Edgar B. Herwick III

WGBH's Curiosity Desk

Edgar runs WGBH's Curiosity Desk, where he aims to dig a little deeper (and sometimes askew) into topics in the news and looks for answers to questions posed by the world around us. His radio features can be heard on WGBH's Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and he can also be heard regularly with Jim and Margery on Boston Public Radio. His television features can be seen regularly on Greater Boston. Each Friday, he takes 89.7 listeners back in time with his feature, "This Week in Massachusetts History."  

His radio debut came in second grade when he voiced a public service announcement urging drivers to watch out for "him and his friends" walking to and from school. Given the signal strength of WMBT radio in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania and the population density of his native Schuylkill County, it's possible — though not particularly likely — that someone other than his parents heard it. 

After stints as a bartender, photographer and actor — and a 5-year run at the Philadelphia Museum of Art — he joined the WGBH Radio family in 2007. Over the years at WGBH, Edgar has been something of a utility player — hosting live segments, producing features, specials and live music broadcasts; creating web features; and emceeing live events like the Boston Summer Arts Weekend.

He holds degrees in history and communications from Villanova University in Philadelphia and once lost big on an episode of the TV game show "Jeopardy!" Edgar prefers tea over coffee, late nights over early mornings and the Beatles over the Stones (though he's never understood why the Kinks aren't ever included in that conversation). When not at work, he can most likely be found playing, listening to, reading about or dancing to music. 

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Local News
4:26 pm
Mon September 15, 2014

Tesla Can Continue To Dodge Dealers After SJC Ruling

A Tesla store.
Credit CC Chapman [Creative Commons]

For now, electric car manufacturer Tesla will continue to be able to sell cars directly to consumers from their showroom in the Natick Mall.

The Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association had sought to prevent the direct sales, citing a state law that regulates the relationship between car manufacturers and auto dealers, but the Supreme Judicial Court unanimously ruled Monday that the association and two dealers - Herb Connolly Chevrolet and Fisker Norwood - didn't have legal standing to bring the case.

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
11:32 am
Fri September 12, 2014

Local Man Gets Mobbed In Case Of Mistaken Beatlemania, 50 Years Ago Today

Herb Van Dam in the mid-sixties
Courtesy Herb Van Dam

Fifty years ago today, one of the biggest pop-culture waves to ever sweep America made its way to Boston. One local man got swept up — literally — in this particular wave.

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CURIOSITY DESK
4:53 pm
Wed September 10, 2014

A Look At The Bottom Of The Ballot: Register Of Probate

On Tuesday, voters throughout the Commonwealth did their American duty and cast their votes for the men and women they want to see helm the ship of state for the next few years, including what former Boston City Councilor Richard Ianella calls one of most important elected jobs in the Commonwealth
 
He is, of course, talking about the Register of Probate.
 
So who is the Register of Probate? And why should you care, other than the fact that you are expected to vote for one?

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
12:13 pm
Fri September 5, 2014

What Exactly Is The Cloud?

Credit Wikimedia Commons photos/Brendan Lynch photo illustration

As nude photos of more than 100 celebrities began circulating the internet this week, the spotlight turned to Apple and its popular iCloud service, believed to be where the hacker obtained the photos. Apple is just one of many companies that uses — and offers users access to — the cloud. But what exactly is the cloud?

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THIS DAY IN HISTORY FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
6:00 am
Fri August 29, 2014

The 1918 Influenza Outbreak: When Boston Was Patient Zero

Boston Red Cross volunteers assemble masks at Camp Devens, MA.
Credit National Archives

The deadly outbreak of Ebola in West Africa that has killed more than 1,500 people in four countries since May is a powerful reminder of just how deadly — and unpredictable — a virus can be. Ninety-six years ago this week, the city of Boston was dealing with its own viral outbreak — the start of one of the deadliest natural disasters to ever occur.

A staggering number of people died in 1918. Fifty to 100 million worldwide, by some estimates. The terrifying disease in question? Not Ebola. The flu.

