Closing the case on the Boston Garden monkey mystery

A (warning: slightly gross) final chapter to the monkey tale.

Late in September, in honor of the 20th anniversary of the closing of the Boston Garden, we told the mystery of the Boston Garden monkey; to read that piece, click here. Last week, we continued the series, including photos of the monkey and stories from those who originally found it; to read part two, click here. This is the third and final piece in the series.

“My brother took it,’’ said Richard Bagen Sr., a building wrecker who was part of the team that demolished the Boston Garden in 1998—and found the mysterious Boston Garden monkey.

Richard had photo evidence that the monkey corpse existed, but he didn’t have the monkey itself.

The Boston Garden monkey, photographed while taken out of hiding in 1998. —John Bagen
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“[My brother] might sit out on the porch and still talk to it, I have no clue,’’ he said.

The search was on to find John.

Two weeks and several calls later, it seemed as though John was unreachable. Maybe he didn’t have the monkey after all? Maybe he’d rather it not be seen.

Just as hope began to fade, a call came out of nowhere.

“Meet me at the Sons of Italy in Weymouth, Monday at three. I can show you the monkey.’’

Alright.

Upon arrival at the Sons of Italy, John Bagen came to the door. The large function hall was quiet and mostly empty—it was the middle of a workday, after all—but the space’s vintage character seemed to suggest that the monkey story was just one of many odd tales that had been passed around between the walls.

In an upstairs room, John had several photos spread over a table. He began to tell his story.

“Everybody says it didn’t exist, but me and a few other guys found it,’’ John said. “[My co-worker] Roger Beal screamed, ‘Come here!’ Then Eddie Sullivan and I came over, and there it was.’’

The crew of building wreckers included John Bagen (fourth from right), Eddie Sullivan (fifth from left), Richard Bagen (third from left), and Roger Beal (far left). —John Bagen

The location he provided matched the one given by his brother, Richard, and Eddie Sullivan, another Garden wrecker we spoke with.

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“We were working on the roof of the Garden, pulling up boards,’’ John said. “There was like a second roof above the roof. [The monkey] was basically right above center court. We started dropping the tressels and [we kept] the monkey in the beams so nobody could find him because we didn’t want to take him off the job — bad luck, maybe.’’

John Bagan holding up the monkey on top of the Boston Garden. —John Bagen
The above photo is dated May 1998, just like John’s brother’s photos. —John Bagen

Like his brother, John remembered hiding the deceased animal in an electrical box. He recounted several other keep-away stories with Garden officials as well.

“There was a basket on the roof, and we’d send that up and down [to deliver things back and forth from ground-level],’’ John said. “We tied [the monkey] very nicely in this little papoose thing, and safety people were everywhere from Morse Diesel. One day they were standing right by it on the ground and [an overseer] came up and said, ‘I smell something.’ It didn’t smell all that bad because it was petrified, but it was warm out, so you could smell it a bit when the breeze came by. All the sudden the crane would lift [the monkey] back up to the roof, and when the crane [came] back down, the monkey wasn’t there. We played lots of games like that.’’

John Bagen, next to his Ford Bronco, holding up the Boston Garden monkey in the garage of the Boston Garden in 1998. —John Bagen

It became an inside joke among the workers. Bagen said that it was almost like a little mascot for the crew, and they got a kick out of keeping it from the suits.

“We even had the monkey up on a big sign that said, ‘Welcome to the Fleet Center’ for a while,’’ John said. “I’m not sure if anyone saw it, but it was kind of a joke for us. If they’re gonna come look for it, we’re gonna keep ’em guessing.’’

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John said the wreckers bounced the monkey around the site from place to place—that’s when things started to get a bit fishy.

“I think it brings bad luck,’’ John said. “It doesn’t like being moved, I guess.’’

Once Bagen moved the monkey away from the historic arena, mysterious incidents began to follow it.

“The first night that I took him off the job, one of our building wreckers got his thumb caught in the crane cable and and pretty much mushed it,’’ John said. “And a few hours later, I broke my thumb using the jackhammer. The same night, because we were working a long shift, [one of the other guys] had a sore shoulder. It was weird. Somebody said, ‘It’s because you took the monkey off the job.’ So I brought it right back.’’

John Bagen holds the monkey up in the garage of the Boston Garden in 1998. —John Bagen

Eventually though, the Boston Garden demolition was done. Rather than dispose of the monkey, John kept the creature and brought it around to other Post 1421 building wrecker jobs. The misfortune followed.

“He was in my truck when I got rear-ended,’’ John said. “I totally forgot he was there, and I drove the truck home. He was fine.’’

Even John’s attempts to share the monkey with the Boston media were somehow hindered.

“Another time, I was going to bring him to the Opie and Anthony show on WBCN,’’ Bagen said. “They said, ‘Bring the strangest thing you’ve got.’ But on the way there, the traffic was so bad that I didn’t make it in on time.’’

Years passed, the Bruins and the Celtics became Fleet Center teams, and most Bostonians forgot about the mysterious monkey. John continued to share the animal and its story with friends.

“There have been lots of people who have seen it,’’ John said. “People were calling me ‘The Monkey Man.’ I wasn’t too crazy about that.’’

Eventually, the monkey made its way into John’s basement in a cardboard box. Occasionally, John would take it out to show curious folks at the Weymouth Sons of Italy, where John is currently president.

And the Weymouth Sons of Italy is where, now, in 2015, John finally brought the monkey out again to put the legend to rest once and for all.

Well, sort of.

“I still have the head,’’ John said. “I kept the monkey in a coffin-like box with holes in it. I think that some animals might have gotten to it. One day, I went back downstairs and the body was gone.’’

The head is all that remains of the Boston Garden monkey in 2015. —Perry Eaton

The monkey’s head remains—although, these days, it looks more like just a skull.

“It’s kind of a weird thing to have,’’ he said.

John Bagen holds up the head of the Boston Garden monkey. —Perry Eaton

If you recall, Joe Bearak, who was senior vice president of Morse Diesel in 1998, and was in charge of both the demolition of the old Garden and construction of the FleetCenter, said he’d never heard of a so-called Boston Garden monkey.

“Absolutely not,’’ he said when Boston.com spoke with him in September. “I was in charge of the project, and believe me, I would have known. It’s an urban legend. There were pigeons, there were rats, there were other things, but no monkeys.’’

We got back in touch with Bearak and shared our newfound information. While Bearak’s tune hasn’t changed, his amount of curiosity has. He said that he wasn’t on site for the Boston Garden job as much as Post 1421 and NASD, who were overseeing most of the demo work.

“Maybe nobody ever told me,’’ Bearak said. “Because, frankly, had they, I would’ve stopped the demo and I would’ve gotten people to come in and do a whole schtick about it. It’s the only thing that makes sense from a PR standpoint.’’

As for John Bagen, he’s retired from building wrecking now.

He looks back fondly on the Garden job, calling it, “an awesome job to do, one of the favorites of my career.’’

John Bagen holds the monkey’s head next to a photo of him holding the monkey upon its discovery in 1998. —Perry Eaton

He said he’s ready to retire the monkey head, as well. He plans to give the head a proper burial, this many years later. He also mentioned that he’d be open to selling it and putting the proceeds back into the Sons of Italy or donating the monkey head to the Garden on behalf of the Sons of Italy if the Garden were to show interest.

For now, he said he’s just happy that the truth about the monkey is finally out there.

“Stories came and stories went,’’ Bagen said. “But I don’t know, I always thought there was a cool story here.’’