SCHOOL STREET, BOSTON, SCENE OF THE EXPLOSION THAT WAS HEARD AROUND THE WORLD
"The shot that was heard around the world," was fired on the bridge between Lexington and Concord. Some shot! I hope to tell it was some shot! If the bullet had gone all the way around the world with the sound, the man who fired that shot would've been killed backwards by his own bullet. That's going some. Even for a Lucky Strike radio sketch. "Vas you dere, Charlie?" No, baron. I must admit I wasn't there. And nowhere near it.
That shot has no immediate relation to this story. It was fired away back. At the time when Paul Revere could still make his morning canters, minus the entourage of every city or town official from the North End to Lexington. At the time when the Dawes boys were still smoking their corn-cobs upside up. Instead of French briars upside down. And were filled them with tobacco that didn't come from the R. F. C.
But, if the shot that was heard around the world has no immediate relation to this story, it has a remote relation to it as a question of acoustic range. Because the explosion of what is known as my "financial bubble" was also heard around the world. It was recorded by every seismograph beneath the stratosphere. And it made history for School Street. The same as the shot made it for Lexington and Concord.
School Street is one of Boston's oldest landmarks. It has been there ever since houses were built on both sides of it. Until a few years, ago, it was short, narrow and congested. Now, it is still short. And congested.
But not quite so narrow, from the waist up. That is, toward Tremont Street. It has been widened. Pot-bellied politicians, in transit to and from the City Hall, couldn't get by without being squeezed. And there is nothing a politician hates more than being squeezed.
Once upon a while, School Street was famous. For its historical buildings. The Parker House, for instance. At the corner of Tremont Street. Noted for its Boston "Tea" parties. Past, but not remote. And present. But whereas tea was tea in the days gone by, it's just plain whiskey today. Or gin. Or both.
Ever since the demise of the old Copley Square Hotel and of brother Spraklin's regime, the Parker House has become the political headquarters of Greater Boston. All shades of Democrats and Republicans can be found there, in the various stages of ascent or descent. And in some awful combinations too.
Other venerable buildings in School Street are the little church, on the opposite corner from the Parker House, the Five-Cents Saving Bank, and last, but not least, the City Hall. I can't say much about the church. I don't know enough about it. I have never been in it. But it's sort of exclusive. Maybe, on account of its denomination. Like a $10,000 bill.
The Five-Cent Savings Bank is there and yet it isn't. It was there in my time. With a School Street frontage. Today, it's around the corner in Province Street. Someone said it moved there out of pure snobbery. On account of too much riff-raff across the street; where I had my office. The officials used to get heart failure regularly, watching the long line of people who were bringing to my office the savings they had just withdrawn from the bank. And they turned the building around and made it face the other way.
The City Hall is what it has always been. A bone of contention for the Democrats. It has been responsible for more caeserean inclusions in the democratic party than any other political plum. Usually, there are from a dozen to a score of candidates for the Mayor's job. Accordingly, the odds are from 1 to 11 to 1 to 19 in favor of the Democrats. The lone warrior is always the Republican candidate. He never fails to get his party nomination at the primaries. But he stands no more a chance than a snow ball in hades on election day.
Of course, now and then a miracle will happen. Ex-mayor Nichols made it. Once. But not on his own power. Nor the elephant's either. He just sprawled in on democratic roller skates. While the rest of the boys, those playful Irish youngsters, were having a free-for-all. And Dan was watching it with a satanic grin. But, outside of Nichols, the only other Republican who ever sat in the mayor's chair went in in disguise. A straddle of a baby elephant, camouflaged under a donkey's skin. At the tail end of a parade made up 50-50 of Demoblicans and Repucrats with a B.L. degree from 53 State Street.
As far back as my recollection goes, His Honor, now His Excellency James Michael Curley, has been the only chronic mayor Boston has ever had. He has been as unavoidable as the flu. As regular in his four-years as the Pharaohs' seven-lean-year cycles. But nobody begrudges him his regularity. In his own rough-and-tumble way, he has been a darned sight better mayor, a more likable chap, than some of his predecessors or successors. The only bad feature about him is his permanency. If he hangs on to the governor's office as long as he did hang on to the mayor's office, he'll have the boys on Beacon Hill praying for an earthquake. For any sort of calamity that may pry him loose from the gubernatorial throne.
