Day 5b – Tramping the Freedom Trail!

For the events of Tuesday, June 2, 2009

1:45 PM – I was able to help the other guys in the booth pack up everything a bit early today because the booth went dead before it’s 2:00 PM final time. I finished boxing up everything and then
walked out into blazing sunlight and a beautiful afternoon. Took a cab back to the hotel because I am done now with my Mountie outfit so needed to cart it back to the hotel – and it’s like 15-20 lbs worth of stuff. I don’t know how Mounties wear these, even if they are for just ceremonies – they are really hot and the boots are murder.

Just found out that my mom’s sister-in-law, my Aunt Irene Cross, passed away in the last day or so. She had been slowly declining over the years, but it was still very sad news. At least we know where she is and how she is now!

I went back to my hotel, quickly put some shorts on, grabbed my camera and tour book and headed to McDonald’s for lunch. Had a Big Mac meal – not a big deal. I like how in the States, they have pumps for ketchup, sweet and sour and BBQ sauce, so you can have what you want for your fries. Canada charges you extra for that stuff sometimes! Saw a guy in the restaurant wearing a t-shirt from the Marines (there are a lot sailors here – huge Navy yard in Boston with aircraft carriers!): “Pain is weakness leaving your body”. Based on that premise, I don’t think he feels any pain.

2:15 PM – Finished up at McD’s and started the Freedom Trail. Instead of doing times from this point on, I’m going to do site #s in order until I am finished the whole Trail – I’m determined to finish it today. The weather is just absolutely beautiful – there’s not a cloud in the sky and it’s warm, but not super hot, so you aren’t sweating as you walk along. A bit of a breeze coming off Boston Harbor as well which helps.

Again, it’s a 3-mile long, 16-site trail trail that’s marked by a red painted or red brick line in the middle of the sidewalk that takes you along the whole route – even across streets. It can be walked non-stop in an hour, but I plan to stop and see things, so probably will take into the evening. Good shoes are a must – I’m wearing my sandals that have tramped around the world now – in fact, I think I bought them 6 years ago when I was in Boston the last time!

Site 1Boston Common: We’ve been there already. It’s a 48-acre park that’s been around now for 375 years. Full of whinos and weirdos – it’s a miss if you can help it.

Site 2The State House: This “new’ State House (I love how they call something that’s 200 years old ‘new’) is so beautiful. What I didn’t mention before is that the land used to build the house was actually bought from John Hancock – the guy who felt his signature needed to be bigger than everyone else’s on the Declaration of Independence. He realllllllly likes attention apparently. I noticed today that you could do free tours, but I don’t feel like stopping today, so will come back.

Site 3 Park Street Church – This really beautiful, colonial-style Congregational church (see picture right, click for larger) is celebrating its bicentennial this year (200 years old). It’s got a lot of ‘claims to fame’ – one being in the War of 1812, when they stored gunpowder in its basement! The area around the church is called Brimstone Corner as a result (not because the pastors gave ‘fire and brimstone’ sermons a lot!). On a sign outside the church, they mention that Billy Graham had his first meetings here in 1949 – just before his famous Los Angeles Crusade that changed everything for him – and the world.

Site 4 Granary Burying GroundSince 1660 (and this is the third burying ground or cemetary in Boston!) this cemetary has sounded some of hte most famous people in Boston – and the world. It is located right beside Park Street Church, and got its name because the church site used to be a granary. It’s the final resting place of three signers of the Declaration of Independence – John Hancock (see picture left, click for larger), Robert Treat Paine and Samuel Adams (the guy the beer is named after!). Paul Revere, Benjamin Franklin’s parents, victims of the Boston Massacre (more on that later), nearly all of the original mayors of Boston and the first three governors of Boston are also buried here. It’s a who’s who for dead bodies, I’ll tell you. I was a bit annoyed with a bus load of kids (that’s the problem with these touristy spots – there’s always a bus load of snotty nosed kids close by) running all over the place. I finally got upset and something to their teacher, and she got them into shape in hurry. Sorry, but it’s a graveyard for goodness sake – does it matter these people died 300 years ago? I thought it was ridiculous that they were acting like it was recess on the soccer field in there.

