Friday, May 29, 2015

Better Later Than Never

Morels can be hard to spot at times
 I actually found these a little over a month ago but just now getting ready to blog about it. I have hunted morel mushrooms every year since I was old enough to walk in the woods. I have never missed a year and have never come up empty in my search for morels. This year however, I thought would be my first year for striking out. We had some nice warm weather a few weeks before but it was pretty dry and morels need moisture to pop out especially at the beginning of morel season (about two weeks a year on average).The week leading up to morel season we got some moisture but it was also very cold and cloudy and morels need the warmth of the sun. Compound the poor growing conditions with a trip to Boston during the prime time for hunting morels, I had almost given up hope.

But morel madness is very hard to ignore and so on Sunday afternoon, literally less than 12 hours before we had to get up for the long drive to the airport, we made one last attempt to find some mushrooms and struck gold. Well perhaps struck tin because we found enough for one large mess for the three of us to eat for supper that night and that was it. It was probably the fewest morels I have found except for a time or two I can remember with early spring droughts but it wasn't zero. While we were gone in Boston, my parents and brother would find some more for another couple messes, one of which they graciously saved for me to consume upon our return, but overall, it was just a marginal year for them up here. I can't stress this enough though, when you have morel madness as I do, even a marginal year is better than no morels at all.

Rotted hollow in a tree trunk which would have made a dandy emergency crapper.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Mini Steamer

While finishing the cribbage board project and also the bookshelf project, I once again saw this wooden box sitting on my workbench. I had started it probably a couple years ago out of some leftover oak from a project but messed up with the top. I think I was planning on making an inset top for it but when I rabbited the long pieces, I went through the end material leaving notches that would look like giant pimples in each corner. I had other things to do so I used this box to store some of my pen making supplies in on my workbench. For whatever reason, when I noticed it once again sitting there all stained and dirty, an image popped into my head. I thought perhaps I could turn it into a miniature steamer trunk. I cut off the top part with the pimple-like notches and rabbits so I had a smooth surface to work with.

Using some scrap oak, I made a domed top for the box and with lots of trimming, sanding, filling in defects, more sanding and staining, I still wasn't happy. Oak doesn't take stain very well and I was wanting a richer and darker look to it to make it seem old. Normally when staining something, I brush it on thick and then wipe it off after ten minutes or so. After doing this four times, it was still way lighter than I wanted so I did a fifth time differently. This time I just stood there and kept brushing the stain with a foam brush every few minutes to make sure it stayed uniform but never wiped it off. I ended up with the color I was looking for but I had to live with a few imperfections in the stain where it was thicker or thinner in places. I found some antique bronze hardware to attach to it which looks good. The handles that came with it were way too big to attach to the sides like a true steamer trunk so instead I just put one handle on top and moved the two cinch clasps to the sides. I didn't use any of the metal corners that came with the kit because they just didn't look proportionate to the box. They were meant for a full sized steamer box. I'll just save them for a future project.

All in all, I am happy with how it turned out but I still haven't figured out what to do with my mini-steamer trunk yet. I made a lockable trunk about this size for my oldest daughter to put all her 'valuable' baubles that young kids collect so perhaps I will give this to our youngest in a couple years for her stuff. Until then, I need to find a way to use it other than as a large door stop. But at least it is off my workbench which is now clean except for one toy loader project I never seem to finish.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Redbud Propogation

Redbud seeds and pod
I want to start planting some more trees on my 2 acres of land as it has grown more barren these last few years I have lived here. Besides planting some hardwood species like oak and hickory trees, I would also like to grow some under story trees, particularly ones that flower in the spring like redbuds, serviceberry or dogwoods. To get a deal and a two year warranty on our fruit trees last fall, I also purchased a serviceberry tree at full sticker price. That price plus the fact that we have a huge deer population, has led me down the path to try and complete this project on a cheaper scale.

Way back in mid April before I left for Boston, I decided that I should try planting some redbud trees from seed since I have some growing down in the ditch. I read up on the subject and found that they produce a thin pea like pod of seeds in the fall from which I can gather some seeds. I took something to mark the tree with so I could easily find it among all the scrub trees around it in the fall but much to my surprise, it was still loaded with last fall's seed pods. So I picked a double handful of them and shucked the seeds that you see above.

