Scenes from the Boston Public Library

I've been to Boston almost a dozen times but for some reason, I never ventured into the Boston Public Library (which is strange, because I love books and I love reading). On my latest visit, I decided to pay this venerable library a visit and brought along my camera. My visit was on a Sunday, when the library opened at 1PM. I waited outside the front door for about fifteen minutes, during which a line formed to enter the library. Once the front door was open, it was interesting to see people scamper to different parts of the library--some headed to the computers, others went to the music listening station, and others climbed the stairs to the second and third floors to pick out a table on which to set materials for a healthy study session.

History of the Boston Public Library

The Boston Landmarks Commission provides the following historical overview of the main building of the Boston Public Library, located at 700 Boylston Street, Boston MA 02116. 

The Boston Public Library is the main branch of the municipal library system. The earliest building on the site was designed by Charles Follen McKim of McKim, Mead & White and constructed between 1888 and 1895 by Woodbury and Leighton. This is the second building to be constructed to act as the main branch of the Boston Public Library, which was established in 1852 as the first free municipal public library in the country.

The McKim Building has received two additions since its completion. The first was designed by Joseph McGinnis and constructed in 1918. This addition was demolished for the construction of the Johnson addition, designed by Philip Johnson and completed in 1971.

The McKim Building has a hollow square plan with rooms surrounding an inner courtyard. The McKim Building currently houses the research collection, the special libraries, the public documents library, the microtext and periodicals collections, stacks and the photo and prints collection. The Johnson addition has a plan consisting of nine squares, the center one open and covered with a skylight. The Johnson addition currently houses the circulating collection, the rare book collections, lecture halls, the office of the President and Trustees Room, the ordering and cataloguing departments and stacks.

Architectural grandeur took precedence over functional requirements in McKim’s design for the Library. It was majestically finished to serve as a “Palace for the People.” The Renaissance Revival style strongly contrasted with the Romantic architecture extant at Copley Square at its date of construction and the work of McKim, Mead & White during this period stimulated a nationwide Renaissance Revival movement in architecture.

The design of the Boston Public Library integrated art and architecture at a new level for an American municipal building, with sculptured elements by Augustus St. Gaudens and Domingo Mora integrated into the facades, statues by Bela Pratt flanking the front entry, and bronze entry doors designed and executed by Daniel Chester French. The interior of the building, finished in rare marbles throughout, is embellished with mural paintings by John Singer Sargent, Edwin Abbey and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. The design of the Johnson addition was intended to continue the monumental and classical design of the McKim Building simplified to a mid-century modern expression.

Interesting bit of trivia: the Boston Public Library is the second largest library in the United States by the number of volumes it contains, second only to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. 

Picking out a spot on the second floor of the library.

The cursive i in this image is not Photoshopped.

The red colors in this section of the library really stood out.

Detail from the interior of the library.

Bates Hall

Perhaps the most well-known section of the Boston Public Library is the Bates Hall. Bates Hall is named for the library's first great benefactor, Joshua Bates. The form of Bates Hall, rectilinear but terminated with a semi-circular apse on each end is a reminder to the design of a Roman basilica. A series of double coffers in the ceiling provide a sculptural canopy to the room. 

One of the entrances to Bates Hall.

The striking green lamps at Bates Hall.

Finding a spot under the lamp.

Wide view of Bates Hall.

View of Bates Hall in the opposite direction.

A great clock at the edge of Bates Hall.

Visitors walking the alley of Bates Hall.

The Grand Staircase and the Lion Sculptures

On the edge of the grand staircase in the Boston Public Library one will come across two lion sculptures. The two lion sculptures were executed by Louis St. Gaudens, each from a single block of Sienna marble.

Inscribed at the bottom of the sculpture are the names of the battles fought by the 2nd and the 20th Massachusetts regiments: Ball's Bluff, Antietam, and Gettysburg. The veterans of the 20th Massachusetts and the 2nd Massachusetts regiments commissioned the two lion sculptures.

The lion sculptures in front of the grand staircase in the Boston Public Library.

A view of the double coffered ceiling and the great chandelier above the grand staircase in the Boston Public Library.

A side view of one of the lion sculptures and the grand chandelier.