Site 5 King’s ChapelThis Church, the first Church of England in America, is listed as one of the “500 most important buildings in America”. The light-filled sanctuary is considered to be the most beautiful Georgian style church in America – perhaps the world. After the War of Independence, the Church of England didn’t have much meaning in Boston (and it wasn’t that safe to attend one after!) so it changed to a Unitarian church at that time. Right beside the church is a burial ground that again has some Mass. governors,prominent religious figures and many of the Colonial founders. In fact, the oldest grave is for a lady who landed on Plymouth Rock in the Mayflower!

Site 6 Site of the First Public School The city has a lot of firsts. The Boston Latin School, built in 1635 (nearly 400 years ago!) had a very famous student as a child – Benjamin Franklin. The site now houses Old City Hall. Remember when I said there was another weird location for a steakhouse? It’s here – a steakhouse now owns the old City Hall. In fact, there are outdoor patio tables set up – in front of Benjamin Franklin’s statue. I think that’s probably as close to sacriligious that you can get – ugh. Americans just love to cheapen their history for a buck.

Site 7 Old South Meeting House This was originally built as a gathering spot (almost like a convention center today) for the people of Boston to meeting and discuss issues. It’s most famous claim to fame since it’s construction in 1729 was the site where the Boston Tea Party began. When you see the picture, I know it will be hard to believe, but on that December 16, 1773 evening, over 5,000 people jammed every nook and cranny in the building – even literally hanging out the windows – to hear the debate on the new tax on all tea that the British had imposed on the colonies – driving the cost up almost double for tea. The British had also given the contract for tea shipments to the British East India Company, virtually killing all American companies doing the same thing. Though not a site of the Freedom Trail, the Boston Tea Party later that night took place when people stormed several British East India tea ships, and threw all the tea into Boston Harbor. It’s one of the defining reasons why Americans picked up guns and declared war on Britain not long after.

Wasn’t supposed to take pictures inside, but I don’t always do what I’m told. Bought a 2-for-1 ticket for this and the Paul Revere House (site 12).

Site 8 Old Corner Bookstore Not much to see here. This bookstore building is nearly 300 years old, and was an original publishing company of such famous authers as Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau, Stowe and Longfellow – basically helped start the American publishing business. Today it’s an Ultra Diamonds location. Sigh.

Site 9 Old State House The oldest and I think prettiest public building in Boston was built in 1713. It started as the seat of British colonial government from 1713 to 1776, but its main claim to fame was as the first place in the America where the Declaration of Independence was read to “Americans”, just after many famous Bostonians, like John Hancock, had signed it just before. This was of course very dangerous (and courageous) thing to do – first of all, it was done from a British building, and secondly, they weren’t independent yet! It now houses a museum of Boston history. When I was here in 2002, it was on July 4, and they read the Declaration of Independence from the second floor balcony. I admit it was very moving for a lot of people hearing it that day.

Site 10 Boston Massacre Site Another defining moment that started the colonists on the path to war with England. Today a circle of cobblestones below the balony of the State House (actually out in the middle of a crosswalk today) marks the site of one of the most inflammatory events leading up to the American Revolution. On March 15, 1770, a mob of unruly colonists started throwing rocks and snowballs at British soldiers guarding the State House. The British got upset, opened fire, and killed 5 colonists.

Site 11 Faneuil Hall Peter Faneiul donated this beautiful building to the city in 1742. The lower floor has been a continuous marketplace for over 260 years, and the second floor was a meeting hall, called the “Cradle of American Liberty” because of all the meetings helds here in preparation for the American Revolution. Lots of nicer souvenir, etc. shops here. Today it’s a gathering ponit for tourists and Bostonians a like to soak in some sun, have some lunch, and enjoy street performers.

Right behind it is Quincy’s Market, which has been around for 200 years, and is today a huge food court with really neat little restaurants everywhere, and a central eating area. If you want something quick and good to eat, I think this is hands down the best place in Boston, maybe even in Massachusetts, to find great food of every kind.

