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Tuesday, May 28, 2013 : Boston Freedom Trail

 

We intend to spend the best part of this day on the Boston Freedom Trail, a walking itinerary that crosses all the old city of Boston, passing by most historical landmarks, and God knows there are lots of them ! To follow the Trail, a red line is painted on the sidewalks, and we just have to follow it.

 

We begin as yesterday, breakfast, shuttle and subway, again with a pair of Charlie Tickets.

 

Bunker Hill Monument, Charlestown

Bunker Hill Monument

 

We begin the Boston Freedom Trail by its most remote part, the Bunker Hill Monument. This obelisk was erected on the hill where the battle of Bunker Hill took place, during the Revolutionary War with the British. After climbing the 296 steps to the top, we can enjoy a nice view of most of the north of Boston.

 

The Monument opened in 1843.

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Bunker Hill Monument access pass

Bunker Hill Monument access pass

 

Access to the Monument is free, tickets are obtained at the visitor center across the street, which also hosts a small museum. The second museum, next to the Monument, is rather well documented. I learned quite a lot of details there about the Revolutionary War.

 

As almost anywhere else, visitors are not exactly crowding the place. This is the upside of having an off-season vacation. I can't help thinking about the waiting lines in the narrow stairway of the Monument at the height of summer !

 

At the top, windows are not too clean. This is why I did not insert the pictures we took up there.

 

The anecdote goes that the Insurgents (they were not yet American, in 1775) built a fort overnight on the neighboring hill. The British finally won, but only after losing half their forces in the battle, which made Major General Nathanael Greene, the commander of the Continental Army, say : "I wish we could sell them another hill at the same price we did Bunker Hill". Not yet independent, and already a pretty high business acumen !

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Boston Freedom Trail

Boston Freedom Trail

 

We follow the Boston Freedom Trail again. Don't be misguided by the sign, it is the shape of the Boston peninsula at the time of the Revolution that is shown. Since then, the harbor has been largely filled and the city, even in its historic center, is much larger than this.

 

The Trail is rich with all sorts of historic landmarks, and it would be a pity to run it at too fast a pace. We are really going to spend most of our day here.

 

The next part of the Trail runs thru the Boston Naval Shipyard, which we visited yesterday. We also see a monument dedicated to the preservation of the Union during the Civil War, and another one commemorating the foundation in 1630 of the Court of Assistants, a forerunner of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts.

 

We then cross the Charles River again, on Charlestown Bridge. We are back in the center of Boston.

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Copp's Hill Burying Ground, Boston

Copp's Hill Burying Ground

 

We walk up Hull Street and visit Copp's Hill Burying Ground, the second oldest cemetery in Boston, opened in 1659. A few famous families have their graves here. People from all walks of life are buried here : shipowners, shopkeepers, craftsmen. A few pirates, hanged close by, also rest here.

 

Nowadays, the landscape has been profoundly modified, but let's imagine it in 1659 : Copp's Hill was a nice little hill overlooking the harbor. The place most likely had a very pleasant view, although its residents may not have actually enjoyed it.

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Boston Freedom Trail marker

Boston Freedom Trail

 

After visiting the cemetery, we proceed on the Boston Freedom Trail. As you can see on the picture, copper plates on the sidewalk mark the historical trail. We can also see the famous red line, here made of bricks, crossing historical Boston. Further along, it will be painted.

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Inside Old North Church, Boston

Inside Old North Church

 

At the end of Hull Street is Old North Church. Today, this small church is surrounded with buildings higher than itself but, in the 18th century, the sight from the steeple extended to the other bank of Charles River. During the night of of April 18, 1775, Paul Revere used the famous code "One if by land, and two if by sea", as agreed with the other patriots. He had two lanterns hung high on the steeple, signaling his Revolutionary friends that the British troops were beginning to cross Charles River. He then had his famous ride, which allowed him to warn the cities of Concord and Lexington of an imminent attack.

 

Paul Revere was eventually captured, but history remembered the messenger as much as the message. Paul Revere's Midnight Ride became a legend, probably slightly embellished by Longfellow.