Exterior Courtyard and Other Views

Nestled into the Boston Public Library's center is an open-air courtyard closely based on that of the sixteenth-century Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome. Designed in the manner of a Renaissance cloister, the courtyard is surrounded by an arcaded gallery. In the middle of the courtyard is a small plaza with a square fountain basin. At the center of the basin is Frederick William Macmonnies’ Dancing Bacchante and Infant Faun atop a granite plinth, surrounded by a circle of water fountains.

Open-air courtyard at the Boston Public Library.

A good place to study.

Viewing up.

A wide interior view of the Boston Public Library from the second floor.

An interior view of the Boston Public Library toward the Childen's library.

Loved this "The Plot Thickens" inscription on this ladder.

If You Go

The Boston Public Library (central location, known as the Boston Public Library McKim Building) is located in Copley Square of Boston (700 Boylston Street) and is open Monday-Thursday from 9AM to 9PM, 9AM to 5PM on Fridays and Saturdays, and 1PM to 5PM on Sundays. The Library is closed on public holidays (full list of closures here).

I highly recommend visiting an ongoing exhibition at the Boston Public Library titled Breathing Room: Mapping Boston's Public Spaces located within the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center. This exhibition profiles some of wonderful green spaces of Boston (such as Boston Common and the Boston Public Garden) through time. This exhibition runs through September 30, 2018.


Visiting the Hammond Castle Museum in Gloucester, Massachusetts

The Hammond Castle Museum is a unique structure located on the coast of Gloucester, Massachusetts. The building was constructed between the years 1926 to 1929, by inventor John Hays Hammond, Jr. to serve as his residence. Its architectural style is that of a medieval castle, with elements inspired from French, Norman, and English castles.

About John Hays Hammond, JR.

John Hays Hammond, Jr. was born in San Francisco, California. His family moved to South Africa in 1893, as John's father was active as a mining engineer for Cecil Rhodes' mines in South Africa. In 1898, the family moved to England, where the young John Hays Hammond, Jr. fell in love with castles and life in earlier times. The family returned to the United States at the turn of the 20th century.

John Hays Hammond, Jr. showed an early affinity toward science and invention. When John Hays Hammond Jr. was twelve years hold, his father took him along on a business trip to visit Thomas Edison’s famous laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey.  Edison took a personal interest in the boy and gave him an extended tour of the facility in response to the many questions he was asking. John Hays Hammond, Jr. came under the wing of Thomas Edison and Thomas Edison served as John's mentor in his early years. The two men stayed in contact their entire lives.

Over the course of his life, John Hays Hammond, Jr. was awarded over 800 patents (in comparison to about 1,200 patents that the much more well-known Thomas Edison held) for over 400 of his inventions.  Many of these inventions were in radio control, electronics, naval weapons, and national defense.

Hammond Castle Museum

As far as Hammond Castle itself, the Hammond Castle Museum website explains its origin:

Hammond Castle was built in the late 1920s by scientist, inventor, and interestingly enough, an art connoisseur of the highest order, John Hays Hammond, Jr. (1888-1965). Sitting high on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the castle brings together a unique combination of art, architectural elements and culture, backstopped by many innovative technological applications, yet unknown and unseen by the visitor.

Hammond was widely traveled, but had been exposed to the art and architecture of old European at an early age. He appreciated the eras spanning ancient times, through the medieval period, and into the Renaissance. He purchased a broad collection of artifacts for display, and created his residence around large stone archways, windows, wooden facades, and other architectural elements from the Old World. He was aptly described as a man of the future, but who chose to live in the past. The building he left behind is one of the truly unique structures on this continent, where visitors can experience being immersed in a true old Europe environment without actually being there.

His vision for the building was for it to be medieval in style—yet bridging several periods—so as to incorporate his expanding collection of stand-alone Classical antiquities through 16th century architectural elements. The project began when he retained the services of one of the preeminent architectural firms of the time, Allen and Collins, formed in 1904, and which maintained offices in Boston. Hammond’s project eventually came to the attention of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who had purchased a large collection of medieval artifacts in 1925, and was so inspired by what Hammond had done, he launched his own similar project on a site above Manhattan. It was to eventually incorporate pieces from five different European abbeys, and is known today as The Cloisters, an arm of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Yet, as might be expected from an inventor, Hammond’s building was uniquely different. He included many features of his own design that were revolutionary and befitting the structure, and most are virtually undiscernible to the untrained eye. For example, Hammond’s collection of 15th Century facades was to be housed in the Courtyard being planned by the architects to meet Hammond’s vision of what a medieval village might be. Given the covered Courtyard was also to include tropical plantings, it was necessary to ensure a suitable level of humidity and space temperature. A pool was included to be the source of humidity. Steam pipes installed around the bottom perimeter of the pool to control water temperature, as well as to drive the correct amount of moisture in the air above. A green dye was also added as a decorative feature to obscure the depth of the water, which in fact, was a swimming pool. Overhead, steam-fed pipe-racks were installed just beneath the clerestory to offset radiant heat loss through the glass. Finally, a tropical rain downpour could be summed from above to water the vegetation, or if he preferred, a foggy evening.

