Wednesday, April 14, 2010

In My Footsteps: Trip 40: The Boston Freedom Trail

In My Footsteps
Christopher Setterlund

Trip 40: Boston, Mass. – The Freedom Trail

            It is one thing to read about American history, it is a totally different experience to see and touch said history.  All of us as children learned about our forefathers and the American Revolution in school, however the true magnitude and importance of those people and events cannot be appreciated until you have taken a walk down the Boston Freedom Trail.
            At two and a half miles each way, the Freedom Trail is the ultimate trip through America’s Revolutionary period history.  There are guided tours but the trail is quite easy to navigate as it is designated by a red line on the sidewalks.  Besides the historic sights this activity is also a great way to enjoy Boston.
            The Freedom Trail can be started from any point along the two and a half miles but for those wishing to enjoy it in its entirety the Trail begins at the fifty acre Boston Common.  From this point there are sixteen landmarks that are each in their own right must see spots, put them all together and it makes up a once in a lifetime journey through time.
            The first site to see on the Freedom Trail is the Massachusetts State House(above).  Completed in 1798 the State House sits on land once owned by John Hancock, its original wooden dome was replaced by copper produced by Paul Revere’s company.  Mr. Revere was the first American to successfully roll copper into sheets.  After passing by the next stop, the Park Street Church, it is time to get as close to some of the founding fathers as possible.
            The Granary Burying Ground, founded in 1660, is the final resting place for some of the most famous names in the history of our country.  Standing front and center in the cemetery is a large monument marking the graves of Benjamin Franklin’s parents, Josiah and Abiah.  The victims of the Boston Massacre are located under a single stone near the front entrance to the cemetery.  A walk around these aged stones reads like a who’s who of history.  The markers for Samuel Adams, John Hancock(right), Paul Revere, and even Mother Goose, yes, Mother Goose, can be found with relative ease.  These people seemed like only myths when reading about them in school, standing before the markers of their graves brought the human element out of what used to be just stories growing up.  It is easy to lose track of time here but there is so much more to see.
            Along the Freedom Trail you will pass King’s Chapel and Burying Ground, followed closely by the Boston Latin School.  This is the first public school ever, founded in 1635, and is the oldest active school in the country as well.  The Old South Meeting House in the Downtown Crossing area is famous for being the spot where the Boston Tea Party was organized.   
            The Old State House is the oldest surviving public building in Boston.  Built in 1713 it housed the first elected government in the Colonies.  However, it is what is located outside of the Old State House that hit me more.  Located in front of the building, and marked by a circle of cobblestones, is the site of the Boston Massacre.  On March 5, 1770 British soldiers fired into an angry crowd in front of the State House, killing five civilians.  The event was called a ‘massacre’ by Samuel Adams.  Standing on this spot is enough to give you chills imagining that it was the events that took place there that set in motion the Revolution and subsequently our independence.
            Faneuil Hall(right) was originally built in the 1740’s in the guise of an English marketplace with an open bottom floor.  The building is consistently one of the most visited sites in New England as it has not changed very much since it was rebuilt after burning down in 1762.  It is named for wealthy Boston merchant Peter Faneuil who helped to finance its original development.  Today Faneuil Hall is part of the Faneuil Hall Marketplace which also includes Quincy Market as well as North Market and South Market.  Though modernized this marketplace still holds tight to its lengthy history and has the feel of a place that could have existed two hundred years ago with street performers and guided tours the norm.
            The next two stops on the Freedom Trail feature one of the most famous heroes of the Colonial-era, Paul Revere.  His house he occupied during the Revolution is located on North Square and is available for tours.  Revere and his family lived here from 1770-1800 and in 1902 his great-grandson purchased it to preserve it and save it from demolition.  Not far from this home is the one and only Old North Church(left). 
            It was here on April 18, 1775 that the famous ‘one if by land, two if by sea’ signal lantern warning of British approach took place.  Robert Newman hung the two lanterns for a minute to allow Paul Revere to see it would be a sea approach by the soldiers and off her went on his ride through present day Somerville, Medford, and Arlington.  During his ride he shouted warnings to nearly every house he passed though the historical phrase ‘the British are coming!’ most likely did not happen since most Colonists still thought of themselves as British.  The church itself is quite small but the sense of what occurred just overhead is still palpable.
            The nearby Copp’s Hill Burying Ground is the final resting place of Robert Newman.  It is also significant for its collection of unmarked African American graves of those who lived in the ‘New Guinea’ once located at the foot of the hill.  There is also an impressive grave marking the resting place of Prince Hall who was the father of ‘Black Freemasonry.’  Though it is difficult to pinpoint much of his life, due mostly to the fact that there were several other Prince Hall’s living in Boston at the time, the main idea of his story is that of breaking new ground for other African Americans at the time.  Another amazing site is the grave of Daniel Malcolm.  Malcolm’s identity is not as important as the strange holes and dents in his stone which, legend has it, are from bullets fired by the British during the Revolution.
            Being the highest point in the North End it is possible to see both the Bunker Hill Monument and the U.S.S. Constitution from Copp’s Hill.  The Bunker Hill Monument stands 221-feet tall and ironically does not stand on Bunker Hill.  It is located on Breed’s Hill where most of the Battle of Bunker Hill, the first major conflict between the British and the Colonists, actually took place.  In the Charlestown Navy Yard sits the amazing U.S.S. Constitution, also known as ‘Old Ironsides.’ 
            Built in 1797, and famous for its battles during the War of 1812, Old Ironsides(right) actually saw its first action during an undeclared war with France between 1798-1800.  Fought almost entirely at sea the war was based around the newly revolutionary France’s anger at the United States not repaying its debt.  The reasoning was that the debt was owed to the French Crown, not to the government that overthrew it.  Old Ironsides has served as a museum ship for nearly forty years and is available to be toured year-round and needs to be walked on to be appreciated.
            The Boston Freedom Trail is something that every American needs to experience at least once.  It brings to life legends that are major parts of all of our history.  It was hard enough trying to fit all that I saw in this article but it is all so amazing that I felt it necessary to include it all.  The walk is long, but the impressive list of sites will make it hardly feel like a stroll.  I cannot recommend visiting this paradise of history enough; it is the very definition of America.  Have fun and happy traveling!                  
Directions:  From I-93 heading north, take exit 26 for Storrow Drive, merge onto Rt. 28 S/Storrow Drive, take second exit (left exit) onto Arlington/Copley Square, at the light - dog leg left onto Arlington (Public Garden is on the left), turn left at the second light onto Boylston Street, take left onto Charles Street (underground parking is in the first block on the right.)
            Old North Church
            Faneuil Hall
            Boston Massacre Historical Society