Boston: Looking Backward

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That the photographs of G. Frank Radway were ever resurrected from the files of an old Boston newspaper was, in the beginning, simply a matter of luck. No one particularly remembered or was looking for Radway’s work, few people, then or now, recognized his name, and the paper for which he covered the Boston scene—the Boston Advertiser —is now defunct.

The story of how the pictures shown below and on the next six pages came to light is one of those small, odd, true stories that whet the appetites of assorted collectors and those who browse through junk shops.

It started several years ago when Stephen Halpert, a young editor and writer, was poking around the streets of downtown Boston, near the wharves. Propped in the window of a rather dingy photographic shop, a blown-up print of what appeared to be an old newspaper photo caught his eye. The picture showed Tris Speaker, a Boston Red Sox hero of the early 1900’s, in a World War I uniform, and Mr. Halpert was intrigued. He went in to investigate. The print turned out to be a copy of one of a group of old photographs and glass and paper negatives—most of them totally unidentified—that were jammed into several cardboard cartons. After some tactful questioning, Mr. Halpert learned that they belonged to a man who was employed in the shop as a developer. This employee said that he had had the pictures for many years, that when he was young he had lived in a boarding house with an impoverished old man who had died, leaving these boxes of photographs and negatives among his possessions. When the old man’s room was being cleaned out, the younger man had helped himself to the boxes. It had all been a long time ago, and he only remembered the old man’s last name, he told Mr. Halpert. It was Radway.

In looking through the pictures Mr. Halpert was convinced that most of them could still be printed, and he paid the owner to make him up a new set of prints. Then, taking these prints and using events and people he could recognize as clues (such as the debut of Rose Fitzgerald, shown on page 51), Mr. Halpert started poring through bound volumes and microfilm records of old newspapers to try to locate the pictures. It was a long, eye-straining job, but he finally tracked down the facts. G. Frank Radway, il turned out, had been a stall photographer for the Boston Advertiser in the early twentieth century, and most of the pictures had appeared in that paper. The final piece of evidence Mr. Halpert found was the photographer’s obituary, in 1939.

 
 
 

The following selection of Radway’s spontaneous and candid pictures is excerpted from a forthcoming book of this unknown photographer’s work. Brahmins and Bullyboys: G. Frank Radway’s Boston Album will be published by Houghton Mifflin later this month. In preparing this book Mr. Halpert was assisted by his wife, Brenda Halpert, who is also a writer. Mr. Halpert is at present editing a new magazine, Renaissance .