Perhaps the greatest item in Hammond’s residence is the gigantic pipe organ, an instrument designed and built by a collection of world-famous organ builders over a period of ten years. Consisting of 8,400 pipes it was the largest organ installed in a residence in this hemisphere, and second in size only to an organ in a certain Philadelphia department store. The design of the wind boxes, as well as the placement and installation of the organ within the Great Hall were in keeping with Hammond’s style. As much as the instrument had meant to Hammond, he could not play it. However, he did invent a device included within the console which could record what was being played, such that it could be accurately replayed, much the same way pianos (a much similar instrument) were beginning to do at the time. The organ was a centerpiece of the Hammond’s entertaining, and some of the greatest organists in the world were invited to play the instrument. Many returned after his death to give recitals.

The Hammond Castle was both John Hays Hammond Jr.'s personal residence (and that of his wife, the former Irene Fenton Reynolds of Gloucester, MA) and the headquarters of his commercial enterprise, the Hammond Research Corporation. The residence was ultimately transformed into a museum open to the public, because, sadly, John Hays Hammond Jr. and his wife had no heirs.

Photos from my visit to this excellent museum are below.

Exterior Views of the Hammond Castle

View of the Hammond Castle from the backyard of the residence. The backyard overlooks the Atlantic ocean.

View of the Hammond Castle from the front garden.

The arch: an element from the Roman times.

A statue of a lion guards the drawbridge to the Hammond Castle. 

An architectural element on the exterior of the Hammond Castle.

Ivy covering a window at the Hammond Castle.

A section of the exterior of the Hammond Castle.

The final resting place of John Hays Hammond, Jr, located in front of the castle. It is said that poison ivy covers the site because Mr. Hammond did not want to be disturbed in his death.

Near the main entrance to Hammond Castle. In the distance is the Atlantic Ocean.

Interior Views of the Hammond Castle

The Hammond Castle contains a room which has a pool. John Hays Hammond, Jr. used to take a dip here, sometimes jumping off from the second story ledge in the background.

The view of the courtyard and pool from the second story ledge.

Another view of the courtyard.

One of the interior rooms of the Hammond Castle showcasing some of Hammond's inventions. 

A newspaper clipping describing Hammond's invention of the "dynamic accentor," which allows for amplification of organ pipe tones. From the article: "This amplification is subject not only to general control, but also to fine, detailed control to a surprising degree. Thus, not only can the full power of the organ be increased, but also certain parts of the music, such as the solo voice, an inner part, the accompaniment or the bass (pedals) can be brought out with more power."

A full panel display of some of John Hays Hammond Jr.'s 800+ patents.

Detail from the interior courtyard in the Hammond Castle.

The dining room table. The majority of items at the Hammond Castle are antiques that have been brought over from Europe.

Another view of the dining room. To the left is the window that looks out to the courtyard and pool.

The library room where John Hays Hammond Jr. would conduct business meetings and read his favorite books.

Detail from the library room.

A guest bedroom. Mr. Hammond was a known prankster, and this room could be shut on all four sides by Mr. Hammond if he so chose.

Curiously, this staircase was built with for the convenience of left-handed persons. For right-handed people, it is a bit awkward to traverse.

Some of John Hammond's artifacts and memorabilia are housed in this room. 

Detail of a clock and painting depicting warships in battle. John Hays Hammond Jr. was a pioneering inventor of guided missiles for the United States Navy.

The famous great hall of the Hammond Castle. This hall entertained guests and contained the massive pipe organ that John Hays Hammond, Jr. had installed on the second floor.


  • John Hays Hammond, Jr. was a strong believer in the paranormal and even promised that after his death he would return to this realm as a black cat.  Claims include disembodied voices, moving objects, uneasy feelings and full-bodied apparitions. The Hammond Castle was on one episode of a SyFy series called Paranormal Pioneers.
  • John Hays Hammond, Jr. used his radio control technology combined with gyroscopic stabilization to send a pilotless “ghost ship” around the Gloucester harbor, and then remotely controlled a yacht that sailed from Gloucester to Boston and then back again.

If You Go

The Hammond Castle Museum is open to the public primarily during the summer months. The summer season typically begins on Saturdays and Sundays in May, from 10 AM to 4 PM, with the last tickets sold at 3:30 PM. Beginning in June and extending through October 6th, Hammond Castle is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 AM to 4 PM, also with the last ticket sold at 3:30. The Hammond Castle is closed on Mondays and all U.S. public holidays.

Pro tip #1: After you purchase the ticket(s) to the museum, make sure to allocate ten to twelve minutes of your time to watch the film about John Hays Hammond, Jr. and the Hammond Castle, located in the back of the gift shop. While the film is of average quality, it reveals many things about the castle which you would not ordinarily notice while walking around it. As a bonus, you'll learn about numerous pranks that John Hays Hammond, Jr. conducted (primarily directed at his guests!) while living in the castle.

Pro tip #2: If you are driving from Boston, combine the visit of the Hammond Castle Museum with a visit to Rockport, MA. Based on my experience, you can traverse the entirety of the Hammond Castle and its exterior grounds in about one and a half to two hours, leaving plenty of options to continue your day trip further up the Massachusetts coast into Rockport. Rockport is only 7 miles away on State Route MA-127 from the Hammond Castle Museum.

Pro tip #3: During the months of July and August, Hammond Castle Museum hosts the "Thursday Night Candlelight Tours." With your general admission ticket, you can be guided by candlelight at either 6PM, 7PM, and 8PM on Thursday evenings. The guides will show you the rooms the Hammond frequented and tell stories about how John Hays Hammond Jr. and his wife, Irene Fenton Hammond, enjoyed their many years living in the castle.

Admission Fees

Adults $12.
Senior Citizens (65 yrs +) $10.
Children (ages 6 to 12) $9.


80 Hesperus Ave
Gloucester, MA 01930

Exploring the Town of Rockport, MA

The small town of Rockport, Massachusetts is located about 40 miles (64 km) northeast of Boston at the tip of the Cape Ann peninsula. This charming New England town has a population of less than seven thousand but invites tens of thousands of tourists from the United States, Canada, and other parts of the world every year.

Main Street and Bearskin Neck

Rockport, MA is surrounded on three sides by water. The main street going through town, called Bearskin Neck, has dozens of quaint shops. Bearskin Neck is named after a legendary skirmish between man and beast, in which a menacing bear was slain and skinned with a knife. 

There are plenty of seafood restaurants in the vicinity, including the famous Roy Moore Lobster Company (I recommend getting the lobster roll here. There are actually two locations in Rockport: Roy Moore's Fish Shack is at 21 Dock Square, Rockport, MA 01966; Roy Moore Lobster Company is at 39 Bearskin Neck, Rockport, MA 01966).

Photos from my visit to the fishing village of Rockport, MA are below.

Rockport, MA preparing for the Independence Day celebration. 

Views of flowers on Main Street, Rockport.

A storefront with flowers and glassware for sale.

A gravel-lined walkway to a gallery on Bearskin Neck in Rockport, MA.

View of the main street in Rockport, MA: Bearskin Neck. 

With street names like "Tuna Wharf," you know you've made it to a fishing village.

One of the many galleries in Rockport, MA.

Helmut's Strudel in Rockport, MA. The delicious smells wafting out of this quaint shop were hard to resist!

An entrance to a store on Bearskin Neck.

Flowers in Rockport, MA.

Ladders and flowers.

The summer months are interesting in the New England area: weather can fluctuate rapidly. On this particular day, the day began with rainfall and was cloudy throughout the morning. However, by mid-day, the sun was shining bright. 

Cloudy morning.

Exploring the Headlands in Rockport, MA

One of the must-see detours in Rockport, MA is a walk along an area known as the Headlands. The Headlands are outcroppings of rock on the other side of the town, allowing you to take in beautiful views of the town.

