In search of Boston’s ‘Reverse the Curse’ Red Sox road sign

For 86 years, a pall settled over New England as the local baseball team endured a Sisyphean struggle against karmic forces to win a solitary world championship. That team, the bedevilled Boston Red Sox, found increasingly innovative ways to crush the spirit of its diehard fans, whose zeal was unmatched in professional sports. Supposedly cursed by the ancient sale of Babe Ruth, the greatest ballplayer who ever lived, Boston baseball became a heartbreaking ordeal, and the psyche of loyal rooters – parochial and paranoid, tentative and terrified, haunted and hopeful – was pockmarked accordingly.

For decades, a physical manifestation of that yearning – that facetious optimism doused in tempted fate – lurked on the Longfellow Bridge, a main artery between Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts. There, above the bustling westbound lanes of Storrow Drive, just off Embankment Road, a couple of miles from Fenway Park, hung a relatively innocuous road sign. REVERSE CURVE, it read, warning harried drivers of a perilous bend. Except, well, it rarely carried that intended message, because determined graffiti artists repeatedly amended the sign with spray paint. REVERSE THE CURSE, it typically read – a looming reference to the Red Sox’ drought and their hapless quest to end it.

Millions drove past the REVERSE THE CURSE sign on Storrow Drive. Photos of it are regurgitated ad nauseam in books and documentaries celebrating the 2004 Red Sox, who so famously won it all and vanquished those stubborn ghosts. If you mention the sign to Bostonians of a certain age, they will smile wistfully. Yet beside those faded memories and sepia-tinged collages, shockingly little is known about the sign itself. Sure, we know its nostalgia-drenched mythology, but tangible facts are few and far between. Who vandalised the sign? What happened to it after the Red Sox finally won? Where is it now? I wanted to find out, and so I began to explore.

History of the ‘Reverse the Curse’ Red Sox road sign on Storrow Drive, Boston

As with any esoteric urban legend, the genesis of Boston’s REVERSE THE CURSE sign is exceedingly vague. However, the clearest origin story was provided by Getty Images when the sign was removed in 2004. According to Getty, the sign had been in place for ‘about 50 years’ by that point, which jives with Massachusetts’ shift from button-copy signs (green with white font) to reflective alternatives (yellow with pictographs) in the early-1970s.

When the sign was first doctored is similarly unclear. Getty offers a strangely specific genesis, saying the sign had been vandalised ‘for the last 33 years’ – placing its first adjustment around 1971. Meanwhile, Faithful to Fenway, a reputable book by Michael Borer, points to the early-1990s for initial tampering. Anecdotally, that seems logical, given the Red Sox’ ghoulish collapse in the 1986 World Series and the subsequent uptick in curse-related tchotchke. Dan Shaughnessy published The Curse of the Bambino, his definitive treatise, in 1990, and Boston’s supposed hex was subsumed into the zeitgeist.

So much so, daring Red Sox fans – or nondescript ‘students,’ per this SEC piece – repeatedly risked life and limb to adapt the REVERSE CURVE sign. Indeed, outside Boston, few people are aware that multiple versions of the iconic sign existed over the years. For decades, in fact, Boston’s Metropolitan District Commission replaced the sign whenever it was defaced. To that end, a quick Google Image search reveals several unique versions of the graffiti – some hoodlums squeezing THE between REVERSE and CURVE, while others used a caret.

Regardless of provenance and iteration, the sign – and the drought that inspired it – earned an indelible place in Red Sox folklore. “This curse thing has really entered the New England stream of consciousness,” wrote horrormeister Stephen King, a major Red Sox fan, in Faithful, his diary of the 2004 season shared with Stewart O’Nan. “It’s right up there with the Salem witch trials and Maine lobstah, up there to the point where some wit with a spray can (or tortured sports fan/artist, take your choice) has turned a traffic sign reading REVERSE CURVE on Storrow Drive into one reading REVERSE THE CURSE. Of course, you and I know the so-called Curse of the Bambino is about as real as the so-called Books of Mormon, supposedly discovered in a cave and read with the help of ‘magic peekin’ stones,’ but like all those Mormons, I kind of believe in spite of the thing’s patent absurdity.”

In April 2004, one month after King penned that entry, the REVERSE CURVE sign was once again replaced by obstinate city officials. On that occasion, the fiasco even earned a write-up in the Boston Globe, such was its cultural cut-through. Mac Daniels, the intrepid reporter given the thankless task of covering a singular road sign in a vast metropolis, even contacted the Department of Conservation and Reservation (DCR), freshly responsible for such municipal matters, seeking information. Incredibly, the DCR replied – and in vivid terms.

