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Monday, June 25, 2012

A Jolly Jaunt around Boston

After last week's misadventure, I'd understood the need to plan stuff out a bit better. The weekend before this one, I'd decided to take a walk into history.

Now, as most of you know, Boston and its inhabitants played a significant role in the American Revolution. The Boston 'Massacre' (more on this later) and the Boston Tea Party were both important events in spurring on the start of the Revolutionary War. So I took a bus and then a train (the red line) to Boston Commons (the big garden right in the middle) - the starting point for the "Walk into History" tour. Now this tour takes a route known as the "Freedom Trail" - stopping at sites where events significant to the revolution occurred.

Park Street Church
Boston Commons, across from New State House
Don't be fooled by the Boston Commons' placid appearance though, this place is where they hung folks from trees around the Frog Pond for their supposed crimes. Witchcraft was a crime too and, mind you, they hung even animals for witchcraft. 

The Frog Pond (currently drained)
The view from Boston Commons

Our tour guide for the day was Barzillai Lew. "Zeal" - that's what we called him. Of course, that's an assumed name from the 1800s. As you can see, he's all decked out in the attire of two centuries ago. So too the way he spoke, peppered of course by a few present-day political jokes and satire.

New State House
Our first stop was the New State House on Beacon Hill. It isn't really new, but it was back at the time that they built it. The dome is actually gold plated (with 23K gold leaf) and takes a lot to maintain it.

Park Street Church
The Park Street Church, during the War of 1812, served as a storage for gunpowder. This is why it's called "Brimstone Corner". I bet the pastors there have had fires in their hearts alongside the ones that might possibly have erupted under their bottoms for quite a long time.

Granary Burying Ground
The next stop was the Granary Burying Ground. This place has seen several patriots buried here. Among them, there are three signers of the Declaration of Independence (Robert Paine, John Hancock, Samuel Adams). These three were brave men, in their time signing such a declaration was tantamount to treason - a sure way to get yourself executed back in the time when all Americans were Englishmen and expected to swear allegiance to the King of England. In addition, you'll also find the graves of several other notable statesmen of the time, the victims of the Boston Massacre and Paul Revere here.

James Otis's grave

John Hancock's grave
John Hancock (no, not the lame Will Smith superhero character) was one of the wealthiest men in the Thirteen Colonies prior to the Revolutionary War. He could have been content with all he had, but the man was willing to put his neck out and sign the Declaration of Independence. He even had a grave assigned (pictured below) for his faithful slave. This was at a time when colored people were slaves (until freed at the payment of a large sum or by their masters) and slaves weren't given graves or headstones. Thing is, he kinda forgot to put Frank's last name on there.

Frank's grave

Below you'll see the tomb of one Samuel Adams. Yes, that beer you may have had in his name is indeed inspired by the beer he used to make. Apparently his beer was so terrible that it ran him out of business a few times. Still, a signer of the Declaration, staunch opponent of "Taxation without representation", and a patriot. 

Now, this bar above (it's an old bar) - right across the street from the burial ground - serves Sam Adams' beer. So, it's the only place where you can have a cold Sam Adams in front of a cold Sam Adams. See what I did there :P 

King's Chapel
What you see here is King's Chapel. It was a non-Puritan church (still following the old British ways) built atop a burial ground. The building looks bigger from the side, and the reason it doesn't have a steeple on it is that they allegedly ran out of money during construction.

The Omni Parker House is a fully functioning hotel to this day. It was the place where Boston's dessert "The Boston Cream Pie" was invented. Malcolm X and Ho Chi Minh worked here at one time or the other, so ye with revolutionary intent, you folks know where to start. This institution has also seen guests like Charles Dickens, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.
The infamous John Wilkes Booth (yes, the guy that shot Abraham Lincoln) also stayed at this acclaimed hotel.

A statue of Benjamin Franklin
This was the site of the oldest public school in the US, the Boston Latin School. Ben Franklin (along with the three aforementioned signers of the declaration) were students here. Ben though had to drop out without graduating for lack of funds. The inventor actually ran off to Philadelphia to escape a tricky situation he was caught in.

