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. 


10:49 am
Wed November 25, 2015

How Black Friday Got Its Name — It's Not What You Think

Shoppers wait to enter a store on Black Friday 2013.
Credit Powhusku / Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps you’ve heard this widely told story. Heck, maybe you’ve even repeated it yourself: a Black Friday origin yarn that hearkens back to the days when bookkeepers recorded losses in red ink and profits in black ink.

Read more
11:49 am
Fri November 20, 2015

The Great Fire That Leveled Boston And Ignited John Damrell's Safety Crusade

A lithograph of the Great Fire of 1872.
Boston Public Library

Over the years, November has been a particularly deadly and destructive month in Boston, due to a handful of the worst fires in the city's history. Most remembered is the deadly fire at the Coconut Grove nightclub in late-November of 1942 that claimed the lives of nearly 500 people. But the others have been largely forgotten, including one in 1872 that still stands today as one of the most devastating fires in American history.

Almost 150 years later, we still don’t really know how this story begins. We do know how it ends.

Read more
Local News
11:49 am
Sat November 14, 2015

Outside French Consulate in Boston: 'We Are All Parisians'; Solidarity Gathering Sunday At Noon

A bouquet of flowers outside the French Consulate on St. James Avenue in Boston
Credit Edgar B Herwick III

It was a quiet, brisk fall morning outside the Consulate of France on St. James Avenue in the Back Bay. The consulate was closed as it would be on any other Saturday, but of course this wasn't an ordinary Saturday.

There was a small but noticeable police presence, with a car stationed outside the building and a second vehicle - a K-9 unit SUV - regularly circling the block. A handful of flower bouquets had been placed outside the consulate, one with a card that read, "We are all Parisians."

Read more
4:40 pm
Wed November 11, 2015

WT(1190)F Is Up With All The Junk In Space?

Orbital debris in low Earth orbit, the region of space within 2,000 km of the Earth's surface.
Credit NASA

This Friday, an object that scientists have been carefully tracking for some time now, dubbed WT1190F, will enter the earth's atmosphere in the skies above the Indian Ocean. Given its size and unusual orbit, scientists believe it's an old piece of space junk, perhaps even a spent rocket or a panel from one of the Apollo spacecraft. WT1190F is not alone up there. It turns out that space is a veritable junkyard.

Read more
12:21 pm
Fri November 6, 2015

How Mass. — And The Great Depression — Helped Launch The Board Game Monopoly

Game pieces for the original 1935 "Trade Mark" edition were inspired by Charles Darrow's neice, who was swept up in the charm bracelet fad.

If you think that the teenage inventor and entrepreneur is a phenomenon unique to our digital age, I give you game enthusiast George Parker in 1883.

Read more
Local News
8:28 am
Wed November 4, 2015

MBTA Unveils New Tactics To Keep Winter Commute On Track

MBTA maintenance facility
Edgar B. Herwick III/WGBH News

For Caren Savone it’s a necessary evil….

“I wouldn’t say reliable, definitely not affordable, but it is a service and I couldn’t live without it.”

For Ivan Nesterov, it’s something of a throwback….

“I come from Europe. It’s incomparable to European rails. How So? Far inferior, ya know, this is something out of the 60s in Europe.”

For Sara Seager, it’s an eternal headache….

“I’m ashamed to live in Boston. Do you know what it’s like to have to cancel meetings and not to get to work on time day after day after day?”

Read more
12:26 pm
Fri October 30, 2015

The Woman Who Wrote The Book On Halloween Haunts The Lynn Public Library

An image from The Book of Hallowe'en depicting A Witch's Table.
Project Gutenberg

Longtime librarian Eileen Kearney will never forget that night at the Lynn Public Library, some 20 years ago, when she found herself alone in the stacks.

Read more
10:43 am
Fri October 23, 2015

Maybe You Noticed, The World Didn't End in 1844

A pamphlet explaining Millerite views of the end of the world.
Credit University of Virginia

This time they were certain.

