August 1968 | Volume 19, Issue 5
The three-act play runs a century: sixty years from the Great Hunger in Ireland to the election of John Francis Fitzgerald—“Honey Fit” to Massachusetts—as mayor of Boston; forty more years to see his namesake-grandson, the twenty-nine-year-old John Fitzgerald Kennedy, elected to Congress from Honey Fitz’s old district as the first planned step to the Presidency. Those three dates, cut so deep in Boston’s history, mark the beginning, middle, and end of a phenomenon as old as history itself—the superseding of one class by another.
Seventy years before the Potato Famine, the seaport peninsula had seen the same thing happen: on a blustery March day in 1776, General William Howc cmbarked the Boston garrison, and the provincial aristocracy sailed away with the redcoats into exile. Those proudly armigerous Brattles and Vassalls and Dudleys and Hutchinsons abandoned the town to the nonarmigerous class below them.
As Boston resumed its pace after the Revolution, the old mansions had new laces in them; sober, hard-faced merchants, men who came to adopt the behavior pattern of their predecessors.
It takes about three generations for a new class to consolidate itself, and it took the grandsons of the Federalist merchants to give Boston its literary flowering and its label of the Athens of America. That flowering came to an end with the waves of Irish immigrants fleeing the Famine.
They were the first mass immigrants to the United States. They arrived in Boston because it was the Cunard terminus, the cheapest distance from Ireland to North America. Their memory of that flight and that passage and the desolation of their arrival remained green and bitter for generations. Over half the immigrants were illiterate; three-quarters had no trade. Five per cent died on the voyage over, wedged in the holds of the stinking “coffin ships.” An able-bodied Irish Ia- borer in the city could not in the 1850’s earn enough by himself to keep his family, in the depression during the first year of the Civil War, the newcomers starved.
In the harsh atmosphere of Boston, excluded from the common life of the community by both their background and their religion, the Irish formed a society within a society, an emerging Catholic political bloc of their own against the Protestant Yankee oligarchs. During the seventies and eighties the Irish controlled the politics of their street and block, gradually spreading out, precinct by precinct, ward by ward, until it was clear that in a matter of time they would capture the city. Politics came naturally to the Celtic temperament, particularly when all other avenues of mobility were barred to them.
Following the pattern of almost all ethnic groups, the transplanted Irish began by electing their best. Hugh O’Brien was the first Irish immigrant to become mayor of Boston. Hc was elected in 1884 with the support of dissident Yankee Democrats (for the first of four one-year terms). Not until 1901 did Boston elect its second Irish-born mayor, Patrick Collins. Both O’Brien and Collins were outstanding men, the type one might expect to find as lord mayor of Dublin or Cork or Limerick. Collins, who at twenty-seven won a degree from the Harvard Law School, was elected to Congress in 1882 and served three terms. In the second Cleveland administration the President appointed him consul general in London.
Like his poet-friend JoIm Boyle O’Reilly, Collins tried to pretend away the caste barriers erected against the proletarian Irish. He denied that there was any such thing as an Irish vote, and declaimed passionately: “Americans we are; Americans we will remain.” Reelected in 1903, he died in office in 1905. President Cleveland wrote of him: “In public life he was strictly honest and sincerely devoted to the responsibilities involved.” With one almost accidental exception, he was the last mayor of Boston for half a century of whom this could be said.
After him, the practical men took over. The IrishAmerican politicians, more and more of them now second generation, felt no obligation to observe rules made by the Back Bay ascendancy that had exploited them. The way was open. In the autumn of 1905 John F. Fitzgerald was elected mayor of Boston.
“Honey Fitz” he was called, for his mellifluous rendering of “Sweet Adeline” on the hustings and on all possible social occasions except funerals. The song became his trademark. The taking over of City Hall by this dynamic little political buccaneer was as decisive a date in the history of Boston as General Howe’s evacuation of the town. Honey Fitz was the politician who put his seal on his time and his city.
John Francis Fitzgerald’s father, Thomas, had come from Wcxford, and like most immigrant Irishmen had worked first as a laborer, but by the time his third son, Johnny, came into the world in 1863—four more sons were to follow—he had become the proprietor of a North End grocery and liquor store. The Fitzgeralds lived in a four-story, eight-family red-brick tenement near the Old North Church. Their flat had no bath and no modern gas lighting, but no other family shared the few rooms, and there was always food on the table. By the standards of the Irish North End the Fitzgeralds were well off, nor did the boys think otherwise. Young Johnny came to love the narrow streets and never developed the bitter sense of alienation of his more savage rival, James M. Curley.
