I never wanted to like you. I do not remember having many good times with you. I admit I was charmed many years ago as a pre-teen. The pictures show me re-enacting the Boston Tea Party and interacting with ducks in Boston Common. Not sure how those photo-ops occurred, but they did. Since then I’ve revisited a few times, visiting friends and relatives, perhaps at the wrong time, but never again included any trips to your historical sites. My friends were great, but you, Boston, were gloomy, unsociable, boring, and rude. Your streets were confusing, manic and full. I vowed never to return. Boy was I wrong.
Patriot’s Day weekend 2004 was magical. The people were vibrant, the sun was shining and the past came alive. The past that you are famous for, the past for which you deserve so much praise and so much credit. I was lucky enough to be with you on April 19, 2004 exactly 229 years since everything started. 229 years to the day since William Dawes and Paul Revere rode through Boston and into the countryside warning every one of the oncoming British soldiers looking for guns. I walked those same streets. I stood on the spot near Concord that the Redcoats captured Mr. Revere later that fateful day. I saw the house he lived in. I saw silver he handcrafted. I even saw a man dressed as Mr. Revere riding though your North End streets that same morning reenacting his ride. The riders’ bravery, bravado and sheer lunacy had never fully sunk in. Today it did.
Your people, your Bostonians, our Americans were crazy. Rabble rousers. Maniacs. Proud, stubborn people. I went to your outskirts the days before, to Lexington and to Concord. Here they were, living out in the country, sitting in taverns together, organizing minuteman militias, talking about rebellion, staring at least one thousand members of the world’s foremost army. Your situation was not terrible. You ate well, you had many personal freedoms and you were financially prosperous. But you wanted absolute independence. You wanted nothing to do with the most powerful nation in the world. You did not want their protection; you did not want their financial help. You wanted to exist without them.
I was in Concord and Lexington on Patriot’s Day weekend. I walked much of the 5-mile path in Minute Man National Historical Park along Battle Road. The path that the British soldiers marched in on. The path along which they stopped at places I visited, like the Hartwell Tavern, and demanded all the guns and all ammunition on site. You had re-enactors replaying the tense interchanges. I saw your courageous American women hide the guns and subsequently lie to the searching Brits about their whereabouts. After the actors finished I asked them many questions: why how, which, who. They answered everything and elaborated beyond my expectations. I felt closer to their real-life counterparts than I would have ever thought possible.
Battle Road continued to its western end, the North Bridge in Concord. Where “the shot heard ‘round the world” was fired. We have trivialized this phrase relating it to professional sports happenings and other comparatively inconsequential occurrences. You, Boston, would never distort the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, your son. Not even to describe a home run by your beloved Red Sox. The shot means so much more than that. I stood at the North Bridge 229 years later. It means our country.
What caused the shot? What caused the war? One of your hotheaded sons. A crazy and surely delusional Bostonian. This weekend you taught me that the British foray, while disposing of seized ammunitions, accidentally set fire to a few of Concord’s buildings. As they were putting out the fire, fixing their mistake, Lieutenant Joseph Hosmer was so angered at the now billowing smoke that he yelled eight words to his commander that would start a revolution: “Will you let them burn the town down?” With those words, the men moved towards Concord, towards an improbably imposing army and onto the North Bridge.
It was still April 19, 1775. It was not yet noon. After the three-minute skirmish at the North Bridge, three British were dead and nine were wounded. They took time to regroup and soon started their retreat. History moved back eastward now along Battle Road. So did I. As the Redcoats retreated, American militia from throughout the countryside converged on the Battle Road. They attacked from the woods. Chaos, panic and madness. My retreat back along the path conjured the same feelings. The woods are still there, the trauma almost real. I felt tremendous sympathy for the British soldiers. Surrounded on all sides, 16 miles away from their destination: you, Boston.
Back again at the Hartwell Tavern, another re-enactor, this time dressed in minuteman regalia, demonstrated the loading and firing of a flintlock rifle. It took him 15 seconds to load and fire. Upon firing there was a loud bang and flash, followed by a putrid sulfur aroma and a cloud of smoke. I could envision the countryside awash with these noises, smells and visions. Coupled by screams of pain, the stench of death, constant running and absolute chaos. 273 British men died along the path I was walking. Many are still buried there. What had your sons started, Boston? Would they follow up against their chosen, juggernaut of an enemy?
Of course. Your other sites tell much of that story. Some of the sites are on the other Freedom Trail, the one in your streets, the one that is a part of Boston National Historical Park. Sites like Bunker Hill, where just two months later, June 17, your Bostonians fought so ferociously against the British that Parliament was left with no other choice but to declare the colonies to be in a state of rebellion. Your Patriots started the fight. Other sites, like Faneuil Hall, the Old State House, the Old South Meeting House and so many more, tell of the fight leading up to Patriot’s Day.
So, Boston, thank you for allowing me to share in your celebration. Your people have been so welcoming, your streets so lovely (albeit manic) and your skies beautiful. Thank you for everything.