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Paul Revere Statue, Paul Revere Mall, Boston

Paul Revere statue

 

Behind Old North Church is the Paul Revere Mall which, at its other end, has a statue of, guess whom ? Paul Revere ! He is really Boston's folk hero, and we are far from done with him.

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Saint Stephen's Catholic Church, Boston

Saint Stephen's Catholic church

 

At the end of Paul Revere Mall is Saint Stephen' s Catholic Church. As most historical Boston buildings, this nice little church is made of red brick. But its is not only its style that catches the eye. Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, John, the 35th President's, mom, was indeed baptized here. I will learn later that she died ad 105.

 

On the pedestrian crossing, you can see the red stripe of the Boston Freedom Trail. Here, it is painted.

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Paul Revere House, Boston

Paul Revere House

 

A little further is the Paul Revere House, which borders North Square and a small courtyard. We visit the house, which is not very large. I learn that Paul Revere was a really successful silversmith. Later on, he purchased a much larger house. His very active involvement in the Revolution is not a professional politicians's opportunity, but the deep expression of his personal aspirations.

 

This house almost disappeared by negligence. It was utimately rescued and restored by the stubborn dedication of the Paul Revere Memorial Association.

 

We are deep in the Italian neighborhood. The quick succession of pizzerias and trattorias gives us ideas for tonight.

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Faneuil Hall main meeting room, Boston

Faneuil Hall main meeting room

 

We then cross the part of Boston given back to the residents when Interstate 93, which crosses the city south to north, was buried. The city has been a construction site for 15 years and found itself $16bn deeper in debt, but the result was worth the pain. The recovered space has been turned into parks, on about 4 miles in length.

 

We are now in front of Faneuil Hall, a multi-purpose building, as was often the case in the 18th century. It takes its name from Peter Faneuil, a Huguenot merchant of French ancestry settled in Boston that had it built in 1742. Its first floor was a market, its second was the meeting room shown on the picture, and the upper floors were storage space.

 

Faneuil Hall played a key part in the Revolution. Many meetings were held there, where minds began to seriously heat up against the taxation policy imposed by the King of England on his American subjects without their consent, therefore perceived as unfair.

 

More recently, it's in Faneuil Hall that in 1979 Ted Kennedy announced his intention to run for President, and that John Kerry conceded his defeat against George W. Bush in the 2004 Election.

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Samuel Adams statue in front of Faneuil Hall, Boston

Samuel Adams statue in front of Faneuil Hall

 

In front of Faneuil Hall stands a statue of Samuel Adams, one of the signers of the Declaration of IndependenceSamuel Adams was one of the organizers of the resistance against the English taxation policy, which culminated in the insurgency of the Thirteen Colonies and the independence of the United States. This resistance gave the "No taxation without representation" principle, one of the foundations of modern democracy. Later in his life, Samuel Adams was Governor of Massachusetts. He was a second cousin of John Adams, the second President.

 

At the time of the RevolutionFaneuil Hall was much smaller than nowadays. It had only three windows instead of seven, and one floor less. This upper floor, which we visited, now hosts the museum of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachussetts, one of the oldest artillery regiments in the world, organized in 1638. No fewer than four Presidents served in it : Monroe, Arthur, Coolidge, Kennedy.

 

After buying a quick snack at Quincy Market, just opposite Faneuil Hall, we make a short break. Then we spend some time watching a show by a group of African American street dancers that mixes dance, acrobatics, play and a good dose of humor. All are remarkably talented !

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Old State House and its famous balcony, Boston

Old State House an its famous balcony

 

Our next stop on the Boston Freedom Trail is the Old State House. This building has been the seat of the government of Colonial Massachusetts, then of the State government, then Boston City Hall, then a commercial building. Since 1881, it is the seat of the Bostonian Society, whose mission is to preserve Boston's historical heritage.

 

The balcony that can be seen on the picture is famous. The Declaration of Independence was read here for the first time in Boston on July 18, 1776.

