Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

Days 4 and 5– UU Youth Heritage Trip to Boston


Instead of the same old boring but free breakfast in the hostel kitchen (where you have to wash and rinse your dishes afterwards!) this breakfast was a special outing–to the corner Dunkin’ Donuts.  I rose early enough to have the hostel’s fair trade (and cost free) coffee and cereal and a read of the Boston Globe.  I met up with our card-playing or stone-staring pilgrims and the other two adult leaders at that popular and ubiquitous New England-based breakfast place.  

Green line train to Park Street, Red Line all the way to Alewife, end of the line.  Wait for a 62 or 76 bus, ride through the lush, green countryside (suburbs) and get off at the Museum of the National Heritage, a free museum in Lexington, run by the Masons (a fraternal service organization with lots of dead presidents as members).  Some of us went to a clock exhibit, some to a flag exhibit, some to “Lexington and the Revolutionary War.”  David and I saw a traveling National Archives photo exhibit about work and workers in America, including mostly black and white pictures.

 There were a few from ca. 1900 by Lewis Hine, who celebrated the image of laboring men but also documented the atrocities of child labor in the US, leading to controversy and legislation for reform.   There was a picture of the near completion of the US Capitol dome in Washington, 1863.  It had begun in the 850s.  The caption said the man who engineered the placement of the statue on top  of the dome (whose name escapes me) was a slave; the statue is called Freedom.  There were shots of color- and sex-segregated 1940 US census workers typing (or punching computer cards–but maybe I’m mixing up two of them).  

A charming picture:  a man sitting in a chair just over the heads of men rolling cigars.  He had a newspaper in one hand and cigar in the other.  Spanish-speaking immigrant workers in Florida and Eastern European immigrants working in NYC would pool their money to hire one of their own to read to them as they rolled cigars. They would read newspapers and political tracts.

We hopped a tourist trolley to see Lexington and Concord and had a lively, fast paced narration by the period-costumed Marsha (“Masha, like Sasha,” she joked).  As we gave her the tickets in the driveway, she became ebullient on finding out we were UUs.  “There are so many Unitarians and Unitarian sites in this tour,” she said, “and nobody knows what it is.  It’s so great to have Unitarians here!”  She was so happy she told the folks on the trolley this good news.  An older, straight white couple was sitting in the front row; the wife said, “What’s that?”  Marsha gave a quick historical summary, making reference to “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” and saying the Unitarians had read the Bible and didn’t agree with that.  “They said God is one.”  The woman huffed:  “I believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!”  Marsha said, “That’s great. And I’m Jewish and others have their beliefs.  I love the differences.  That’s what America is!”  

We learned about Paul Revere and William Dawes (who alerted individual people, and did not shout it out from horseback that the Regulars were marching).  We heard about the central role taverns in the towns and about the stored munitions that the Red Coats were hoping to seize Concord.  We passed the Emerson house and heard a bit about Emerson’s history and Transcendentalism.  All three of our stately white churches in the area (2 in Lexington, 1 in Concord) looked very nice in the gentle rain as we passed by.

 Marsha explained the unplanned, inadvertent battle at the Lexington green and then took us to Concord’s battle site, where the head of the militia did in fact order “fire!” to kill and chase away the Red Coats on the other side of the little bridge; his order to fire made this second battle the shot heard round the world, as Waldo wrote and as the monument there reads.   As Marsha read the words aloud by heart and I looked over the bridge I got choked up at all this heritage.   It was also quite moving to hear her speak with compassion for the beleaguered Red Coats–Welsh, Scots, Irish, English troops of the King; their hard, poor lives back home made the cranky colonists’ lives look pretty nice in comparison.  

An hour later, Marsha and I were walking together, away from the rude bridge that arched the flood, toward the trolley.  “Can you believe it?” she asked, noting that the Trinitarian couple had never looked her in the eye after that theological moment and the woman had seemed upset as she talked to her husband.  Later, when the couple got off at their stop, Marsha said goodbye and wished them safe travel, urged them to come back, etc. and she got nary a nod or a word from them.  She looked back at me and we grinned.  (Of course I had already become familiar with that kind of non-look, non-word response from our youth, even though they are not Trinitarians.)

Tina and I made a side trip to the Alcott family’s “Orchard House” while the rest strolled into downtown Concord for window shopping–but first I made them come and look at the replica of the shack Thoreau had built for his retreat of two years and two months at Walden Pond, just a couple of miles away (the pond, not the replica, which is at the museum).