The donor trees later a few weeks after picking the seeds
Advice varies greatly upon the subject of germinating redbud seeds so I didn't do them all at once. I scarified 20 of the seeds a bit by rubbing them between some sheets of sandpaper and then placed them in some boiling water and let them soak. Here the advice varies from one hour to several days so I removed some at 1 hour, 8 hours, 1 day and 2 days to see what works. Then I then planted them in moist soil in some plastic seed starters set inside some bread pans and placed in a refrigerator under 41 degrees and will leave them there for four to five weeks before moving them outside to germinate. If all goes well, perhaps by this fall I can stick them in the ground in their permanent location. I would love nothing better than to plant a whole grove of those suckers throughout the base of my yard near the wooded draw.

Redbud "birthing" unit

Friday, May 22, 2015


Late last year, I attempted to build a cribbage board using inlaid materials and I blogged about my failures early this year. I kept at it when the garage temperatures were warm enough to work comfortably and then later, when I wasn't doing some outside project that needed to be done before temperatures got so hot. Finally a week before we left for Boston, I finally called the project complete and the pictures above and below are the result.

I used kamagong wood from the Philippines that had an interesting pattern to it. Kamagong trees start out the light tan color that you see and as they age, they slowly turn to a dark ebony color. It is a hard wood to work with because of it's hardness and the fine powder like quality of the wood when sanded. The residual "soot" gets everywhere and stains everything it touches. I made the box first and then cut the lid off from the rest of it. I inlaid the lid with a chunk of lighter colored mahogany that I had leftover so that I could burn some basic scoring information onto the bottom of the lid. I also made a compartment for the pegs and a larger one for a couple decks of cards. I also lined it with green felt to quiet down the rattling pegs and to also allow me to not have to finish sand the inside corners and edges of a small box which would have taken forever.

The woodworking parts of the project went well and I am reasonably happy with how it turned out. The finish however, I could have done better. I used some leftover polyurethane from a previous project and applied several coats to the box, inside and out but wasn't happy with how things turned out. I was using disposable foam brushes to apply the finish and I think they were leaving particulates behind. I would sand them out but by then had sanded through the finish so that the next coat was essentially starting over every time. The polyurethane would take days to dry out between coats and in places never seemed to fully dry and remain a bit gummy. Finally I bought a new can of polyurethane which solved the latter problem and I went from several days of curing down to only a few hours. I experimented with various brushes and clothes to apply the finish but had a hard time getting it to look even. I would sand it down to get that even look but lose the luster of the sheen. Finally I just called it good, never getting that satisfactory look. I think I may try to shine it up with some beeswax or something to see if that helps.

The template that I bought to drill all the holes came with metal cribbage pegs for scoring so at long last, I have a board that should stand the test of time. All the cheap boards I have owned with plastic pegs over the years have all ended up with stubs of broken pegs permanently blocking various holes. I need to start up family games of cribbage again and perhaps someday, one of my daughters can use this board to teach their kids how to play cribbage.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Spring of Past

I took these photos earlier this spring but never found a place for them in any of the posts that I had so I just stuck them in a post for later. That later is now. The above photo is of my serviceberry tree that I planted last fall and then after nearly loosing three of the other trees later that night to marauding deer, caged them and the serviceberry up with wire mesh fence for their protection. I don't know if the deer got full eating the other three fruit trees, simply missed this tree, or don't like serviceberry trees for their midnight snack. I don't think I will find out and will just leave it caged for a few more years until it is big enough to defend itself.

About the same time, the other trees were just starting to leaf out and spring storms were passing through. Because my house is surrounded by trees, it is about impossible to photograph these storms until they are right overhead or have passed us by and are heading east. Below is a storm as it passed overhead and headed east one evening.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Killing Time Between Errands

While running an errand, I swung up a road I had traveled part way up some time ago to travel further down it to a park that I had heard about. I had no plans other than to see what kind of park it was and I discovered that it was merely a small parking lot off the side of the road overlooking the river and this railroad bridge used by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad. While taking a picture, I noticed the river was full of what looked like chunks of ice floating downstream. It was way too late in the season for it to be ice so I zoomed out my camera and grabbed the picture below. It appears to just be foam but I have no idea from what.

