Musings: Isabella

By Dick Flavin
Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate
and New York Times Best Selling Author

ISABELLA AND THE RED SOX

Isabella loved the Sox.
She had her own seats, in a box.
She would root and cheer aloud
For Babe Ruth and his Red Sox crowd.
She loved base hits and pitching, too,
And home runs by that Fenway crew.
But one thing she did not embrace
Was when somebody stole a base.
“Stop that thief,” she’d always nag
when a player stole a bag.
She hated thefts was her disclaimer.
In retrospect, you couldn’t blame her.

A century ago Isabella Stewart Gardner was perhaps the grandest of the Grand Dames of
Boston Society. She was also perhaps the Boston Red Sox’ most prominent fan. And she
was a Red Sox neighbor, having built a palatial home, which also served as a museum for
her magnificent art collection, on the other side of the Fenway from where the team
played.
She, as Prince Phillip of England once said of the living quarters at Buckingham Palace,
“Lived over the store.”
She was one of Fenway Park’s first season ticket holders, and often took museum staffers
to games with her – whether or not they wanted to go. And she made her presence at the
ballpark known, cheering (or expressing her disappointment) lustily.
The splendid home/museum was christened “Fenway Court” (the name was changed
after her death in 1924 to The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum). Today some people
assume Mrs. Gardner chose the name to honor the ballpark across the way, but Fenway
Court was a well known destination for almost a decade before Fenway Park was built.
Following the Red Sox’ 1912 World Series victory over the New York Giants, Mrs. Jack,
as she was often called (despite the fact that her husband, John Lowell Gardner, Jr., had
passed on to that Great Art Museum in the Sky fourteen years before), scandalized the

upper crust of Boston sociiety, which in those days “veddy, veddy proper,” when she
arrived at Symphony Hall one evening dressed in a formal evening gown and a headband
on which were emblazoned the words, “Oh You Red Sox.”
She was a very serious art collector and a very serious Red Sox fan,
Perhaps the only Bostonian who was as famous a Red Sox fan as she was the mayor of
Boston, who was then John F. Fitzgerald, known to his constituents as Honey Fitz, the
unofficial leader of the Red Sox Royal Rooters.
As well known as they were back then, both his honor the mayor and Mrs. Jack were
destined to achieve even greater notoriety in death than in life. The mayor’s rise to
posthumous fame came when his grandson and namesake, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was
elected president of the United States, thus making Honey Fitz the grandfather of the
country’s most famous clan.
Isabella’s life after death, a prominence to which she certainly never aspired, came sixty
six years after she was dead and buried. On the night of March 18, 1990, thieves broke
into her former home, tied up the security guards, and made off with thirteen pieces of
art, the total value of which excceds five hundred million dollars. To this day, almost
three decades after the crime took place, it remains the greatest art heist in human history.
Needless to say, the brazen theft was an international sensation; it made headlines all
across the world. Isabella Stewart Gardner’s name was in lights once again – for all the
wrong reasons.
And the crime has never been solved!
Some people say they are pretty sure who did it and where the missing masterpieces are,
but this much we know for certain: they are not in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
In fact there are still empty frames hanging on the walls where once they hung. It is a
tribute to Mrs. Gardner’s mastery of art collecting that the place remains one of the great
museums, not just in Boston but in America.
Indeed, in a strange way the place is even more compelling because of what happened
there on that late winter night in 1990.
I personally believe that one day the paintings will be recovered and returned to their
rightful home on the Fenway. At least I fervently hope so.
But what I really want to know is this: Whatever happened to that “Oh You Red Sox”
headband?