- Saturday, May 16, 4 pm: Roseanne Montillo, “The Wilderness of Ruin: A Tale of Madness, Boston’s Great Fire and the Hunt for America’s Youngest Serial Killer”
In the early 1870s, local children begin disappearing from the working-class neighborhoods of Boston. Several return home bloody and bruised after being tortured, while others never come back.. With the city on edge, authorities believe the abductions are the handiwork of a psychopath, until they discover that their killer—fourteen-year-old Jesse Pomeroy—is barely older than his victims. The criminal investigation that follows sparks a debate among the world’s most revered medical minds, and will have a decades-long impact on the judicial system and medical consciousness.
“The Wilderness of Ruin” is a riveting tale of gruesome murder and depravity. At its heart is Gilded Age Boston , divided by class—a chasm that widens in the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1872, and the genteel cobblestone streets of Beacon Hill to the squalid, overcrowded tenements of Southie. .. Here, too, is the writer Herman Melville. Enthralled by the child killer’s case, he enlists physician Oliver Wendell Holmes to help him understand how it might relate to his own mental instability.
- Thursday, June 5: Lecture, 7 pm: Author Thomas Healy discusses his book “The Great Dissent: How Oliver Wendell Holmes Changed His Mind—and Changed the History of Free Speech in America”
No right seems more fundamental to American public life than freedom of speech. Yet well into the twentieth century, that freedom was still an unfulfilled promise, with Americans regularly imprisoned merely for speaking out against government policies. Indeed, free speech as we know it comes less from the First Amendment than from a most unexpected source: Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. A lifelong skeptic, he disdained all individual rights, including the right to express one’s political views. But in 1919, it was Holmes who wrote a dissenting opinion that would become the canonical affirmation of free speech in the United States.Why did Holmes change his mind? That question has puzzled historians for almost a century. Now, with the aid of newly discovered letters and confidential memos, law professor Thomas Healy reconstructs in vivid detail Holmes’s journey from free-speech opponent to First Amendment hero. It is the story of a remarkable behind-the-scenes campaign by a group of progressives to bring a legal icon around to their way of thinking—and a deeply touching human narrative of an old man saved from loneliness and despair by a few unlikely young friends.