To get to the Headlands from Bearskin Neck (Main Road), walk south on Mt. Pleasant Street and then turn left on Atlantic Avenue. (NOTE: Atlantic Avenue is a one-way road, so if you drive to the Headlands, take the next street south, Norwood Avenue and then look for parking on Old Garden Road near Old Garden Landing).  If you are walking on Atlantic Avenue, there will be a sign marking the trail to the Headlands from the last house on the street on Atlantic Avenue.

Map of Rockport, MA. To get to the Headlands (blue icon on the upper right), walk from Bearskin Neck via Pt. Pleasant Avenue and Atlantic Avenue. There will be a sign marking the trail to the Headlands from the last house on the street on Atlantic Avenue.

A few photos from the Headlands exploration are below.

Detail from a house on Atlantic Avenue. I suppose one of the men working for Rockport's Fire Department lives here.

Approaching the Headlands on Atlantic Avenue in Rockport, MA.

Rockport, MA as seen from the highest point in the Headlands.

Waves crashing on the rocks in the Headlands.

Enjoying the views at the Headlands in Rockport, MA.

Native daisies growing near the Headlands in Rockport, MA.

Wider view of the Atlantic Ocean and native daisies growing in Rockport, MA.

Old Garden Landing and Old Garden Beach

If you continue southeast from the Headlands, eventually you will approach Old Garden Landing and Old Garden Beach, a small sand and stone beach with an adjacent municipal park. This area offers an expansive view over Sandy Bay. There is a cozy grassy area at the Old Garden Landing and there are picnic  tables to enjoy a breakfast or a picnic lunch.

Views from Old Garden Beach in Rockport, MA.

Views from Old Garden Beach toward the center of Rockport, MA.

A view of Rockport, MA in the distance from the Old Garden Landing.

Walking in Rockport, MA

Rockport, MA is quite wonderful to epxlore by foot. From the Old Garden Beach, I took some of the other streets in town to get back. I took Harraden Avenue, Clark Avenue, and Norwood Avenue to get back into town center.

A few photos from that stroll are below.

One of the houses seen in Rockport, MA.

Another house seen in the "suburbs" of Rockport, MA. The patio overlooks the Atlantic Ocean.

By mid-afternoon, the sun was shining bright and this mailman was feeling the heat.

Harbor Views and Motif Number 1 in Rockport, MA

One of the most interesting facts about Rockport, MA is the structure known as Motif Number 1. Located on Bradley Wharf in Rockport, this structure is a replica of a former fishing shack well known to students of art and art history as "the most often-painted building in America." Motif Number 1 was built in the 1840s during the time that Rockport, MA was becoming a home to a colony of artists in the area. This shack (or barn, if you want to call it that) became a favorite subject of painters because of its favorable composition against the water. Motif Number 1 endures as a symbol of maritime life.

As for how Motif Number 1 got its name? Legend has it that the name is derived from an impulsive exclamation by the painter Lester Hornby. During his summer seasons in Rockport, Hornby noted that many art students chose the dilapidated shed on the edge of the inner harbor. Its prominence and its simple but interesting proportions made it a natural model for sketches and paintings, good and bad. One day when a student brought for criticism a pencil drawing of the house, Hornby exclaimed, "What! Motif No 1 again!" It has been called that ever since.

The original Motif Number 1 was built in 1840 but destroyed in the great blizzard of 1978. However, the structure was rebuilt in the same year. Today, Rockport takes pride that Motif Number 1 is the most painted building in the world.

Fun fact: in the animated film Finding Nemo, the dentist's office has a picture of Motif Number 1 hanging on the wall (see screenshot I captured from the film here), a tribute by director Andrew Stanton to his hometown of Rockport, MA.

Harbor views from Motif Number 1.

Motif Number 1 in Rockport, MA.

Harbor view with Motif Number 1 in the background. Motif Number 1 is known as the most painted building in the world.

A shed directly across from Motif Number 1 reminds you that you're in a fishing village.

Rockport, MA is definitely worth visiting on a day-trip from the Boston area. The pedestrian friendly streets, plenty of shops and restaurants, and gorgeous views have something for everyone. If you don't want to drive, there is always the option of taking the commuter rail from Boston's North Station. Rockport is the last stop on the Rockport line.