“Johnny Fitz” the gang called him; smaller than the other boys, he was quicker with his feet than with his fists. The teeming streets were his self-contained world. He tagged alter the older boys in their games along the docks. Masts and spars were part of his horizon. On winter days the fog would often blanket the North End. In the hot, breathless summer nights the boy lying in bed with his brothers could hear the long-drawn wail of steamship whistles, the clang of the East Boston ferry bell. Johnny Fitz felt the sea in his bones. He never forgot it. “My playgrounds,” he said years later, “were the streets and wharves busy with ships from every part of the world.” Early he showed that somewhat officious enterprise that is the mark of the embryo politician. The Fitzgeralds were, of course, regular attcnders at the North End’s St. Stephen’s, and Johnny was equally regular in attending all the parish social functions. So involved did he become in neighborhood affairs, so reliable was he in getting things done, that he was elected president of the Neptune Associates when most of the members were old enough to be his father. This was the strongest social and athletic organization in the North End.
Yet no one could say that Johnny Fitz was Alger all the way. At a time when most North End boys were considered fitted for life with a grammar school diploma, he attended the Boston Latin School, where, as a contemporary of Santayana and Berenson, he received a reasonably classical education. During those years he lost his mother. On graduating from Boston Latin lie entered Harvard Medical School, but at the end of his first year his father died, and he had to turn to and help keep the family together. He left Harvard —still a heretical institution to most of the Boston Irish—and took the examination for a job in the Custom House.
He came out near the top of the list on his examination and for the next few years served as a clerk in the Custom House, where he took the measure of the civil service. Then he resigned to set up an insurance office in the North End, specializing in fire insurance. In those willow years he joined every organization that came his way and made his own way to others: the Massachusetts Order of Foresters, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Knights of St. Rose, the Red Berry Club, the Heptasophs, the Royal Arcanum, the Charitable Irish Society, the Dorchester Catholic Club, the St. Alphonsus Association, the Catholic Union of Boston, the Young Men’s Catholic Association of Boston College, the Franklin Typographical Association, the Knights of Columbus, and others. He was glib and persuasive in casual talk, he was noddingly acquainted with almost all North End families, and he knew every voter by name.
The North End was still a slum. Johnny Fitz sentimentalized it even as he flattered its inhabitants. “Dear old North End” tripped so easily and so frequently from his tongue that his supporters there came to be known as “Dearos.” To those who were not his supporters, young Johnny became “Fitzblarney.” When he was twenty-six he married Josephine Mary Hannon, a young woman whose good looks became one of the inherited characteristics of the Kennedy clan.
Democratic Boston in the nineties had no consolidating and controlling Tammany Hall as did New York. Power was split among the ward bosses: in the West End, Martin Lomasney—the Ward Eight Mahatma- the most picturesque, the most notorious, yet also the best of the bosses; in East Boston, Patrick Joseph Kennedy, a genial saloonkeeper and the paternal grandfather of President John F. Kennedy; in the South End, at a later date, James Michael Curley.
Johnny Fitz, now set out to make himself the boss of the North End. In 1892 he got himself elected to the Boston Common Council. He hired a secretary and turned over most of the insurance business to his brother Henry. The shabby upstairs office became the Jefferson Club, where anyone in the North End was free to drop in at any time. Johnny was at every dance and caper. He kept a card index of everyone in his district who needed a job. At Thanksgiving and Christmas he was on hand with turkey baskets. No wedding took place in the North End without a prominently displayed present from him. Each morning he scanned the death notices in the Boston Globe , and he never missed a wake. Hc had the actor’s gift of easy tears.
In the summer of 1892 he announced he was running for the state Senate. Ward Six’s old-time leader died at this time, leaving the young councillor undisputed boss. “The North End Napoleon,” the reporters ticketed him, and Johnny Fit/ delightedly began to read up on Napoleon and even adopted some of his mannerisms.
Lomasney’s announcement from neighboring Ward Eight that he was supporting Fitxgcrald made the latter’s election certain. It was politician’s luck that the Mahatma had an old grudge against Honey Fitz’s opponent.
