were at first not welcomed by the city’s social elite, but their power and influence grew, and they came to dominate Boston politics (John Kennedy’s grandfather was one of Boston’s many Irish American mayors). Today it’s impossible to miss the ‘Irishness’ of Boston, and the city is keen to celebrate its Celtic links. There’s a huge parade on St Patrick’s Day, which is a public holiday in Boston.

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Merseysider contributor Chris Coughlan regularly visits Boston because the company he works for has its headquarters in the city. He says, ‘I really like Boston because although it’s not far from New York it has a very different feel. The atmosphere’s almost European, with lots of interesting architecture and even some cobbled streets if you look hard enough. The layout of the city is less of a grid system than New York, with attractive winding streets and alleys. It’s a great city to walk around, and when I’m there I go jogging as well. They’re proud of having a different accent – I remember seeing ‘Ice cold waddaa’ painted on the side of an old 1950s ice cream van. The food’s excellent as well. Seafood’s the New England speciality, but I’ve also had fantastic meals in Boston’s Chinatown’

Chris’s employer, Zipcar, is one of many innovative technology companies founded in Cambridge, the university district north of the city (Facebook began as a social networking site for Harvard students). It’s a car sharing club that aims to offer a green alternative to the cost and hassle of owning or renting a car. The first Zipcars hit the roads of Boston in 2000, and the operation’s since spread to other countries and is now the world’s biggest car sharing operation.

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Makers of history

While Liverpool’s history is closely linked to the growth of the British Empire, Boston’s is associated with the ending of British rule and the birth of America as an independent nation. Many of the most famous events of the Revolutionary War occurred in or around Boston. The spark that ignited the conflict is often said to be the Boston Tea Party of 1773, when rebels dressed as Mohawk Indians boarded ships and dumped their cargo of tea in the harbour, as a protest against taxes on the commodity imposed by Britain. The first battle of the war was in nearby Lexington; immediately before it Paul Revere undertook his famous ‘midnight ride’ from Boston, warning that ‘The British are coming!’ Today you can visit the sites associated with the Revolution by following the city’s ‘Freedom Trail’, which passes such landmarks as Paul Revere’s home and the Old State House (where the Declaration of Independence was read from the balcony in 1776), before ending at Bunker Hill, scene of one of the war’s most famous battles.

City of radicals

Liverpool gave itself this title for a programme of cultural events a few years ago, and it applies equally well to Boston: the rebellion against the British began here, Harvard is the spiritual home of America’s liberal intelligentsia and the city has a tradition of maverick populist mayors. James Curley, the so-called ‘Rascal King’ who served four terms as mayor between 1914 and 1950, had a huge following, even winning an election while serving time in prison for fraud. Boston has always leaned to the left politically and many prominent Democrats have come from the city, including the Kennedys and John Kerry.

Location, location

Liverpool’s the second most-filmed city after London, and Boston’s a magnet for filmmakers too, with crime the recurring theme: Robert Mitchum as an ageing hood in The Friends of Eddie Coyle; Jack Nicholson and Leonardo DiCaprio on opposite sides of the law in The Departed; Boston-raised Ben Affleck in Gone Baby Gone, which he also directed; Sean Penn in Clint Eastwood’s powerful Mystic River. Boston’s university quarter, centred on Harvard, is the setting for Matt Damon’s breakthrough film, Good Will Hunting (above). Television’s Cheers has its own mini tourist industry: you can visit the Bull and Finch pub, which inspired the series but has little resemblance to the Cheers bar inside, or – for a convincing fake – the Quincy Market shopping complex, where there’s a bar that faithfully replicates the show’s set.

There are direct flights to Boston from Manchester. John Henry cartoon by Spanner. Photos courtesy of Chris Coughlan and the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau.