Curiosity Desk

4:00 pm
Fri February 27, 2015

Isabella Stewart Gardner Opened Her Museum This Week In 1903

A detail from Portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924), by John Singer Sargent.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

Red Sox spring training got underway this week and with it comes visions of spring, and a soon-to–be packed Fenway Park. But nearly a decade before the first bricks of Boston's storied ballpark were laid, another Boston jewel opened in the neighborhood — willed into existence by a unique woman with a unique vision for Boston.

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10:13 am
Wed February 25, 2015

How Will The FCC's Net Neutrality Vote Change The Internet?

Credit Vassilis Michalopoulos / Flickr Creative Commons

The FCC is expected to vote Thursday to change the way the Internet is regulated in the United States and begin enforcing so called "net neutrality." Its a move that has caused ripples from the halls of Congress to the garages of Silicon Valley. But what exactly is "net neutrality," and what does the FCC's vote mean for Internet users?

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10:08 am
Mon January 26, 2015

Lynn Publisher Scores Making Super Bowl Programs

The program for Super Bowl XLIX
Edgar B. Herwick III WGBH News

This year, the team representing the AFC on the field in Super Bowl XLIX won't be the only part of the big game that hails from New England. A local publishing company's work will be in the hands of thousands of fans at the stadium on Super Bowl Sunday.

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10:25 am
Fri January 23, 2015

The Original WiFi, Born On Cape Cod In 1903

Guglielmo Marconi works a device similar to the one he used to transmit the first wireless signal across the Atlantic Ocean.
Credit Wikimedia Commons


It couldn't be more commonplace today, but the idea that a radio signal could be both sent through the air — and received — was an astounding technological achievement. And a crucial step towards accomplishing it was taken right here in the Bay State.

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2:44 pm
Fri January 16, 2015

This Week In History: The Great Molasses Flood Drowns Boston's North End

Firemen standing in thick molasses after the disaster
Credit Boston Public Library

First, let's get our heads around Boston's North End in the early 20th century. It was one of the most crowded residential neighborhoods in the whole world in 1919. 

40,000 people in a little over a square mile - four times today's population. And that’s just the residents. It was also one of the country’s biggest commercial ports, said Steve Puleo, author of Dark Tide.
"The tank was really plunked down in one of the busiest neighborhoods in all of America," Puleo said.

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9:09 am
Wed January 14, 2015

New Ride-Sharing Regulations Are Only The Beginning Of A New Battle

Ride-sharing behemoth Uber will begin sharing anonymized data about every trip that begins or ends in a Boston zip code with city officials.

The move comes as new statewide regulations for ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft are set to take effect this week. If it seems like this signals an end to a months-long effort by the city to determine how to best regulate ride-sharing in Boston, or a years-long effort by the taxi industry to shut them down, think again. It's a little more complicated than that. 

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12:22 pm
Fri January 9, 2015

How Led Zeppelin Got Banned In Boston

Led Zeppelin plays Chicago in 1975, the year the group was banned by Boston Mayor Kevin White from playing in the city.
Credit more19562003 / Wikimedia Commons

On their record-breaking tours in the 1970s, rock band Led Zeppelin earned a reputation for excess and debauchery. One story even has their drummer riding a motorcycle through a hotel corridor. But it wasn't the band — it was their fans — that got them into hot water here in Boston.

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11:52 am
Fri January 2, 2015

How Massachusetts Helped Launch The Golden Age Of Hollywood

From left, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, and Louis B. Mayer.
Credit MGM

Much has been made in recent years about Massachusetts' foray into the film industry. Just this year, some 30 major TV and movie projects were made in the Bay State — with stars like Johnny Depp, Vince Vaughn, Naomi Watts and Matthew McConaughey. But in a way, Hollywood is simply coming home.

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9:09 am
Fri December 19, 2014

This Week In History: The First YMCA In The U.S. Is Started In Boston

The YMCA building on Huntington Ave, circa 1920.
Leon H. Abdalian Boston Public Library

The YMCA is probably as well known for the Village People's 1970's disco anthem as it is for its wellness programs and job training services. But the Y has a much deeper story to tell — a story that starts right here in Boston.

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10:57 am
Thu December 18, 2014

The Christmas Bird Count: The Original Crowdsource

The black-capped chickadee, the state bird of Massachusetts.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

Wired Magazine introduced the term "crowdsourcing" to the lexicon in 2006 to describe a generation of new, user-generated websites like Wikipedia. But crowdsourcing was, by then, old hat for ornithologists, who have been using it — to great effect — for well over a century.

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8:48 am
Fri December 12, 2014

This Week In History: 7 Million Gallons Of Oil Dumped Into Nantucket Waters

The Argo Merchant spills oil off Nantucket in 1976.
Credit NOAA

It's probably not surprising that the two largest oil spills in American history are the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf Coast and the Exxon Valdez in Alaska. The third largest, however, hit a little closer to home.

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10:19 am
Fri December 5, 2014

Shunned By Churches, African-Americans Built Their Own Meeting House — 208 Years Ago

The African Meeting House on Beacon Hill, circa 1860.

By 1806, Boston already had its fair share of churches, but the modest, brick church that rose over Beacon Hill late that year was unlike anything the city — or America — had ever seen.

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2:00 pm
Thu December 4, 2014

End Of An Era: Bay State Okays Hold-Open Clips At Self-Serve Gas Stations

Self-serve gas stations just got self-servier.
Credit Illustration: Brendan Lynch

The hands of millions of Massachusetts drivers are about to experience their warmest winter in a generation, and it has nothing to do with climate change — it's thanks to the Massachusetts Department of Fire Safety.