All the political, historical, and sociological strands that make up the Boston ward boss can be seen in the career of Martin Lomasney. Yet of all the bosses he profited least from his position. An orphan bootblack, he started out in manhood as a lamplighter. Eventually he managed to become a city health inspector, and then, as the first step to controlling his ward, he founded the Hendricks Club (named after Cleveland’s Vice President, Thomas A. Hendricks, who had once made a speech defending the Irish). It did not take long before Lomasney was master of the West End. His formula was basic: know every family in the West End; help everyone who needed help. The Mahatma’s iron paternalism came to dominate the narrow xlum streets. There should be a place, he maintained, where a man could come when he was in trouble no matter what he had done. That place was for Lomasney the Hendricks Club. Hc wrote:From the standpoint of politics, the great mass of people arc interested in only three tilings—food, clothing and shelter. A politician in a district such as mine sees to it that his people get these things. If he docs, he hasn’t got to worry about their loyalty and support.
Lomasney’s cohorts were on hand to meet each immigrant ship as it arrived. The newcomers were welcomed, given lodgings and jobs, and their names were entered permanently in the Hendricks Club’s files.
For Lomasney, being a ward boss was an end in itself. Day after day he held court in the nondescript hall that was the Hendricks Club. His familiar place was behind a battered roll-top desk, a straw hat yellow with age tilted over the baldness of his long head. A drooping handle-bar mustache framed the jutting eminence of his pugnacious jaw. One by one the supplicants came to him, and his appraising blue eyes measured them through narrow, gold-rimmed spectacles. No one would ever have dared lie to the Mahatma.
Lomasney saw to it that Ward Eight was clean. There was no vice, gambling, rough stuff, no trouble about votes. Both the quick and the dead voted to his order, but he did not take graft. Money to run the Hendricks Club services came from two sources. Those who got jobs understood, although it was never mentioned, that something was expected in return. Lomasney also accepted donations from all concerns that did business in the West End. The firms made their donations voluntarily, even cheerfully, but they might have found reason to regret it if they had not.
There was surprise when the Mahatma decreed that he was backing Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was almost unanimously elected and spent two unspectacular years in the Senate quietly building up his machine for the next leap forward, using his statehouse opportunities to settle relatives and strategic supporters in plush jobs. With exemplary patriotism he sponsored the April 19 anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord as a local holiday; and with an eye to the Italians now appearing on the waterfront, he wangled the same favor for Columbus Day in October. In 1894, moving crabwise but with his eye permanently fixed on City Hall, Fitzgerald announced his candidacy for Congress. Again Lomasney backed him, opposing Congressman Joseph O’Neil, who was supported by most of the other ward bosses. It was a rough election as the Irish wards knew elections, but with the solid support of Wards Six and Eight, Johnny Fitz, “the boy candidate,” was not to be beaten.
Fitzgerald served as a congressman for three terms. He made no name for himself; his chief concern in Congress was to expand his political power in Boston. Brother Henry in the North End kept the machine well-supplied with oil. During the Washington years, Johnny bought a house in rural Concord, but he still kept his legal address in the North End.
In the 1895 election the time was not yet for another Irish mayor. Boston’s ward bosses picked and elected Josiah Quincy, a Yankee Democrat. Three bosses—no friends of Lomasney’s—did the picking: “Smiling Jim” Donovan, the chairman of the Democratic City Committee; Judge Joseph J. Corbett, the election commissioner; and East Boston’s Patrick “P. J.” Kennedy. Impressed by the rise of Fitzgerald, they were willing—if he would turn his back on the Mahatma—to admit the Congressman to their circle as the fourth mayor-maker. Honey Fitz was willing.
In 1901 the Big Four, still biding their own time, managed to persuade the austerely respectable Patrick Collins to be the Democratic candidate. Collins was easily if reluctantly elected. He always found the job of mayor distasteful. Smiling Jim he made superintendent of streets, but refused most other patronage demands. Johnny Fitz galled him.
Meanwhile Fitzgerald had bought a moribund neighborhood paper, the Republic , for five hundred dollars. This he turned into an Irish-American social weekly which he both edited and published. Nothing in it was of any great interest, nor did readers flock to it. Nevertheless, department stores, public utilities, and contractors hurried to buy half and full page advertisements. In spite of its small circulation and stiff rates, the Republic was soon netting its new publisher $25,000 a year.
In 1903 Fitzgerald moved back from Concord to Dorchester, a Boston suburb. The house he bought on Welles Avenue was a wooden château with a scrollwork porch, blank plate-glass windows, and a mansard turret. On the stair landing he had a stained-glass window installed with a Fitzgerald coat of arms and the Gaelic motto Shawn A Boo , “John the Bold.”
