- Historic Sites
John F. Fitzgerald put his seal on his city, his times, and a political tribe that still increases. To foes he was “Fitxblarney” but friends called him
August 1968 | Volume 19, Issue 5
The Saturday night before the election Fitzgerald staged his biggest and most bumptious rally in Faneuil Hall in the North End. As an added attraction he had hired a brass band, instructing the leader to play “The Star-Spangled Banner” at his entrance and to follow it up with “The Wearing of the Green.” The latter song concluded, however, before Fitzgerald and his entourage could manage to handshake their way to the platform. In the interlude, because it was a popular song of the moment, and with nothing more in mind, the leader had the bank strike up “Sweet Adeline.” Everybody joined in the chorus. When it came time for the second verse, Johnny Fitz with deft spontaneity capered down the platform and sang it solo, then led the crowd again in the chorus. And in that bellowing moment of beaming fair faces the “Honey Fitz” legend was born. Ever after that, whenever the speeches began to run dry at a Democratic meeting, the cry would go up for Honey Fitz to sing “Sweet Adeline.” It was generally admitted by politicians afterward that Honey Fitz’s demonic gusto in the last few days of the campaign won him the election. On the final night he spoke at thirty-five rallies, and topped it off by singing “Sweet Adeline” from the roof of a hack. Even so, in the largest vote in Boston’s history, he barely squeaked through with 47,177 votes to 45,775 for Storrow. The ailing Hibbard, repudiated by the Republicans, received only 1,614 votes—enough, however, to have elected Storrow.
Not much could be said about Honey Fitz’s second term as mayor that was not said about his first, except that Boston was used to it. And there were solid accomplishments, whatever their price tag. Honey Fitz built the City Hall Annex, the City Point Aquarium, numberless public convenience stations memorialized with his name, and the Franklin Park Zoo. He founded the High School of Commerce to prepare for the business world boys who could not go to college. He also inaugurated the banned-in-Boston tradition by forbidding the turkey trot and the tango as immoral, Salome as sacrilegious, and the red flag in parades as both.
Greeting and entertaining were his official delights. At City Hall he welcomed such assorted figures as the French actress Gaby Deslys, New Jersey’s Governor Woodrow Wilson, William Jennings Bryan, Theodore Roosevelt, Lady Gregory, and the lord mayors of Dublin and London. Sir Thomas Lipton relaxed in his company, visiting him not only in Dorchester but also in the Fitzgerald gingerbread ark of a summer house in Hull, overlooking Boston Harbor. In 1914 Honey Fitz’s oldest daughter, Rose, married a brashly up-andcoming young Harvard graduate, Joseph Patrick Kennedy, the son of East Boston’s P. J.
Honey Fitz had made a bosses’ agreement to leave City Hall at the end of his term. He toyed briefly with the quixotic notion of running for governor or even for United States senator, but as his pleasant and profitable months in the gray School Street building ran out he began to feel that his earlier renunciation was premature. Meanwhile, Congressman Curley, rounding out his second term in Washington, was regarding the gilt eagle on top of City Hall with an increasingly cold and calculating eye. “You are an old man,” he told the forty-nine-year-old mayor by way of a Curley-type hint. “Get your slippers and pipe and stretch out in your hammock and read the Ladies’ Home Journal .”
The lone wolf of Ward Seventeen was the one opponent whom Honey Fitz feared. Unlike most politicians, Curley never developed a nickname. Even though he had begun by imitating the Ward Six Napoleon, he had been brought up in a harder school. He had a more commanding presence and a more resonant voice, a crueller tongue and a quicker fist. Honey Fitz may have been meaner, but Curley was tougher, and he had the instinct for the jugular.
In November, 1913, Curley let it be known officially that he would be a candidate for mayor in January’s election. A few weeks before Christmas Honey Fitz made the announcement that he had decided to run for another term. Next day the Boston Post quoted Curley’s comment: “Fitzgerald wants a licking, and he will get it.” The two were now archenemies, and though from time to time there were superficial political gestures of good will, they were to remain enemies.
Not long after Honey Fitz’s announcement, Curley announced that he would give three lectures contrasting famous characters of history with John F. Fitzgerald. His first lecture, given at the Dorchester high school, was on “Graft in Ancient Times vs. Graft in Modern Times,” with comparisons between the Rome of the Caesars and the Boston of the Dearos. The next lecture was advertised as “Great Lovers: From Cleopatra to Toodles,” but before it could be given, Honey Fitz had withdrawn his candidacy.
Toodles Ryan was a cigarette girl at the Ferncroft Inn, one of Honey Fitz’s ports of call along the Newburyport Turnpike. He had met her there some years before. Afterward there was a blur of talk about the Mayor and the shapely blonde. In later years Honey Fitz righteously insisted in a statement to the Post that he had never done more than kiss Toodles casually and publicly during a large party at which his wife was present. Curley to the contrary, those close to Honey Fitz have always maintained that the Toodles stories were no more than malicious jokes.