Bunker Hill Monument

and we shall, apparently, enter a phase of adventures about climbing tall things. next installment: the Bunker Hill Monument in Boston. two years ago, when my friends Kelly & Corey got married in Laconia, NH, I set aside an extra day to visit my friend Brianna in Boston. why fly across the continent to only spend three days, neck deep in wedding insanity? as a history buff, how many better cities are there in the U.S. to see so much about the foundation of our nation? to get that fantastic and weighty sense of history that I’d felt so lacking in California?

one of the few things that I remember well from our family trip to New England well over a decade ago was walking the Freedom Trail. not enjoying it, mind, since I was all of ten and what ten-year-old enjoys a such long walk with such an educational bent? and yet, I must have thought well enough of it on some level that, when planning my day in Boston, I rather enjoyed the prospect of walking the Freedom Trail.

though not officially the last stop on the tour (probably due to the fact that there’s a museum at the USS Constitution), the climb to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument was my last exertion on the walk. the monument is actually located atop Breed’s Hill, where the Battle took place. (there was confusion eve at the time of the Battle as to the name of the location. despite calling for fortifications on Bunker Hill, they were built on Breed’s Hill, perhaps due to slightly closer proximity to Boston.) the Battle took place on June 17, 1775 and, though technically a British victory, proved a “Decisive Day” for the colonists, according to Abigail Adams. the 1,200 militiamen defending the earthen redoubt on Breed’s Hill managed to repulse two attacks by the British and were eventually overcome in large part due to the limited supply of ammunition (leading to the popular phrase about shooting and whites of eyes). of the 2,200 British that attacked the hill, over 1,000 were counted as casualties (mostly wounded, but about 240 killed), including a quarter of the total number of officers that the British lost in the entire war. the militia, by comparison, suffered between 400 and 600 casualties.

the first monument on the hill was erected in 1794, in honor of Dr. Joseph Warren, and work on the current structure began in 1825. the monument was completed in 1842 and dedicated in a speech by Daniel Webster in 1843.

there is a fantastic view of Boston from the top of the 221 foot granite obelisk. and, after walking and exploring along some four miles from the Boston Common and then booking it up the 294 stairs to the top of the monument, I took my time enjoying the view. (incidentally, it is also 294 steps to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, though I don’t remember that climb feeling quite so long … I’ll bet it’s something to do with the hours-long summertime walk that preceded Bunker Hill.)

from the Freedom Trail tour site, the National Parks Service site, and from Wikipedia

speaking of the Granary Burial Grounds …

not only are people who distinguished themselves during the Revolutionary War buried in the Granary grounds, so are those whose death touched the conflagration off. Sam Adams had four of the victims of the Boston Massacre, along with boy killed eleven days before the event, buried in his family tomb and this marker put up in the grounds in their honor.

Crispus Attucks was the first person killed during by the British troops in the Massacre. he was of mixed heritage — part African, part Native American — but the issue of his parentage wasn’t widely mentioned until anti-slavery elements kicked up during the 19th century. in 1858, Massachusetts Abolitionists declared Crispus Attucks Day; in 1886, the places where Attucks and Samuel Grey fell (in front of the Town Hall) were marked by circles on the pavement. beyond the information about Attucks’ heritage, speculation about his life and background is inconclusive; some reports suggest he was a runaway slave but, as surnames weren’t usually attached to slaves it’s impossible to tell for certain whether newspaper reports do refer to him. according to a PBS article, Attucks may have worked as a whaler and a ropemaker in the Boston area for many years following the publication of the “escaped slave” advertisement in the Boston Gazette. if reports of his profession are correct, the PBS article suggests he might have been particularly vulnerable to the presence of British troops, who interfered with shipping interests along the coast and often took part-time jobs in ropemaking, and worked for less than colonists. while little is known for certain about his life, his death was well documented. shot twice in the chest, his body was carried to Faneuil Hall, where he laid in state for three days. the “first to defy, first to die,” Attucks became an instant martyr and is probably the most recognizable name among the victims of the Boston Massacre.

speaking of burial grounds in Boston …

the stop on the Boston Freedom Trail preceding the King’s Chapel and Burial Grounds is the Granary Burying Grounds, final resting place of many of the more famous Revolutionary figures. Paul Revere, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Robert Treat Paine (three of the signers of the Declaration of Independence), Mother Goose,  are all interred here. some estimate that as many as 8,000 people are buried in the grounds — and these grounds are not particularly large! the area isn’t any bigger than the footprint for your standard-size downtown office skyscraper. the ground was initially part of the Boston Common, which lies some 200 feet away, now separated by the Park Street Church. that portion of land was taken over for the construction of public buildings, including a “house of correction” and the granary, for which the burying ground became known. (there was an effort in the early 19th century to rename the grounds in honor of Benjamin Franklin’s family. we can see how well that worked for them.)

speaking of cemeteries …

the cemetery next to the King’s Chapel Unitarian Church in Boston is a prime example of what comes to mind when I think of a place with the weight of history.

stop number 5/6 on the Freedom Trial, the burial ground is the oldest in the city and was established in 1630. for thirty years, it was the only cemetery in the city of Boston and the remains of many notable 17th century Bostonians are apparently buried here. (the Granary Burying Ground, a few blocks away, founded in 1660, has more notable Revolutionary-era interments.)

this is the headstone of Joseph Tapping and, while more intricate than many other headstones in the ground, captures the tone of memorial stones of the period. and quite unlike someone in the twenty-first century might elect to put on their grave. on the face of the stone, a skeleton and Father Time battle over the eventuality of death. dead at 25 in 1678. from what I recall, he wasn’t much of a noteworthy at the time, but the elaborateness of his stone marks him out from all the other graves in the grounds. the image of death or a skeleton or Father Time was common on on markers of this period, but none that I saw matched the detail or artistry of Tapping’s.

for many years, it was believed that William Dawes rested in a tomb in the King’s Chapel Burial Grounds. along with Paul Revere and Samuel Prescott, Dawes was tasked by Dr. Joseph Warren to ride from Lexington to Boston to warn local militias of British troop movements, allowing them to mobilize — the famous midnight ride that kicked off the Revolutionary War and resulted in colonial victories in the Battles of Lexington and Concord. there’s a prominent tomb with an inscription honoring Dawes at the ground beside the King’s Chapel, but it has recently been uncovered that he might have been removed and re-interred in his wife’s tomb at Forest Hill in Jamaica Plain. urban sprawl has forced the relocation of many Revolutionary-era dead and, and might include Dawes. records at Forest Hill refer to a William Dawes (who died in 1799 as did Revere’s companion) whose remains were relocated from the Boylston Street Burial Grounds in 1882, but there is apparently no mention as to from the original location of the remains. some contend that he was never buried in the King’s Chapel grounds at all and that, in a fit of Revolutionary fervor, the Sons of the Revolution affixed a plaque honoring the midnight riders to the tomb of Dawes’ grandfather.

the full article from the Boston Globe on Dawes’ disposition is here.