Living in the Cradle of the United States on April 19

19 Apr

I grew up in Livingston, NJ, a sleepy suburb of New York City. There were no historic landmarks, no national registry buildings that I knew of.  Certainly there were historical sites near by where George Washington slept and where Thomas Alva Edison invented or perfected lightbulbs, phonographs, and film.  But, the sense of history is was not woven into my daily path.

By contrast, in Boston I am constantly aware of history. Not just because I can walk the Freedom Trail, or because I pass Bunker Hill on the way to pick up Culture Husband from work. When I leave my hundred-year old house to walk into Arlington Center, I pass at least 6 homes on the historic registry. En route to the coffee shop, I pass the site of at least two revolutionary battles, marked by stones engraved with key names and dates. We ride the Minuteman Bikeway to get to school each day.

The third Monday of April is a state holiday in Massachusetts. Many people believe it is a day off to clear the city for the marathon. With even Tyrannosaurus Rex at the Museum of Science wearing a race number (65,000,000), that’s not surprising.

Minutemen line up for the march to Lexington

In reality, it is Patriot’s Day, a commemoration of the ride of Paul Revere and the first battles of the American Revolution, fought by the brave militiamen and farmers in Lexington and Concord MA. The weekend is marked by battle reenactments all over the 16-mile stretch of Battle Road, culminating with a dawn reenactment of the Battle of Lexington on Monday morning (which we did not attend!). We went to the Minuteman National Park where we watched, “The Road to Revolution,” a multimedia show about the day’s events. While we missed the reenactments (because we were lunching in historic Lexington), we saw many reenactors. Their passion for the history of this country is infectious.

John Russell House, Arlington MA. Corner of Pleasant Street and Massachusetts Avenue

This morning, I’ll pass the John Russell House and Smith Museum, site of the Battle of Menotomy, fought 237 years ago today. Many skirmishes occurred on Massachusetts Avenue, the main artery that takes us to school each morning.

Seeing the reenactors, watching “Road to Revolution,” and knowing that I walk daily where men (and women and children) fought for independence has given me a different sence of American history. Of course I learned this history in school. But, there is something different about reading the names of battle dead from a 200-year-old marker when I’m stopped at a traffic light.  To know that we share this space with their spirits imbues a sort of patriotism and love of country (or at least history) that I can’t quite describe.

This is a map depiction the outbound routes ta...

This is a map depiction the outbound routes taken by Patriot riders and British troops in the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The footpath through Minuteman National Park is quiet now. As the breeze softly rustles the trees and birds chirp, we can only imagine the cries in the dark, “The Regulars are coming. To arms.” We can only imagine the sound of horses hooves pounding up the road, hands banging on farmhouse doors, lanterns swaying in the dark.  Our reenactors show us the bayonets, the hand-to-hand combat, the fear on both sides of the battle, and, eventually, the ousting of the British.  We know that those same foes are now among our country’s staunchest allies, past wars forgotten, brotherhood remembered. The contrast with the way wars are fought today, the number of casualties, the changed nature of surprise attack is evident, not just because we see reeanctors shooting photos with digital cameras, talking on cell phones, and climbing into school buses to get to the next stop.

Our Founding Fathers and the people who engaged battle on behalf of freedom were brave and forward-thinking men and women. We may not always agree on how they would interpret their dreams in our modern world, but we can certainly agree that the “shot heard ’round the world” on April 19, 1776–whether fired intentionally or by a nervous trigger finger–is one to be remembered, commemorated, and celebrated. Happy April 19th from Menotomy (now known as Arlington.)

Minuteman give an interview to cable television.

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