Sunday, 8 June 2014

Boston post #3: History in Boston

My girlfriend Emily and I recently visited our friends Phil and Char in Boston. You can read about some of the things we got up to in my previous blog post about Boston here. I also wrote a post about our visit to Boston Calling Music Festival here. There was so much to do in Boston and we packed so much into our week long visit, that I wanted to write another post dedicated to all the historical stuff we got up to. History is fun!

On our first full day in Boston we went on a Harvard Campus Tour. As with much of the things we did while in Boston, this was recommended in our trusty Lonely Planet Guide Book. The Harvard Campus Tour was free of charge and lasted around an hour. We were guided around by a friendly girl who had just finished her freshman year at Harvard. The tour included just the right amount of information, mixed with some humour and interesting stories, to make it informative, without being boring.

We headed quite far out of the centre of town, to Coolidge Corner, to visit the JFK Family Home [the John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site]. Annoyingly we hadn't spotted the opening times in our guide book, or when I briefly looked it up online, as this is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays from May-October, as we discovered when we arrived. Although we didn't get to look inside, it was brilliant to see the house from the outside and explore the neighbourhood. Emily was really excited to see lots of suburban American homes and see that homes actually look like this in real life and not just in movies! We chatted to a lovely American couple outside, who were visiting from Nashville, Tennessee, who also didn't realise that it was going to be closed.

On Memorial Day, we visited the New England Holocaust Memorial. This is a very beautiful and poignant tribute to the millions of people killed by the Nazi regime. Although this made us feel sad, it was also very thought-provoking and well worth going to visit. The memorial is beautifully presented, with lots of quotes from Holocaust survivors engraved in various places. There are six large glass covered columns which make up the main memorial, with all of the glass covered in tiny written numbers. The numbers were given by the Nazis to concentration camp prisoners, which tattooed onto them. Each number represents someone killed during the Holocaust. 

Continuing with our historical adventure on Memorial Day, we walked most of the Freedom Trail. This route is marked by a red brick or in places painted red line that spans nearly three miles around Boston, leading you to various historical sites of interest around the city. We stopped at the Old Granary Burying Ground, where some famous people are buried, including Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, Benjamin Franklin's family and other important people from the Revolutionary era. We spent a lot of time walking around Boston Common, which has many statues and memorials to important dates and people in Boston and American history, including a statute of George Washington. We did what lots of annoying tourists do nowadays and stopped for a selfie with the great man!

On one side of Boston Common lies the grand Massachusetts State House, with the Old State House a little further away. We didn't go inside either of these places, but would have done if we had a little more time. Other stops on the trail include visiting the Copp's Hill Burying Ground [another cemetry, but still interesting!] and the Old North Church, which had lovely grounds and a memorial to soldiers who have died in service in recent years. We stepped on and off the trail and saw a couple of the places on different days while visiting other places, but the Freedom Trail is great, whether you do it all, or dip in and out.

I won't go into detail about the history of all of these places and people, but if you are into history and you don't know about the Revolutionary War, the Boston Tea Party and other huge parts of American history that took place in Boston, then I'd definitely recommend you take the time to read up on it. Alternatively you could put Boston on your bucket list of places to visit in the future!

George Washington selfie on Boston Common

Further along the Freedom Trail, the USS Constitution is docked in Charlestown. The USS Constitution is the flagship of the US Navy and is sailed around Boston Harbour every year on the 4th of July, to maintain it's commissioned status within the fleet. It was free to look round, after going through airport style security checks to enter and we were allowed to look around most of the ship. Current servicemen do short guided tours of the ship, but we decided to explore on our own. I've always loved old ships, since visiting the Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth as a child, so it was great to see this fantastic part of US history.

We wanted to go and see the Bunker Hill Monument while in Charlestown, as it's not all that far from the USS Constitution. This monument is on top of a hill that boasts a great view of Boston from all sides. Unfortunately it was starting to rain while we were in the area, so we decided to head back to avoid getting too soggy!

One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum. The Boston Tea Party was a political protest against the British Monarchy that took place in 1773. The tour is hosted by fantastic actors in period outfits, who enthusiastically tell the story of how the Boston Tea Party unfolded. It starts in an assembly room, where guests are invited to take part by reading from cue cards. We then walked down onto one of the two Boston Tea Party ships that are docked there, where we were shown around the wonderfully restored ship. One of the actors asked for volunteers to help throw the tea overboard, reenacting what happened during the night of the protest centuries ago. He was of course looking for kids to volunteer, but I jumped straight up as I'm a big kid at heart and really wanted a go! Unlike the actual protest, these 'tea boxes' were on rope and could be pulled back onboard. The whole tour was very informative and interesting and we had lots of fun.

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