Only in Boston.

"Being lifelong Red Sox fans, we at DCR appreciate `Reverse the Curse' artistry,” read the vibrant response. “But isn't it part of the curse now, since it didn't work? Any baseball player will tell you that if a superstition-based action doesn't get you the results you're looking for, you try a different one – that's why their hair gets long, then short, then beards, then not. In light of the sensitive nature of this problem, we are considering the following options: 1) Keep the current sign and continue to correct the sign each time it is altered. 2) Remove the old sign because it hasn't broken the curse yet and may in fact be contributing to its continuance. Install a new sign of the MUTCD type – yellow diamond with pictograph. 3) Remove the old sign, find the legacy MDC employees who installed it, and have them present it to the Red Sox as a means of breaking the curse."

With that, the DCR gave Red Sox fans the power to decide their road sign fate. “We’ve been told by the department’s folks that you get to decide,” concluded Daniel. “Write to us at the address below and we'll tabulate the results. Please label the subject of your emails: CURSE.”

Again, only in Boston. 

I struggled to find any follow-up piece from Daniel, but the sign was replaced at least once more during the 2004 season – most likely in August, according to Getty. On that occasion, those responsible even left their initials – PK, KC, TT – in the sign’s top left corner, teasing interested parties to follow the breadcrumbs. I did, two decades later, scouring every online link to Bostonian graffiti artist tags, but sadly drew a blank while trying to attribute the urban masterpiece.

Mitt Romney removed the ‘Reverse the Curse’ road sign

When the Red Sox clinched their long-awaited grail a few months later, on 27 October 2004, sweeping the St Louis Cardinals in an anticlimactic World Series, a ceremony was hastily arranged to remove the sign the following day. Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney orchestrated the stunt, donning Red Sox garb to win the #optics. By that point, somebody had already added a D to the end of REVERSE, triumphantly declaring that Boston had REVERSED THE CURSE. Another mysterious initial – SDRM – was also added. They move quickly in New England.

“Governor Mitt Romney was perched in the bucket of a cherry picker on Storrow Drive, wielding a torch to remove the REVERSE CURVE sign from the overpass,” wrote Shaughnessy in Reversing the Curse, his conciliatory sequel. “Years earlier, pranksters had spray-painted the sign to read REVERSE THE CURSE, and likeminded officials let the graffiti stay. It had become something of an inadvertent civic landmark, like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. With the Curse officially reversed, the governor seized the moment, stalling traffic for a phony photo op. The historic green beam was removed, and the governor promised it would be auctioned off, with all proceeds going to charity.”

On 31 October 2004, a few days after the contrived sign removal, Daniel returned to his favourite niche topic in the Globe:

“Ambulances were delayed, business people missed appointments, and stress levels jumped, all for a photo opportunity. Worst of all, Romney came to Storrow Drive, ceremoniously wielded a welding torch, and took down the now infamous and beloved Reverse Curve sign, which had long been altered by graffiti artists to read ‘Reverse the Curse.’ It's gone, folks. While Red Sox fever is widespread and the Curse is over for good, we have to wonder about the wisdom of staging an event that closed two lanes of Storrow Drive, backed traffic on Interstate 93 southbound to Somerville, clogged the Leverett Connector, and caused chaos in Sullivan and City squares. Readers said the jam lasted about one-and-a-half hours. Worst of all, the sign was taken down despite assurances to readers of this column from Department of Conservation and Recreation officials that it would remain in place and be cleaned up whenever letters were added and subtracted. The sign won't hang in the Romney living room. It's going to the Red Sox Foundation, where it will be auctioned off.”

What happened to the ‘Reverse the Curse’ road sign?

Keen to track down the sign and decode its eventual fate, I wrote to the Red Sox Foundation and the Jimmy Fund – another charity with close ties to the team – but received no reply. Thanks to the Wayback Machine, I discovered a Foundation auction held on 10 November 2004 at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, with proceeds benefiting Greater Boston YMCA and the Foundation itself. Perhaps the sign was auctioned there, I surmised, but attempts to reach the event coordinators were unsuccessful.

A further auction, held online in mid-December 2004, also piqued my curiosity. That event was officially sanctioned by the Red Sox, who partnered with MLB to sell assorted memorabilia from the epic postseason run. A full list of auctioned items contains no mention of the REVERSE THE CURSE sign, though, adding further confusion to the tale. Similarly, yet another auction – held on Monday 11 April 2005 at Boston’s Sheraton Hotel in aid of the Red Sox Foundation – yielded no reference to the sign, creating something of a dead end.