On my way back to the head of the road so I could continue on with my errands, I was stopped by a coal train crossing the road. Though I missed the head of the train, there were at least a hundred fully loaded coal cars that passed by before these two engines appeared in the middle of the train. After they went by, there was another hundred plus full loaded coal cars behind them and another two engines. All told, I suspect there were six engines on this train and maybe around 250 cars full of coal, all moving at a slow walking pace. Seeing as I wasn't in too big of a hurry, I just rolled down the window and listened to them roll by for the next fifteen minutes or so.  This was most certainly the longest train I have ever seen.

Finally somewhere between the train bridge and the train track crossing, I passed by this cabin in the woods. I don't know the story of it but it caught my eye so I took a picture. It is definitely one of the older structures I know about in this area. Behind it were the bookends of a building long gone made from stone. I suspect it was a barn of some sort.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Forty Days After Four Months

Earlier this year after the untimely death of reporter Bob Simon, I lamented on learning that he had written a book that sounded very interesting about his 40 days of captivity in Iran. The reason for my sadness was that people who had the out of print book were taking advantage of his death by trying to sell their copies on the internet for up to $2500 a copy. I never saw any sell at that price but I did see several that sold up near the $100 mark. So over the last three months, I have kept tabs on the book on various online places as they slowly dropped back to normal pricing and finally at long last, was able to purchase a used copy for $10. It will go onto my "to read" pile bookshelf for consumption as soon as the opportunity presents itself.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

You Can't Have Enough Bookshelves

Long time readers will know that I NEED space to store all my books that I own. They are my entertainment hedge if the world should go to pot and I need to seclude myself inside for years while a nuclear holocaust clears or a zombie apocalypse kills itself off. In my first house I built a large built-in bookcase on either side of our fireplace. In this house, I built an even larger version taking up an entire wall in our downstairs family room and immediately filled it with all my books as you can see in the linked post. Most of those books are ones that I have read and have deemed excellent enough to hang onto for future use but I do keep a couple shelves for unread books. This way when I return a finished book, I have a selection at hand to choose from.

Time went by and I grew lazy enough to start a "to read" pile next to my bed so that if I finished a book in the minutes before I drifted off to sleep, I could grab another one without having to make a journey downstairs. As can be expected with my addiction to books, that stash kept getting bigger until the pile turned into several. Along the way, I had memories of a bookshelf built by a blogger who no longer blogs floating around in my brain and I thought this might be a great use of that idea. Plus I had a dovetail jig that I haven't used since I bought it with some Christmas money given to me by my parents that would create strong enough joints to hold all those books with just a little bit of glue. Thus my idea for building a bookshelf for my bedroom wall was born.

I had some leftover pine board ends from a basement shelving project so I ripped those down to size and decided on using half-blind dovetails for the corners and sliding dovetails for the intersection since both those could be done on the same template for my jig. It took awhile to set up the depth stops on the jig with scrap materials but once set up, it took me about five minutes to do all the dovetail work. After that, it was just a lot of clamps and glue. The boards weren't as straight at I would have liked so several of them have slight bows in them. If I had a continuous surface on which to attach the shelf instead of only 3 studs spaced 16 inches apart, I could have removed the bows somewhat to where they weren't so noticeable. Since I couldn't do that here, I just attached it to the wall the best I could and called it good enough.

After doing all the dovetailing, I hated to cover it up with white paint, but pine boards just didn't go with the rest of the bedroom decor. I struggled a bit with how I should hang this book shelf on the wall. At first I was thinking small metal brackets but I thought those would be too visible and ruin the look. Then I thought about using actual white brackets that were made from the same material but aesthetically is just didn't look right in my mind. Then it hit me that perhaps I could use my Kreg pockethole jig that I had bought years ago with more Christmas money. I drilled five pocketholes in areas over studs and screwed it to the wall. Because the fasteners are below and above eye level, they are invisible for now. I can plug them and paint over so you would never see any of the fasteners ever again but we are going to repaint the wall later this year and I don't want to paint around the shelf. Also, if for some reason we get our dream house built and need to sell this place, I may want to take this with me.

Warning: Only about half my bedside stash of books are shown in this picture!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Other Things

In the three blocks between our hotel and Boston's Chinatown, lay the theater district and while walking by one evening, we noticed the Blue Man Group was playing. We walked up to the ticket office and found out they still had a few tickets left for the show starting in three minutes so before we knew it, we were enjoying their performance. It was outstanding and I really enjoyed their performance. It dealt with humor and a lot of percussion which appealed to the former drummer I once was. The entire performance was nearly two hours long and felt more like twenty minutes. If you ever get a chance to see them, it is well worth the price of admission.

