Longform’s Guide to the Boston Phoenix

Longform.org's guide to the greatest long articles ever written.
March 16 2013 8:00 AM

RIP, Boston Phoenix

Longform’s guide to the greatest hits of the late, great alt-weekly.

The Boston Phoenix.
The Boston Phoenix.

Courtesy of the Boston Phoenix.

Every weekend, Longform shares a collection of great stories from its archive with Slate. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform’s app to read the latest picks, plus features from dozens of other magazines, including Slate.

The end of The Phoenix, announced Thursday, hit us hard. We’ve been fans of the legendary Boston legendary weekly for a long time. (Some of us remember well that day in the late ‘90s when the paper went free.) The number of great writers that passed through The Phoenix—Susan Orlean, Jason Gay, David Denby, etc.—is remarkable.

We bid adieu to a great paper with a look back at some of its greatest stories.

Home for the Holidays
Chris Radant • November 1990

On heading home for Thanksgiving.

“Grazing began extra early on Thanksgiving morning. My brothers arrived with assorted girlfriends, wives and children. And there were fried eggs, pancakes, ‘crew-sonts,’ fudge cookies, and sticks of butter disguised as every manner of food. Mom made us go look at the long icicles coming off the corners of the shed. The kids bounced up and down. Dad recited in-flight emergency procedures. And on TV, the Johnny Mann Singers sang, ‘Y’gotta have heart,’ as only they can. Dad repeated his complaint about uncle Freddy repeating his stories. Mom told everyone about the oozing lesion of somebody we didn’t know. The question, ‘Is Disneyland more fun than Busch Gardens?’ was tossed out for debate. Dad went outside to look at the sky and missed Mom’s brief history of nasty gashes suffered in our family.”

The Strange Case of Audrey Santo
Ellen Barry • December 1997

A comatose from Worcester, Mass., is the catalyst for a string of miracles and becomes a tourist attraction.

"Her name is increasingly well known in the circle of people who follow miracles. ‘She's new. I think she just became popular in the last year or so,’ says Jim Drzymala, administrator of the ‘Apparitions of Jesus and Mary’ Web page. Those who can't jump the line by virtue of chronic disease take what ancillary contact they can get; once a year, on the anniversary of her near-drowning, Audrey is wheeled into a local church to receive the faithful. Last year, as Audrey lay in her tiara on a stretcher, this Mass attracted upward of 5000 people—a crowd so large, and so unexpected, that ‘the police could not respond appropriately,’ according to city councilor Wayne Griffin.

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“Every time the story appears, it ratchets up the level of public enthusiasm. Audrey's Life and The Story of Little Audrey Santo have become so popular that one fan recently asked Audrey's dermatologist, who appears in the video, for an autograph. Channel 7, which has run several spots on the phenomenon, has reported as many as 250 phone calls after a broadcast. And when the Boston Herald ran a story about Audrey last month, the accompanying photograph showed a plaque with a contact number for the Santo family friend and representative Mary Cormier. The story ran on a Monday. Over the next two days, according to Cormier, 700 people called that number.”

Seattle Was a Riot
Jason Gay • December 1999

What really happened at the World Trade Organization protests.

“Meanwhile, the police are watching. There are more than 500 police officers on the scene, most them arranged around the outskirts of the Washington Trade and Convention Center, where the majority of WTO events are scheduled to take place. Almost all of these officers are decked head to toe in black riot gear—helmets and gas masks and baseball-catcher-style knee pads and arm pads and chest protectors—and carry crowd-dispersal weapons such as pepper spray, tear gas, and rubber-pellet guns. At one intersection, a group mans a small armored vehicle nicknamed the ‘Peacemaker.’

“It's easy to see that a situation's developing. The protesters are everywhere; the delegates are shut out of their meetings; many of them, including the US representative to the WTO, Charlene Barshefsky, can't even get out of their hotels. What's more, the big protest—the labor march, with more than 30,000 people—hasn't even started yet. It's not even nine o'clock in the morning, and authorities are losing control of the city.

“Soon after, the tear gas comes. It's a surreal moment. When gassing first occurs, I'm standing about 100 yards from the intersection, and people near me pause and stare momentarily, as if they're not sure whether it's gas or a stray, low-flying cloud. It's almost as if the crowd is saying to itself: That didn't just happen in America in 1999, did it?

Cardinal Sin
Kristin Lombardi • March 2001

Cardinal Bernard Law knew as early as 1984 John Geoghan was molesting children. The priest would not be defrocked for 14 years.

“Law, a high-ranking official within the Catholic Church, is one of just eight cardinals in the United States. His boss is Pope John Paul II. As head of the fourth-largest diocese in the country, Law wields substantial power. He is a senior member of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB), a canonical body that makes high-level recommendations for the American Catholic hierarchy on pastoral practices, interreligious affairs, and government policy. One Boston attorney who handles clergy sexual-abuse cases says that ‘suing Law is almost like suing the pope.’

