Thursday, July 30, 2009

Joel & Amy Across America, Part 4

Old South Meeting House – On December 16, 1773 Sam Adams and thousands of other Bostonians met here to discuss what to do with the 30 tons of taxable British tea on boats moored in a Boston harbor. Nobody came to any real conclusion, so Adams said “Screw it” and led what would later become known as the Boston Tea Party. He and up to 130 other man dressed up as Natives and dumped all 342 chests of tea into the harbor as a protest to the Tea Act, which played into the whole Taxation without Representation mantra that helped kick off the Revolution.

By 1775, the British had raided and taken over the meeting house, ruining the interior by using it to practice horse-riding, and they also stole an original 1620 manuscript of William Bradford’s “On Plymouth Plantation,” a memoir about the Pilgrims journey to American written by the colony’s original governor. It’s no longer a church today (the congregation built a new one after a 19th century fire almost burned this one to the ground), but stands as an interesting footnote to one of Boston’s most famous historical happenings.

Old State House – Built in 1713, the Old State House is the oldest public building in Boston, and like a lot of places in this city it’s been used for more than a couple different purposes over the years. It started as a sort of British headquarters, but once they were driven out it became the seat of the first elected legislature in the New World. In the years between declaring independence and electing George Washington the first president of the United States, John Hancock was elected the commonwealth’s first governor. That, of course, happened in this building.

Boston was the third place the Declaration was read (the first obviously being Philadelphia behind Independence Hall, the second being New York), and that was done from the balcony of this beautiful red brick building on July 18th, 1776.

Today it’s available for tours and actually is a popular place for wedding receptions. The subway runs through part of the basement. We wanted to go inside and check out the little museum, but our tour guide didn’t allow much time for breaks, and even though we said we’d come back the day never really provided us with the time or energy to make it back. We’d get more than our fair share of history before bedtime, though. Way, way more than our fair share.

Site of the Boston Massacre – Right across the street from the Old State House is the intersection where the Boston Massacre took place in 1770. The site is supposed to be marked by a ring in the sidewalk of a small traffic island, but our tour guide said that was made the “official” location to keep tourists from running out into traffic to take pictures with the “actual” location, which is right in the middle of a crosswalk a few yards away.

Other than Crispus Attucks, four other people were killed in the massacre, which is, in my opinion, a bit dramatic a word to use for the killing of five people. I’d call it more an “incident,” but this downplays history, and I would rather not be called unpatriotic for changing the name to the Boston Incident. Doesn’t quite resonate the same way, does it?

No matter what you call it, the whole thing must’ve been pretty intense and frightening. Obviously tensions were high in 1770, what with the whole British soldiers babysitting Americans and the tea taxes and what have you, so when a Redcoat hit a kid with the butt of his gun for insulting a commanding officer, the colonists went nuts. It started off with us throwing snowballs at them amidst a barrage of insults, but ended up with the Brit soldier calling for reinforcements as the rowdy American crowd grew to the hundreds.

When a club got thrown instead of a snowball, the soldier who was hit fired his gun. Anarchy ensued, colonists stormed, more gunshots went off, and when the whole thing was done five American men were dead.

So what ever happened to the soldiers who did the killing? All but two were actually acquitted of all charges and sent on to live their lives, thanks to the efforts of John Adams, who defended the British soldiers. It was a tough call for him but seemed like the right thing to do, even though it pissed off his cousin Sam to end. Again, the cajones these early Americans showed never fail to amaze me. How John Adams can defend the friggin’ Brittish in the early 1770s and then sign the Declaration of Independence a few years later is amazing to me. You can see why some people get so into history with guys like this to read about.

Faneuil Hall – Before doing my planning for the Boston trip I’d never even heard of this place, but it’s one of the top five most-visited tourist destinations in the country. Yeah. After seeing it all for myself I can understand why—there were just rows and rows of restaurants and shops and trolley tour booths and street performers. Think Navy Pier on land, without all the rides and stuff.

Actually, Faneuil Hall itself really isn’t all that big. It was built by Peter Faneuil in 1742 as a sort of combination marketplace/meeting house, and Sam Adams did some of his best work here, firing people up about the Stamp Act and other such British nonsense, and that’s why his statue stands in front of the building. On the lower level there are still a number of shops and a post office.

Faneuil’s extremely rich uncle Andrew died a childless widower and left his fortune to his two nephews, with the odd condition that neither one of them ever get married. Money or Chicks, boys? Faneuil’s brother chose chicks, but Peter, who was portly and disabled, didn’t have much luck with the ladies anyway so he took the dough and built the hall. Ladies most likely came a-knockin’ later, but Pete kept his bread and did a lot of good things for Boston with it.

Behind the Hall is Quincy Market, which is where all the crazy shops and restaurants are. Pretty much any sort of toursity shirt or restaurant or saltwater taffy you can imagine is behind there. In the midst of a tour laden with history, this was sort of the opposite of what we wanted. We were also hungry, it being lunchtime after a morning of walking and learning, so it was time to find some grub. There was only one place we would even consider…

Cheers – We knew we wanted to eat lunch at Cheers, probably Boston’s most famous bar/restaurant, but as far as we knew the original location was somewhere on Beacon Street—which was back the way we came. Little did we know there was a second location right there in Quincy Market, but we found that out after having eaten a mile’s walk away. Sounds like a hassle, but the version at Quincy looks and feels like a TGI Friday’s. The original, on the other hand, was the Cheers we’ve all grown to love over the years.

Originally called the Bull and Finch Pub, the Cheers on Beacon Hill is the one used for the exterior of the TV show, though the interior was never filmed. The commercial branch at Quincy Market is supposed to be a replica of the bar from television but only somewhat resembles what I’ve seen on Nick at Nite about a thousand times.

The ambiance in this original bar is much more Cheers-ish, and the food is actually really good. Amy and I each bought a shirt at the little gift shop and did our best not to wear them while actually in Boston. That would’ve been a little too nerdy, even for us. Sadly, nobody knew our names, as was advertised, but it was still worth the haul. To work off those lunch calories, we now had to hoof it back to Faneuil Hall to pick up The Freedom Trail where we left off.

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