While making our way out towards Lexington earlier during our stay, we were passing right by Harvard so we hopped off the subway for a stroll around campus. They had a tourism office with a self guided map tour which is what we did. The map gave some information on various buildings of the university and how some of them were used during the Revolutionary War and by whom. The history was neat but the actual architecture was phenomenal. Below is their Memorial Union building built to celebrate those who died during the Civil War. You just don't see buildings like that anymore.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Boston Eats

I had great plans to go eat at this place or that place while in Boston but at the end of the day, we were both pretty tired and so we mostly took the easy way out. The easy way consisted of walking a few blocks east to Chinatown, finding someplace that looked good and eating there. It turned out to be a great plan because every place we ate in Chinatown was outstanding. On the first night we found a place that served dim sum and enjoyed the meal you see above, minus a couple containers that preceeded these. All told, it only cost us $23 with 15% tip so the price was hard to beat.

I wanted to eat a lobster roll while in Boston and while walking the Freedom Trail one day, I found a place serving them. The lobster roll tasted like something found at McDonald's unfortunately. I'm sure there are many places that make killer lobster rolls but this place certainly wasn't one of them. However, it came with a cup of clam chowder which was to die for. It doesn't look like much in this picture but I would pay lots of money to have a large pot of it on my stove right now.

On the second night in Chinatown, we popped into a place for a lobster dinner. Lobster's in Chinatown were about a third of the price as found in a steakhouse elsewhere in the city and we really wanted to try some fresh lobster, something you can't get in Iowa. We had skipped our lunches so we were starving and decided to get an appetizer while waiting for the lobsters. We asked the server what he recommended and the jellyfish and pickled Chinese radish was it. It was my first time to eat jellyfish and it was probably the best tasting dish (outside of the clam chowder) that I ate the entire trip.

Our lobster came along with a crab and a pile of Chinese greens. It was a pile of food and there was no way we could eat it all but we did make a pretty good dent in it. I think the only thing left were the shells and some of the greens. The lobster was great though it had too much ginger in it for my taste buds. Still it was perfectly cooked.

We had lots more food during the course of the week but these were the meals that stood out and I thought I would share them with you. Finally, if you ever get a chance, try the jellyfish and pickled Chinese radishes if you ever get a chance.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Adams Family

John Adams birthplace
Perhaps four or five years ago I started a project of reading a biography on every president starting with the first. I think I am only up to Andrew Jackson at this point but it has given me a lot of insight on the formation of our country. I no longer feel that George Washington was the hero that we bestow upon him today. He was a good man with good intentions but not much of a leader. I also discovered John Adams and wonder why we don't celebrate this guy with national monuments, pictures on currency and partial chapters devoted to him in grade school. So being fairly close to his birth home in Braintree, Massachusetts, I had to make the journey out there one day.

I was the only one on the first tour of the day so I had a private one on one showing. His birth home was neat in the respect that he was born there but the park ranger giving me the tour presented information as this is how people lived back then and presented almost no information on the 2nd president. The house had little to show inside though I was impressed with the original hardwood flooring that was probably 2 feet wide by 20 feet long with nary a knot anywhere. John Adam's home as an adult is right next door and the experience is also the same. Fortunately the tour included a shuttle to Peacefield and a different park ranger as a guide.

Peacefield: Later home to John Adams and three generations of family
While John Adams was overseas as a diplomat, he bought the above house and farm sight unseen and moved into it upon his return. Because the Whitehouse was still under construction, this was his 'Whitehouse' until the last year or two of his presidency and even then, he still moved back here during the summers. John Adams died in this house and his son John Quincy Adams lived here before it went to his son and then grandchild. After the 4th generation child died, the house was sold to a board for preservation and eventually it was turned into the museum it is today. Every single item in it today belonged to one of the four generations of Adams family that lived there. The park ranger guiding me was very knowledgeable about the president and subsequent generations and I enjoyed this part of the tour very much.
Peacefield Library
John Quincy Adams was worried about the legacy of his father (and rightfully so is seems) so he built the stone library seen above that if floor to ceiling full of books. It houses all of John Quincy Adams' books and those of his son and grandson. If someone would just lock me in there for a week, I think I would never even notice.