Old State House
Old State House is where the Royal Governor and the representatives here would have their war of words. It's about 300 years old and was also witness to the Boston "Massacre" happen right in front of its doors. Now, the massacre itself wasn't really a massacre. Only five people were killed in the event and a large part of it was the fault of a huge mob that amassed and attacked a small bunch of soldiers who were frankly so scared that they'd die in the hands of said mob that one of them let loose a round escalating the situation. The symbols of the British throne (the lion and the unicorn) adorn the top of the building's facade. These were thrown down back when the Declaration of Independence was first read but much has been faithfully restored since then.

The last stop on the tour is Faneuil Hall. Peter Faneuil was a wealthy man whose wealth was sourced from his uncle. The uncle left one condition for the benefactor of his wealth though - "never get married". So Peter, took it upon himself to enjoy his uncle's fortune and practically ate and drank himself to death while enjoying the finer pleasures of life. The man was quite charitable though and the result of his generosity to the town is what you see below. On top of the building is a weather-vane in the shape of a grasshopper. Tradition has it that the question "What's on top of Faneuil Hall?" was used to spot spies during the War of 1812. Englishmen would say "Why of course that's a locust!". 

Faneuil Hall Marketplace, sometimes known as Quincy Market, lies just behind the Hall and is a nice place to walk around, what with all the street performers there.
Faneuil Hall

Once the tour itself was over, and I'd bid goodbye to our guide Zeal, I took a long walk to the Union Oyster House (apparently the oldest restaurant in the US) and then across the bridge to Charlestown, on the other side.

Charlestown Navy Yard houses a very significant vessel - the USS Constitution. The Constitution is the oldest surviving still-commissioned naval ship in the world. This frigate typically carried around 50 or 60 guns in her heyday rather than the 44 she was rated for. She was both faster and more deadly than other such frigates of her day. Some technological advances like diagonal riders running laterally towards the centerline enabled her to carry much heavier guns than other ships. She was one of the first six frigates constructed for what was then a fledgling American Navy.

Old Ironsides
Though made of wood, in several engagements with British ships, cannonballs would either lodge themselves in the sides or bounce off - leading to her name "Old Ironsides". This was supposedly a name that came about during a particular battle with HMS Gurrierre during the War of 1812.

I did so want to take her out for a drive but I'm sure the Navy sailors on duty there wouldn't have enjoyed my driving much. The ship actually has a full crew (of around 70 for a frigate of this era) seeing as it's a commissioned vessel. Unfortunately they also have to endure the annoying task of ferrying around a group of people on tour. Be sure to wait for the guided tour if you want to go below decks.

There's yet another ship here - the USS Cassin Young - a World War 2 destroyer. Though berthed here at one time, she is now in dry dock (never stops fascinating me how a ship looks when dry docked like this). It's a magnificent site this - from right in front of the stern going down all the way to that sharp keel.

A walk from the Navy yard found me at the final site of the Freedom Trail - the Bunker Hill Monument. The site of one of the first major battles of the Revolutionary War, a small Colonial Militia held out here until they ran out of ammo against a much larger force of 3000 Redcoats. This was supposedly the place where the words "Don't fire till you see the whites of their eyes" was uttered when they noticed the shortage of ammunition. In any case, the actual site of the battle was Breed's Hill, not exactly Bunker Hill but the mix-up is one of those things you have to forgive in the midst of all that carnage. 

A joke from our guide earlier while on the tour : "There were a bunch of black people on the hill too, but they ran out of ammo even earlier. Apparently all they heard was 'Don't fire till you see the whites' ". Possible, quite possible.

And thus the red brick trail ends at the final stop on the Freedom Trail. A walk into history that you folks should definitely take if you're ever in Boston. 

From here, all that remained was a walk to the nearest T-Station to take the subway and then the bus (this time I got home minus any confusion or missed buses) back home. 

Until next week's adventure is posted then!


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