Omni Parker House
Mention the name “Omni Parker House” and more than 160 years of rich and varied history comes to mind. Founded by Harvey D. Parker in 1855, the Omni Parker House is the oldest of Boston’s elegant inns and the longest continuously operating hotel in the United States. It was here where the brightest lights of America’s Golden Age of Literature — writers like Emerson, Hawthorne, Holmes, and Longfellow — regularly met for conversation and conviviality in the legendary nineteenth-century Saturday Club. Partly because of that literary connection, British novelist Charles Dickens made the Parker House home base during his final American reading tour in 1867-68 — a much heralded visit which featured his first American reading of “A Christmas Carol.”
The Parker House was where baseball greats like Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, and David Ortiz wined, dined, and unwound. And it was here, too, where generations of local, national, and world-renowned politicians and statesmen — including Ulysses S. Grant, James Michael Curley, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Colin Powell, William Jefferson Clinton, Nelson Mandela, and Barack Obama — assembled for private meetings, press conferences, and power breakfasts. For Jack Kennedy, it was actually a home-away-from-home, where he made his first bid for Congress (in the Press Room) and formally proposed to Jacqueline Bouvier (at Table 40 in Parker’s Restaurant).
With its close proximity to Boston’s Theater District, the Parker House also played an important role for thespians and popular personalities. Many of the nineteenth century’s finest actors stayed here, including Charlotte Cushman, Sarah Bernhardt, Edwin Booth, and the latter’s handsome, matinee-idol brother, John Wilkes (in April of 1865, John Wilkes Booth was seen dining here and practicing pistol stunts in the “shooting gallery” next door; eight days later, he assassinated President Lincoln in our nation’s capital). During the twentieth century, stars of stage, screen, and television expanded to include a list that ranged from Joan Crawford, Judy Garland, Bob Hope, Billie Jean King, and Muhammad Ali to Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Stevie Nicks, Kelsey Grammer, Ann-Margret, Yo-Yo Ma, and Rachael Ray. Most recently, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Kevin Bacon were spotted on site filming a pilot for “City on a Hill.”
The Parker House is perhaps best known for the contributions made by its cooking staff to American culinary culture. It was talented bakers and cooks here who invented the buttery Parker House Roll, developed the decadent Boston Cream Pie (the official state dessert of Massachusetts), coined the term “scrod,” and perfected many of the dishes we now associate with Boston and New England cuisine. Parker’s has also been the training ground for internationally-known chefs, with a kitchen and wait staff that once included Malcolm X, Ho Chi Minh, and Emeril Lagasse.
Lastly, of course, come the ghosts. Whether it’s founder Harvey Parker himself (watching over his guests on the tenth floor), Charles Dickens (invisibly calling the Number One elevator to the third floor), or any of dozens of alleged sightings, it’s all been claimed to have happened here.
All of which is just to say … You’re in good company at the Omni Parker House.
© 2018 by Susan Wilson - House Historian, The Omni Parker House