Monday: A full day in Boston! We drove a short way to the small town of Ayers, parked the car, and took the train to downtown Boston. And I know this is goofy, but it was fun to see the ticket-collector punching holes like crazy in our ticket. It reminded me of Polar Express!
First stop - the USS Constitution, aka Old Ironsides. It’s the oldest commissioned ship in the world. It’s docked in the Boston Harbor. And - it’s closed on Mondays. So we had to be content going through the museum. Much of the ship was made from live oak, which is incredibly hard; so hard, in fact, that in its first battle, enemy cannonballs just bounced off it. Hence the nick-name Old Ironsides. In 1938 a storm pushed her away from the dock and into a modern destroyer. The destroyer’s mighty steel hull was damaged, while the Constitution’s wooden hull just got some minor gouges.
About once a month they take her out into the bay. She can operate under her own power but they usually don’t let her, as a matter of safety. But next year is the bicentennial of her battle with the British in the 1812 war, so the Navy is working to get the ship totally functioning. It’s a really, really beautiful ship. Since it is Monday I couldn’t get close to the ship and didn’t get good pictures.
Docked next to her is another ship, this one in dry-dock, which looks pretty cool.
Granary Burying Ground has some famous residents - Samuel Adams, Paul Revere and John Hancock. Paul has 2 monuments - a pillar and a small headstone. Don’t know if the headstone is where he’s buried and the pillar is a memorial, but people have been leaving pennies at both stones - probably a reference to his work with copper.
But enough about my weird fascination with graveyards and on to other things, such as lunch. We enjoyed yesterday’s dinner at the Express so much that today we went back for one of their calzones. Once again, getting one and splitting it was more than enough. I kept finding bakeries I wanted to try, so we got a fresh cannoli from Mike’s Pastry and a lobster roll from Modern Pastry (there isn’t any lobster in it, it’s sort of like a huge crescent roll stuffed with a thick cream cheese filling).
For some reason one of the intersections has brass representations of trash. Nearby is the Haymarket Pizza, so perhaps that area used to be a Farmer’s Market and this is their way of memorializing it, but it seems a bit odd to me.
And we noticed that a lot of the buildings have copper on them - not just decorations, but copper siding. I'm afraid these wouldn’t last in the Midwest.
And we found the Omni Parker House Hotel. It’s been a hotel since 1855 and is really gorgeous today. It’s got a rich history of notables who have been there. A literary group called the Saturday Club met there, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, and several others. JFK announced his Presidential candidacy there, and John Wilkes Booth stayed there a few days before he shot Lincoln. Malcolm X, then known as Malcolm Little, was a busboy at the Parker house around the time of the Pearl Harbor invasion. And Ho Chi Min apparently worked there as a pastry chef - who knew?
Saturday before we left Pennsylvania we stopped by Hershey’s Chocolate World in Hershey PA. To my surprise, we were both really disappointed. They sold all of their products there but at a fairly steep price, and there was only one sample offered. I kept comparing it to our tour of Jelly Belly where they offered samples of everything and also sold their products at a discounted price. So I wasn’t too excited about Hershey's.
So we got back on the road the same day and drove out of PA, across Connecticut, across the edge of New York, and just a little into Massachusetts, where we stayed the night at the Rest Area at exit 4. Next morning we stopped by the 84 Diner for breakfast. It’s a cool retro diner and they had a pretty good breakfast.
On to the Minuteman RV Park, which is one of the few RV parks we could find in the Boston area. It’s rustic - it looks like we’re parking in the woods, but it’s near the train into Boston, and this is the first time we’ve been hooked up with cable since sometime last October!
Sunday afternoon we decided to skip the train and drive into Boston. And where better to start than the Old North Church? This is where Paul Revere put two lanterns in the steeple to alert the people that the British were coming. The inside of the church is really interesting - the pew area is divided into little sections by 4 foot walls. Inside each of those wall sections is a bench and a small rack for hymn books. The story is that on cold days (and Massachusetts has a lot of cold days) people would bring warm stones or bricks with them when they came to church. Those little walls helped keep the heat in where it was needed. One section was bought by Paul Revere’s son, and a little plaque says it is still owned by his descendants.
Just a bit down the road is Paul Revere’s house. Like so many historic places in Boston, it’s butted up against other, taller buildings. The house is a gray clapboard, two-story in one section and 3-story in the other.
Inside the rooms are decorated in the style of his day and lots of the pieces were actually owned by Paul. And outside is one of the big bells he cast in 1804 for a local church. It’s in a glass display that made my photo look like a double-exposure.
By now it had been a long time since those eggs and pancakes at the 84 Diner, so we asked one of the store owners where we could get something light to eat. We were directed to Express in the Italian section. And this section is really Italian! In Express both the staff and most of the customers were speaking Italian. Fortunately the staff also spoke English. Randy and I split a sub sandwich, which was plenty for two and very good.