If School Street was famous in the old days, it is positively notorious today. On account of recent events. The glory of its ancient buildings has almost faded away. Sight-seeing busses no longer stop before them. Not even before the City Hall. They go a little further down. Toward Washington Street, they pull up at the curb in front of a narrow doorway, between Posner's and Purcell's. At 27 School Street. The Niles Building.
In fact, they don't need to go any further to get their money's worth. For the Niles Building, in its modest simplicity, has a history. A past. A past with a thrill. But a greater thrill than it can derive from its associations with the Eben D. Jordan's estate. What's the history? The past? The guide of a tourist bus will tell you. He will point to the Niles Building with reverence. Listen to him.
"This is the Niles Building, ladies and gentlemen," he will megaphone to his audience. "The baby mint which has coined more money for the New England folks than all of the national recovery acts put together. The building which has seen more real dough than the Ward System of Bakeries. The building which has given more heartaches to the boys of State Street and Federal Street than the panic of January and February 1933.
"Gaze at that building, ladies and gentlemen, for there stands before your eyes the eighth wonder of the world. The former headquarters of Charlie Ponzi, the "Wizard" of finance who made $15,000,000 in nine months out of a six-cent coupon. Just think of it, ladies and gentlemen! Fifteen millions of golden simoleons! More money than you or I can ever hope to see! Can you picture what the bambino could do for the forgotten man in these depression times with a lone thousand dollar bill, instead of a six-cent coupon? He could pay the national debt half a dozen times, even after this administration gets through piling it up. He could pay it without batting an eye and still have more money left over than all the Morgans, and the Rockefellers, and the Mellons and the Fords put together!
"Take one last look, ladies and gentlemen, and let us move on. I am feeling dizzy."
What the guide may tell the tourists does not explain, however, how I happened to locate in School Street. Not that it matters in the least. But it dove-tails with the story. Especially that, if I hadn't moved to School Street, I would have remained over the Tremont Trust Company, in Court Street. And brother Simon would have thrown one thousand and one fits at having me for a tenant.
This is what took place. It was Spring of 1919. Several months before, I had eased myself out of the job I had. Tired of working for expectations that didn't pay either my rent or my grocery bills. Tired of making money for my employers in general and none for myself.
I had a few dollars. Very few. Just enough to humor the family budget for a while. And I was undecided whether to get myself another job at $20 or $25 per, working for others, or shoot the works in a business venture of my own. But sound judgment did not prevail. I went and hired a room over the Puritan Trust Company. An inside room.
The room had a roll-top desk and an arm chair. It could have been called an office, if there had been any business attached to it. But there wasn't. All I used it for was to spend a few hours in privacy and concentration. Filling pads full of figures. Big figures. Something like Charlie Dawes' at the German Reparation Conference. Only mine dealt with dollars and cents. His with marks. Yes, easy marks.
It is hard to say whether my dollars and cents were actual. Or just mere hopes. But I know that by the time the building was taken over by the Tremont Trust Company, with an extensive plan of alterations, I had reached the conclusion that, if I was an asset to any employer, I was a greater asset to myself. Never figuring that I might be one of those assets which are spelled without the final "et". So, I took my pencils and pads, as the furniture did not belong to me, and moved into the Niles Building in School Street. There, I took possession of a dingy, little office on the fifth floor.
The necessary furniture and equipment, such as desks, chairs, typewriters, files and even a multigraph, came from instalment houses. Books, directories, etc., some from my house and some from secondhand book stores. I put in a phone. A supply of engraved stationery. And had a sign painted on the door serving notice to the world that Charles Ponzi was an exporter and importer.
That's how I happened to locate in School Street. Without premeditation. Without malice aforethought. Without any intention of snooping upon the boys across the alley from me. At the City Hall. And if from my windows I could look right into theirs, neither the Watch and Ward4, nor the Finance Commission had anything to do with the arrangement. For a wonder. Because those birds haven't missed a single sure bet yet. And they have been in the habit of digging up more dirt than a steam shovel.