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.)
another reason I so enjoyed driving up to Julian is the sense of history the town possesses. even though California became a state immediately after Wisconsin (and was followed by Minnesota), and San Diego was incorporated the year the state was established, it always seemed to have a more limited sense of history. (I anticipate that at some point I’ll get into San Diego history, but today is for Julian.)
the unincorporated town is a California Historical Landmark, and the surrounding area is the Julian Historical district. it was established following the Civil War by soldiers who headed west to California. gold was discovered in the area by a former slave in 1869 and a minor gold rush began. the lode didn’t yield much, but during the period another settler brought some apple trees up into the mountains and discovered that the plants flourished. now Julian is well known for it’s apple pie. mmm, apple pie.
the town was home to some of the first settlers in San Diego County and, according to information from the 1880 census, the majority of blacks in the county lived in and around Julian. the first business to be owned and operated by blacks in the county was in Julian — the Robinson Hotel, owned by Albert and Margaret Tull Robinson. it’s now the Julian Gold Rush Hotel (pictured above). it’s on the National Register of Historic Places.
the Kilmainham Gaol was the one thing, above all others, that I wanted to see while in Dublin. it was used for the Daniel Day-Lewis film “In the Name of the Father,” though the prison ceased to function as such in 1924, and a trip here seemed to cap my interest in the legacy of conflict in Ireland.
construction on the prison began in 1796 and construction of both wings reflects the prevailing beliefs in penal reform at the time. the west wing is dark and initially the hallways had no natural light. the cells were packed beyond capacity almost as soon as the prison opened, dozens of people sharing a single cell. unlike now, prisoners were neither segregated by age nor gender, and oftentimes entire families would be shut up together. despite the cramped quarters and general squalor of the prison, during the famine, Kilmainham and other jails provided an acceptable alternative to starving on the street. you could commit a petty crime and get locked up for a day or two, where you were guaranteed three square meals and shelter, more than you could say for living on and begging in the streets.
while the west wing represented one school of penal thought, the newer east wing represented another. many of the features of the newer wing are aimed at reform, rather than strict punishment. the “pan-optic” style (seen in the second photo) meant that you could see almost everything from any one point along the wall. relatively few guards could keep an eye on the large population (who were not allowed actually into the open area for any kind of recreation). the skylights were intended to draw the gaze of prisoners upwards — to remind them of the appropriate source of inspiration to repent for their crimes. the windows in the cells were located high up on the walls, and the inside of the peep hole was shaped to look like an eye: you were always being watched and you couldn’t forget where they expected you to turn for “help.”
much of Kilmainham’s notoriety stems from its famous prisoners. the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising were held in the west wing, and executed in the hard labor yard. other nationalist prisoners, including Eamon de Valera, were held in the prison twice. following the Treaty with the British that established the Irish Free State, the Pro-Treaty forces imprisoned members of the Anti-Treaty faction, many of whom they had fought alongside during the war for independence.
after the prison was abandoned, it fell into quite a state of disrepair until it was decided to turn the facility into a museum investigating the history of the prison, and the evolution of nationalism in Ireland. the OPW now operates the facility and runs the tours. our guide was quite good and knew far more about the facility than what she covered on the tour. it was refreshing after a couple of other anemic, lamely-scripted tours of facilities steeped in history. it was also rather interesting to see her react to questions from people who had no clue about the history of the Troubles, or about the political history of relations between Ireland and Britain. after going in to some detail about how poverty and class divisions are at the root of the Troubles, one person (for whom English was not a first language) came up to ask “so, why is it that there’s a problem between Catholics and Protestants?” she took a breath, and diplomatically explained that, in fact, it’s nothing to do with religion. at all.
few more stories about Kilmainham and its prisoners in upcoming posts.
as mentioned, Trim Castle was more or less entirely abandoned during the 17th century and fell into disrepair. that didn’t mean, however, that it ceased to be a destination of interest to some. nearly a century later, visiting historical locations became fasionable as a tourist venture. without the watchful eye of OPW guides or the militant defense of historically significant locations, people felt free to leave their mark. sure, you see that kind of stuff all the time at places like Alcatraz or the Statue of Liberty — names and dates scrawled in pencil or Sharpie. on some level, it’s interesting to think about how future historians might look back on the marks that we leave in such places. at Trim, there are marks — graffiti scratched into stone — from people who visited over two hundred years ago. this one, that our guide pointed out, was the clearest to come out in a photograph, but there were marks like this all over the walls. it reads “Campbell 1743” (the marks were about two inches tall).