Friday, July 31, 2009

Joel & Amy Across America, Part 5

Old North Church – The tallest and oldest church in Boston is Christ Church, known by just about everybody in Boston as Old North, and it’s because of its towering steeple that it was chosen to hang the lanterns for Paul Revere and William Dawes so they could alert the arrival of British troops.

The Patriots learned of General Gage’s plan to ride to Lexington and Concord to arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock, so they set things up for Revere and Dawes to ride through the countryside warning all the important Tories when, as the saying goes, the Redcoats were coming. One lantern would be hung in the Old North steeple if they were coming via land, and two if by sea. Just as Longfellow mentioned in his poem.

We know Revere, thanks to Longfellow, but a lot of Americans will have never heard of William Dawes, even though he completed his ride an hour quicker than Revere. The reason for this is that Longfellow, who wasn’t even born until decades after Revere died, wrote the poem as a romantic gesture to the new lady in his life, who just so happened to be a direct descendent of Revere. Henry wanted to butter up her and the family, so he wrote the poem, and took a few artistic liberties in doing so. He didn’t write it to be history; he wrote to impress potential in-laws.

That’s not to say Revere wasn’t an important guy, because he was. He just didn’t do it all by himself. He and Dawes and several other riders all helped in trumping the Brits’ plan that night. There’s no need to marginalize the guy, but he just wasn’t quite the huge hero American mythology has made him out to be over the years. He can thank Longfellow for the publicity, because for a long time history books used his poem as the foundation for what they included about Revere.

Whatever happened, it started at Old North. We weren’t allowed to go up into the steeple, but the church itself is still used for Episcopal services and is set up in a curious manner. Set up in box pews—tiny cubicles that families purchased the same way we’d purchase season tickets to the Red Sox today—Old North comes off pretty strange at first. Knowing it was built in the early 1700s, though, makes the odd seating arrangement a little more reasonable.

There was no way anyone was going to light a fire in a church back then for fear of burning down a neighborhood’s most beautiful and expensive building, so the box pews were installed to keep out drafts in the winter, while also boxing in the body heat of families sharing a cubicle. They’d put a hot stone or brick in a little metal box and that would help keep things warm in the winter as well.

It was a really neat old church, and the second-to-last Revolution-era attraction of the day. But that didn’t mean we were done with The Freedom Trail. There were still a couple of stops to make—on the other side of the Charles River.

Bunker Hill Monument – After stopping by the U.S.S. Constitution, a warship from the War of 1812 that earned the nickname “Old Ironsides” because British cannonballs bounced off its sides as if they were made of iron, we humped it uphill a few more blocks to the Bunker Hill monument—a gigantic obelisk that marks the end of the trail.

The thing we remember most about 1775’s Battle of Bunker Hill, the first major battle of the Revolutionary War, is the famous line, “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes,” a saying which nobody really knows the origin of. America lost that battle, forced to retreat because of a shortage of ammunition (hence the famous saying), but took out a lot of British before calling it quits.

Click HERE for More Pictures!

Today there’s a giant tower standing a top a hill in Charleston where all this fighting went down, the cornerstone of which was laid down in 1825, fifty years after the battle. I almost had to drag my wife up the steps to see this thing because she was so tired, but she was a pretty good sport about following me to the end of our day’s voyage. She took a picture of me at the last Freedom Trail marker, and then we were done.

That is, until I found out you could go up the monument.

It’s only a 294-stair haul, which is absolutely as bad as it sounds, and Amy gave me that womanly look of doom as we schlepped up each and every one of those steps. It was hot and exhausting and we had walked almost four miles over the course of the day, so I can’t blame her for regretting my decision to go up this thing. It’s not like the Arch in St. Louis, where you just take an elevator to see the view. You earn the view in Boston, but it was cool to see everything so high up. Plus, we felt a certain sense of accomplishment when it was all said and done.

A short hop and a skip to the nearest Subway stop, and we were finally on our way to our hotel in Cambridge—exhausted, educated, and absolutely starving.

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