I Heart Indies

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Freedom Trail

The Old North Church, whence Robert Newman
held up two lanterns, not as a signal to
Paul Revere, but as an additional signal to
the Colonists that the Regulars were coming.
(The British soldiers) When Newman got

down, British soldiers were trying to break in
the door to find out what was happening, so
he scooted out the back window by the altar,
called a "Newman" to this day in his honor.
I spent the weekend in Boston, where I presented at the Grub Street Writers' Conference.  I arrived early, with the express purpose of taking a walking tour of the "Freedom Trail" a two-and-a-half mile long course, passing some of Boston's most famous sites.  I didn't hire a tour guide, but, especially in the early parts of the trail, encountered groups of school kids led by somebody in broadcloth and a tricorn hat or some other period costume declaiming about some point of history.  In the graveyard where the victims of the Boston Masacre, Paul Revere, Sam Adams, and John Hancock are buried I got to overhear three times about the inaccuracy of Longfellow's line, "The British are coming!  The British are coming!"  The standard joke at this among tour guides is that it would be like someone shouting, "The Americans are coming!  The Americans are coming!"  One tour guide improvised with "The Humans are coming!  The Humans are coming!"
It would be easy to go on in this vein, waxing comic about Boston's history, and there is something deeply silly about walking two miles to stand in front of a building where something happened two hundred years ago.   But by golly, I won't make fun of this.  Who's the poet who said, "Lives there a man with soul so dead that never to himself hath said, 'this is mine own, my native land'?"  Any American who isn't stirred to walk the streets of Boston just needs more stirring, that's all.  When people were just starting to consider the possibility of genuine rights, the Bostonians got it.  They opened the first public school in the colonies, stipulating that Indians be educated free.  In the same burial ground as John Hancock, so wealthy he once tossed gold coins at passersby from his phaeton, lie African Americans like Crispus Attucks and Phyllis Wheatley.  Bostonians fought from mixed and often far from honorable motives, but it also produced men like John Adams who acted as lawyer on behalf of the British prosecuted for the Boston Massacre.  They were not afraid, the best of them, to give their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor.  Walking the Freedom Trail reminded me of the best of what it means to be American.  God bless Boston.

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