Our day trip to Boston did not look promising as howling winds and heavy rains rattled the windows and walls the night before. We awoke, however, to clearing skies the morning after that remained the entire day. The air was crisp but the sun was ever shining. A perfect autumnal day. Our first stop on our journey was Castle Island.
Castle Island is not actually an island anymore. It used to be half a mile off-shore, but it is now connected to the mainland and bordered by Pleasure Bay and Boston Harbour. Castle Island is home to Fort Independence which is a National Historic Landmark. The fort is a five-pointed structure constructed of over 172,000 linear feet of granite. This is the oldest continuously fortified site in British North America. This location has had a military presence from 1634 to the end of World War II. We spent a while walking around the grounds in the shadow of the 30ft high walls. We were not able to go inside the fort as volunteers were preparing for a children’s fall festival, so the interior was closed off to the public for the morning.
Our next stop was the New England Aquarium. Since Audrey and I are Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution employees, we (and two guests) were able to get into the aquarium for free! Our WHOI ID card saved us a total of $100…our ID truly opens doors. The main draw at the aquarium is the Giant Ocean Tank. Newly renovated, it reopened this year featuring 2,000 fish and 140 different species! The giant tank is a cylinder around which the entire aquarium is based. A spiral ramp encircles the tank providing viewing windows along the entire circumference and leads to other exhibits on different floors. The animals present included penguins, seals, jellyfish, octopi, turtles, sharks and rays. Unfortunately the giant tank had a parasite in the water, so we did not get a chance to see the sharks or rays. The parasite in the water negatively impacts the fish but not the sharks or rays. The treatment involves putting copper into the water; however, the sharks and rays needed to be removed before the treatment because they are extremely sensitive to changes in electrical current. One unexpected thing that we did get a chance to do, however, was being allowed to touch the Atlantic rays in the touch tank. Their backs were an unexpected combination of soft, slimy and slippery.
Following our visit to the aquarium, we walked along the Freedom Trail. The Freedom Trail is marked by a red line running down the center of the brick sidewalks. It leads you past sixteen historical sights spread across 2.5 miles beginning at the Boston Commons and ending at the Bunker Hill Monument. I will only touch on a few of the stops as there were many! You can see by the number of photos in this post that I already had a hard time narrowing them down. I am sure there would be many more if I wrote about every stop.
As we were walking through Boston, I was struck by the significant number of cemeteries along the streets. One particular graveyard that we walked through was the Granary Burying Grounds. Surrounded by wrought iron fences and dotted with towering trees, leaves swirled around are ankles as we passed rows of weather worn grave stones. Well known people who were buried in this area include Paul Revere, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and members of Benjamin Franklin’s family.
The Old North Church is the oldest standing church in Boston. Its doors opened in 1723, and it played a key role in the American Revolution. The Old North Church’s steeple was used to signal how the British Troops were advancing and warn the countryside of advancing troops. Two lanterns were hung in the steeple to announce that the British were advancing by boat across the Charles River. Longfellow’s poem titled Paul Revere’s Ride immortalized this occasion in the well known line: “One if by land, two if by sea”. These lanterns signalled the beginning of the American Revolution.
Another highlight of the trail was the USS Constitution which is docked in the Charlestown Navy Yard. It is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the entire world! The ship was nicknamed Old Ironsides during the War of 1812 as cannons bounced off her sides as if made of iron. The ship once required a crew of 500 people, carried 50 to 60 guns, and topped out at 13 knots. It is an incredibly impressive ship to behold. After going through airport-like security we were able to board the ship and take photos. The complexity of the vessel is quite astounding with rigging cross-crossing every which way. The amount of canvas used to create the ship’s sails is close to one acre!
In order to board the ship we needed to go through security. Unfortunately Audrey’s father was carrying a knife on him (a kind that is illegal to have on your person in the state of Massachusetts), so as we passed through security he was detained and run through the FBI database. Since we arrived only ten minutes before the ship closed for the day, we barely had any time to explore and take photos. Ironically Audrey’s father was the one who really wanted to see the ship, but he didn’t even get the opportunity due to the stiff security and the lack of time. So as a consolation prize I ended up drawing him a picture of the USS Constitution to remind him of the event. We all had a good laugh about the whole situation, and Audrey’s dad ended up with a good story to tell.
All along the Freedom Trail, I was mesmerized by the architecture of the buildings. Everywhere you turn history is embedded in the landscape. Our last stop on the Freedom Trail was Bunker Hill Monument. We explored the grounds as the sun was beginning to set on the city. This 221-foot granite obelisk towers over the landscape and marks the site of the first major battle of the American Revolution.