John and Abigail Adams Tomb
After touring Peacefield, the shuttle takes you back to the park head quarters is the town of Quincy Center which is oddly pronounced 'Quinzy', the same as John Quincy Adams middle name. I guess that is how they weed out the tourists. Not on the tour is a church just down the street where the tombs of both presidents and their wives can be found. John Adams actually died before the church was built but like so many people of the time, when it was built his body was exhumed and transferred to this tomb. Standing here between his and Abigail's tombs with my hands resting on it was a great experience. I don't know how to explain it other than to say it was very moving to me.

John Quincy and Louisa Adams Tomb
When John Quincy Adams died, the church had to dig out the ground right next to the tomb of John Adams and add onto the room so that father and son could be buried together. Although I have read a biography on John Quincy Adams, I couldn't tell you much other than he may have been one of the smartest men every in office. He knew somewhere around eleven languages fluently and was an avid reader. He would get up every morning at four and start his day with a couple hours of reading.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Bunker Hill

Bunker Hill Monument
 Bunker Hill is the site of the first major battle of the Revolutionary War. It actually occurred on Breed's Hill but was named for the adjacent higher hill which was the objective of both the Americans and the British. The colonials had been keeping the British confined to the Boston peninsula up to this point and were looking to make a statement by sneaking onto Bunker Hill and building a fort overlooking Boston. With canon in the fort, they would be able to offer resistance to the British navy which controlled all of Boston harbor. The British were looking to stretch their legs and let the colonials know that they weren't to be contained. The commanding officer William Prescott, against orders and for reasons unknown, decided to build the fort on Breed's Hill instead of Bunker Hill.

The Colonials were extremely short on powder and short on manpower so when the British sailed across the harbor and landed at the base of Breed's hill, the outcome was almost certain. Israel Putnam who fought in the battle is credited with saying, "Don't fire until you see the white of their eyes," for those very reasons. The British made several charges and were repulsed under withering gunfire but as powder ran low, the eventually made it to the top of the defenses and overran the fort. The British lost 1054 men in the battle and the Colonials 140 men, most of which happened in the withdrawal from the fort. The most famous loss was the death of Dr. Joseph Warren who had he lived, the name George Washington might have been little more than a footnote in history books.

The Battle of Bunker Hill convinced the British that the Colonials weren't just a raggedy bunch of farmers whose rebellion could be easily squashed. They negotiated their retreat and left Boston for Nova Scotia where they would regroup and try again in New York. The Colonials learned that they could successfully fight the British and hold their own if given the proper leadership and provisions.

Bunker Hill Monument
I arrived at the base of the monument a few minutes before it opened and found I was the only person there which is what I had hoped. I started up the 294 stairs to the top of the monument which are conveniently labeled every 25 steps. I made it up to around 175 steps and was pausing to catch my breath when I heard what sounded like a army of 5 year old kids screaming their way up the stairs. Wanting to get a few minutes of peace to myself up at the top, I immediately got climbing again and increasing my pace to the point where I thought my lungs might implode. I could hear the kids screaming 25, 50, 75, 100 during the same time it took me to get from 175 to 225. I thought I was going to lose the race when I had 175 steps of a head start. I made it to the top of the monument and while sucking wind, I quickly walked around and took some pictures out the windows of the top. I had about four minutes before around 20 5-year old kids came scrambling up the stairs and crowded the small king bed sized room at the top. The teachers with them apologized for the disruptive noise coming from their kids and I politely told them it was okay because I was heading down anyway. I wish I had a few more minutes to soak in the view and ponder the events that had happened below almost 240 years ago.

A short on breath photo looking back towards Boston

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Constitution and Cassin Young

Canon from the USS Constitution
 The last two stops of the Freedom Trail were ones that really meant a lot to me since I had read some in depth history on both. The U.S.S. Constitution and Bunker Hill. I caught a water taxi the day after visiting Lexington which brought me to the Navel shipyard across the bay from Boston and only a stones throw from the Constitution. Only the night before as I did some research on what I planned to visit on this day did I learn that the Constitution had been shut down for tourism only three days earlier. She would have extensive work done on her and would be shut down for the next several months. Still I hoped I would be able to walk up to her side and take some nice pictures of her but alas, that was not to be. The above picture was as close as I could get and as you can see, she was well on her way to being stripped down with all her canons, masts, spars, rigging, etc having already been removed and laying on the dock.