Searching for new leads, I emailed the DCR and asked if they knew what happened to the sign and where it wound up. My query was fielded by a staffer in the community relations department, who forwarded it to three colleagues, including the agency press secretary, who did some digging on my behalf and ‘believed’ the sign was auctioned, though further details were not forthcoming.

Approaching an impasse, I threw something of a Hail Mary and plumbed the depths of Reddit for clues. There, I found a pertinent trail discussing the sign and its fate. Strangely, a new comment was posted in the discussion one day after my email to the DCR – a user named William195 claiming to know where the sign was: “This seems odd to answer after all of this time but this is incorrect. It was never auctioned off. In fact, I know where it is!”

Naturally, another Redditor asked William195 to elaborate. “Wouldn’t you like to know!,” came the reply. “There’s been an odd amount of people looking for it recently which has [sic] what brought me here to see the theories.” William195 even dropped a photo into the discussion featuring an incarnation of the sign eerily similar to that removed by Romney. The sign looked a little battered, and its location was predictably indecipherable, but a quick reverse image search revealed no duplicates anywhere online – hinting at authenticity. William195 also posted about the sign in 2021, claiming knowledge of its whereabouts. This was clearly an avenue to explore.

Where is the ‘Reverse the Curse’ road sign now?

Other Reddit posts describe William195 as a ‘state worker,’ which made my eyes bulge. Why? Because the DCR staffer who acknowledged my email was named Bill. While perhaps purely coincidental, one day elapsed between my random query being fielded by Bill, and William195 scouring Reddit for updates on sign conspiracies – not exactly the most saturated topic nowadays. This made me wonder: was William195 a burner account? Were Bill and William195 the same person? If so, why did the official DCR narrative differ from that spouted by an obscure avatar on Reddit? Had my sign query created an incongruous stir in the DCR offices? And, again, why? Were they trying to cover something up? I messaged William195 to find out, but received no reply.

Increasingly convinced the sign was not auctioned as promised, I pulled at various threads from the story and unearthed an obscure X account, belonging to @_mr_markymark, that also mentioned the sign four days after my DCR email. “It’s hilarious that someone on Reddit is arguing with me that the ‘Reverse the Curse’ sign was auctioned off years ago to a private buyer,” read the tweet. I was puzzled. Was there a link between Bill, William195 and @_mr_markymark? Did something nefarious happen to the sign before it could be auctioned? I was unsure, but kept digging regardless. 

In other tweets, @_mr_markymark said they were a maker of signs, and that their company made signage for Shaw’s and Star Market chains throughout Massachusetts, along with the infamous NO TRUCK signs on Storrow Drive. If @_mr_markymark created those signs, I thought, perhaps they were also responsible for the REVERSE THE CURSE signs provided to the DCR.

My hunch proved correct.

Clumsily, the feed of  @_mr_markymark featured various photos taken inside a warehouse, identified explicitly as their workplace. Trawling historic posts, I found a seven-second video – shot from a similar-looking warehouse and posted on 22 September 2021 – that offered the first glimpse of Boston’s beloved REVERSE THE CURSE sign since Romney lowered it from the Longfellow Bridge. “Look familiar?,” read the caption. There, in candid footage, lay The Sign, seemingly dumped down the side of a workbench, propped up against a wall, surrounded by offcuts and discarded wooden blocks. An afterthought, seemingly. An inanimate collector of dust.

Instinctively, I felt obliged to track down the warehouse. If I could just triangulate its position, while respecting privacy and following publicly available clues, I would find the long lost sign. Following the trail – including a tweeted photo of a company email – I identified the warehouse as that of a family-owned sign-making firm in South Easton, Massachusetts. Minutes from a 2021 DCR meeting referenced the same company, in attendance, corroborating its status as a preferred supplier of the government agency. This, I thought, was the missing piece. I had found The Sign. Except, well – no such luck. These things are rarely so straightforward.

I emailed the sign-making company and received a short reply from a senior manager who ‘asked around the office’ and discovered ‘nobody has any information on the whereabouts of this sign.’ The manager said he would not be surprised if the sign ended up with the Massachusetts Department of Transport (MassDOT), or in a Boston bar. Alternatively, a ‘huge Red Sox fan may have it,’ he concluded, somewhat cryptically. As with the DCR, I was left feeling dissatisfied, but excavating deeper felt a little too invasive.

