The Jamaica Plain Historical Society (JPHS) recently bought a collection of nearly 1,000 photos of James Michael Curley, the late Boston mayor, Massachusetts governor and U.S. congressman who lived in Jamaica Plain.
Born in 1874, Curley became a powerful populist Democrat and led the era of rising Irish-American political influence in Boston. His involvement in corruption—including two fraud convictions—only seemed to boost his popularity. He served four terms as Boston’s mayor, among many other offices. He died in 1958.
The collection of photographic negatives, mostly from the defunct Boston American newspaper’s archives, covers the period of 1934 to 1958, according to JPHS President Gretchen Grozier. A man was selling the collection online, and JPHS member Charlie Rosenberg noticed it, she said.
“We wanted to keep [the collection] whole and available to the public, so we decided to purchase it. Luckily, Charlie talked the guy down, but it will still cost $2,500,” Grozier said. That cost is a third of the group’s annual budget.
JPHS has not yet determined where the seller got the photos. Each has date and event information, and some of them even have accompanying articles.
A JPHS volunteer will shortly begin the “long work” of storing the negatives in archival, acid-free sheets. JPHS is also coordinating with the Boston Public Library to digitize the images and build a full catalog, Grozier said.
A Wentworth Institute of Technology class that has been working on a full-scale digital scan of Curley’s former house at 350 Jamaicaway will exhibit next month at City Hall and will likely use one or two of the images, Grozier said.
“Which is exactly why we purchased the pictures,” she said.
The City-owned house is currently in limbo. A friends group has a plan to turn it into a museum, but legal restrictions on the property’s use have stymied it.
But Curley’s stepson, Richard Dennis, the head of the Curley House Friends group, has already touched based with JPHS, and according to Grozier, is “eager to see this new collection become part of whatever exhibits go in there.”
The JPHS is accepting donations to help defray the expense of the pictures in the form of membership fees at its website, jphs.org/membership.