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Boston, Yesterday and Today

Patrick Kennedy time travels, using images as his vehicle

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Join Patrick Kennedy, lured to Boston’s storied history, in the slide show above.

No, Boston’s streets didn’t begin as paths trampled by wandering cows (topography dictated foot traffic, including those bringing Bessie to pasture). Yes, a city councilor recently proposed draping the iconic Citgo sign in an American flag (to protest Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez).

These are among nifty tidbits Boston native Patrick Kennedy (COM’04), an editor and writer at BU’s Creative Services, picked up while researching his new book Boston Then and Now (Thunder Bay Press). Released last month, Kennedy’s revised edition is part of the popular Then and Now series focusing primarily on America’s cities. The conceit is consistent: place historic images alongside contemporary shots from the same location. The effect is to give both photos a resonance, and context.

Kennedy, son of historian Lawrence Kennedy, looks beyond the tourist draws and includes some of Boston’s more, well, Bostony ’hoods — Dorchester, West Roxbury, Charlestown.

The Massachusetts capital got its start as a Puritan settlement in the 1630s, hosting John Winthrop and his followers on an isolated 500-acre peninsula made of glacial, gravelly hills deposited 10,000 years ago. By the late 17th century, Boston was the largest community in the American Colonies; after the American Revolution, the population tripled.

“New neighborhoods were laid out in grid patterns, but separately, and at different times and in varying sizes, surrounding the colonial-era central district,” Kennedy writes in his introduction. “That explains the apparently jumbled patchwork of streets that bedevils tourists and even locals today.”

Through 70 before-and-after images, each accompanied by historical (and often quirky) insights, Kennedy transports readers through key moments in Boston’s timeline; the influx of Irish immigrants fleeing the Great Famine in the 1840s, the annexation of bordering towns, the work of architect Charles Bullfinch and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, and in this generation, burying the Central Artery.

“Boston has a rare combination of vitality and innovation with a healthy sense of heritage and history,” Kennedy writes. “It is made up of thousands of daily decisions by — and interactions among — a more diverse and peaceable cross section of folk than the city often gets credit for. Bostonians work, study, drink, eat, root, and celebrate in different ways, but really, it’s not such a big town, and we’re all in it together.”

Patrick Kennedy will sign copies of Boston Then and Now at Cornwall’s, 654 Beacon St., on Friday, May 15, starting at 5:30 p.m. Copies are available at Barnes & Noble at BU, 660 Beacon St.

Caleb Daniloff can be reached at cdanilof@bu.edu.

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