Thursday, July 12, 2007

His Honor the Mayor

The mayor of Kenmore Square has passed on.
I don't know if your city is the kind that will write an obituary for one of its street people, who died in an accident, but Boston is.

This is Harold Madison Jr, known in my circles as the Mayor of Kenmore Square. When our lives centered around Kenmore, and the 57 Limited was my ride home, he was a landmark. Usually outside the Rathskellar, but even after the Rat and Narcissus and Charlie's Cheeseburger King were things only Emersonians of a certain age could talk about, the Mayor stayed.

He had 2 heralds with him, like Shakespearean clowns, who called themselves the Mixed Nuts. They played imaginary music on cardboard guitars. I don't know if they were really in the Mayor's crew, or if there is a territorial understanding among those who live on the streets.

When I moved to Boston 20 years ago, "the homeless" were the "global warming" of their day. And Boston had some colorful characters. After decades of instutionalizing everyone that didn't fit in, Massachusetts had decriminalized mental illness, and deinstitutionalized those not considered dangerous.

Some side reading on that: State Boys' Rebellion, Gracefully Insane, The Eye of Danvers, Girl, Interrupted.

Kenmore Square was a haunt for the garden variety drunk, addicted, and marginalized. Runaways went to Harvard Square, schizophrenics hovered around the Common, and veterans Downtown Crossing or Berkeley St. An old friend (we'll call her Alex Pfenning for the informed) once said, about a guy who rode a tricycle (full-size) down Mass Ave shouting at the top of his lungs that he probably just had a raging ear infection and a dose of vitamins might clear him right up. She was always the most compassionate person I ever met.

So the Mayor hit a bump on a scooter and didn't survive the fall. Thirty Boston winters, 30 thousand baseball games, the gentrification of the block, and a near knife-fight that I myself was an arm's length from didn't take him down.

So it just goes to show you. I don't know what, exactly, except that you can't tell who'll make the news and who won't.

Thanks to W, the last Bostonian I know, who sent me the story.


  1. I read the Globe article That one man's life had touched so many was really touching. I went on to read all of the notes left on the "obituary page" that the Globe now has.

    It was a look into the past - so many people wrote from all over the US - people who had attended college in Boston and had seen the Mayor everyday on their way to class. There must be a lesson there somewhere - not sure what it is - but I found myself wishing that I had stopped to talk with him when I saw him. The write up mentioned that his family knew where he was - and tried to help but Harold liked his way of life and didn;t want to leave the city streets.

    I have an argument with myself every time I am aproached for change... "what you do to the least of my brothers" - when I walk by and do not have any change on me or just decide not to give him or her anything... I always feel that I failed a test.

    RIP Harold.


  2. I recommend Grand Central Winter. It is an interesting and emotional account of homelessness. ~SJL


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