USS Constitution
 My first exposure to the U.S.S. Constitution was while reading a book on the Barbary wars and the part she played in freeing hundreds of sailors being held hostage. I read other books about the War of 1812 and one on our first Navy of which she was one of six similar ships. Still after having read so many books about her, I was still impressed on the shear size even without all the masts and rigging in place. What a sight she would have been to behold. All I could do was walk around the blocked off construction area and take a picture of her stern using my telephoto lens.

USS Cassin Young
 Parked nearby was the U.S.S. Cassin Young which I had also read about indirectly in a number of books. She is named after a Medal of Honor recipient during the attack on Pearl Harbor and served during World War II. Being married to a native of the Philippines, I have read several books of the United States' ties to that country including our military ties. The U.S.S. Cassin Young played a vital part in the battle of Leyte Gulf which was our initial campaign to retake the islands back from the Japanese. During that time it withstood two hits by kamikaze planes and shot down scores of others that never quite made it. It wasn't hard to imagine someone sitting on the gun below shooting at planes as if if life depended on it. Since it was still a couple hours before it opened for tours, I went on and never came back for the tour. I have toured other World War II era ships though and on the inside, the are all pretty similar so I don't think I missed out on much.

Guns of the USS Cassin Young

USS Cassin Young
 On the last day of our trip to Boston, my wife had a meeting scheduled on a yacht for an evening harbor cruise. I had thought we might be heading out into the outer parts of the harbor but instead we headed towards the inner harbor along the same path as the water taxi I had taken earlier in the week. The only difference was the yacht went past where the USS Constitution and USS Cassin Young were moored before turning around which let me get a few photos of both boats from the bay sides. In the picture below, you can see the USS Constitution in the foreground and the obelisk monument in the background that marked my last stop of the Freedom Trail, Bunker Hill.

USS Constitution

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Shot Heard Around the World

Lexington Battle Green
 Every school kid of my generation and perhaps even the younger generations has heard about Lexington and knows that the first shots of the Revolutionary War occurred here. Those of us who have read more about the subject knows that it occurred on a triangular piece of land between the roads to Concord, Bedford and Cambridge. Still as we came to the place for the first time on a city bus, I almost missed it due to its diminutive size. I was expecting something much bigger. Versed in modern warfare, I would have felt terribly exposed standing on that green with a much larger and better armed enemy force sharing the same plot of land. I guess it is a testimony to the courage of those that fought and died there.

Grave site of the fallen patriots
 Eight militiamen died that day and seven of them were buried here under the obelisk... eventually. Like what occurred so often back then, they were actually buried in a nearby graveyard first and eventually moved and buried here sixty years later. Their grave marks the western edge of the line the patriots held with their eastern edge marked by the boulder seen below.

Lexington Battle Green
 Standing by the grave looking back towards Buckman Tavern, you can see the entire 1.5 acres of the area. The white pole on the right is a flag pole (with the flag above the frame of view) and is one of only eight sites in the United States where the U.S. flag is required by law to fly 24 hours a day, all year long.

Captain John Parker is credited with saying the words etched into this boulder that marks the eastern edge of the militiamen line. However most say he was more passive and said something along the lines of don't molest them unless they molest us first, leaving out any mention of the word 'war'. Captain Parker is thought to have told his men to disperse and let the British pass by but either the order was ignored or not heard. Since they had spent a long night in the Buckman Tavern seen below, waiting for the slow British to arrive, I'm guessing alcohol played a part in the order not being heard. For whatever reason, shots were fired, a war was started and it did begin right there on Lexington Battle Green. I have felt very few wars in my lifetime were worth the price of human treasure, but in this case, I'm glad they paid the price.

Buckman Tavern

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Freedom Trail

Benjamin Franklin statue in front of Old City Hall

On my first full day by myself, I set my sights on the Freedom trail. It is composed of 17 historic sites linked together by a trail set in the streets of Boston with red brick which makes it easy to follow.  Stop number seven was this statue of Benjamin Franklin and the old City Hall which is now utilized as a steak house. One thing I noticed and which I think it a great thing, instead of tearing down historic structures, Boston tends to recycle them in creative ways. Down the street from our hotel was a huge castle like building that had also been converted into a steak house.