Read more
3:37 pm
Wed October 21, 2015

Sifting For Relics Of The Revolutionary War On Boston Common

Credit Flickr user Tim Rawle

For the past three days, a small, shovel-wielding crew in florescent vests have been digging deep holes along a 50 yard path on the edge of Boston Common and painstakingly combing through the dirt.

City archeologist Joe Bagley, who is leading the dig, says “You would not believe how much people are willing to walk past weird stuff happening in the city of Boston.”

None of the diggers are dressed like Indiana Jones, so how are we supposed to know they’re archeologists?

Read more
5:49 pm
Mon October 19, 2015

Archeologists Dig Into History On Boston Common

Credit Flickr user Tim Rawle

All day, a handful of shovel-wielding scientists have been digging small, deep holes along a 25-foot path on Boston Common and carefully sifting through the dirt.

What city archeologist Joe Bagley and the team are doing is looking for centuries-old gunflints, and millennia-old shells right in the heart of the bustling city.

“We know there is a Revolutionary war site here and there was a site here from the Native people that’s 400 to a thousand years old.”

Read more
6:00 am
Fri October 16, 2015

How Edwin Land Built Polaroid Into The Ultimate Mass. Consumer Technology Powerhouse

The Polaroid SX-70

There’s this fascinating, kind of haunting video from 1970 that you can watch on YouTube, in which Edwin Land — chemist, inventor, inspiration to Steve Jobs, and co-founder of Polaroid Corp. — walks through a half-built factory in Norwood where he planned to change the world.

Read more
10:49 am
Thu October 15, 2015

Coxswains: Leading From Behind At The Head Of The Charles

Edgar B. Herwick III/WGBH News

This weekend, some two-thousand boats will be zipping up and down the river in Cambridge during the 51st Head of the Charles Regatta. And while those boats will be manned by nearly 10-thousand plus-athletes, not all of those athletes will be rowing. Still, that doesn't mean they won’t be working.

On a placid - if bustling - early morning on the dock at the Boston University Boathouse, I dodge a few dozen hulking young men on their way to the water, and watch – a bit flummoxed - at the handful of diminutive guys and gals bossing them all around.

Read more
11:54 am
Fri October 9, 2015

Banned In (17th Century) Boston: Religious Tolerance

"Return of Roger Williams from England with the First Charter," 1644.
Credit From a painting by C.R. Grant

Just how Puritan was early colonial New England? The first legal code, The Body of Liberties, was written by a minister.

Read more
11:53 am
Fri October 2, 2015

Meet America's First Woman Astronomer: Maria Mitchell

Maria Mitchell's telescope, at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
Credit Dpbsmith / WGBH News

Before Neil deGrasse Tyson, before Carl Sagan, before Edwin Hubble, there was Maria Mitchell.

Read more
2:35 pm
Wed September 30, 2015

Love That Martian Water: Local Pair Plans Move To Mars

The dark, narrow streaks flowing downhill on Mars at sites such as this portion of the Garni Crater are inferred to be formed by seasonal flow of water on modern-day Mars.
Credit NASA

The news this week that NASA has detected flowing water on the surface of Mars hit especially close to home for two local residents. After all, they plan to live there someday.

Read more
1:46 pm
Wed September 23, 2015

A Look At The Taxi/Uber Battle From Inside The Cab

Long time Boston taxi owner-operator Jim Christie, outside his cab in down town Boston.

When you spend a few hours in a cab with Jim Christie, like I recently did, you learn one thing pretty quickly. He sees almost everything, from how many other taxis are in the vicinity to potential fares lurking in the shadows to a quicker path opening up amidst a swell of traffic. 

Christie's keen vision makes perfect sense. After all, when he started driving a cab, Kevin White was in his first term as mayor; John Havelicek was in his prime with the Celtics.

"It was back in the day when we still had uniforms," said Christie, "Waist jacket with a tie and a taxi hat."

