Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Joel & Amy Across America, Part 3

Day 2:

Boston Common – In Boston there is what’s known as The Freedom Trail, a 2.5 mile path of history through the streets of Beantown that leads to all kinds of early American wonder. To follow the trail is easy; all one must do is walk the red line—sometimes painted, sometimes made of red brick—throughout the city, and it’s impossible to miss the main attractions.

The path begins at Boston Common, which is one of the country’s oldest public parks. It’s been around since the 1630s, when it was purchased by the Massachusetts Bay Company to be used a central grazing area for Puritan cows (also known as Pilgrim cows, or cows that came to America to avoid religious persecution), but later played home to the British in the time leading up to the Revolutionary War. It was also there that many public hangings took place, at least until 1817 when that whole business was shut down for more humane ways to kill criminals.

It became a park in 1830, and a fence was put around it and trees planted all throughout the grounds. Today it’s a pretty expansive area, lush with trees and statues and all the things you’d expect from a public park in a big city. This is also the location of the city’s visitor’s center, where we went to try and set up a tour of The Freedom Trail. Having bumped into a kindly gent dressed in colonial-era garb, we found that a tour of the first two-thirds of the cites would be starting soon, so we paid the cost of admission and began one of the longest walking days of our lives.

The Granary Burial Ground – A couple years ago I started getting into visiting famous people’s graves. In fact, my fellow road trippers would tease me for including so much death into what was supposed to be a fun trip, but when you’re in the neighborhood of a famous dead and buried person, why not stop by?

The Granary was, overall, probably the coolest cemetery I’ve ever seen in my life. Amy and I were pretty much in awe the entire time we were there, and this was definitely where the tour guide took the most time to tell us stories about the famous early Americans who are buried there.

Click HERE for More Pictures!

We started with John Hancock, who’s got one of the tallest headstones in the place. Most of us remember him as the guy who signed his signature to the Declaration of Independence before anyone else, and did so in such huge letters that even today we use the expression “I need your John Hancock” when asking for someone’s signature. What most of us don’t know is that when Hancock was the first to sign the document, most of the others didn’t sign until much later, meaning for a while he was the only guy with the balls to sign a genuinely treasonous document and publicly put himself out there as anti-British. Dude could’ve gotten arrested and killed for that. As if that isn’t enough to make him one of the biggest B.A.’s of his era, he also helped plan the Boston Tea Party. The Brits must’ve seriously hated that guy.

As for his grave, the original marker doesn’t exist anymore, but in its place is a huge memorial placed above the spot where historians are pretty sure he’s actually buried. Other prestigious burials in the grounds have the original headstones, but Hancock’s is just a little less certain. When he was buried, grave robbers dug him up and cut off his famous right hand, which did the signing, to sell on the black market. Some other idiot cut off his left hand for the same reason, just in case Hancock was a lefty, without giving much consideration to the fact that almost nobody in that era would’ve been left handed. Left-handedness was thought to be sinister, so parents and teachers beat kids’ hands with rulers until they got it “right.” So wherever Hancock is, he ain’t got no hands, and some collector out there has himself a nice, priceless little relic. I smell another “National Treasure” sequel!

Today all the stones in the Granary are arranged neatly in rows, making it convenient to mow, but before FDR paid struggling American workers to move the stones in that manner back in the 1930s (stupid New Deal), the place was a smattering of stones. People got buried wherever there was room.

Our tour guide told us not to worry about where we stood because no matter where our feet lay inside the burial grounds’ walls we’d be stepping at least one of the 8000 bodies interred below.

Included among those bodies is Paul Revere, known for his Midnight Ride thanks to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem. There’s a memorial there now which most people mistake for his headstone, but the real thing is just to the right and is extremely small. It says only “Revere’s Tomb” and calling it a modest marker would be an understatement.

Samuel Adams, probably most famous today for the beer named after him, actually had nothing to do brewing ale. His father dabbled, but really the brand is just the results of the Boston Beer Company issuing their first beer, the Sam Adams Boston Lager, in 1985. To make the whole booze connection even more ridiculous, the guy pictured on the bottles isn’t even Sam Adams. It’s of a younger Bostonian chap so that it can appeal to younger audiences.

So other than being a beer brand and John Adams’s cousin, what did he do? Basically, Sam was the biggest hero possibly to the Patriots and the biggest prick possible to the Loyalists in the time leading up to the Revolution. He too played a huge part in the Boston Tea Party and did pretty much anything he possibly could to push the colonies towards independence. He was also one of the signers of the Declaration.

Ben Franklin’s parents also are buried at the Granary and have the biggest memorial in the whole place dedicated to them. Right next to the Sam Adams grave is a headstone marking the group burial of the five victims of the Boston Massacre, the only name of which I recognized was Crispus Attucks, who was black and allegedly the first martyr of the American Revolution. Anybody who’s seen Revere’s engraving of the Massacre knows Attucks is front and center, and that’s probably why he’s the only guy we remember from that particular moment in history.

Of the two hours we spent with the tour guide, easily 45-50 minutes was spent here, and not a one of us complained. There was so much to learn here that it’s a miracle I’m even able to remember this much two weeks later. Very easily one of the coolest things Amy and I did the whole week.

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