The great journalistic assignments of our time can be counted on the right hand of Homer Simpson. Watergate, Lewinsky, O.J. Simpson, Manti Te’o. Well Homer, sorry but you’re going to have to put down that donut because you’re moving on to appendage number two. That’s right – A British guy is going to walk the Freedom Trail, and provide his reflections. D’Oh on that.
Before you throw the paper down and start running for the weapon you use to avenge sacrilege (Gun? Baseball bat? Death stare?), let one thing be made clear – I know my place. BGIE has been a barrage of reminders that the Brits are responsible for most of the world’s ills. China – Opium Wars. Iceland – Depositing hot money. Nigeria – Geographic division and ethnic tension. We haven’t done anything right and the U.S. story is no exception. So I do hereby do what Señor Cameron refuses to do and apologise to everyone, for everything. We were sub-optimal, apart from natty uniforms.
For the uninitiated (and this included me until Monday morning), the Freedom Trail is a walk that takes you through Boston to and past some of the most important monuments and buildings in the story of the (very) early United States. As an out-of-towner, the temptation is to be all “Freedom?! Freedom?! Pah! Who wouldn’t want warm beer, bad weather and emotional repression?” but the trail highlighted loads of fascinating stuff that I had no idea about, as well as so many more things to apologise for.
Take Paul Revere’s house, for example. I had never heard of Paul Revere. Not once. I went to grade school, too. To hear this extraordinary story of the man who essentially single-handedly ensured that the defenders were ready to meet the British aggressors was like discovering very late that the Battle of Britain happened and that I was totally unaware of it. Adding to that the fact he had 16 children born to two wives and lived with them in a house that can only be described as pokey, he was a silversmith and copper engraver AND moonlighted as a part-time dentist. This guy was enormously impressive, and is rightfully and beautifully commemorated in the North End.
There was one particular moment that really felt like going back in time, and is worth the whole walk on its own. You stand on the memorial to the Boston Massacre in which 5 protesters were killed by the British Army and looking up at the East Balcony of the Old State House. That balcony of this beautifully restored and kept building is where the first reading of the Declaration of Independence in Boston on July 18th 1776 took place. For some reason with its backdrop of skyscrapers and Starbucks and the general fabric of modernity, the image has lost none of it’s power. There remains a real sense of the enormity of that event – you can still feel the presence of a document that changed the world forever, and the spirit of the people that made it happen.
This I think is the point of the Freedom Trail which is understandably easily lost. In its status as a tourist trap where you are led around by a dude in britches and a tricorn hat (FYI, went indie – no guides for me, natch), it’s not someone I ever hear of anyone ever wanting to visit. It takes you through the one of the defining periods of global history, where so much of it is still standing and there for you to see and feel and interact with, and no-one seems to care, really. I sympathise with that, of course, everyone’s got a lot on, but if you can make it down on a beautiful Spring day then go get pasta in the North End when you’re done, then do it. At the very least, you’ll be able to ask yourself three vital questions: 1) Why hasn’t thumb branding caught on with hipsters? 2) Whose idea was it to put a T-station in arguably Boston’s most important historic building? 3) Would you want to get your teeth done by a part-time dentist? I thoroughly encourage you to walk it too.