Tattooing Over The Tasty

As promised, today we’ll take you upstairs above The Tasty restaurant, to the shop where first Frank and then Lefty Liberty plied needle and ink from the golden wartime years to tattooing’s untimely death in 1962.

During WWII Frank Liberty moved his business from 16 Cambridge Street to 49 Scollay Square, above The Tasty, a popular burger joint.  In 1948 his brother Lefty took over the space, renaming it The Scollay Tattoo Shop.  He worked there until the state ban on tattooing and the imminent demolition of the neighborhood forced him out.  Lefty’s struggle to make a living as the Square emptied of life is powerfully captured in this late photograph of his shop doorway.  “STILL IN BUSINESS” appears on a makeshift sign; someone has written the same appeal with a finger in the dust of the door’s glass.

  Lefty Liberty's Tattoo Shop at 49 Scollay Square, Boston, March 18, 1962. Courtesy of the Bostonian Society

 Lefty Liberty's Tattoo Shop at 49 Scollay Square, Boston, March 18, 1962. Courtesy of the Bostonian Society

We are fortunate that Lefty Liberty, a meticulous record keeper, repurposed an outdated Shepard’s Diary to tally his earnings—and to jot occasional terse, journal-like notes.

 
 Lefty Liberty's Account Book
 

In his last days at 49 Scollay Square, Lefty expresses the anxiety and sense of loss he feels in a few hasty, penciled lines.  He works six days during the week of April 16, 1962, tattooing a total of only 17 clients—no one at all on Wednesday.  (“Business is bad during Holy Week,” he reminds himself).  And then, in sprawling, heavy script down the center of the page, he writes, “Closed up.  Moved out.  Out of business.  1962.”

 A Page from Lefty Liberty's Account Book, Boston, 1962

A Page from Lefty Liberty's Account Book, Boston, 1962

Before we end this post, let’s visit happier times at The Scollay Tattoo Shop. In a photograph from the mid-1950s, Lefty can be seen at the window, taking in the action from his perch above The Tasty.  The restaurant’s marquee trumpets “hot frankfurts”, coffee, “tonics”, pastry and hamburgers.  You can imagine the buzz of Lefty’s tattoo machine blending with the murmur of late-night diners, the faint clatter of plates rising above the hum now and then. Those were the good old days of tattooing in Boston. 

 
 Lefty Liberty's Tattoo Shop at 49 Scollay Square, Boston, ca. 1955

Lefty Liberty's Tattoo Shop at 49 Scollay Square, Boston, ca. 1955