It was our last morning in Boston and we had decided to treat ourselves to a great breakfast in a cafe we had noticed the day before in Beacon Hill. We walked from our hotel, Hilton Doubletree, in the Theatre district of Boston and walked to the corner of the Boston Public Garden. This is the corner of the ‘Trolley Stop’ shop; knowing this is very handy when getting organised for the trolley tour of Boston. This shop also happens to be built on top of the old home of Edgar Alan Poe (1809-1849), the famous poet and author who some claimed invented the detective/murder mystery genre with his short story, ‘The Purloined Letter’. He has been memorialised by one of the most interesting statues in Boston, which is saying a great deal, on the street corner outside this shop. It shows Poe striding along the street with his infamous raven leading him and his suitcase bursting open with stories such as ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’…he died from a mystery condition not long after this story was published.
We walked through the Public Garden with its many statues of Boston heroes. There has been a lot of bronze spent on statues in this city, many to great effect. My favourite from these gardens, was the beautiful angel of peace statue that is called, ‘Casting Bread Upon the Waters’, memoralising a Boston benefactor. On this morning, the gardener had placed fresh hydrangea flowers as the ‘posie’ for the angel.
From the gardens we headed down to the Charles River. One of the things Boston has done very well is corrected past ‘errors of judgement’ about pushing highways through the middle of their beautiful town. In this case they have produced a long pedestrian bridge over the highway that their city fathers had built along the shoreline blocking access for strolling Bostonians. We had walked along this section of river the previous day and the views here towards the city and over the river towards Cambridge/Harvard were beautiful.
However on this morning we bypassed the pedestrian bridge and headed up the gorgeous Chestnut Street of Beacon Hill which led us to the famous Charles Street where our breakfast cafe awaited us. We had had a look at the pastries available at this cafe the previous afternoon and had seen enough to know where we wanted to have breakfast the next day. We were not disappointed. The cafe itself seemed to be built into the fabric of the ‘Charles Street Meeting House’, built in 1804-7 and had been a church prominent in the anti-slavery movement in the years before the civil war.
After breakfast we had decided to walk the other way back to our hotel and take in one of the beautiful streets of Beacon Hill. We crossed Charles St and headed up the road opposite our cafe, Mt Vernon St, a street we didn’t realise at the time was one of the wealthiest streets of the city. The footpath was blocked at the beginning by a dog walker with six dogs; he explained to us that the people who lived in the area could afford his exorbitant prices to take their dogs for a walk while they had breakfast in bed. The other thing we realised very quickly was that these residents could afford every variety of coloured pumpkin to decorate their front steps; there must have been quite the competition to source exotic pumpkins in Beacon Hill.
Wondering past all these houses with their very serious displays on the theme of ghosts and ghouls, I couldn’t help but think of my own experiences around the end of October in my childhood years. At this time of year, we would look forward to getting a day off school for the Holy Day of Obligation that was ‘All Saints Day’ (All Hallows!), on November 1st. It was considered far more important than the feast marked for the previous day, October 31, which was All Souls Day, or more importantly, All Hallows Eve (Halloween). You had to go to mass on a Holy Day of Obligation but ‘All Souls Day’ only required a Benediction, a short half an hour blessing ceremony to which of course my parents made me accompany them. This Irish Catholic cultural practice in country Australia couldn’t be more in contrast with the way the Bostonian Americans treated Halloween which seemed to combine the elements of both our Christmas celebrations in Grenfell as well as our bonfire and cracker night.
As we strolled along Mt Vernon Street it was the third day after Halloween but still the displays were in place and I was wondering if there was some equivalent cultural practice like the Twelve Days of Christmas going on. Despite these questions, this wealthy section of Boston were very expressive with their decoration, much like the Australian practice where whole streets compete with each other for the eccentricity of and the quantity of Christmas lights around the outside of their houses in the week before the 25th December.
Mt Vernon Street stretches up over Beacon Hill and comes to a halt at the back of the Massachusetts State House as the slightly confusing sign (above) indicated to us. We had to turn back and left down Joy Street to get us back to Boston Common. We were on a section of the Freedom Trail here and so we decided to have another look at the opulent front of the current State House with its golden dome and its ‘statued’ front garden. One of the statues back under the trees is that of one of Boston’s favourite sons, John Francis Kennedy which you are only allowed to inspect by appointment.
Perhaps the most significant piece of sculpture that tells of Boston’s dedication to universal human rights is the large sculptured panel across the road from the State House, dedicated to the Fifty Fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Infantry that fought in the civil war on the Union side. On the back of this memorial there is an outline of the actions of these soldiers, explaining their significance.
“The white officers taking life and honor in their hands, cast in their lot with men of a despised race unproven in war and risked death as inciters of servile insurrection if taken prisoners, besides encountering all the common perils of camp march and battle.
The black rank and file volunteered when disaster clouded the union cause, served without pay for eighteen months till given that of white troops, faced threatened enslavement if captured, were brave in action, patient under heavy and dangerous labors and cheerful amid hardships and privations.
Together they gave to the Nation and the world undying proof that Americans of African descent possess the pride courage and devotion of the patriot soldier. One hundred and eighty thousand such Americans enlisted under the Union Flag in MDCCCLXIII-MDCCCLXV. (1853-1865)”
From State House we were able to wander back through Boston Common and find our way through the Theatre District to our hotel. One of the things we discovered about the historical area of Boston was that most things are in walking distance and once you get the idea of the layout, it is very easy to get around, both walking and by trolley bus.
One final image from our walk…yet another gorgeous fountain in Boston Common (the Brewer Fountain) looking up to the Park Street Church (1809) in the background that sits on the Freedom Trail; it was a prominent anti-slavery church before the civil war.