 “Still, those familiar with the scope of Geoghan’s behavior are surprised it’s taken so long for Law to face legal action. ‘This has been a dirty little secret the Church has desperately tried to keep quiet,’ charges Stephen Lyons, a Boston attorney. Lyons is best known for defending David and Ginger Twitchell, the Christian Science couple whose child died after receiving inadequate medical care. But he has earned national recognition for his legal work involving clergy sexual abuse. He has successfully litigated more than six lawsuits against the Boston archdiocese and other dioceses nationwide, and says he’s ‘well aware’ of evidence implicating the cardinal—evidence that he cannot reveal because of confidentiality orders. (Lyons has never handled a Geoghan case, nor has he handled a lawsuit against the cardinal.) ‘As far as I’m concerned,’ Lyons says, ‘it’s extraordinary Law hasn’t been named a defendant [in the Geoghan cases] before.’ ”

Did He Murder His Mother?
David S. Bernstein • April 2005

The jury made a mistake when it convicted Abdul Raheem.

“The state medical examiner was never allowed to enter the crime scene—another peculiar aspect of the investigation. That examiner, Alexander Chirkov, testified that he came to the crime scene the first evening and stood waiting outside the house for half an hour, but was sent away. Chirkov performed the autopsy at 10 a.m. the next morning in his lab, a delay, he testified, that denied him access to information that could have allowed him to pinpoint the time of death, and perhaps to discover other important information.

“Then, too, there was the loss of the rape kit. A rape kit, a standard part of an investigation of a female victim—especially a naked one—includes swabs from the body, material from beneath the fingernails, and other potential physical evidence. This was, in fact, the only potential source of DNA evidence taken from on or around the body. Yet detectives did not ask to have the kit processed for months, and when they finally did they found that it had been ‘accidentally destroyed’ at the office of the chief medical examiner (CME), according to a report submitted by Coleman. (Chirkov, who no longer works for the CME’s office, did not return calls from the Phoenix seeking comment.)”


A Weed Grows In Boston
Valerie Vande Panne • December 2009

What's a suburban soccer mom who was once fervently anti-drug doing running a business growing and selling pot?

“From the outside, we could have been on Wisteria Lane. But none of their neighbor's houses are visible through the trees that surround Mary and Joey's abode.

“We walk into a neat, clean, sparse home. There are no pit bulls, no guns, no security cameras. No henchmen, no gangsta rap blaring. No heavily tattooed and pierced punks or hippies. It is, in fact, the exact opposite: a quaint residence, quintessentially suburban, with a bowl of plastic fruit on the dining-room table, pictures of their happy family on the walls, house plants in the windows, and a bird feeder in the backyard. Smokey, the house cat, lolls in the living room.

“That living room has a few EZ chairs and a long, wrap-around couch — replete with built-in cup holders — where a ‘trimmer’ is stationed with a marijuana-filled TV tray. He's using a little pair of scissors to cut the leaves (the "trim") off the buds (the desirable part of the plant for sale to consumers). MTV's For the Love of Ray J plays quietly on the television. (‘In order to keep the trimmers trimming,’ she advises, noting how they can get easily distracted, ‘it has to be reality television. It can't be sports.’)

" ‘We pay our trimmers $20 an hour, plus food,’ explains Mary, gesturing to the composed laborer. ‘We can't offer them health insurance, though. Most of our trimmers are unemployed otherwise.’ One of them, it turns out, is a former chef who's had a hard time finding work in the global depression.”

The Trials of Nadia Naffe
Chris Faraone • February 2013

Naffe, a young Republican, entered the belly of the political beast—and was nearly eaten.

“After a long cruise through wooded Westwood, O’Keefe pulled up to Naffe’s accommodations for the night: a two-story barn on the property of an upscale suburban home. Naffe says details of their destination were not made clear on the ride, but it didn’t take long once they arrived for her to realize that she was inside Project Veritas headquarters. There were awards on the wall with O’Keefe’s engraved name on them; equipment from the RV in Los Angeles was set up on a desk. With contributions pouring in, O’Keefe had invested thousands on computers and surveillance equipment. His renovated barn was a full-service bunker for waging war against liberals.

“O’Keefe sat in his editing cockpit and began to play the NYU recordings. Strangely, Naffe says, there were also candles lit around the room. She sipped a beer, and asked again about O’Keefe’s grudge against Seife. She also asked when he planned to leave so she could have privacy. After the long train ride, she was eager to shower and get to bed early. But Naffe says O’Keefe made several excuses for why he needed to stay—to watch a football game, to use his ‘stuff.’ Then she turned her attention to a phone call with another guy, and the conversation flipped completely. O’Keefe stormed out, and peeled off. That’s when Naffe says that she began feeling woozy, as if she’d been drugged.”

Have a favorite piece that we missed? Leave the link in the comments or tweet it to @longform. For more great writing, check out Longform’s complete archive.

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