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Is this Boston or Ireland?

January 22, 2009

We had the great, good fortune recently to stop for a few days at the Parker House, "the longest continuously operating hotel in the United States" located at the corner of Tremont and School Streets in Boston.

Guests enter a huge, magnificent lobby, a wonder to behold and it is the rich, physical beauty of the place that gets one at first sight but for history lovers, "you ain't seen nothin' yet".

The hotel was founded in 1855 by Harvey D. Parker and with the many changes over those 150 years the Omni Parker House now has 530 guest rooms and 21 suites where a $30 million restoration was completed in 2008.

Article Photos

The original Parker House, as illustrated on a hotel history brochure

A few years ago we stayed at the Old Ground Hotel in Ennis, County Clare, Ireland which was a 17th century manor house now with 82 rooms. A section of that hotel has also recently been restored adding the Brendan O'Regan and O'Connell suites.

The hospitality of the first people we met at the Parker House had us wondering if we were still in Ireland, starting with the charming Mary Devaney at the front desk. Then Seamus Murphy went out of his way to find us the anniversary book on the Parker House, by Susan Wilson, from which the following quotes and information is taken.

Dan McKenna sparked our interest in the history when he gave us a short spiel about the place. We had just emerged from breakfast at Parker's Restaurant (which included a couple of Parker House rolls) when Dan told us that John F. Kennedy proposed to Jacqueline Bouvier at Table 40 in that very restaurant.

More about Kennedy

"President Kennedy made his first public speech at the age of seven (which would have been in 1925, he was born May 29, 1917) in the Press Room while attending his grandfather Honey Fitzgerald's birthday party. He also announced his candidacy for U.S. Congress in that room and it is where he held his bachelor party."

Wait 'til you read this!

"Malcolm Little later known as Malcolm X, was a bus boy in Parker's Restaurant in the early 1940's. Ho Chi Minh was a pastry chef in Parker's kitchen from 1911-1913. The table that he worked on is still in the bakeshop."

The Saturday Club

"The Saturday Club, a group of the brightest luminaries in Americas Golden Age of Literature, made the Parker House its home. Here Longfellow drafted 'Paul Revere's Ride', the idea for the Atlantic Monthly was born, and Dickens gave his first American reading of 'A Christmas Carol'. Other members of the Saturday Club included poets Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Greenleaf Whittier, novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes."

At the official 150th Anniversary Day celebration there on Oct. 8, 2005, Mark Dickens, a great-great grandson of Charles Dickens gave a special reading of A Christmas Carol.

The Last Hurrah Bar

"The Last Hurrah Bar has been the gathering place for Boston's colorful political pantheon for close to 150 years. The bar takes its name from Edwin O'Connor's 1956 Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel 'The Last Hurrah', based on the frequent patron, James Michael Curley's picturesque career as a mayor of Boston, governor of Massachusetts, U.S. Congressman, and inmate at a federal penitentiary."

Other firsts

Not only did the first Parker House Rolls pop from the ovens of Parker's Restaurant but so did the first Boston Cream Pie. The rolls ingredients remained a secret until 1933 when Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt requested that the recipe be sent to them in Washington.

The word 'scrod' also originated at Parker's. Scrod is not a type of fish but is used simply to describe the best of the days catch.

School Street was named for America's first public school located there from 1645 to 1844.

A Few of the Famous Guests

Ben Affleck, Mohammed Ali, The Beach Boys, Jimmy Carter, Sarah Bernhardt, John Brown, Neville Chamberlain, Joan Crawford, John Wilkes Booth, James Dean, Ulysses S. Grant, The Grateful Dead, Judy Garland, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Bob Hope, William Jefferson Clinton, Harry Belafonte, Mary Todd Lincoln, John Kerry, Martin Luther King, Jr., Henry Cabot Lodge, Ricky Nelson, George McGovern, Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Orr, Jesse Owens, Yo-Yo Ma, Babe Ruth, Henry David Thoreau, Kathleen Turner, The Who, Ted Williams, Roger Wolcott and the list goes on and on

Now we are hoping that when the 300th Anniversary of the Parker House is celebrated the name of Saranac Lake Mayor Howard John Riley will be added to the list.

Students of United States history would have a leg up on the competition if they would begin their studies at the Omni Parker House in Boston.

Oh, one more note and this is for Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska.

When Harvey Parker bought the land to build the Parker House in 1854, Alaska belonged to Russia.



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