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Local News
5:00 am
Wed August 27, 2014

Massachusetts Ballot Questions: Not Quite A Craps Shoot

It's tough to predict just how citizens will trend when it comes to deciding the casino question in Massachusetts - and three others on the ballot this November: a revised bottle bill, a measure governing the gas tax, and one governing employee sick time. The Curiosity Desk's Edgar B. Herwick III takes a look at how this direct Democracy thing works.

After years of fierce debate, the battle over whether to build casinos in Massachusetts is finally being taken to the people.

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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
10:31 am
Fri August 22, 2014

How The Sacco And Vanzetti Trial Sparked Worldwide Protest

Bartolomeo Vanzetti (left), handcuffed to Nicola Sacco in Dedham Superior Court, 1923.
Boston Public Library

Today, we go back to 1927, and the final moments for two Boston suspected criminals-turned-cause célèbre whose lives were immortalized by Woody Guthrie and whose story shaped the public policy of one of the Bay State's most renowned politicians.

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Local News
2:47 pm
Thu August 21, 2014

Ferguson And Boston: Could It Happen Here?

Police in riot gear watch protesters in Ferguson, Mo. on Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014. On Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, a white police officer fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in the St. Louis suburb.

Over the last two weeks, Ferguson, Mo., a hardscrabble town of 22,000 northwest of St. Louis that is 67 percent African-American but has a police force of 53, of whom only three are black — has dominated the national headlines. It might seem like a far cry from our bustling East Coast Metropolis of Boston, but there are some who see lessons for us here in the events on the ground there.

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
11:11 am
Fri August 15, 2014

The Boston Police Strike That Impacted Labor For Generations

A large crowd gathered in Scollay Square during the 1919 Boston Police Strike.
Boston Public Library

This week in 1919, Boston police voted to unionize. That vote led to a police strike that sparked riots, changed the lives of hundreds, and helped send Calvin Coolidge to the Oval Office.

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
11:19 am
Thu August 14, 2014

Why The Boston Public Library Is Discarding Books

The reading room at the Boston Public Library.
Credit Wikimedia Commons/Brian Johnson

In the past few months, library-friends-group book sales, nonprofit internet libraries — even Amazon.com — have been flush with books that were, until recently, sitting on local Boston Public Library shelves. But why?

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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
10:38 am
Fri August 8, 2014

The Picnic That Turned Moby-Dick Into A Masterpiece

Illustration from an early edition of Moby-Dick.
Credit A. Burnham Shute

Chances are you’ve read it, or were supposed to read it, at some point — maybe your high-school English class or a survey of American literature in college.

And while the book, "Moby-Dick; or, The Whale" is named after the whale, Moby-Dick, the centerpiece of the great American novel is the deranged, obsessed man at the helm of the Pequod, Captain Ahab.

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
11:13 am
Wed August 6, 2014

Market Basket Saga Shows Struggles, Benefits Of Family-Owned Grocers

Signs advertise produce prices at Johnny D's in Brighton Center.
Credit Edgar B. Herwick III / WGBH News

The embattled Market Basket supermarket chain is one of the country's largest private companies, ranked No. 127 on Forbes annual list. But like many grocery chains, it started more than a generation ago — as a single mom-and-pop shop. That got me wondering whether mom-and-pop shop's can still thrive in the grocery industry and whether there are benefits — and drawbacks — to being family owned and operated.

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
3:43 pm
Fri August 1, 2014

Downtown Boston Freemason Lodge Holds Secrets — Even From The Masons

The Chamber of Reflection in the Grand Lodge, used by the York Rite.
Edgar B. Herwick III WGBH News

It all started at the Bunch of Grapes tavern — on what is now State Street in Boston, when a fellow named Henry Price gathered 17 men and established the first Grand Masonic Lodge in the New World.

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Local News
2:51 pm
Wed July 30, 2014

Underage Immigrant Wave: Separating Fact From Fiction

Demonstrators from opposing sides confront each other while being separated by Murrieta police officers, Friday, July 4, 2014, outside a U.S. Border Patrol station in Murrieta, Calif. Demonstrators on both sides of the immigration debate had gathered in Murrieta, Calif.
Credit (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The immigration debate that has gripped border states like Texas and Arizona for years has come to Massachusetts in recent days, following the news that Gov. Deval Patrick has offered to temporarily house up to 1,000 of the some 60,000 young migrants being held along the border in a state air base.

