Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
When I was in seventh grade, I memorized and recited Longfellow’s 130-line poem, “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” Actually, Sybil Ludington, a girl of 16, rode twice the distance of Revere to warn of encroaching British soldiers; however, it is Revere’s ride that we remember. Perhaps Ludington was too difficult for Longfellow to rhyme.
Find Longfellow’s name inscribed in the ceiling at the Boston Public Library, a building where the lions grace an interior staircase.
Revere’s House provides good insight into colonial living, and reminds us how important it is to preserve such historical gems; it was sold and re-sold before being rescued in the early 1900s. Revere is interred in the historic Granary Burying Ground with a modest marker; in contrast, John Hancock’s burial spot has a marker equal to his flamboyant signature. Follow the red line embedded in the streets and sidewalks to pursue The Freedom Trail, a 2.5 mile walk of historic sites.
Preceding Longfellow, poet Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784), is memorialized in Boston at Commonwealth Mall (between Fairfield and Gloucester). America’s first published Black poet, Wheatley is famous for such lines as these:
” Imagination! Who can sing thy force?
Or who describe the swiftness of thy course?
Soaring through air to find the bright abode,
Th’ empyreal palace of the thund’ring God,
We on thy pinions can surpass the wind,
And leave the rolling universe behind:
From star to star the mental optics rove,
Measure the skies, and range the realms above.
There in one view we grasp the mighty whole,
Or with new worlds amaze th’ unbounded soul. “
An American-American Freedom Trail includes the “Black Faneuil Hall,” on Joy Street just above the gold-domed capitol, where visitors can also see the memorial to the 54th Massachusetts, the Black Civil War battalion led by Shaw and popularized in the film, Glory.
One of Boston’s most visited sites is recognition of the popularity of Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. Located in the Boston Public Gardens where Charles and Beacon streets meet, the duck statues are photographed equally with children and adults.
Not surprisingly, many of the good books for travel to Boston focus on the Revolutionary War. Who didn’t read Esther Forbes’ Johnny Tremain when in grade school, or see Disney’s dramatization of it? Although marketed for teens, any adult would find The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing (two volumes) by M. T. Anderson challenging for its multi-genre format and its dark themes about an Age of Reason group of philosophers and scientists who seek to test an African “prince” for his ability to have intelligence.
Jane Langdon writes a fine mystery, and Homer Kelly, her detective, is usually found in New England, and in Boston, in particular. Take an architectural tour of Harvard Square (Yard for insiders), and look at Memorial Hall, a gothic pile of bricks, and then read Langdon’s The Memorial Hall Murder (1978). I also enjoyed Murder at the Gardner (1988), set at the lovely Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, where anyone named Isabella can gain free admission. On April 14, a mass is said in her honor as it is done every year.
The Gardner Museum, a Venetian style gallery, was opened while the eccentric Gardner still lived. A friend of Henry James (and some say, a possible model for Isabel Archer), Gardner amassed a phenomenal art collection. It became even more famous as a result of a daring robbery 25 years ago that has still not been solved, and the robbery generated several books, both fiction and nonfiction: The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro; Stealing Rembrandts by Anthony Amore (who is head of security at the museum); Irreplaceable by Charles Pinning; The Gardner Heist by Ulrich Boser.
Henry James’ rather dense The Bostonians provides inside into turn-of-the-century
aristocratic families. Lighter fare is The Dante Club, a murder mystery featuring Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Boston and Cambridge not only have the longevity needed for a rich trove of literature from which to choose, they also have great watering holes, like Cheers, made famous through TV.