History was never my favorite subject in school. Part of the reason is the way it was taught to me, by professors, out of textbooks – boring! It made me think that history was just a bunch of dates, names and facts that had no practical relevance to me. I couldn’t have cared less.
After reading A Thomas Jefferson Education, I think about “learning” differently, and I see history through new eyes. I have more of a desire to know WHY things happened and pass that desire on to my children. For this reason, I jumped at the opportunity to accompany Mike to his continuing medical education conference in Boston with our older kids. It was a chance to make history come alive for us.
Luckily the sun was shining on this fall day in Boston as we were off to walk the famous “Freedom Trail.” We started at the Boston Common (a big park in the middle of town that’s been there since early America) and ended at the Bunker Hill Memorial in Charlestown. It was like following the yellow brick road, except it was red. There were red bricks laid in the concrete that led the way of the trail all through town.
There’s a visitor’s center on the Common that has free maps and some great guides. I bought one for kids in a fun format, and another that had interesting stories and information for the sites along the trail. I’ll share some of what I liked best, which is the kind of stuff I seek out to teach and inspire my kids.
This beautiful sculpture of the Shaw/54th Regiment Memorial was the first thing we saw. It signifies interracial cooperation as well as individual heroism. Many of Massachusett’s black residents wanted to fight against slavery in the Civil War, but the U.S. Army wouldn’t allow it.
Finally the Army relented and prominent young white men volunteered to lead the black troops of the 54th Regiment, including Robert Gould Shaw, only son of one of Boston’s first families. It was risky for both white officer and black soldier. If captured the black soldiers would become slaves; the whites were seen as traitors to their race by the Confederate Army.
Across the street is the NEW State Building. It’s called the “new” State House to distinguish it from the “Old State House,” which still stands and is also part of the Freedom Trail.
Construction on this new building started in 1795 and took 3 years to complete. Only in Boston would a “new” building be more than 2 centuries old! Samuel Adams and Paul Revere presided over the laying of its cornerstone. The original wood shingled dome leaked, so in 1802 Paul Revere clad it in copper.
These were on the inside, around the base of the dome.
I couldn’t resist capturing this gorgeous mosaic floor on camera.
Art like this sculpture memorial to army nurses catches my eye and pulls at my heartstrings. I love exposing myself and my children to art like this, the kind of art that makes you think.
Around the corner from the New State House is the Park Street Church. During the War of 1812 it was nicknamed “Brimstone Corner,” after the gunpowder stored in the crypt. It’s the home of many “firsts,” such as America’s first Sunday school (1817), the first prison aid society (1824), one of the earliest temperance societies (1826), the first public anti-slavery address by William Lloyd Garrison, and the first public singing of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”
Next stop, was the Granary Burial Ground. Paul Revere’s grave marker was a shrine of coins and rocks on the top. Of course, my kids wanted to contribute.
Ben Franklin’s parents were also buried in this cemetery.
This is Mother Goose’s grave! The family name was Goose, but historians doubt that this woman actually made up the nursery rhymes that are so famous now. She did raise 20 children though – 10 of her own, and 10 by her husband’s first wife. That makes for a lot of years reciting nursery rhymes!
A statue of Ben Franklin stands next to the “King’s Chapel” which was built to the indignation of the Puritans in 1687. Since no Puritan would sell land to the Anglican church, the governor simply seized a corner of a burying ground. You can imagine the hostility that was felt for the structure until after the Revolution.
Close by is the site of the first public school, where John Hancock and Samuel Adams studied, in addition to Ben Franklin, the school’s most famous dropout. This public school continues, now called Boston Latin, and still requires 4 years of Latin to graduate.
We then passed the Old South Meeting House – location of the famous meeting before the Boston Tea Party, the Old State House – location of the Boston Massacre, (which has a visitors center where Raquel bought a pocket watch on a chain and I bought a book entitled “Fart Proudly” consisting of the lessor known writings of Ben Franklin) and a statue of Samuel Adams in front of Faneuil Hall marketplace.
Right alongside the Freedom Trail is the New England Holocaust Memorial.
I had heard about it before, so I knew what it was when we saw it. Six square towers of glass stretch skyward (like smoke stacks), each engraved with 1 million numbers signifying the many people who died.
There was a story etched at the bottom of each tower. One of them was told by a young man who was commanded by concentration camp officials to dig up dead bodies out of a mass grave so they could be burned. In the process of doing so, he recognized his own family members. Heart wrenching.
This memorial stone reads, “THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
THEN THEY CAME for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
THEN THEY CAME for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.
THEN THEY CAME for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”
I stood in front of this stone, overcome with emotion after reading the stories etched in the towers. I had to dry my eyes and regain my composure before moving on.
As a side note, having this kind of experience with my kids is so powerful for them what I want them to learn–the value of human life, the tragic things that have happened in history that could be prevented in the future with enough people willing to defend what’s right, the blessings of living in a mostly free country, etc. etc.
Across the street we picked up the Freedom Trail again.
Isaac with a militia man by the famous Union Oyster House. And here’s a rare picture of me (since I’m usually the one behind the camera) in the famous “North End.”
We also passed Mike’s Pastry Shop, which the kids regarded as being famous after it was featured Ruff Ruffman on the PBS show called Fetch.
Next was Paul Revere’s house right in the middle of the crowded North End section of town.
Outside is this bell crafted by Paul Revere. It was really interesting to learn more about his history. He was a master craftsman, who also created the famous carving of the Boston Massacre.
“One if by land, two if by sea.” The Old North Church is perhaps Boston’s most famous landmark. From it’s steeple were displayed two lanterns as a signal of how the British were planning to travel on the eve of the Revolution’s first battle.
The church’s clergyman, Robert Newman, helped Revere by sneaking into the church to display the signal, and then escaping out a window. The lantern was seen by British soldiers, who tried in vain to find the culprit.
We passed one more burying ground before crossing the large Charlestown Bridge to get to the U.S.S. Constitution, the most celebrated ship in American History.
It was one of the U.S. Navy’s first vessels, launched in 1797 to protect American merchant ships from Algerian pirates.
If you ever plan to walk the Freedom Trail, don’t go on a Monday, because the ship exhibit and the Bunker Hill museum are closed on Mondays.
Luckily the U.S.S. Constitution museum was so kid friendly and fun that we weren’t too disappointed.
We had a needed rest and at the same time learned a lot about how it was to be a sailor.
Even after a rest, facing the walk up to the Bunker Hill memorial was almost too much for my legs, which were well tuckered out by then.
I almost hailed a cab, but decided to persevere. It was worth it. Nothing so tremendous had been built in America when this monument was dedicated in 1843, and it was grand to see.
During this infamous battle, before which the Americans had very little gunpowder, they were given orders not to fire “’til you see the whites of their eyes.” The Battle of Bunker Hill actually took place on Breed’s Hill just adjacent to the real Bunker Hill. There was as much confusion about which hill was which back then as there is now. So the Bunker Hill Memorial stands on what is actually Breed’s Hill.
It felt good to review and internalize so many facts of American history that I had forgotten over the years or perhaps never really learned. I have loved getting more acquainted with the Founding Fathers and great men that brought about the freedom of our nation from the British.
Mike has read much more than me on the topic, and we occasionally have discussions about the meaning of freedom and what prepared so many strong leaders to succeed in obtaining it. It’s stuff I want my children to hear.
Hope you enjoyed seeing the Freedom Trail through our perspective!