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The heist that left Beacon Hill reeling

Something fishy: State Police detective with the Cod.Something fishy: State Police detective with recovered Cod.

Late in the evening on April 26, 1933, a call came into the State House press room - the Sacred Cod was gone. The reporter who took the call at first thought it was just a joke, but he alerted security guards, who checked the House of Representatives. And sure enough, the 4'11 pine carving of a cod, which had overseen legislative affairs since 1784, was missing. As the Globe reported at the time:

State detectives, Boston police and State House guards combined in a frenzied but fruitless search for the emblem. Where the emblem hung were two wires, but no replica of the cod.

Th next morning, anxious representatives, bereft of their guiding fins, poured over lawbooks looking for the harshest possible sentences for the ne'er-do-wells.

After some initial red herrings, suspicion soon centered across the river, on Harvard, in part because witnesses recalled seeing a couple of suspicious, well dressed young men wandering around the State House with a very long box not long before the Cod went missing. A Harvard Lampoon writer was briefly detained at Newark Airport on suspicion he knew something about the heist - police concluded he didn't. Lampoon editors never cracked, but they remain the best suspects in which officials concluded was part of its interminable wars with the staff of the Harvard Crimson.

A couple of nights later, Charles Apted, superintendent of caretakers at Harvard, got a call advising him there'd be something interesting for him by Chestnut Hill Reservoir. He got in his car and quickly drove over - where he spotted a car with no license plates on Lake Street that took off as soon as he arrived. He gave chase and somewhere on the West Roxbury Parkway, managed to overtake the car. Two guys got out, gave him the Cod, then sped away.

He delivered the Cod to State Police detectives, who, after assessing the fish for damage (and three of its six fins were nicked), brought it back to the State House - where workers re-installed it, but six inches higher up, in the hopes that if anybody tried taking it again, they'd be more noticeable because they'd need a stepladder.

Read more at the Museum of Hoaxes.

The theft was actually the second cod-related event to embroil the commonwealth in five years. In 1928, the Registry of Motor Vehicles released new license plates that, for the first time, featured a symbol: The cod, of course (it beat out a beanpot and, for some reason, a boot -- Update: See the comments on why a boot). The registry was forced to take the fish off plates the very next year, however. Today, the Registry admits:

The image, which resembled an oversized guppy more than a codfish, sparked controversy among local fishermen. After suffering one of the worst years in fishing history, the fishermen blamed the RMV for representing the cod swimming away from the word "Massachusetts" which was printed on the plates. The controversial image was removed from passenger plates in 1929 and a more realistic and detailed codfish shown swimming toward Massachusetts appeared on truck plates in that same year.

Registry worker with the controversial cod plate.Registry worker with the controversial cod plate.

Photos from the BPL's Leslie Jones collection. Posted under this Creative Commons license.

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That's a wonderful yarn, Adam.

The cod, of course (it beat out a beanpot and, for some reason, a boot).

There's a very good reason, actually. By 1929, the cod and the beanpot were historical symbols. Massachusetts, on the other hand, was the footwear-manufacturing capital of the world. The boot-and-shoe industry produced some $300 million worth of goods that year, about 9% of the state's total industrial output. Only textiles came close. The industry directly employed more than 40,000, and dominated a number of important cities and towns.

The cod makes a better license plate, but the boot would've been a more accurate symbol.

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Of course, shoewear - I should know that, having once covered Natick, home of the Natick Cobbler, Henry Wilson, and all.

Brockton Shoe Museum.

Jews in the Shoe Factories of Lynn.

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I forgot about Mass's role in footware making. And of course Mass is home to United Shoe. Now known more for its building in downtown Boston then its role in manufacturing.


Not easy to find good stuff on it with a quick google search.

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Which actually built what a lot of us still know as the "Polaroid" building on Memorial Drive. in Cambridge (where my father-in-law once worked on developing new shoe adhesives).

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And now you've taught me something new, in turn. BB Chemical? I'd had no idea. Thanks, Adam.

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This is one of those times when I think to myself, "that adamg has the best job in the world." Then I'm snapped back to reality by reading some anon's comment.

Anyway, thanks for posting this - it was a nice way to begin a Tuesday.

I had to think hard for a second when I read the part about something interesting being near the Chestnut Hill Reservoir and on Lake Street. It took me a minute to realize that this was before the Lawrence Basin part of the Reservoir became the lower campus of BC - and of course Lake St. would have run right over to the northern shore of that basin.

On a totally different note, I worked with a SP Detective a few years ago that looks remarkably like the fellow in the picture - I wonder if its his grandfather.

Thanks again for posting this.

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I'm sure the detectives cast a pretty wide net, but in the end, what happened?

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Something is fishy here?

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