John the Bold, full of bounce and pugnacious confidence, knew that the municipal election year of 1905 was his year. Every ward heeler and precinct worker sensed instinctively that Johnny Fitz would be a candidate, would be indeed the candidate for mayor. Collins had died that September, and the question for the bosses was: whom should they run against this dynamic challenger they had built up a decade before? Smiling Jim and P. J. turned to the Mahatma, and they picked City Clerk Edward Donovan.
Impelled from the clerk’s office to the hustings, Donovan scarcely knew what hit him. Johnny Fitz was off like a whirlwind on the most blatantly spectacular campaign Boston’s twenty-four wards had ever seen. Vacant walls were pasted with his posters twice as fast as opponents could tear them down. “Bigger, Better, Busier Boston” was emblazoned under the smiling Fitzgerald phiz, retouched to benignity by the photographer. The city marvelled at the roar of the first political motorcade. Honey Fitz toured the wards in a large red car, followed by flying squads of what the reporters described as “Napoleon’s lancers,” and was met in each precinct by crowds of militant Dearos.
For weeks Johnny Fitz made ten speeches a night, denouncing the bosses and the “machine,” and on the evening before the primaries he reached the almost breathless total of thirty. But for Lomasney he would have buried Donovan. Fitzgerald won the nomination, carrying twenty of the city’s wards, but it took a dozen wards to make up the votes he lost in Ward Eight.
The reform Republicans and the Good Government Association—a civic organization founded two years before by the Chamber of Commerce, the Merchants Association, the Associated Board of Trade, the Fruit and Produce Association, the New England Shoe and Leather Association, and the Bar Association—had succeeded in nominating the highly respected speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, Louis Frothingham. Unreformed Republicans, with the concealed moral and financial encouragement of Fitzgerald, ran Judge Henry Dewey—already beaten by Frothingham in the primaries—as an independent Republican.
Frothingham represented all the things that Fitzgerald could ring the sour changes on—Harvard, blue blood, inherited wealth. Honey Fitz also spread thickly the unjustified rumor that his opponent was anti-Catholic and anti-Irish. He kept up his whirlwind campaign with variations, visiting department stores and glad-handing the salespeople, even inaugurating a “soda water campaign” with ice-cream sodas and refreshments for women’s groups in critical wards.
The battle cost Fitzgerald $120,000—twice as much as it did Frothingham. “But it was not money which won the campaign,” George K. Turner wrote in Collier’s . “It was action, ingenuity, and boundless, cheerful effrontery. For thirteen years Johnny Fitz had held Ward Six obedient and cheerful by public jobs. He extended that one basic system of ward politics over all the city.”
The new mayor took possession of the gray mockRenaissance City Hall on School Street like a conqueror exacting the submission of a defeated town. The Mayor himself kept control of all the city departments except the schools and the police. He replaced a physician with a saloonkeeper on the Board of Health; he appointed another saloonkeeper superintendent of public buildings; a whitewasher, superintendent of sewers; a bartender who had been expelled from the legislature, superintendent of streets. For deserving Dearos he created new offices such as that of city dermatologist. Eight additional deputy sealers were added to the Department of Weights and Measures—a department soon to erupt in open scandal. The vestiges of civil service were circumvented by the invention of novel job categories—tea warmers, tree climbers, wipers, rubber-boot repairers, watchmen to watch other watchmen.
In Johnny Fitz’s first administration, graft was blatant in all departments. During those two years the city lost $200,000 in dealings with a single coal company, whose manager later absconded. In subsequent investigations the Finance Commission discovered that Boston had been paying sixty cents a barrel more than the going price for cement—a $240,000 annual waste. There were dozens of strange land deals in which the city ended up paying three times more than anyone had imagined a given property was worth.
For most of the time the accumulating scandals seemed secondary to the dynamic ubiquitousness of the little man in the mayor’s chair. During his first term he is estimated to have attended 1,200 dinners, 1,500 dances, 200 picnics, and 1,000 meetings; made 3,000 speeches; and danced with 5,000 girls. He thought up Old Home Week and applied it first to Boston—even though Beacon Street held aloof. With his entourage he liked to drop in for a sudden meal, amidst the flattering bustle of the staff, at the various city hotels—the Adams and Parker houses; Young’s; Quincy House, the Democratic politicians’ eyrie on the fringe of the North End; the Winter Palace; and the South End’s naughtily Edwardian Woodcock. The Mayor excelled as a greeter, entertaining personally such varied visitors as Prince Wilhelm of Sweden and the magician Houdini. Between 1905 and 1907, Johnny Fitz made himself a city institution.