Downtown Boston has a neat system - a small brick path embedded in the sidewalks which leads tourists from one site to another. The path took us to the Oyster House (advertised as the oldest restaurant in the US) and Green Dragon. The Green Dragon is named in honor of the original Green Dragon tavern, where patriots first plotted revolution. Unfortunately the original was destroyed by the British.
The Italian section of Boston has a lot of great restaurants, of course, but it also has a lot of bakeries. Some had big lines out the door so we skipped those and got some cookies at Lyndells Bakery. Those cookies were so good we went back and both the last two they had!
We walked around town a little bit before the shops closed for the night. Farnsworth House (which is now a restaurant) was used by CSA (Confederate States of America) soldiers as a vantage point, firing out of the upper windows. Union soldiers naturally fired back, so now there are about about 150 bullet holes in one side of the building.
Jenny Wade is famous in Gettysburg as the only civilian who died from the battle, but she wasn’t actually in the battle; stray bullets went through her door. They honor her by converting the house she was born in, into a wine shop - good job! We didn’t buy wine, but we did get some good apple butter.
And today we went to the National Cemetery. It was dedicated to Civil War casualties, but soldiers from every war, ending with the Vietnam War, have been buried there. It’s a beautiful site. The Civil War remains are grouped by state, and there are 3 sections for Unknown soldiers. There were 979 unknown soldiers buried there, as well as some unknowns who were buried with their regiments. Originally I thought these “unknowns” might be CSA soldiers, but it turns out they cannot be buried in a National cemetery because they were in rebellion against the nation. Most of their remains were shipped to relatives in the South where they were reburied in private cemeteries. However, 5 or 6 Confederate soldiers are buried here. For example, one soldier was identified as belonging MASS (Massachusetts), but later it was determined that he was from MISS (Mississippi). However, unless his relatives ask for him back, he stays where he is.
The Civil War graves are flat stones, but the other war graves are marked with the more standard US service stones.
This cemetery is where, on November 18, Abraham Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address there. No matter how many times we hear that speech, it always sounds amazing.
Next we wen to see the battlefields. There are several monuments on the battlefield and most commemorate specific troops, rather than battles.
Gettysburg is famous for the significant of the outcome as well as the scope of the casualties. The term “casualties” includes soldiers killed, wounded or missing, and the numbers are appalling: 22,897 Union casualties (3,149 actually killed), and 22,557 Confederate casualties (4,559 killed). But about 15% of the almost 27,000 wounded ended up dying from their wounds, which would be another 4,000 deaths.
There’s a open field called the Wheat Field, but it’s real name is Bloody Wheat Field. On the second day of the battle, this small bit of land changed hands six times in just 2 ½ hours.
Little Round top is a strategic, rocky hilltop that was left unfortified when Union Gen.Sickles decided to move his troops without letting anyone know. When both sides realized this, there was a rush to get to the top. Union troops won the race by about 5 minutes, piled up some rocks as breastworks, and defended themselves successfully. Since they now had the high ground, they were in a better fighting position than the CSA. The CSA fought from a couple of places that, when you hear their names, you how the battles turned out. First is Devil’s Den - a rocky outcropping in one of the field. Then there’s Slaughter Pen - a watery section of lower ground to the left of Devil’s Den. It wasn’t all one-sided, though. Sharpshooters of the time could hit a target at 1,000 yards if their rifle had a good scope. Confederate sharpshooters at Devil’s Den were only 500 yards from Little Round Top, so they killed a lot of Union soldiers.
On the 3rd day of the battle, the event known as Pickett’s Charge changed the outcome of the battle, and perhaps the war. After a couple of hours of exchanging cannon fire, the CSA marched out the field and headed towards the Union troops, who were entrenched behind a low stone wall.
The field was long and wide, and the CSA was in full view, so when they got close it wasn’t too hard for the Union to mow them down. For example, of the 29th Virginia Infantrys' 88 men, 81 were killed, wounded or missing. (Side note: Their Commander Lt. Thomas Holland was wounded, and 50 years later he returned to here and shook the hand of the Union soldier who had shot him). Incredibly, a small group of about 250 CSA soldiers made it over the wall. When they realized they could not possible defeat all those Union soldiers, they dashed to a small group of trees for shelter where eventually they were captured.
When we walked over to the short stone wall that the Union soldiers used as shelter, for the first time I felt like I was walking on someone’s grave. Perhaps it was because of the natural white stones in the ground, or perhaps it was something else. Ghost tours are big in Gettysburg, but we didn’t go looking for ghosts, nor did we see any. But sometimes, especially as evening set, it felt like the land was waiting for something. Perhaps it was just that those open fields seemed too quiet, too empty - like a stage that is set for the next act.