BOSTON — One character that’s expected to loom large in the trial of accused mobster James “Whitey” Bulger that begins this week is the neighborhood of South Boston itself.
The tight-knit community has changed dramatically from Bulger’s heyday.
For a closer look at how the Bulger trial is playing in South Boston, Morning Edition’s Bob Oakes spoke with Maureen Dahill, a fourth-generation South Bostonian, a one-time candidate for state Senate, and she runs the blog, Caught in Southie.
Maureen Dahill: A lot of times South Boston is synonymous with infamy, whether it’s “Whitey” Bulger or the busing in the 1970s. We take ownership of that; that’s part of who South Boston is, or was. But it’s a completely different South Boston now.
Bob Oakes: We’re standing outside what was Triple O’s, where “Whitey” ran a substantial part of the operation. And it looks so much different than it did back then. Now it’s a Japanese restaurant with flower boxes out front and it’s a much different place than it was back then in the big picture.
It was maybe a little bit of a step above a dive bar. You knew enough you didn’t go in there. That was where he had his office and did a lot of his meetings.
“Meetings,” that’s a nice way to put it. You think he’d recognize this place today?
I think he’d be surprised at how much it’s changed. He’s been gone for quite a while… Especially in the past five years, especially this area of South Boston has completely changed.
Across the street from where we’re standing, next to the Broadway T stop, used to be The Quiet Man, which was another legendary landmark in South Boston. It was a great bar/restaurant that had awesome steak tips, it was a staple — that’s now gone. It’s a huge condo building with the Starbucks across the street.
If you were away for 20, 25 years and you just were dropped in, you wouldn’t know where you were.
You wouldn’t know where you were. You absolutely wouldn’t know. Although, Anthony’s Pier 4 is still there. You might be like, “Oh! All right, that’s where I am.”
But, for the most part, all around the perimeter of South Boston is changing. The heart of the neighborhood is still very neighborhoody — you can still see kids outside playing street hockey on the street, there are families, things like that. But it’s only a matter of time before it slowly seeps into the neighborhood.
You grew up here, came of age in the 1980s. Did you see “Whitey” on the streets back then? What was it like?
You would see him. He didn’t hide. He was out in public and you would see him. But I didn’t run in the same circles as “Whitey,” thank goodness… You knew his car, and he would drive past.
Was it, “Oh! There’s ‘Whitey’ Bulger!”
Yep, there’s “Whitey.” Occasionally he might roll down the window and tell you, “Hey, kids, move it along.” So it was a pack of 20 to 30 teenagers hanging out on the corner.
So he was cleaning up the sidewalk of you rabble?
Of us Southie punks.
And that was just part of the daily living.
He was one of the people you just came in contact with living in the neighborhood, whether it was your local business owner or teacher or politician. He was part of the fiber of our neighborhood.
Is there that kind of culture now? When somebody drives down the street, can you say, “Oh, I know that person. He/she is X in organized crime or local crime”?
No, not so much anymore. You don’t really see that element anymore. There is not that “Oh, that’s so-and-so. He’s running illegal, whatever.” I think it’s nonexistent — or it’s really underground or under the radar, but it’s not as public as it was before.
There’s the old city lore that “Whitey” Bulger was very protective of his neighborhood. Do people still talk about that, whether or not it was true?
People talked more about “Whitey” when he was missing. It was more like, “Where is he? Is he alive? Is he dead? Was he an FBI informant? Is he in Europe?” And now that he’s caught, it’s almost as if that era is over and it’s kind of stopped. I know it’s back in the news again, but you don’t hear about it as much.
Do people here care about how the trial comes out?
Yeah, I think people definitely will be interested in it. It’s kind of the ending of the last chapter of the book — to see how it ends or what comes out, like what the FBI did know. There’s still a mystery within an enigma within a mystery of what exactly happened. How much did the FBI know? Are we going to find out those answers? I don’t know. Probably not.