Boston, Massachusetts: The Boston Public Library

Grand staircase

Trip Taken: 2010

The Boston Public Library is one of the first public libraries founded in America. And if I’m not mistaken, the actual first one founded by the government. The Boston Public Library holds tours on certain days of the week and I happened to plan my trip to the library with a tour.

The Staircase up to the Chavannes Murals

The library tour only covers the McKim building but that is the most interesting part anyways. It is named after the architect of the library. A lot of details in the library were decided by McKim so if you love how the the library looks then you’ll have McKim to thank for that. One of the very first things you will notice is the large marble staircase leading to the second floor. The marble actually gets more intricate the higher you go. At the top of the staircase, you will notice the murals painted by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. McKim had to seek out Chavannes and convince him to do the murals for the library. Chavannes relented and actually got to do the murals in France instead of having to go to Boston. The murals depict poetry, philosophy, history, and science. Personally, I thought they were meh. I would think that a master muralist would put more details into his work.

The Roman Courtyard

Roman Courtyard fountain

Walking around the inside of the library is nice, but anyone who visits the McKim building has to step outside into the Roman style courtyard. Grab a sandwich or salad from the small cafeteria and sit down at one of the tables. The Roman courtyard is a perfect way to relax. I wish I had more time to spend there or have an actual book to read without having to sign up for a library card.

There is a neat story about the statue in the middle of the fountain. It is actually a duplicate of the original, which is currently at The Met in New York. The statue depicts a Bacchante and an infant faun and was commissioned by McKim. When it was publicly displayed in Victorian-era Boston, there was a huge uproar about it fostering indecency and drunkenness. The city of New York gladly took it from Boston. When Boston got past its prude phase, they wanted the statue back since it was intended for the courtyard. New York was having none of that, so for many years the fountain stood empty with no statue. It was only recently that a duplicate was commissioned and now there is the statue again.

Away We Go

Vintage Swiss travel poster

One of the coolest things I saw at the library besides the Roman Courtyard was the temporary exhibit called away we go. They are turn of the century lithographs that promoted international tourism aimed at Americans. I found an appreciation for these travel lithographs through the show ‘Antique Roadshow’. There was a woman who came in with a 1930′s travel poster promoting Dunkerque, France. The estimated value ended up being worth $15,000 to $20,000.

Walking around these vintage posters, I thought that this would definitely be something I would like to collect if I had money. Of course, there is always that stipulation that I have to have money. Maybe a few posters when I finally have some sort of substantial income.

Shopping at Newbury Street

Life is Good store

You really can’t stay at the library for a whole day (unless you are doing some serious research that can only be found at the Boston Public Library). So instead of going somewhere on the other side of Boston, we went one block north and started walking around Newbury Street. Newbury Street is Boston’s shopping lane. There are many malls adjacent to Newbury Street but I suggest you stay on the Newbury Street. It’s filled with restaurants, cafes, boutique shops, chain stores, vintage shops, art galleries, and even tattoo parlors for those that are interested. There also street vendors selling various knick knacks. One good souvenir item is a piece of hand-drawn art from the many artists selling their wares. Their relatively cheap meaning it probably took them fifteen minutes to draw it.

The really interesting stores were the boutique shops, vintage stores, and art galleries. My favorite boutique shop was the ‘Life is Good’ store. It has a smiley face as its logo and it has some great items that feature being outdoors and living life. I saw this biking shirt that I liked but they didn’t have my size. I ended up buying a football shirt that said ’tis the season’ on it. I love their optimistic message. If you want to check out their stuff, then you can see it on their website. Note: This is a personal endorsement. Meaning I really like their stuff and maybe I wouldn’t mind getting something from theirs as a gift. :)

A day at the library doesn’t seem like much but partner that with a well-run tour through its history and a little bit of light shopping afterward, it makes for a pleasant day in Boston.

Parting Words

I am imagine that if I lived in the Back Bay area of Boston, I would hang out at the McKim building of the Boston Public Library on a regular basis. The courtyard is especially daydreaming worthy. On a nice, warm sunny day, I can imagine myself eating a sandwich while reading a novel. It seems like an oasis. It’s an escape from the noise and chatter of the busy streets of Boston. Unfortunately, I went on a day when the Sargent gallery was closed to the public. John Singer Sargent is renowned for his portrait ‘Madame X’.

Picture Gallery

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About the Author

John is always trying to find his way back to the road. He has an affinity for Germany due to his three years studying German at Cal, and a year working as an intern in the Stuttgart area. He also likes chocolate cake and good cheese.