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Book Presentation: Inside the Combat Zone
Thursday, November 1, 2018 (6:00 PM – 7:45 PM)

The Friends of the Charlestown Branch of the Boston Public Library hosts a book presentation on Inside the Combat Zone: The Stripped Down Story of Boston's Most Notorious Neighborhood by author and reporter Stephanie Schorow.

In her provocative new book, Schorow recounts the stories that made the zone infamous and introduces the players and tragedies behind this audacious social experiment, heralded across the nation as the solution to the pornography epidemic. Free and open to all, including a book signing and reception.



TUESDAY, OCT. 30: Museum Event to Evoke Boston’s Combat Zone
Author Stephanie Schorow Will Share Lively Stories of Infamous District

For many today, Boston’s Combat Zone is the stuff of legends. Barely a trace of the former red-light district remains, which accounts for much of the endless fascination with the topic. The West End Museum aims to help satiate the public’s appetite for tales of the bygone adult playground.

On Tuesday, October 30, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., the Museum hosts an evening with Stephanie Schorow, author of “Inside The Combat Zone: The Stripped Down Story of Boston’s Most Notorious Neighborhood.” The FREE event will feature a book talk and signing plus a Q&A session. Books will be available for purchase, and light refreshments will be served. (Media note: Download Schorow, book cover and Old Howard photos here.)

“While some may question spending two years researching Boston’s X-rated neighborhood, the Combat Zone is undeniably a part of the city’s history. Its emergence as a haven for adult entertainment is inextricably tied to the destruction of Scollay Square,” Schorow said. “My research uncovered a host of colorful characters, from the stripper who derailed a potential presidential candidate to a former nun-turned-lawyer who defended porn merchants. So many Bostonians have memories of the Combat Zone – if they are willing to admit it.”

Scollay Square, which neighbored the West End, was home to The Old Howard Theater. Once a leading playhouse, The Howard turned to vaudeville and burlesque to reclaim dwindling audiences. Ultimately closed under indecency charges, a small fire thwarted a plan to return The Howard to its former glory. While damage to the building was contained, the city quickly moved to tear it down at height of urban renewal.

Converted into a business and government district, Scollay Square’s adult entertainment constituency found a new home in the Combat Zone near Chinatown. Numerous strip clubs, peep shows, X-rated movie theaters, and adult bookstores populated the area. When the Massachusetts courts declared the state’s obscenity laws unconstitutional in 1974, officials feared Boston would become a magnet for pornography. In an effort to confine “red-light” activity, the Boston Redevelopment Authority designated the Combat Zone as the city’s official adult entertainment district. Today, however, just a few adult establishments remain.

“The West End Museum is delighted to host author Stephanie Schorow,” said Museum Board Member Lois Ascher. “Her presentation will stir memories among those who recall Boston’s more salacious side and will entertain those who never experienced the broad swath of the city that has been completely transformed.”

About The West End Museum:
The West End Museum is dedicated to the collection, preservation, and interpretation of the history and culture of Boston’s West End neighborhood. The Museum’s permanent exhibit, “The Last Tenement,” highlights the immigrant history of the neighborhood through its decimation under Urban Renewal in the late 1950s. The main gallery features multiple rotating exhibits. The Museum is located near North Station. Its entrance is on Lomasney Way. Hours: Tuesday - Friday 12:00pm - 5:00pm; Saturday 11:00am - 4:00pm. Admission is free.

If you are interested in having me speak to your organization, school or community group about Boston's Combat Zone, Boston's drinking history, the Boston Harbor Islands, Boston fire history, the infamous Brink's robbery or a related topic, please email me at sschorow (at) comcast.net

Here's what I talk about:

Inside the Combat Zone: The Stripped Down Story of Boston’s most notorious neighborhood
Boston has always been known for its stiff character. So how did this great New England city become home to one of the largest and most notorious adult entertainment districts in the nation? In this talk based on two years of research, veteran reporter Stephanie Schorow teases out the issues that created this controversial neighborhood, giving voice to the players who sought to tame or profit from the sleaze snaking its way through Boston. At turns comic and tragic, Schorow introduces us to the politicians, exotic dancers, and wise guys, and residents brought together by the adult entertainment district—a five-acre neighborhood the city engineered to contain the very porno plague it wanted to eliminate. Meet the nun-turned-attorney who advocated for the First Amendment rights of adult bookstores, a dancer called “the thinking man’s stripper,” and Boston’s unofficial city censor. For these people and thousands of others, the Combat Zone is more than a memory—it was a life-altering adventure.

Drinking Boston: A historical pub crawl through the taverns, speakeasies and nightclubs of Boston.
From the drama of the "Blue Blazer" to the mystery of the "Ward 8," Stephanie serves up a cocktail of pop culture, history and anecdotes. Couple this with dinner and drinks and you'll have event that will have people talking. The talk covers Boston's drinking history, beginning in the Colonial period and continuing through Prohibition and into Boston's craft cocktail scene.

The Tragedy of the Cocoanut Grove Fire
This 1942 nightclub fire killed nearly 500 people and burned through the heart of Boston. Stephanie recounts the events that led to the fire, its investigation and its enduring mysteries. New information continues to come forward and Stephanie brings the latest to life. She also leaves time for people to share their stories of the Grove, making for a moving, interactive event.

The Boston Mob Guide: Hit Men, Hoodlums and Hideouts
With partner-in-crime Beverly Ford, Stephanie takes a walk on Boston's wild side with the bad boys of the Hub. The gals trace the history of organized crime in Boston from its roots in the 1910s and 1920s in Irish and Jewish neighborhoods to Whitey Bulger and his convictions. With photos, films and a “mobster flow sheet,” they talk about characters such as Frank “Cadillac Frank” Salemme, Joseph “The Animal” Barbozo, and the Angiulo family. With compassion for victims as well as intriguing details on the mobsters, Bev and Stephanie paint an indelible portrait of murder and mayhem in the Hub.

Fire! Boston Burning
Stephanie talks about fire history and how it shaped Boston, taking a walk down Boston’s “Fire Trail.” This includes the tale of the burning of the Urusline convent in Charlestown in the 1830s, the Broad Street Riots. and the invention of the first fire alarm system. We look at the conflagration that devastated Boston like a nuclear bomb: The 1872 Great Boston Fire Boston. And we examine the Cocoanut Grove fire of 1942. We hear about the history of the inferno and recent developments, including an upcoming documentary and an effort to better memorialize the site.

The Crime of the Century: The Brink's Job
In January of 1950, a band of misfit thieves broke into the Brink's armored car headquarters in Boston's North End and pulled off the largest robbery in U.S. history. The Crime of the Century went unsolved for six years and police only cracked the case when one of the robbers turned stool pigeon. Much of the money was never recovered. Stephanie uses historical images, FBI evidence, movie clips and humor to bring the story of the Brink's heist to life.

Girls Night Out -- 1891 Style
In July of 1891, four intrepid woman spent 10 days sojourning on Great Brewster Island in Boston Harbor. One kept a diary which provides a fascinating look into the lives of women in the 1890s as well as the history -- flora, fauna and bovine -- of the Harbor Islands. Stephanie plays detective, tracking elusive details from the illustrated diary and invites the audiences to be sleuths along with her.

To see videos of various presentations, go to the Works section of this Web site and click on one of the books listed. To schedule a lecture, please email me at sschorow (at) comcast (dot) net