From the Archives – The Great Birdbath Robbery

Bud Collins wrote the article excerpted below for the Monday, July 3, 1967 Boston Globe:

James Vorenberg, executive director of the National Crime Commission, warned the nation that crime in the streets is increasing – but he didn’t prepare Bostonians for the foulest deed of the decade: the Great Birdbath Robbery on Commonwealth av. (sic)

Two weeks have passed since the prized William the Conqueror antique granite basin was snatched – along with its pedestal – from a cement mooring in the sidewalk garden at 169 Commonwealth.  There are no clues, not even a ransom note, and the police are frantic.  Police Commissioner McNamara has tried to calm a terrified neighborhood, but flocks of dirty birds are screeching louder every day for relief.

Specs O’Keefe of the Brinks Gang was questioned, and had an alibi.  Teddy Green has been ruled out as a suspect because he was in Walpole the night of the robbery, and Raymond Patriarca can prove he was in Providence.  McNamara has instructed detectives to watch for a heistman with a hernia, since the birdbath weighs almost 200 pounds.

Shaken by his loss, the owner, Dr. William Macdonald, has issued a plea to the bath-lifters not to drop it.  He has also offered a $25 reward for the safe return of his feathered friends’ tub.

Dr. Macdonald, a skin specialist who raises roses redder than rashes in his small, handsome plot facing the Commonwealth Mall, is “saddened” to think that thieves would knock over his garden.  “It’s quite amazing,” said Dr. Macdonald, a short, sprightly man with a thin mustache whose garden is celebrated throughout Back Bay.” …

Within the 12-by-15 foot space between his house and the sidewalk, Dr. Macdonald has created such a splendid floral display. His arrangement of roses, coral bells, pansies, geraniums, a Japanese cherry tree, a yew and an Austrian pine won him first prize ribbons from the Back Bay Garden Club last year and this.

The place became Macdonald Springs to the flighty members of the wing set that came to take the waters.  Rising above the flowers, to about 30 inches, was their pool, a six-sided granite basin where finches, grackles, sparrows, pigeons and an occasional hummingbird gossiped and bathed.  It was L St. for birds.

“…this granite was from Caen, France, William the Conqueror’s hometown, and was brought over by him to England in 1066.” Why William would lug blocks of granite to England is a mystery.  Perhaps he envisioned a granite sink for himself to shave in.

Anyway Dr. Macdonald bought the basin for $100 and paid $60 more to have it shipped to Boston. The doctor has tended gardens all over the world, in his native Australia and in Egypt where he was stationed during World War I.

Today a Garden Club of the Back Bay magnolia tree enhances the front garden. The birdbath, we believe, was never recovered.