Read more
Local News
10:55 am
Thu September 10, 2015

College Students Pack Into Boston Apartments Under Toothless 'No More Than Four' Ordinance

September brings moving day to Brighton.

Audio Pending...

Boston College senior Brandon Dean Daly lived in a house in Brighton last year with a ... few ... of his classmates.

Read more
10:42 am
Fri September 4, 2015

'Force Friday,' In The Form Of 'Star Wars' Toys, Hits Boston

A customer checks out a statue of Darth Vader in Woburn.
Edgar B. Herwick III WGBH News

For as long as there has been "Star Wars," there have been "Star Wars" toys.

Read more
5:34 am
Fri August 28, 2015

Route 128, Once Known As 'Road To Nowhere,' Had A Traffic Jam The Day It Opened

Credit 128 Business Council

You want to talk about ubiquitous?

For commuters, it’s an eternal headache; For meteorologists, a reliable dividing line. Route 128’s even been immortalized in song by the Modern Lovers.

Read more
Local News
5:27 pm
Tue August 25, 2015

Green Line Project Might Be Trimmed, But Not Scrapped, Says Capuano

Credit Mike Deehan/WGBH News

State transit officials are weighing a variety options after new estimates on extending the - MBTA’s Green Line - show the project could wind up costing a billion dollars more than first estimated……. System officials say the ballooning cost now put the project’s future in question…the project has long been a priority for US Congressman Michael Capuano.

Congressman Michael Capuano has been fighting for the Green Line extension for his entire career. So he’s taking this latest hitch in stride.

Read more
Curiosity Desk
5:15 pm
Fri August 14, 2015

This Week In History: Frederick Douglass Shines On Nantucket

Frederick Douglass as a young man, circa 1840.
Credit public domain

Frederick Douglass’ story began like millions of other Americans, millions too many.

Douglass’ life is much the same as many enslaved people. As one of the great abolitionist women said, “animals, horses are treated better than enslaved people.”

That’s Beverly Morgan Welch, executive director of the Museum of African American History. Born in Maryland, Douglass was taken from his mother as an infant, and then from his grandmother as a young boy.

Read more
12:24 pm
Fri August 7, 2015

Everything You Never Learned In School About The Mayflower

The Landing of the Mayflower, by Sarony and Major.
Credit Library of Congress

The story of Massachusetts as we know it today began with a group of religious separatists known as the Pilgrims and their ship, the Mayflower — but their story is not exactly the one you learned in school.

Read more
10:35 am
Fri July 31, 2015

How MIT And Technicolor Helped Create Hollywood

Deborah Stoiber shows the three color technicolor film process at the George Eastman House Louis B. Mayer Conservation Center in Chili, N.Y., Thursday April 24, 2008.
Credit AP Photo

We, of course, live in color. But the world that early Hollywood presented was almost exclusively black and white. Chelsea-born Herbert Kalmus, his college buddy Daniel Comstock and gadget guru Burton Westcott wanted to change that. So in 1915 they launched a company, Technicolor, to do just that.

"Kalmus and Comstock went to MIT — Massachusetts Institute of Technology — and that’s where the term 'tech' comes from in Technicolor," said film producer Richard W. Haines, author of "Technicolor Movies: The History of Dye Transfer Printing."

Read more
Local News
11:56 am
Wed July 29, 2015

Explosive Beach Objects-- Just Another Example Of Massachusetts' Charm

Back away from the UXO.
Credit Wikipedia

Speculation ran wild in the days following that Rhode Island beach explosion, and one of the early theories posed that it might have been an old military munition buried in the sand. But just how likely is it that unexploded military artillery would be found on a New England beach?

It’s fairly common, it turns out.

Read more
Local News
3:40 pm
Fri July 24, 2015

The Attack On Orleans: When World War I Hit Cape Cod

The crew of the German WWI U-boat UB 14 stand atio the submarine on the Black Sea in 1918.
Credit Public domain

Nauset Beach on Cape Cod is known for its excellent bass and blues fishing. It's known to surfers as a real destination, and to off-road-vehicle enthusiasts as one of the beaches where — with a permit — you can cruise. Less known are the dramatic events that took place on this 10-mile stretch of coast in the summer of 1918.

