Boston Globe (and Filene's Basement)

I had a unique and busy day with reporters yesterday, although I obviously didn’t change anyone’s mind. Boston Globe here and here ,New York Times, USA Today, Greenwire. Ross talked to San Francisco Chronicle. Back to usual today.

When I was checking the Boston Globe, a completely different story caught my eye- the closing of Filene’s.

In 1954, when I was 6 turning 7, my father was interning as a surgeon in Boston. I was in Grade 3 at Sprague School in Wellesley. Boston was then a much bigger city than Toronto (it wouldn’t be any more) and my mother was enthralled with Filene’s Basement, sufficient that the name stuck in the mind of a young boy. I emailed the url on the closing of Filene’s to my mother (just back from a travel writers’ junket to the Yukon) who sent me this little memory:

I have a picture of a dress that I bought in Filenes basement, a knock off of a Dior, it is now in the Museum of Modern Art. the original not mine. When I went to parents night at the Sprague School in Boston, all the children had pictures of their parents with large smiling heads in bright colours. Yours had me with a small head dressed in black. Concerned I asked the teacher why yours was so different, she said, "you recognized that the human had a small head your son is bright." I was somewhat comforted but the issue of me in black was a concern. when I got home I said, Stephen what a nice picture of me, why did you use black, Oh you said, it was your new black dress. … She went on to say that she thought the Canadian school system must be very good as you and Shelagh were so advanced. This is one of the parents nights that has stuck in my mind. Sad to think of that era in Boston, it was such a magical time. I will never forget combing the Saturday papers for Filenes Monday sales.

It’s funny what one remembers. In Canadian schools, we used to start the day with the National Anthem (then God Save the Queen) and the Lord’s Prayer (the latter long discontinued); at Sprague School, we started the day with the Pledge of Allegiance and I still remember most of the words. For some reason, I learned the state capitals, which is an odd piece of trivia that’s stuck with me. (South Dakota – Pierre). Hurricane Hazel is something else that I remember. I forget whether I’ve mentioned this on the blog before, I sometimes repeat my few stories. It was supposed to hit Boston, but swerved – although I remember being buffeted in a little woods between our house and the school. Instead, it hit an unsuspecting Toronto, where the placid little Humber and Don Rivers turned into monsters and swept away houses that encroached into the ravines. The effects of Hurricane Hazel are felt to this day, as Toronto made massive changes to its zoning and development codes. The ravines through the city are now mostly free of development and are quite a treasure with bike paths stretching for miles.


  1. ET SidViscous
    Posted Jun 23, 2006 at 12:30 PM | Permalink


    Living in Boston for years Filenes was also big with me. Not sure which one you and your mother went to, not knowing which neighborhood you lived in (But if you went to Sprague, and you father was interning I doubt is was Roxbury or Dorchester).

    But as to a Filens story, Filenes Basement was the big thing, particuarly when they put the wedding dresses out. Can’t remember the date, but it was the same every year. Brides to be lined up in the early morning hours, when the doors oponed they flooded the store looking for a nice dress at a good price (Filenes Basement was the discount version of the store, where last years fashions were put out at a steep discount).

    Every year the Bridal sale was covered by the Globe and the Herald, as well as the local televeision stations, just for it’s entertainment value.

    There was also an electronic. white goods store that closed it’s doors about 10 years ago. Many people had similar thoughts/feelings/stories when that closed.

    Lechmere, that’s it. There is actually a stop near the Cambridside Galleria (mall) that is called Lecmhere, as that was wher the biggest store was located. Now the chain is dissolved in favor of the Best Buys, and Circuit Cities, but Lechmere station is still there.

  2. John G. Bell
    Posted Jun 23, 2006 at 12:31 PM | Permalink

    I lived on Galveston Island for several years. The 1900 Hurricane was so destructive and deadly that it changed Texas history. The port city of Houston was developed as a result. I don’t think anyone is alive that can remember that storm. It is a problem when we try to put things in perspective.

  3. ET SidViscous
    Posted Jun 23, 2006 at 12:37 PM | Permalink

    Ahhh Lechmere was apparently named after the square, not vice versa.,_Inc.

    And more on -topic

  4. L Nettles
    Posted Jun 23, 2006 at 2:20 PM | Permalink

    Hurricane Hazel is something else that I remember.

    It’s funny what you learn everyday. I’m in northeastern South Carolina and in the path of Hurricane Hazel although I was born 2 weeks after the storm hit. (my poor mother, an infant in her arms and 8 1/2 months along with me, and more rain and wind than she could imagine) Hazel is still legendary around here, I heard many, many stories about the effects of Hazel, but I never heard of its effects in Canada till I googled it in response to your post.

    Some years ago my sister in law lived in Toronto. A series of tornados hit South Carolina and she swears that the news there reported “Tornados hit South Carolina, Myrtle Beach OK”

  5. Steve Sadlov
    Posted Jun 23, 2006 at 2:27 PM | Permalink

    RE: #4 – Sometimes, I get into one of those odd, Zen like moods. When that happens, I think crazy thoughts, like, letting Gaia worshippers who pretend to be scientists run the world for about 100 years, just to let them prove themselves. Pause on that for a moment. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to let the masses have their way …. to full fruition, right to the nasty end of a particular time frame in question. If you get my drift.

  6. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Jun 23, 2006 at 4:05 PM | Permalink

    #4. I visited Myrtle Beach in spring break in 1964 or 1965 when I was in last or second last year high school. I remember buying some really loud firecrackers, types that you couldn’t buy in Canada, and bringing them back to Canada and letting them off during cadets (which were still compulsory then.) I hated cadets. Ah, the silliness of teenagers. Now that I think of it, it was in Myrtle Beach that I first met Michael Ignatieff, who is now in first place in the leadership campaign for the Liberal Party in Canada. I don’t know whether he bought any firecrackers.