At this point, I took a little sidebar trip to see the New England Holocaust Memorial, across the street from Faneuil Hall. It’s really incredibly moving. It’s six 54-foot tall towers each represent a Nazi concentration camp – which is somehow connected to families living in Boston today (of course, there were many more that weren’t represented). Auschwitz is the most noteable here, and Ravensbruck is the most noteable not represented here. Hope you don’t mind me using a picture from the Memorial website – it’s so much more beautiful than anything I could capture.

Each tower is made of glass on four sides, and on each is etched all of the prisoner numbers of the executed prisoners – an incredible labour of love. 6 million different numbers are represented – and I admit you get a lump in your throat and a tear in your eye when you see how small the numbers are, and then look up and see how tall the towers are. To make it even more shocking, smoke rises from charred embers (you can see them burning) through grates at the bottom of the towers, representing the death camp ovens. I watched a big school tour of teenagers goofing off and laughing and talking – until the second they walked up to the towers. Then they started looking it over – and realized what they were seeing. The whole area went deadly quiet – I mean, no one was even whispering, and no one told them so. I saw several girls crying and I thought – wow, it would be nice to believe that we will never let this happen. It was without a doubt the most moving thing I’ve seen since visiting Ground Zero in New York in 2002.

On the way back onto the Freedom Trail, I walked by a replica of the Cheers bar, where the famous TV comedy show was based on. I didn’t think it looked anything like the bar from the show. The original Cheers bar is over 100 years old – and the opening scene of Cheers has that actual building in it.

Site 12 Paul Revere House – This house is the start of the north end of the Freedom Trail. it’s actually about a 6-7 block walk straight north of Faneuil Hall to get here. It’s right in the middle of Little Italy – something like 80 Italian restaurants in the area, and it smelled so crazy good here! They have some streets with original 1700s cobblestones, so driving around here is a little teeth jarring (no one goes fast in this neighbourhood, which is maybe why they don’t change it!)

When I arrived at the house, it was closed for the day (it’s about 5:00 PM right now). Not terribly disappointing – I’ve never thought it looked like much, but this was the second time I missed going in (first time in 2002). Paul Revere lived here in 1680 – it’s the oldest wooden structure still standing in Boston. He left from here on his famous “midnight ride” to the Old North Church (more on that later).

Site 13 Old North Church Built in 1723, “Old North” is Boston’s oldest church (yes, it’s nearly 300 years old!). On April 18, 1775, two lanterns were displayed in the steeple, signalling that the British troops were coming to Lexington by sea (one if by land, two if by sea). It is still one of the tallest buildings in the area, and has a beautiful park and fountain in front, with a massive statue of Paul Revere himself on his horse. A must see – it’s even more beautiful inside than out!

Site 14 Copp’s Hill Burying Ground Boston’s second burial ground, it the final resting place of the ‘common’ folk of Boston – thousands of them in fact, including freed black slaves. The site was infamously used by the British in 1775 to train their cannons on Charlestown, and they even had target practice in the cemetery (you can find musket holes in some of the tombstones).

Site 15 USS Constitution Nicknamed “Old Ironsides”, the ship was built as American’s first warship in 1797 – and is the oldest warship still afloat in the world. It’s located in the Navy Shipyard, which is across a bridge from the North End of Boston (and was a REAL walk of almost a mile from Copp’s Hill). I remember in 2002, getting incredible video coverage of this little ship sailing out on July 4 into Boston Harbor – right by the John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier. America’s first warship, and it’s greatest, would be like putting a toy care beside the real thing. Yes, it still sails on July 4th every year with full sails. Really beautiful.

Site 16 Bunker Hill Monument This obelisk commemorates the first major battle of the American Revolution. Colonists from all over the New World converged on Boston in a huge push to try to wipe the British out in Boston. It didn’t quite work out that way – in fact, the Battle of Bunker Hill, in June 17, 1775, was the bloodiest of the American Revolution. By the end of the day, over 800 colonists were wounded and 226 killed. It took a whole year for not-yet-American troops to regroup under Washington and make a push back against the British and win the war.

This ends the Freedom Trail tour!

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