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Local News
4:20 pm
Fri July 25, 2014

Block Partners HealthCare Agreement, Say Antitrust Experts

Credit Flickr, jdlasica

The Partners HealthCare agreement with the Massachusetts Attorney General came under fire this week by antitrust experts who are calling on a state judge to block the agreement, saying its unlikely to contain rising medical costs

A letter dated July 21 and signed by 21 national antitrust experts and health economists urges the judge to reconsider her support of the proposed settlement. BU economics professor Randall P. Ellis is among those who signed.

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
12:18 pm
Fri July 25, 2014

This Week In History: The Boston Post Takes Down Charles Ponzi

Charles Ponzi, his wife and his mother on his porch in Lexington.
Courtesy Hammond Residential Real Estate

  Real Estate agents Jodi and Jean Winchester are walking me through a stately yellow stucco colonial revival mansion on a tranquil street in Lexington. There’s a perfectly manicured acre of land surrounding the estate. Heck, there’s even a carriage house.

And it belonged to Charles Ponzi, of the infamous Ponzi scheme.

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
1:08 pm
Wed July 23, 2014

Big Brother Is Coming To Boston School Buses

Boston will begin using cameras on school buses this year.
Credit Photo Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Photo: Wikimedia Commons

This fall, there will be some new riders on Boston's school buses. 

Each of the Boston Public School systems’s 750 school buses will be fit with two audio capable cameras. One will record the road, the other will record the students. 

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
5:00 am
Fri July 18, 2014

How Did The Largest Collection Of Hemingway's Writings End Up In Boston?

A bust of Ernest Hemingway.
WGBH News

    

Ernest Hemingway was born near Chicago and died in Idaho. He immortalized 1920s Paris and introduced the world to the running of the bulls in Pamplona. He hunted big game in Africa, caught marlin off the Florida Keys, and spent decades living, writing -- and drinking -- in Cuba. 

So, why is the world's largest collection of his personal writings is located at the JFK library in Boston?

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
10:05 am
Wed July 16, 2014

'Lucky Few' Refugees Get To Resettle In Massachusetts

In this June 13, 2014 photo, Somali refugee Bollo Mohamed, 26, helps her daughter Malyun Mohamed, 5, with her shoes while dressing her for preschool at their apartment in Springfield, Mass. Bollo lived in a Kenyan refugee camp from 1992 until 2007 when she was relocated to Providence, R.I., before moving herself to Springfield.
Credit (AP Photo /Stephan Savoia)

    

There's much debate these days over how this country should handle the thousands of immigrants who come into the United States illegally, especially the unaccompanied children who come here from Central America via the U.S. Mexican border. But there are many people — refugees — who come to this country legally.

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
8:31 am
Fri July 11, 2014

How 'Sex In A Box' Took America By Storm

    

By the time Neil W. Rabens actually received the patent for Twister in July of 1969, his invention had already been sold twice, and it was well on it's way to becoming an American pop-culture icon.

Rabens was a young commercial artist in the mid 1960s, when he was hired along with Chuck Foley to develop toys and games for a midwest design firm. One day Rabens came up with an innovative idea: What if we made a game where people were the pieces?

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
9:59 am
Wed July 9, 2014

Quarries: 'A Tragedy Waiting To Happen'

Standing at a favorite jumping spot for swimmers, 10 stories high, Massachusetts State Police Trooper Hernan Melendez, looks down into the waters of the Quincy Quarry after a death in 1997.
Credit (AP Photo/Peter Lennihan)

Fourth of July weekend ended in tragedy in Milford when Nentor Dahn, 18, of Providence, RI died after jumping into the Fletcher Quarry. Fletcher is just one of many quarries in the area, and that got me wondering just how dangerous they are — and whether what happened in Milford is an all too common occurrence.

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Local News
8:52 am
Thu July 3, 2014

Commission Hears Cases For, Against Partners HealthCare Expansion

Massachusetts General Hospital, a Partners HealthCare member.
Credit AP Photo

The ongoing dispute between Partners HealthCare, the state’s largest health provider, and a group of hospitals objecting to Partners expansion entered a new phase yesterday. Boston’s Health Policy Commission took up the case and heard from those for and against the proposed deal Wednesday.

