Sometimes just getting into a city is exciting. We drove to the Alewife Station to board the MBTA train for downtown Boston, but by mid-morning the parking garage at the Alewife Station was full ... but not really, really full. What this meant was that the parking attendants were using the extra space along the ramps and curbs to squeeze in some more cars. We directed our full-size pickup down a long curving ramp, where we parked as close to the wall as we could. Boston Garden The only way we could get our truck out of this predicament would be by squeezing past the other cars (some not parked nearly so close to the curb) and spiralling up and up the ramp to the regular parking floor. Well, we would worry about that problem later.
We arrived at Boston Common just as the cloudy skies began to clear. The Massachusetts State House (why is it called the State House, when Massachusetts is a Commonwealth?) was our first destination. State House interior Our friend Nancy had been a legislative aide here some years back, and was happy to see her old haunts as we took the guided tour. The public rooms are graced by statues of famous Americans -- and some only famous in Massachusetts, such as John Albion Andrew (1818-1867), the so-called "War Governor." Originally a small building, the 1798 State House was enlarged at the end of the nineteenth century. In the old section, some original columns still stand, although encased in plaster to help preserve them. These columns were made from pine trees from Maine, which was still part of Massachusetts at the time.
With the exception of a large bronze honoring Civil War nurses, all of the State House memorials were for men until 1999. The new women's history panel The State House recently added a memorial display honoring famous Massachusetts Women leaders Dorothea Dix, Lucy Stone, Sarah Parker Remond, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, Mary Kenney O'Sullivan, and Florence Luscomb.
The original seal of the royal colony uses the spelling Mattachusetts. Our tour guide was as baffled as we were, but using Google we learned that it was an alternative spelling of the name, dating back to the original charter of 1629.
The General Court (the name goes back to colonial times) of The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has two houses with virtually identical functions. Half the bills are given to each house. Both Senators and Representatives are elected every two years, and although both houses are overwhelmingly Democratic, the Governor and Lieutenant Governor are Republican.
Our tour guide took us into the visitors gallery of the House of Representatives, but instead of listening to a debate we observed part of a ceremony honoring Corrections Officers. A group award was given Brick-lined mews, Back Bay to those members of the Middlesex County Sheriff's Department who volunteered to assist New Orleans officers in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In the middle of the chamber hangs the Sacred Cod, without which the House cannot meet --- as was indeed the case in 1933, when some Harvard students spirited it away for a week.
Emerging from the State House, we walked past the lovely old brick stores and houses in Back Bay. We might have been in London as we negotiated brick sidewalks rippled by tree roots, and admired the tidy park in Louisburg Square. Buildings either crowded to the edge of the sidewalk or were set behind sidewalk-hugging iron fences with tiny front yard gardens. Although many houses have historic plaques, John Kerry's house is not marked. One of Massachusetts' Make Way For Ducklings more famous architects was Charles Bullfinch, who designed not only public buildings but homes as well. Two examples sit side by side on Beacon Hill.
After a tasty lunch at a Thai restaurant on Charles Street, we peeked into Savenor's, where Julia Child bought meat and provisions, admiring the variety of meats and delicacies, including kangaroo sausage.
From the Charles River next to Storrow Drive it was but a few blocks to the Boston Garden, where we watched children playing with the bronze ducks, which in turn were placed in tribute to Robert McCloskey's famous children's book, Make Way For Ducklings. The Garden is the first public botanical garden in the United States. Spacious and welcoming, it was filled this day with visitors of all ages, and sparkled with dozens of colorful flower beds. A swanboat in Boston Garden The recent rains have produced grass and leaves of brilliant shades of green -- the old weeping willows seemed particularly lush. We watched several passages of swan boats. These dignified launches are powered by the strong legs of the young drivers. Probably no one knows how many statues of George Washington exist in Boston alone, but the dramatic sculpture of the general on horseback is especially attractive.
Commonwealth Avenue is a broad divided boulevard, split by a wide park filled with statues. Fresh out of Oberlin College, Nancy had lived on Commonwealth Avenue while she held her first teaching job. Fire fighters lost in 1972 Fire At that time some of the residences on Commonwealth Avenue were still occupied by single families; now they are nearly all divided into blocks of apartments.
The statue of Samuel Eliot Morison, sitting astride a rock holding binoculars, is an excellent work of art, but the eminent Harvard professor and naval historian has been well tarnished for his racial bigotry. The memorial to the 16 Boston firefighters who died in the 1972 Hotel Vendome fire is beautifully done.
We cut across Newbury Street to Copley Square, where we admired the beautiful architecture of Trinity Church before plunging into the Boston Public Library. The library comes in two sections, one old with marble and polished wood and enormous lions, the other spare and geometric (and full of books), but we spent most of our time admiring the art in the old section.
One of the featured displays was the enormous collection of Joan of Arc statues, medallions, cameos, books, ceramics, prayer cards, tobacco cards, chess pieces and ephemera. It was donated to the Library in 1976 by Cardinal Wright, who had served in his youth as a stack boy (shelver) at the library. Oddly, all of the graphic representations of Joan of Arc are as imagined by artists -- there is no known picture of the Maid of Orleans drawn from life.
We admired the long reading room with comfortable large tables and reading lamps, and tagged along to hear the tail end of a guided tour describing the John Singer Sargent murals painted between 1895 and 1916. Apart from the controversial aspects of having a public building contain overtly religious art, a curious aspect is the three-dimensional touches One of the Sargent murals that Sargent, rather daringly for his time, added. There are rays of sunlight and other "golden" ornaments made of papier-mache, for example.
We hadn't walked as far as we did when we tired out our teenage grandson in Paris, but our legs felt grateful when we finally sat down on the train ride back. There was a chain blocking off the entrance to the spiral ramp where our truck was parked, but we persevered and managed to hit no other vehicle as we exited the garage.
We've taken three or four long walks in Boston over the last two years, and the city continues to reward our efforts.