Beyond the Hooker

Filed in Lifestyle, Local Events, Local News, Politics, Things To Do by on August 11, 2009 0 Comments

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Beneath the gold dome atop Beacon Hill, past and present live together in the same house—the Massachusetts State House. Similar to a museum, it houses famous paintings and sculptures. As the seat of government for the Commonwealth since its construction in 1798, this historic building holds even more significance. Like any other place of government, it faces ups and downs, since with government comes politics.

Before discussing the “juicier” side of the State House’s story, it should first be recognized for a few of its links to the history of this country, state, and city.

Since none of the Kennedy clan served at the state level in Massachusetts, it may puzzle some to see a statue of John F. Kennedy on the front grounds of the State House. However, he delivered his famous “City on a Hill” speech in the House of Representatives Chamber back on January 9, 1961. Technically not a “sitting President,” Kennedy could not walk through the ceremonial front doors on that day. Unfortunately for him, he had to walk through the main entrance like everyone else—it was 11 days before he would be inaugurated as our 35th President.

As a state, Massachusetts should be proud for having the oldest constitution in continuous use in the entire world, in effect since 1780. A mural in the House Chamber depicts its drafting by John Adams, Samuel Adams, and James Bowdoin.

The construction of the Brigham Addition (completed in 1895), ties specifically to Boston’s North End. The wave of Italian immigrants to Boston began when the architect invited over 700 Italian artisans to come to America to lay the Italian marble throughout the addition (he actually did not find Americans skilled enough at that time).

On the other hand, in its recent history, the State House has had its fair share of dark spots. Back in October, the FBI arrested State Senator Dianne Wilkerson on corruption charges—most remembered by her stuffing $1000 into her bra at No. 9 Park, a restaurant not even a block from the State House. What a way to remember the first African American female state senator in Massachusetts history. Just think, she served in the very chamber where Angelina Grimke became the first woman to address a legislature back in 1838. Grimke brought with her 20,000 anti-slavery petitions signed by women—a clear demonstration of a common bond between the two pushes for equality. This sense of morality and duty clearly did not resonate with Senator Wilkerson. She was not even the only state senator arrested in 2008. Senator Marzilli found himself charged that June for sexual assault.

Such embarrassments are not confined to the Senate—the House of Representatives has plenty of its own. The previous three Speakers of the House before current Speaker Robert DeLeo resigned due to fishy business. Tax evasion brought down Charles Flaherty (1991-1996). Thomas Finneran (1996-2004) resigned and pled guilty to obstruction of justice charges. Most recently, Salvatore DiMasi, the State’s first Italian-American Speaker, resigned in January of this year due to corruption charges.

Although the State House receives negative attention periodically, these embarrassments become even worse when looking at them from a historical point of view. Perhaps the statue of General Hooker, which greets visitors at the main entrance to the building, can be viewed as a bit symbolic. At face value, General Hooker appears to be a pretty distinguished Civil War general from Western Massachusetts. Yet a deeper look exposes the significance of his name—yes, this is where the term “hooker” comes from. This General became a popular leader by allowing girls to follow his men around in order to “boost morale.” So even though the State House connects with many impressive moments, past and present, a surface examination never will tell the whole story.

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Sara Todisco works as a Tour Guide at the Massachusetts State House and  is a contributing writer for DirectoryofBoston.com.

Check out her blog at: Notabletimes.com

Flickr photo courtesy of David Paul Ohmer

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