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12 Months of National Parks: The error of rushing history in Boston Historic Park

Published August 22, 2016 10:40 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

People who make grand national-parks tours may be susceptible to check-it-off-itis. Sufferers of this disease tend to blow quickly through parks without savoring much of the experience or making time to be surprised.

There is reward in being able to say about a lot of places: "I was there." Otherwise I wouldn't have tried to take my daughter, Saskia, to a national park each month for a year. But I didn't want to see these places in a whirlwind, just to say we'd been there and check them off the list.

For the most part, I feel good about how we approached each park, given time constraints and pace limits with a young child. But sometimes we tried to do too much, and we ended up visiting almost a dozen monuments, trails and other National Park Service sites in addition to the parks. Boston Historic is one example. Upon seeing the map of legendary historic sites packed in what looked like a small area, I quickly succumbed to check-it-off-itis.



After all, we hear Revolutionary War stories as kids, told with great drama and reverence. We learn about a ragtag club of spirited underdogs running around with lanterns, sneaking into buildings with low door frames and blurry windows, making plans to outsmart the bully. We breeze over the facts that may not support such a winning narrative, and even when we learn those parts — like the classism and racism of that time — it's still hard to unfeel the awe because it was learned so early: Listen, my children, and you shall hear.

When you see words like "Old North Church" and "Boston Massacre site" on a map, there's a corner of that old kid brain that says, "Wow, it's real!"

Warning: The whole town is full of stuff like that. It's hard not to feel pangs of obligation to see as much of it as possible. So I marched my family through about four miles of crowded, narrow sidewalks, giving little more than a tip of the hat to some places of real significance, like the site of the first public school. By the time we reached Old North Church, scene of the famous "Two if by sea" lantern lighting, I hardly had the energy to really imagine the place in that time.

Looking back, the high point of the Freedom Trail for me was King's Chapel, which played no role in the revolution because I guess probably no one back then wanted to be seen at something called "King's Chapel." But we stopped long enough to really take it in. There was some interesting interpretive literature about church life back in the 1700s and the bell, which Paul Revere himself recast. Saskia got in the aisle and rocked out to some organ music. I sat for a while and wondered how people's thoughts had changed in those pews in the years since rich donors could actually buy the best seats.

My family and I walked all around Boston Common and Freedom Trail, with a stop at the waterfront. You can see our route at Google Maps. It really was a good hike. But it's better if you stop moving from time to time.

Previous national park trip reports

12 Months of National Parks: A mother-daughter tour

12 Months of National Parks — No. 1, Acadia: Small children love nature, but on their own level

12 Months of National Parks — No. 2, Capitol Reef: 'People shouldn't be here'

12 Months of National Parks — No. 3, Arches: Are national park rules too strict?

12 Months of National Parks — No. 4, Canyonlands: The best fun may require a child's eyes

12 Months of National Parks — No. 5, Biscayne: A threatened park claws its way forward

12 Months of National Parks — No. 6, Everglades: Please don't spank the gator

12 Months of National Parks — No. 7, Bryce Canyon: The $10 lifetime senior pass needs to end

12 Months of National Parks — No. 8, Death Valley: The poetry of survival

12 Months of National Parks — No. 9, Wind Cave: Drama unfolds in a quiet corner of the prairie

12 Months of National Parks: Bonus stop in Badlands

— Erin Alberty

ealberty@sltrib.com

Twitter: @erinalberty

 

 

 

 

 

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