Two years of Fitzgerald, however, brought an inevitable reaction. There were still transplanted Irish in Boston who felt that Patrick Collins had been a worthier representative than Johnny Fitz and his Dearos. They remembered how Collins as mayor had welcomed the delegates of the National Municipal League and asked them to report to him if they found anything shady in his administration. What they might have found in Fitz’s did not bear thinking about.
For the 1907 elections anti-Fitzgerald Democrats nominated Representative John Coulthurst. Coulthurst also had the backing of Hearst’s American and of all the bosses except Lomasney, who this time returned to Johnny Fitz. The Republicans picked their own variety of boss, George A. Hibbard, the Boston postmaster. Hibbard was a parrot-nosed, thrifty Yankee who announced he was running for one term solely for the purpose of “cleaning up the mess.” Fitzgerald conducted his usual bouncing, badgering campaign, adding such bizarreries as circulars in Yiddish to persuade the newly arrived Jewish voters. In a narrow election, Coulthurst swung enough Democrats from Fitzgerald so that Hibbard was able to win.
Mayor Hibbard, while looking after needy Republicans, did much of what he had promised. He cut down the municipal payroll, halved the cost of street maintenance, and reduced the city’s debt. Through departmental efficiencies he managed to save about a million dollars. Toward the end of his administration, and in the hope of more reform mayors to come, the Good Government Association maneuvered the adoption of a new city charter. According to its terms, party designations were to be dropped from the municipal ballot. There were to be no more primaries, and nominations for mayor could be made by voters’ petition. A nine-member council would replace the thirteen aldermen and seventy-five councillors. The mayor’s term was lengthened to four years.
Electorates soon weary of reform interludes, however, and those who are barred from the trough weary even sooner. By 1909 it seemed that the wheel had turned and that the colorless Hibbard would be replaced by Johnny Fitz. To avoid four more years of Fitzgerald entrenchment, Republicans and reformers united on the bluest blood of Beacon Street, James Jackson Storrow. A predestined Harvard man, Storrow had been captain of a crew that had beaten Yale, and he was now New England’s wealthiest banker. Although imposing in figure, he was a poor speaker. This was offset by his being that atavistic anomaly, a Yankee Democrat.
Smiling Jim Donovan early threw in his lot with Storrow, impressing on the banker the truism that political campaigns cost money. Storrow was impressed- he gave a half million dollars before his campaign was over. Storrow money was loosely plentiful, and Smiling Jim understood its application. Curley, then the visibly rising boss of the South End’s Ward Seventeen, said later that he had refused $60,000 to side with Storrow. Fitzgerald knew that without the support of Curley and Lomasney he could not win. The three came to an agreement. The thirty-five-year-old Curley as junior partner was to take over Fitzgerald’s old congressional seat and bide his time in Washington until the next municipal election. What Lomasney was offered remains a secret.
“Take Storrow’s money, but vote for Fitzgerald,” was the word the Dearos passed round. Storrow tried to argue about corruption and the issues of municipal government. Johnny Fitz simplified the election into a contest between an Irish-Catholic boy from the slums and a wealth-encrusted Harvard blue blood who was anti-Catholic, anti-labor, anti-Negro, and anti- anything else Fitzgerald could think of between speeches. He papered the city with large photographs of City Hall on which was inscribed: NOT FOR SALE, MR. $TORROW . “Manhood against Money” was another Fitzgerald slogan that was used under a touchingly domestic photograph of Fitz and his family.
In a day when a political meeting was for many the most entertaining event of the year, Johnny Fitz was a circus and a prophet combined. During the frenzied weeks before the election he led his motorcade through several thousand miles of shabby streets, shouting his tenor voice hoarse in halls and on corners. Fitzgerald even persuaded Hibbard, mortally ill, to run as a token candidate to draw votes from Storrow.
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.
After Honey Fitz’s withdrawal, he and the ward bosses—with the exception of Lomasney—united incongruously with the Good Government Association on an anti-Curley candidate, City Councillor Thomas J. Kenny, an honest but uninspired budget expert who had once served on the school committee. At the last moment P. J. Kennedy shifted his support to Curley. In spite of the opposition of the rest of the bosses—whom Curley now swore to destroy—the young man from the South End was unbeatable.
With Curley’s election, Honey Fitz’s office-holding days came to an end. Though he would live on for a third of a century, though he would several times be a candidate, he would not again achieve public place. But he remained a potent political figure in Boston.
