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This Day in Boston History

June 20th, 1961

Howard Theater Burns

On this day, a three alarm fire gutted Scollay Square's Old Howard Theater. Though never proven, the fire was widely suspected to be arson, sponsored by interests who wanted the Old Howard cleared for the creation of government center.

Ironically the heart of Boston's burlesque scene began its life as a church for the apocalyptic Millerites. When the world didn't end as predicted, some of the parishioners rented the building as a theater. It became a private athenaeum for performing arts, then a public vaudeville venue, hosting the like of W.C. Fields, Abbott and Costello, Fannie Brice and Phil Silvers.

Legions of college students and service men filled the Howard as it began to feature exotic dancing. Even theater scholar Francis W. Hatch mourned the Howard's passing, as Scollay Square gave way to Government Center.


England's Prime Minister never expected this tea tax to cause an outcry, let alone revolution. In 1767, England reduced its property taxes at home. To balance the national budget they needed to find a mechanism for the American colonies to pay for the expense of stationing officials in them. The officials would generate their own revenue by collecting taxes on all imported goods, and once paid affixing stamps on them. This Stamp Tax generated more in the way of protests and smuggling than added revenue.

Religion. Politics. Rebellion. Boston’s pedigree was forged back in England in the midst of religious dissension, where Puritans and Pilgrims sought religious reform, and Cavaliers and Roundheads vied for political power. The question isn't where did Boston get its name – but how.

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