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
6:00 am
Wed July 2, 2014

Why Are Massachusetts Gas Prices So High?

A sign shows gas prices at a gas station in Brighton.
Credit Brendan Lynch / WGBH News

If you’re gearing up to travel this Fourth of July weekend, you’ve probably noticed that gas is pricey. Boston area gas prices are currently averaging $3.78 a gallon, more than 20 cents higher than this time last year.

In fact, gas prices across the country are at their highest for a Fourth of July weekend since 2008.

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
1:18 pm
Fri June 27, 2014

Burning Rubber In Mass.: The Obsession That Changed The World

Charles Goodyear

Charles Goodyear's obsession began one auspicious day in New York.

He’d always been a tinkerer and a new “miracle” substance, rubber, had caught his fancy. He’d developed an improved valve for a rubber life preserver he’s seen in a New York shop. When he proudly showed the shop owner his invention, the man let Goodyear in on a secret. This new miracle substance was about to go bust.

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Local News
5:39 pm
Thu June 26, 2014

How To Sell A Catholic Church

Alpha and Omega
Credit Wikimedia Commons

  
Three area Catholic churches lost their respective appeals to the Vatican's highest court to remain open this week - appearing to end a 10 year fight by parishioners.  

 Our Lady of Mount Carmel in East Boston, Saint James the Great Church in Wellesley, and Saint Francis Xavier Cabrini in Scituate were just three of more than 40 churches ordered by Boston Archbishop Sean O'Malley to be deconsecrated and sold, as part of a diocese-wide reconfiguration in 2004.  

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
12:52 pm
Fri June 20, 2014

How A Boston Man Quietly Broke The Navy's Color Line

Bernard Robinson was a Harvard trained doctor, and the first black man to be commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Navy. in 1942.

In April of 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first black man to play in the major leagues in the modern era. Five years earlier, though, another Robinson quietly broke a different color barrier and his story is much less well known.

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
10:51 am
Thu June 19, 2014

Why More Mass. Companies Are Moving Their Headquarters To Ireland

Credit Wikimedia Commons photos/Brendan Lynch photo illustration

No state in America has a higher percentage of jobs in life science fields than Massachusetts, according to a report released Wednesday by Northeastern University. But there's a dark undercurrent looming for the Bay State in those bullish numbers. 

The life sciences industry is on the leading of edge of "tax inversion mergers", wherein large life sciences companies aren't just consolidating, they are also moving their headquarters overseas. 

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THIS DAY IN HISTORY FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
9:41 am
Fri June 13, 2014

Survivors Recall The Devastation Of The 1953 Worcester Tornado

The injured gather outside a demolished bus at Curtis Apartments — two were killed inside the bus.
Courtesy Worcester Historical Museum

June 9, 1953, was a typical summer Tuesday in Worcester. By 4:30 p.m., there were ballgames going on, shops closing up, factory workers heading home.

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
10:04 am
Thu June 12, 2014

How Urban Flight Led To Boston's Residency Requirement

The Boston skyline, including Custom House Tower and State Street Bank Building.
Credit City of Boston Archives

  

Last week, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh asked the City Council to allow him to waive the residency requirements 75 to 100 of his top officials.

City officials, like most city employees, are required by law to live in the city. But the pushback was swift from councilors like Tito Jackson and Michelle Wu and citizens groups like Save Our City, and this week, Walsh quickly backed away from the fight, and pulled his request from consideration.

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THIS DAY IN HISTORY FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
11:28 am
Fri June 6, 2014

The Lingering Mysteries Of 'Casey At The Bat'

A statue of Casey stands in the yard of Bob Blair in Holliston.
Edgar B. Herwick III WGBH News

If someone asked you to think of a poem about baseball, chances are that the first one—maybe the only one—to spring to mind would be "Casey At The Bat." The send-up about a hulking slugger for the "Mudville Nine" who fails to rally his team in the bottom of the ninth inning first appeared in a California newspaper this week back in 1888. But the story behind the poem is undeniably a Massachusetts one. And more than a century later, one local town is still fighting for recognition as "the real Mudville."

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