Bizarrely, you cannot email MassDOT without a US postal address. It is a required field on their contact form. Likewise, I cannot direct message people on Twitter without paying for Elon’s ludicrous membership, which is not going to happen. Alas, I have run out of public domain fuel in this particular quest. Nevertheless, I’m happy with the information I have unearthed, which represents the freshest mainstream update on the sign in almost 20 years.

The enduring mystery of Boston’s ‘Reverse the Curse’ road sign

Ultimately, I do not know for certain what happened to the REVERSE THE CURSE sign. However, by uncovering an otherwise sequestered video, I did reveal that, as late as September 2021, the sign was still in one piece. It still existed. Nobody had thrown it in a dumpster or broken it up for scrap metal. Still, I’m unable to confirm if the sign was ever auctioned and, if so, by whom? Who was the winning bidder? Where is the sign now, and how did it wind up there? These questions remain tantalisingly unsolved.

Nevertheless, somebody knows what happened to the sign. Quite probably, a few people know. Whether we will ever hear the full story remains to be seen, but I would be thrilled to see the sign displayed prominently one day, so the admiring public can reminisce. Cooperstown may be a stretch, given the strong New York gag reflex of provincial Bostonians, but surely an exhibit can be arranged at Fenway. You know Charles Steinberg loves that shit. In the meantime, why not buy a handcrafted replica on Etsy? Yes, apparently that is a thing. I may get one for Christmas.

Regardless of its current whereabouts, the REVERSE THE CURSE sign will always have a special – if arcane – place in Red Sox lore. There are many iconic images related to Boston’s 2004 world championship. Varitek stuffing his mitt in A-Rod’s face. Schilling’s bloody sock. Roberts’ stolen base. Big Papi doing any number of superhero things. A lunar eclipse greeting the final out in St Louis. Well, the improvised graffiti of Storrow Drive resides right there alongside those vignettes. It symbolised a Red Sox age and a Boston feeling. It loomed large as a de facto public landmark. It should never be forgotten – even if finding it feels improbable.

***

Update - 26 November, 2023

This piece apparently caused quite a stir in Red Sox Nation, and there have been a few updates since it was originally published.

Firstly, William195 has been busy on Reddit again - this time posting a wide-angle shot of themselves with the sign, seemingly nailed to a wall. "Unfortunately the state has found it and they're coming to get it finally," says the accompanying caption. "So here's me with the sign as proof."

In subsequent Reddit conversations, William195 elaborates: "From my brief understanding, after it was cut down by Romney, it was brought to one of the local DCR storage areas. Sat there for years until it was brought to the facility I work at just a few years back. Been here since. Now there's a journalist looking for it to write a story and they reached out to the DCR looking for it. DCR started their search and traced it back to my department."

I have reached out to the DCR again for an update, citing this Reddit thread, and will keep you updated on any response. There mere fact that my interest has seemingly provoked some action towards finding the sign and possibly displaying it somewhere for the public good is humbling. I will keep waging my niche campaign, and hopefully one day the sign can be accessible to all again.

***

Update - 4 December, 2023

My contact at the DCR replied confirming that they now have possession of The Sign! They are trying to ascertain what, exactly, happened to the sign between its removal and today, but this is great news. The sign lives!

I'm currently in discussions with the DCR about potential opportunities to display the sign publicly. It would be so rewarding to achieve that end goal and reunite Red Sox Nation with a forgotten - though cherished - relic of its past. 

***

Update - 15 April, 2024

Last week, during the Red Sox' home opener at Fenway Park, the team launched its year-long celebration of the 2004 championship team, 20 years after their crowning glory. Much to my surprise, The Sign appeared in those celebrations, strapped to a trademark Boston duck boat during a pre-game parade through the city. Hallowed Red Sox alumni - including Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz - were pictured in front of the sign, and those snaps were shared by the team on Instagram.

Then, a few days later, I stumbled across an X post by @MassDCR itself, in which Ryan Hutton, their digital strategist, explains how the sign was brought out of storage and will be loaned to the Red Sox throughout the 2004 season as they commemorate that beloved team. Excellent news!

Unfortunately, my line of communication with DCR ran dry some months ago, and I have not received any further updates on The Sign, nor acknowledgement for chasing it down when nobody else seemed to care. However, this is not about me. It never has been, and it never will be. In the end, my mission has been accomplished. The Red Sox now have possession of The Sign, and fans will soon be able to enjoy it again. And that, to me, is magical.

Sources


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