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Old South Meeting House, Boston

Old South Meeting House

 

We then pass by Old South Meeting House, its style indicating its original usage, a church. Since it was the largest building in Boston at the time, a crowd gathered here on December 16, 1773. It later attacked three British merchant ships anchored in Boston Harbor and threw their tea payload in the water. It was the famous Boston Tea Party.

 

As we can see, the history of Boston is not short on hot-tempered historical characters and rough events during the Revolutionary period. By contrast, Virginia, which we will visit in a few days, had a much more wait-and-see attitude.

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1840 Irish Famine Memorial, Boston

1840 Irish Famine Memorial

 

Across the street is the 1840 Great Irish Famine Memorial. A disease had devastated potato crops, pushing the population into mass emigration, notably to the Boston area. More than a million Irish had to leave their home country at the time, often in dire conditions.

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Granary Burying Ground, Boston

Granary Burying Ground, where Paul Revere and Samuel Adams rest

 

We are now at Granary Burying Ground, the last home of many patriots and other famous Bostonians. Samuel Adams, John HancockPeter Faneuil and Paul Revere rest here, among others.

 

If Copp's Hill is everybody's cemetery, Granary is more the good society's resting place. It takes its name from a granary, which occupied the neighboring plot.

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Park Street Church, next to the Boston Common, Boston

Park Street Church, next to the Boston Common

 

This granary no longer exists.  It has been replaced by Park Street Church, shown on the picture. This church was founded in 1810 by former members of nearby Old South Meeting House, which were willing to promote a more orthodox trinitary doctrine. Contrary to Old South Meeting HousePark Street Church was never directly involved in politics. Its missions were, and still are, social and humanitary.

 

Just behind us is the Boston Common, a nicely maintained park. It was not always this beautiful piece of leisure space. In the 1630s, a sign of a higher social position was to be allowed to use it as a pasture for cattle.

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Massachussetts State House, Boston

Massachussetts State House, seat of State Government and Congress

 

Just at the top of the Boston Common is the Massachusetts State House, seat of the State Government and Congress. During our stroll through Beacon Hill yesterday, we walked by the other side of this building, undergoing renovation at the time of our visit.

 

The Boston Common also marks the end of the Boston Freedom Trail. It is now late afternoon, and we search for a viewpoint to discover Boston from atop.

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Boston and the harbor, from the Prudential Center Skywalk Observatory

Boston and the harbor, from the Prudential Center Skywalk Observatory

 

We find it at Skywalk Observatory, the top floor of the Prudential Center, one of the biggest shopping malls in Boston and office building of a major insurance company. We get there with the subway. From the 50th floor, the panoramic observatory gives a remarkable view of Boston and its vicinity. The audioguide is very well made, highly detailed, and ... available in French, a rarity in this country.

 

We walk around the observatory, seeing all of Boston, beginning with the financial district, then the harbor and the airport, the opera, Fenway Park, the Red Sox baseball arena, Harvard University and the M.I.T.

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Beacon Hill, Charles River, Longfellow Bridge

Beacon Hill, Charles River and Longfellow Bridge

 

We have now walked almost the full lap around the observatory. We are above Beacon Hill with Charles River right before our eyes, then Longfellow Bridge and, further away, Zakim Bridge and Bunker Hill.

 

We also see two very interesting films, about the history of Boston and Irish immigration.

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Boylston Street, site of the April 15, 2013 attack, Boston

117th Boston Marathon finish line, site of the April 15, 2013 attack

 

After the Prudential Center, we walk up Boylston Street. We easily find the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon, close to the site of the April 15, 2013 attack.

 

It is now time to eat. We take the subway and go back to the Italian neighborhood, close to Paul Revere House. We have dinner at the Antico Forno, a very nice Italian restaurant, that I warmly recommend, as much for its delicious cuisine and its authentic brick oven as for its friendly service.

 

Then we take the subway again, back to our hotel in Quincy. The podometer displays 7.5 miles, we are not surprised.

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