  7. Posted Jun 23, 2006 at 4:18 PM | Permalink

    Hurricane Hazel has it’s own website at It hit in October 15, 1954.

    I bought my first interview suit at Filene’s Basement during my senior year of college.

    According to some reports I’ve read, the report also proved that black is white, up is down, and that anything that you want to believe is true.

  8. John A
    Posted Jun 24, 2006 at 12:28 AM | Permalink

    I’m terribly sorry Steve, that I included a comment on the newspaper articles on the NAS Panel rather than on the much more important and relevant remininscing about an old Boston department store, which you saw fit to delete.

    I won’t do it again.

  9. TCO
    Posted Jun 24, 2006 at 5:53 AM | Permalink

    John: Don’t get your nose out of joint. I like you as a person, like that you help Steve, like that you stick up for me when I ask Steve tedious questions, etc. All that said, you tend to want to go places, Steve doesn’t. And it comes accross as his policy given your moderator status. Maybe you should get your own blog?

  10. Jean S
    Posted Jun 24, 2006 at 6:27 AM | Permalink

    re #4: I happened to live in Charleston area in autumn 1989. When I arrived there, I barely knew what a hurricane was, but after September 22nd I became an expert in using a chain saw 😉 I knew a woman whose apartment was destroyed rather badly, so she decided to move to her sister’s place for a while in the beginning of October. Her sister lived in Oakland, CA,…

    BTW, do you think hockey is gaining any popularity there now after the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup?

  11. L Nettles
    Posted Jun 24, 2006 at 7:09 AM | Permalink

    re #4 Jean, I took over as chairman of my County’s Red Cross chapter on 7/1/89 so I was chairman during the largest disaster ever. We we are 80 miles inland and always planned to take care of those poor people at the beach displaced by the storm. At 4:00 o’clock on the 21st the experts told us to tell the evacuees to keep moving and start worrying about how to take care of our own. Around midnight we got the word that the Emergency center in Charleston has lost it roof, North Trident Hospital has lost structural integrity and the storm was heading for us. So I remember Hugo well.

    I knew a woman whose apartment was destroyed rather badly, so she decided to move to her sister’s place for a while in the beginning of October. Her sister lived in Oakland, CA,…

    Ouch!, At least the Hurricanes show up on the satellite pictures.

    I am amazed by the popularity of Hockey here. There are minor league hockey teams all over the state.

  12. Gary
    Posted Jun 24, 2006 at 11:25 AM | Permalink

    I recall a trip from Rhode Island to Filene’s basement about 1959 when I was a child. It was a New England regional attraction back before the days of malls. Probably that was when I learned to dislike shopping. What a crazy crowd pawing over cheap clothing in big bins.

  13. Posted Jun 24, 2006 at 5:00 PM | Permalink

    Dear #1 ET,

    I have just spent nearly 3 hours in Cambridge Galleria today, trying to buy various gifts. There are more pleasant activities in life. 😉

    Steve, I am going to boycott Boston Globe for the rest of the year. Wall Street Journal was OK but I must boycott it, too – because they’re nasty to string theorists and moreover the newspapers are expensive. 😉


  14. TCO
    Posted Jun 24, 2006 at 5:01 PM | Permalink

    WSJ rawks.

  15. ET SidViscous
    Posted Jun 24, 2006 at 8:14 PM | Permalink


    If you exit from Sears on the other side of the food court there is a large old Mill building, adjecent to the new construction, that houses a corporation owned by some friends of mine, at least one of which is a colleague of yours as well, and likely some may have studied under you, though they focused in robotics. They do some presentations on high speed video at MIT at least once a year as well. Actually an old boss of mine also was also a colleague, what do they call it when someone isn’t a full professor, but teaches classes. That was on the Optics end.

    I do some consulting work for them, though not much as of late because I’m too lazy, got to get down and test their code, they’ve gotten lax.

    I’ve spent a fair amount of time around there myself. Ran into some other people I used to work with the last time I was in the Galleria. I avoid Cambridge/Boston like the plague nowadays though.

  16. Posted Jun 24, 2006 at 8:42 PM | Permalink

    That’s apparently a very interesting place in Cambridge that should be investigated more carefully, thanks. 😉

  17. Armand MacMurray
    Posted Jun 24, 2006 at 9:29 PM | Permalink

    Wall Street Journal was OK but I must boycott it, too – because they’re nasty to string theorists and moreover the newspapers are expensive.

    Lubos, I urge you not to judge the entire paper by one science reporter — I’ve also found her stories not worth reading. Most of the rest of the paper is quite informative, which is especially rare now that the NYT has become so obvious in its social engineering mindset. An online subscription, while not cheap, is a substantial savings over the newsstand or delivery pricing.

  18. TCO
    Posted Jun 25, 2006 at 5:47 AM | Permalink

    subscription is the way to go. NOthing like the feel of cracking open a paper.

  19. Ted Seay
    Posted Jun 28, 2006 at 3:53 AM | Permalink

    Mr. McIntyre: That zany global marketplace just keeps churning ahead. A relatively small retail store bites the dust; its inspired, years-ahead-concept stepchild, Filene’s Basement, lives on (and not just in Boston, either).

    Great blog; please keep up the good work of informing climate laypeople that there is, Al Gore to the contrary, another side to the debate.

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