Political party sculptures

In front of the old state house was a donkey which was put there by the democratic party sometime in the past. Not to be outdone, the republicans put a pair of footprints for you to stare the donkey depending on your political persuasion. 

Old South Meeting House

This is a picture of the Old South Meeting House where the likes of Samuel Adams, Dr. Joseph Warren and many other Patriots gave speeches leading up to the siege of Boston. Back then, churches sold pew boxes like property to the highest bidder so if you were wealthy enough, you had your own guaranteed seat. As people died or moved out, their pew boxes were put up for bidding and as you gained wealth and put in your time, you could gradually move closer to the front of the church. Since good records were kept, one could still sit in the same pew boxes of well known patriots.

Old State House
 Up until this point in the freedom trail, much of the activities had been free or asked for a free will donation. The Old State House required a fee for a guided tour. I paid up and joined a tour which had just started and quickly learned that it was history-lite. Since people were free to roam around after the guided tour, I slipped off the end and just walked around myself. Almost every room had been dumbed down to keep kids interested but the room behind the doors of the above shown balcony was kept pretty much as it was back in the late 18th century. That balcony was where the first reading of the Declaration of Independence took place. Below the balcony and not shown because there was a cherry picker hoist parked on top of it is the spot where the Boston Massacre took place many years earlier.

Faneuil Hall was built by wealthy businessman Peter Faneuill as a place to gather all the markets in town into one spot. This wasn't popular among the merchants though so it wasn't a slam dunk proposal but eventually it passed and was built. Back when it was built, where I was standing to take this picture would have been in the actual bay but years ago, Bostonians scalped the hills of Boston and filled in the shallow bays so now, the waterfront was out of sight and a long ways from here. When I first entered the ground floor of Faneuill hall, I was disappointed because it was essentially a tourist trap of little kitsch shops designed to part a tourist with their money. However because I had done some research, I knew that one could go see the other three floors free of charge and I did so. Because it isn't posted as such, I pretty much had the rest of the place to myself while the ground floor was packed. The second floor was a meeting room where political events often took place and many of the patriots gave speeches to the masses. The third floor (actually the fourth floor) was a military armory chalk full of interesting military related weapons, paintings, uniforms, etc. It was one of the better museums along the Freedom Trail.

Home of Paul Revere
Along the way I passed by the home of Paul Revere. I didn't go in it for a variety of reasons. One, I think Paul Revere though a talented merchant, is way over sold in his importance to the Revolutionary cause. Two, he only lived in the house for ten years as an adult before renting it out for another ten years and selling it. Three, it was a small house and by this time of the day, the tourists were getting pretty thick at places like this so I took a  picture of it and kept on walking.

Statue of Paul Revere in front of Old North Church

Much more interesting to me than one of the homes Paul Revere lived in as an adult was the Old North Church seen behind the stature of Paul Revere. This was the church where the two lanterns were hung signaling that the British were going to attack by sea and not land. Paul Revere and partner William Dawes set off on horses to warn leading patriots of this news so that they could avoid capture.

Old North Church

One of the things I learned about the Old North Church was that it isn't really known for certain, who hung the lanterns up as the signal. It is suspected to be Robert Newman and Captain Pulling but because they both would have been hanged had their identities been found, it was kept a secret. Robert Newman was the sextant for the church and had the keys to he is most likely the culprit and the British did arrest him for a time afterwards before releasing him due to lack of evidence. Captain Pulling was an ardent patriot and close friend of Revere's and also a member of importance in the church so he certainly also could have helped in the task of hanging the lanterns. He and his family fled Boston after this event and remained in hiding until after the British had left which also gives credence to his involvement.

Copp's Hill Burying Grounds
 My final stop for the day was at Copp's Hill Burying Grounds, the second oldest cemetery in the city. It contains the graves of Robert Newman mentioned above and the Mather family seen below which contained many well known ministers and known ties to the Salem Witch Trials. Although I haven't proven it conclusively yet, my third great grandmother was a Mather whose family came from the Boston area so I may be related in some way.

Mather Family Tomb

Narrowest House in Boston
Although not on the Freedom Trail tour, this house is situated across the street from the Copp's Hill Burying Grounds and is said to be the narrowest house in Boston at slightly less than ten feet wide. With weary feet, I walked to the nearest subway terminal a half dozen blocks away and called it a day at this point. Two days later I would take a water taxi to the end of the Freedom trail and finish the last two stops. More on that later.