Read more
5:29 pm
Tue July 14, 2015

Cambridge Scientist Helped New Horizons With Directions To Pluto

Pluto, right, and its largest moon, Charon, which Scott Kenyon calls a binary planet.
Credit NASA

When I asked Scott Kenyon about his reaction to the news that New Horizons had actually flown by Pluto, his answer wasn't that different from those of the myriad of people I've chatted with about it, from scientists to educators to regular Janes and Joes.

"Well, it's pretty exciting," Kenyon said.

Read more
Local News
9:42 am
Tue July 14, 2015

Former Planet Pluto Is Weirder Than We Thought (UPDATED)

Credit NASA

UPDATE 7/14/15: Looks like we made it. Shortly before 8 a.m. EDT, nine years, five months and 25 days after NASA's New Horizons blasted off the surface of the Earth, it whizzed past Pluto at about 7 miles per second. At least we think it did. 

As is the plan, New Horizons is out of contact with the ground while it does its job, snapping photos and completing a whole host of measurements some 3 billion miles away. Scientists are anxiously awaiting their next contact with the craft, scheduled for shortly before 9 p.m. EDT, when New Horizons is expected to signal scientists that the flyby has been successfully completed and begin transmitting data back.

Richard Binzel, an MIT planetary sciences professor who is on the New Horizons science team, sent WGBH News this statement Tuesday morning by email, shortly after New Horizons began its Pluto flyby:

Breathtaking! There is such a richness in the differences in color and textures on the surface of Pluto that we are going to be challenged for years to come to reach some explanations. For now, it’s a brief celebration and then back to our science team work.

And how's the mood at the science team's operations center this morning? Here's Binzel and few of his fellow New Horizons scientists:

What they're reacting to is the best photo yet of the dwarf planet (top), taken late Monday night by New Horizons from about 476,000 miles away and released this morning by NASA. It's just a tease of what's to come. New Horizons' flyby takes it just 7,000 miles from Pluto's surface. Keep in mind, while the photos and data will start coming in this evening, it will take 16 months for New Horizons to transmit the full treasure trove back to scientists here on the ground. 

Original story: After a journey that has lasted the better part of a decade, the answer to "are we there yet" is finally “yes,” for NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. After a brief glitch over the weekend, all systems are once again go for an historic encounter, 3 billion miles from Earth.

Read more
10:22 am
Fri July 10, 2015

The Day Babe Ruth Arrived In Boston, Met His Wife, And Pitched 7 Innings In A Red Sox Win

Babe Ruth in 1919.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

Lots of people came through Back Bay station here in Boston on July 11, 1914. And, likely, even a few of them stood 6-foot-2 at 215 pounds. But only one would rise to the heights of the 19-year-old who arrived from Baltimore that day.

Read more
1:00 am
Fri July 3, 2015

ZIP Codes Tamed The Postal Service Boom 52 Years Ago

Mr. Zip extols the virtues of the ZIP Code system.

We all have one, we know it by heart, and we share it with our neighbors. But chances are you haven't thought that much about this ubiquitous part of American life — the ZIP code.

Read more
Local News
1:11 pm
Wed July 1, 2015

Boston 2024 And The Olympic Vision of Columbia Point

A view of the Boston skyline from Old Harbor at Columbia Point.

When you take a drive around Columbia Point with Don Walsh, one thing becomes immediately clear: he loves his neighborhood.

“Terrific resource,” he says. “Dorchester Bay, Atlantic Ocean. Right there. Clean beaches, ya know.”

Boston 2024 thought so too— and has targeted Columbia Point as the perfect spot for their Olympic Village.

And for a guy whose beloved neighborhood now finds itself square in Olympic crosshairs, he’s surprisingly open-minded.

Read more