This past Sunday, the anniversary of the Boston Massacre, I went into Boston to take the “Massacre and Memory” tour offered by Revolutionary Spaces, the newish organization that maintains and interprets both the Old State House and Old South Meeting House. I always enjoyed going to Massacre reenactments at the former on March 5, but this tour was a whole other dimension of historic interpretation. I was rather amazed at the guide’s ability to present: a) the events of that day in 1770; b) deep background and wide context for the events of the day; c) the divergent sources which presented the events of the day afterwards; d) the day’s immediate and long-term “remembrance”; e) the use of the remembrance of the day by abolition activists in the mid-19th century and anti-busing activists in the twentieth century; f) a very strong sense of both the geography of Revolutionary-era Boston as well as the purposes and perceptions of the revolutionary spaces which we visited; and g) a consideration of how we might tell interpret historic events in the future as we proceed through our digital age. All that in about 2 hours! This was the first tour of the season for our young guide, and she was on fire. No Salem simplistic storyteller was she (what I hear out my front windows when it’s warm: and then Giles Corey was pressed to death (MORE WEIGHT), and then this happened, and then this happened): instead she offered us layers and layers of history: its creation, dissemination, legacy and utility.
Revolutionary spaces indeed: The Old State House, Faneuil Hall (where the first post-massacre meetings were held), and the Old South Meeting House, with George Washington and Andrew Oliver standing by. So many markers in Boston! All in copper and bronze: in the street, on buildings, everywhere.
The Tour began at the Old State House, before which the Massacre took place, and ended at the Old South Meeting House, where the first memorial massacre orations were held. I had a lot to think about after this layered presentation, so I wanted to go back to Old State House and consider the exhibitions there: the tour ticket included admission to both Revolutionary Spaces buildings. But when I got back to the Old State House, there wasn’t really open admission: there were other scheduled tours which I didn’t want to take so I stomped off in my fashion. I was in a very bitchy mood for about ten minutes as I strode down Tremont Street, because I wanted to process the Boston Massacre on my own terms, this very day, and somehow I felt I was prevented from doing that. But then I came to the Old Granary Burying Ground, and the marker to the five victims of the Massacre therein, which led me to their monument on the Boston Common, and as I was gazing at Crispus Attucks’ prone figure on its plaque, I saw the new memorial to Martin Luther King, The Embrace, in the corner of my eye. So off I went to the presence of The Embrace, which has received rather mixed reviews in our area since its debut in January. I wasn’t sure how I would respond to it—it looks rather intimidating in media images—but I really liked it: it’s smaller in scale and more detailed in reality. And it was fun to see people reacting to it: touching it, walking under it, taking selfies all around it. The engagement with and around this installation reminded me of the very active engagement of Bostonians with the living memory of the Massacre: weeks later and centuries later. And then I walked up the hill to another engaging memorial: Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ masterful monument to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th right across from the Massachusetts State House. What a memorial trifecta! The thread between these three memorials was African-American history of course, but I didn’t really think about it that was as I was making connections in my mind on my walk. I just felt grounded in Boston history, Massachusetts history, American history.
Memorials: a circle of remembrance from Old Granary to the (new) State House.
[N.B. When I was all worked up I noted my frustration with my exclusion from the Old State House on Facebook: Revolution Spaces staff almost immediately reached out and offered me free admission at my convenience. So now I’m a bit embarassed but impressed with their professionalism!]