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Posts Tagged ‘cemeteries’

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I get a lot of questions from blog readers, real-life friends and some people who fit into both categories about “must-sees” in the Boston area. These questions ramp up in the summer, when the travel urge hits America and the tourists descend in hordes.

I love playing tour guide (real or virtual). So I’ve put together a few mini-tour posts to answer your questions. (Bonus: I can point people to these posts when they ask similar questions.)

First up: History! As we all know, Boston is teeming with it. (The series will also cover charming neighborhoods, food, gardens, college campuses and whatever else I decide you can’t miss.)

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My favorite thing about Boston’s history? It’s woven into everything else.

For example: you can spend an afternoon lounging on Boston Common and then tour the beautiful Massachusetts State House, above. (It’s free, though only open on weekdays from 9 to 5, and you can take an interesting guided tour or wander around on your own.)

You can also go for ice cream downtown (or in Harvard Square) and pop into a lovely old church or cemetery. You can tour Paul Revere’s house in the North End and walk down the street for an Italian dinner. You are always walking through – sometimes walking on – history.

The Freedom Trail links together many historical spots downtown, beginning on the Common and going all the way to the U.S.S. Constitution and Bunker Hill in Charlestown. I have a deep love for the Common itself (about which I have written many times). It is Boston’s (smaller) answer to Central Park, green and open, a hangout for all segments of Boston society. It’s also the home of the Soldiers & Sailors Monument and the Shaw Memorial (featuring the regiment from the film Glory).

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Just past the Common, behind the Park Street Church, is the Granary Burying Ground, where John Hancock, Paul Revere, Samuel Adams and Crispus Attucks (among others) are buried. (That’s my mom, above, perusing some of the epitaphs.) You can wander at will, or take a tour starting on the Common.

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Down the street is King’s Chapel, a lovely old Royalist church. That is an interior shot above; there are lots of helpful signs around the sanctuary. (As you walk down Tremont St. toward King’s Chapel, pause before you reach the Omni Parker Hotel and look up: you can see the spire of the Old North Church. The view is protected by city ordinance. I love that.)

paul revere house street view

There are many more stops along the Freedom Trail, varying in size and admission fees, but my other favorites are over in the North End: Paul Revere’s house (above) and the Old North Church.

The Revere House is smallish, and it gets crowded during the summer, but I love seeing where and how the Revere family lived, as well as seeing Revere’s handiwork on display (he was quite the silversmith). And it costs $3.50 per person: a bargain.

The Old North Church, where they hung the signal lanterns (“one if by land, two if by sea”) is similar in style to King’s Chapel, but larger, and quite lovely. (All the cemeteries along the Freedom Trail are free; the churches are all “suggested donation.”)

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At the other end of the Freedom Trail, the U.S.S. Constitution (above), alias “Old Ironsides,” sits anchored in the Charlestown Navy Yard. She is the oldest commissioned warship still afloat, and manned by active duty members of the U.S. Navy. They give free and informative tours every day except Monday. You can walk there over a bridge (it’s about a mile from the Old North Church), or you can take the ferry from Long Wharf to save your tired feet.

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And finally, in Quincy (where I live), you can tour three houses connected with the John Adams/John Quincy Adams family. The tour center is directly across from a subway station (on the Red Line); the tour costs $5 and includes a trolley ride. The two original Adams birthplaces stand 75 feet apart from one another, and then you board the trolley again to tour Peacefield, the family “mansion” pictured above. (It features a detached library lined with ancient, beautiful books – obviously my favorite part.)

This is just a taste of Boston’s history – but if you’re visiting for a few days, these are my can’t-miss places. Stay tuned for more mini-tours, and feel free to ask questions in the comments!

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I’ve always been intrigued by old cemeteries – gently winding paths curving between mossy gravestones, with dates and epitaphs etched into limestone or granite or, in some cases, marble. (My sister is totally creeped out by this interest of mine, though she says when she does finally visit us in Boston, she wouldn’t mind seeing where Paul Revere, John Hancock and other notables are buried.)

Maybe it’s because I’ve spent time in the UK, where cemeteries tend to be older – but I find them peaceful, often beautiful, and less sterile and grim than modern cemeteries. With so much life bursting out all around the graves, it seems less possible for death to have the last word.

We’ve been intending to go out to Mt. Auburn Cemetery, in Cambridge, for months, and finally got the chance over Labor Day weekend, when some out-of-town friends wanted to see it. Five of us spent an afternoon wandering among the stones, pausing to read the occasional epitaph, comment on the unusual names or the too-close-together dates of birth and death, or gaze at the ancient trees and rippling ponds.

We missed seeing Longfellow’s grave, somehow, but we did find the Mary Baker Eddy memorial, and lots of other folks unknown to us. And the afternoon light, filtering through those green leaves, was lovely:

This all reminded me of St. John’s graveyard in Kingsport, Nova Scotia, which quickly becomes a favorite haunt of Anne Shirley’s during her college years at Redmond. The description of St. John’s by Anne’s friend Priscilla, barring the Crimean War monument, could just as easily be of Mount Auburn:

Old St. John’s is a darling place. It’s been a graveyard so long that it’s ceased to be one and has become one of the sights of Kingsport. I was all through it yesterday for a pleasure exertion. There’s a big stone wall and a row of enormous trees all around it, and rows of trees all through it, and the queerest old tombstones, with the queerest and quaintest inscriptions. You’ll go there to study, Anne, see if you don’t. Of course, nobody is ever buried there now. But a few years ago they put up a beautiful monument to the memory of Nova Scotian soldiers who fell in the Crimean War. It is just opposite the entrance gates and there’s ’scope for imagination’ in it, as you used to say.

There’s plenty of scope for imagination at Mt. Auburn – and there’s a tower you can climb up in, with (I’m told) a stunning view of eastern Massachusetts. And in just a few weeks, the leaves will be turning. I’ll definitely be going back.

What do you think of old cemeteries – creepy or contemplative?

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