Day 56, Sunday, September 9, 2018
Boston Freedom Trail, Boston, Massachusetts
One of the places that I most wanted to see on my trip was Boston. There is so much history there, and I had never been! Well maybe I went once with my family when I was really little, but I don’t remember it… But I was also nervous about driving in this big city that is notorious for its bad traffic. I decided to give it a go, and woke up early on a Sunday morning to head in. I set my GPS for Boston Common, which has a visitor’s center where I could get my bearings. The first parking garage where I had planned to park was full, due to a race that morning, so I found another in the area – $25 for the whole day – that’s not bad for a big city.
I found the Visitor’s Center and purchased a guidebook to the Boston Freedom Trail for $7 and a walking tour for $13 or $14. I had a bit of time before the walking tour started, so it was finally time to settle my big city nerves. Dunkin Donuts was the perfect place for a bagel breakfast sandwich and a coffee!
The tour guide was a older gentleman in period costume (and in character!) as a British Officer. The tour did the first 11 stops of the Freedom Trail, and it was so informative and interesting! We got to see some of Boston’s oldest cemeteries, the churches where many of our founding fathers worshiped, the site of the Boston Massacre, and more!
Follow along with me!
Stop 1 – Boston Common
Boston Common is America’s oldest park; established in 1634, it long predates the independence of the United States. It is also probably one of America’s first public projects, with each homeowner paying six shillings to fund the 30 pounds required to buy the Common’s 44 acres from the first settler in the area, William Blackstone. Until 1830, the common was used to graze local livestock, with livestock owners chipping in to collectively pay a town shepherd.
In 1775, Boston Common was the camp of the Redcoats during the British occupation of Boston.
More recently, in addition to it still being a public park, it has been the site of rallies and celebrations, including hosting speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr, and Charles Lindbergh, as well as civil rights and anti-war rallies. For Boston’s large Catholic population, Boston Common was the site of a mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II in 1979.
Strangely, I didn’t take any real pictures of Boston Common.
Stop 2 – Massachusetts State House
This impressive building with a golden dome was designed by Charles Bulfinch, and completed on January 11, 1798. The land with the state house is situated was once John Hancock’s cow pasture. Initially the dome was made of wood, but was covered with copper by Paul Revere; the gold leaf wasn’t added until 1874. At the very top of the dome is a gilded pine cone, honoring the state’s reliance on logging in the 18th century. Interestingly, during World War II the dome was painted gray, due to blackout orders.
This stunning building still houses the senators, state representatives and governor who conduct the daily business of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Stop 3 – Park Street Church
Built in 1809, the Park Street Church is the home of the Trinitarian Congregational church. The church became known for its support of abolitionist causes after William Lloyd Garrison delivered his first anti-slavery speech on July 4, 1829. Another fun fact – the song America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee) was first sung from the steps of the Park Street Church. The church continues to hold weekly congregational services today.
Stop 4 – Granary Burying Ground
The Granary Burying Ground was established in 1660, named for the huge grain storage building that was once next door, and it is Boston proper’s third oldest burying ground. Although there are 2,345 markers, it is estimated that about 5,000 people were buried here. There are many notables buried here, including three singers of the Declaration on Independence; Robert Treat Paine, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock. Paul Revere is buried towards the rear of the cemetery, and Benjamin Franklin’s parents have a centrally located obelisk. There is an infants tomb, where hundreds of children have been interred. And last but not least, the five victims of the Boston Massacre are buried here: Crispus Attucks, Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell and Patrick Carr.
You will notice that the stones are neatly placed in lines. This was not how the cemetery was originally arranged. In fact, many of the headstones have been rearranged in order to make it easier for the lawnmower to get through. So take the actual gravesites with a grain of salt here!
The Puritans made up a large part of Boston’s population in the days when the Granary Burying Ground was actively being used, and they didn’t mark their gravestones with religious icons. Instead, skulls and crossbones and other imagery is popular here. I liked Captain John Decoster’s stone; he died in 1770 at the age of 26. In addition to the skull with wings, his stone was engraved with this interesting quote, “Stop here my Friend & Cast an Eye; as you are now so Once was i; as i am now so you must be; Prepare for Death & Follow me.” He has a point!
It was here as we were milling around looking at headstones, when I was approached by a young woman who was also on the tour alone. She introduced herself as Clara, and she was in Boston from Singapore for a training for her new job. She asked if I was going to be touristing after the end of the tour, and if so, would I mind if she tagged along! Absolutely! It was nice to meet a friend who was interested in history, and have someone to chat with and share the day!