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9:39 am
Fri November 21, 2014

139 Years Of Harvard-Yale Football — With A Bit Of MIT

A streaker, with MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) written on his back, makes his way down the field interrupting the Yale-Harvard college football game during the fourth quarter, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2006 in Boston.
Credit (AP Photo/Lisa Poole)


This weekend, the eyes of college football fans throughout the country will be on two teams from local schools that are usually grabbing headlines on the front page rather than the sports page. Harvard University and MIT are both undefeated heading into action tomorrow — and both have plenty on the line. MIT faces a division three playoff matchup with Maine's Hussan University and Harvard squares off with their old nemesis — a rivalry heavily steeped in tradition.

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10:03 am
Fri November 14, 2014

Hacking The Weather To Make Man-Made Snow — In 1946

Vincent Schaefer watches a snow-cloud being seeded in a lab.
Credit Courtesy GE

 Mother nature wasn't the only one producing snow Friday morning, as this week's low temperatures have allowed ski resorts in the area to start making their first snow of the season, too. That they can, is thanks in part to the work of a General Electric scientist — and his auspicious experiment in the clouds over the Berkshires.

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10:44 am
Fri November 7, 2014

In 1915, Mass. Rejected Giving Women The Vote In A Landslide

This 1915 Boston Journal ad advocated against giving women the vote.

This week Massachusetts voters faced four questions on the statewide ballot, deciding on a range of issues from the fate of casinos to the gas tax. Nearly a century ago, voters faced a single question, and it was a historic one: Should women in Massachusetts be allowed to vote?

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9:16 am
Fri October 24, 2014

Old Ironsides Celebrates Her 217th Birthday With A Harbor Cruise

On the top deck of the USS Contitution.
Edgar B. Herwick III WGBH News

At precisely 8 a.m., as it does every morning, a single shot rings out into the skies above Charlestown.

The gun on the world’s oldest commissioned war ship still afloat was fired Thursday by one of the U.S. Navy’s newest members, Seaman Apprentice Jacob Harned, just 12 days out of boot camp.

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10:51 am
Thu October 23, 2014

Obamacare Enrollment, Cornel West, And The Curiosity Desk

A new healthcare enrollment season opens November 1st. Jonathan Gruber stops by to help us figure out how to choose from the new plans.
Credit Lori M. Nichols / South Jersey Times via NPR
  • Jonathan Gruber stops by to help us (and you) figure out how to select the best plan in advance of the new November 1st enrollment. Then we talk to you about information overload.
  • A new report say that 1 in 7 Massachusetts residents is living in poverty. There Cognitive dissonance talker new report says 1 out of 7 in Mass is living in poverty.
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1:44 pm
Wed October 22, 2014

Is It Time To Turn The Heat On? Fuel Prices Swing In Both Directions

This week, overnight temperatures in Boston dropped into the 30s for the first time this fall and residents throughout the region reluctantly found themselves facing that age-old autumn question: Is it time to turn the heat on?

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8:37 am
Fri October 17, 2014

This Week In History: Margaret Marshall Becomes First Woman Chief Justice Of Mass. SJC

This May 2, 2005 file pool photograph shows Chief Justice Margaret Marshall asking a petitioner to explain a point during arguments before the Supreme Judicial Court, in Boston, on a petition to halt same-sex couples from marrying until voters can weigh in on the contentious issue.
Credit AP Photo/George Rizer, Pool, File

Long before there was a United States Supreme Court, before there was even a United States of America, the court today known as the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts upheld the law of the land here in the Bay State. Fifteen years ago, for the first time in the court's 300-plus year history, a woman was elevated to serve as chief justice.

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Local News
11:26 am
Thu October 16, 2014

142-Year-Old Trees Cut Down In Cambridge

An arborist begins the careful work of cutting down a now structurally unsound 142 year old yellowood tree.
Edgar B. Herwick III WGBH News

Before Red Line trains began whizzing under the streets of Cambridge, before professional baseball existed - let alone Fenway Park, before a single note was played inside Symphony Hall, two yellowwood trees reached into the sky in front of First Church in Cambridge, just across from the Common.

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9:11 am
Mon October 13, 2014

Much More Than Ebola Links Liberia With The U.S.

Credit CIA World Factbook

With the Ebola outbreak ravaging West Africa, Liberia has been thrust into the spotlight here in America. But did you realize that it's capital city, Monrovia, is named after the fifth president of the United States, James Monroe?

That's just one example of a deep connection between the west African nation and our own.

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2:59 pm
Fri October 10, 2014

A Transcendental Utopia In West Roxbury? Yup, Welcome To Brook Farm

Almost no trace of the Ripley's utopian community remain at Brook Farm. Today, it's 179 acres of managed wilderness, open to the public.
Edgar B. Herwick III

Perhaps nothing embodies the spirit of the hippie movement of the 1960s better than the commune. But more than a century before the flower power of the '60s, a group of high-minded Bostonians were similarly countering the culture of their day, right in our back yard.

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2:19 pm
Fri September 26, 2014

For Sale: Gloucester Home, Possibly Haunted By T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot
AP Photo

Today would have been the 126th birthday of writer T.S. Eliot. While he was born in St. Louis, and emigrated to England in his 20s, the story of Eliot’s life cannot be told without at least a few chapters set right here in the Bay State.

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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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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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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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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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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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