For some time he enjoyed his leisure. He could indulge in his passion for long auto rides, for cruising in Boston Harbor, and for sporting events—baseball, football, prize fights. With the approach of winter he sunned himself in Florida. His social life buzzed much as ever. He dined and he danced, he spoke and he sang. In 1915 he received an honorary doctorate of laws from Notre Dame University, and liked afterward to be referred to as Dr. Fitzgerald. But by 1916 he could feel the old political stirrings in his blood.
That year was the first in Massachusetts for direct election of United States senators, and Henry Cabot Lodge, who had served three terms by vote of the Massachusetts legislature, was forced to take his chances with the electorate. In the wake of Wilson’s presidential victory a Yankee Democrat could probably have defeated Lodge that year. Not, however, Honey Fitz. Fitzgerald managed to win the Democratic nomination, but Lodge won the election.
After that the road led downhill. Honey Fitz ran for various offices without success, sporadically announced and then withdrew his candidacy, and imperceptibly but surely began that mellowing process by which politicians and other wayward characters become fixtures, so that even their old enemies are glad to see them. P. J. Kennedy died in 1929. Lomasney followed shortly after Roosevelt’s first inauguration. Only the indestructible Curley remained, alternately winning and losing elections. In 1937, with wry pride, Honey Fitz saw his son-in-law appointed ambassador to Great Britain.
Although no one admitted it openly, it was obvious by the forties that the last of the Dearos was slipping. At his eighty-first birthday party at the Parker House a congratulatory message arrived from the White House, addressed to Boston’s Number One Booster. The climax of the party came when Honey Fitz’s grandson, Navy Lieutenant John F. Kennedy, suddenly walked into the room, lean and yellow but buoyantly alive after surviving the loss of his PT boat and an attack of malaria.
After his discharge from the Navy, Jack Kennedy came to Boston and let it be known that he would run for Congress from his grandfather’s old district. Grandfather and grandson spent hours together, Honey Fitz retelling his old political sagas, giving advice; but Jack with his Harvard background and his clipped speech represented a new breed of Irish-American. The supporters and strategists who gathered around him were Democrats in the liberal New Deal image, lean young men, college-educated, most of them ex-officers, many from private schools, with only their surnames to show kinship with the old. Kennedy won the election easily. Honey Fitz danced a jig on top of a table, sang a quavering “Sweet Adeline,” and proudly predicted that his grandson would eventually be President.
Honey Fitz lived long enough to celebrate his diamond wedding and to see Jack overwhelmingly reelected to Congress, but not quite long enough to see him triumph in 1952 over Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., the grandson of his old Brahmin adversary. James Michael Curley outlived Honey Fitz by almost a decade. In a few years it seemed they both had been gone a generation. Boston, laid waste and rebuilt through urban renewal, was no longer the city they had known when die highest building was the Custom House. The baths and convenience stations they had built to perpetuate their names had vanished like the derbies they once wore. Only Honey Fitz’s wife, Josephine Mary, lived on to see his capering prophecy fulfilled as his grandson and namesake became President of the United States. When Jack was in Boston he often used to visit her. She died at the age of ninetyeight, twenty-one months after her grandson’s assassination, without ever having been told about it.
When I was five years old I met Honey Fitz, a little over a year after Curley had driven him from public life. My father had taken me to some political reception in Dorchester Lower Mills with the promise that if I behaved myself I should meet the “exMayor.” “Ex-Mayor” had a magic sound, and I envisioned him as a stately being in a sweeping velvet gown with a gold chain of office round his neck. “Where is the ex-Mayor?” I kept badgering my father, until I finally saw before my disbelieving eyes the brusque, dumpy figure in the brown striped suit that was John F. Fitzgerald. Honey Fitz may have been a ladies’ man, but he obviously had no great liking for children. He exchanged a few words with my father, gave me a perfunctory pat on the head, and turned away. I was too disappointed to speak.
I never met his grandson Jack. The one time I saw him was when as a congressman he was running against Senator Lodge in 1952. With members of the Democratic State Committee and Governor Dever he stood on the platform at Springfield, welcoming Adlai Stevenson to Massachusetts. Those assembled politicians were of the second generation, heavy-jowled, heavy-paunched, the shoulders of their suits vast and padded, their ties hand-painted in rainbow tints. Stevenson, the mutely dressed academic Hamlet, and the third-generation congressman in his narrow-shouldered suit and regimental-stripe tie, seemed from another world. Kennedy looked like what indeed he would shortly become, the youngest member of the Harvard Board of Overseers. Watching him I suddenly realized that in this young man moving rather elegantly among the “pols” the consolidation of a new class had reached its conclusion.