 I had forgotten that Bronson Alcott (Louisa’s dad) asked children in his classes what they thought, using dialogue instead of lectures, and using more questions instead of corporal punishment for an unruly child.   The idealistic, sometimes utopian Bronson introduced the use of child-sized furniture in his own home as well as in his teaching; he cut down the legs of the school benches so each child’s feet could touch the ground.   This got him fired–again!  (The Catholic educator Maria Montessori, M.D., born in Italy in 1870, also introduced the concept of child-sized furniture and child-eye-level conversations in her progressive teaching methods.  Our UU Spirit Play method in Sunday School has its origins in Montessori’s method and philosophy.) 

The Alcott family moved 20 times in 22 years, avoiding home ownership to avoid foreclosure for debts and to find new work after Bronson lost his teaching jobs.  They had little money and Louisa’s successful writing career was a great help to her family.  She died of mercury poisoning after it was used to treat an infection.  

I had never known that Louisa’s sister, May, was the first American female artist to be invited to show a painting in a French salon.  She was an art teacher in Massachusetts; her students included a boy who started by carving a sculpture in a turnip and who later on would make the Concord Minute Man statue and the Abraham Lincoln statue for the memorial in Washington–Daniel Chester French was her student!  She took her art toinsane asylum patients, thereby practicing art therapy before it had a title. 

Back to Boston, for an early dinner at Legal Seafood near the Harbor.  It was expensive but delicious and it was our last night out, so Cruise Director David let us all have more than a cuppa chowda for dinna.  I tied Tina’s lobster bib on her as she wondered what to name the cute and red  main course.

After dinner we took another trolley tour–Ghosts and Gravestones–a corny and campy ride through the North End and Beacon Hill with Minerva, a buxom but long-dead opera singer.  In one burying ground we met her ghost friend, Seamus, who told us ghost stories about the cemetery and the Athenaeum (library).   Parts of the tour were unsettling to me, given the campy and fun backdrop.   We learned about the Boston Strangler, who may not have been caught after all (DNA testing showed no connection between the confessed and asylum-committed killer and the last victim).  We learned that 1 in 10 of burials in times past may have involved people who were not dead but only seemed so; the exhumed coffins of some people have shown the signs of frantic agony when they had come briefly back to consciousness underground.  We learned of long-ago hangings in the Boston Common, and saw how a longer knot could avoid snapping the neck of the condemned, so the crowds could have the fun of watching him or her strangle for up to an hour, and how a shorter knot could decapitate the person, also a crowd-pleaser.   This kind of stuff is not creepy in a ghost-story way–to me it’s ugly, unsettling and disheartening, and it takes the fun out of the jokes in the other parts of the tour.  

Curfew in the UUSS hostel rooms was 11 PM, as we had to get up at 4:30 AM for a 6:30 flight.  We had gotten great mileage out of our $15 MBTA weekly passes, but we couldn’t get to the airport in time, since the T doesn’t start till 5:15.  Did I say Boston’s is the first Subway in America?  

Before bed I did some haggling in the hostel’s lively lobby with an independent shuttle van driver; five weeks in India taught me that the starting price almost never is the final price.  When I told him it was a morning ride, he said he didn’t work the morning shift but said it was nice to meet me anyway.  Shortly he got  a friend on his phone and quoted me $60 for us all.  He translated into Arabic for his friend, to whom I offered $50.  “Let’s call it even and make it $55” was the reply.  I said two taxi cabs would be cheaper than that! H said no, “Not from here to the airport.”  I decided to chance it, and was happy this morning to see I was right about the taxi fares.

 It was a rainy but short ride to Logan.  Inside the TSA security-line employees as well as the US Airways’ gate agent showed themselves to unused to hearing or replying to the phrases “thank you” and  “good morning.”  This gave me some perspective on the youthful silences that I had been taking so personally near the end of the trip.  

The youth were even less talkative at the airport and on the plane than usual, if that is possible, and most of them slept a ton on the 5 1/2 hour flight to Phoenix; they were livelier on the connecting flight.  The parents were glad to see them and us back home, and vice versa.  

Thus ended the pilgrimage; thus did we spend the revenues of four Sunday bake sales and an all-ages talent show, the gifts of several church benefactors, a grant from the endowment trust, and family contributions.  Thank you all!


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