I looove being a tourist at home. I’ve visited a lot of historic sites and museums over the past 10 years of birthday lists, but the beauty of living in a city is that there are always more places to visit.
Last weekend, I toured Old North Church and the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum.
I don’t know why it’s taken me 15 years to get to the Old North Church. Well, I had thought that I walked in and looked around before. But when I looked at its website earlier this year, I read about a “behind the scenes” tour and voila. I knew I hadn’t seen the bell chamber and the crypt before, so that would count as a birthday list item.
The special tour only runs once an hour, so when I arrived I had some time to kill. I had read about a printing shop and chocolate shop around the corner from the church, so sought those out. The Printing Office of Edes & Gill was SO COOL. I should preface this by saying that I am interested in printing because I used to work in the book publishing industry. The owner and master printer is very engaging and is obviously very knowledgeable about colonial printing techniques.
He has two printing presses that are circa 1700s: one which he bought from Colonial Williamsburg and one French printing press, which is only one of four left in the world. His work is a labor of love…he said it took him 30 hours to set the type for Longfellow’s poem about Paul Revere’s ride and 12 hours to fix the typos. I’m grateful that he is keeping the art of printing alive. Long live the printed book!
Right next door is Captain Jackson’s Historic Chocolate Shop. They demonstrate how chocolate was made in colonial times. The employees said that no recipes from the time existed at the Old North Church, so a historic division of Mars, of all places, tracked down a recipe and has re-created it.
Visitors are given a sample of drinking chocolate and it is dee-vine. There are a few different chocolate products for sale, as well as tea. I learned as I was leaving that the chocolate shop has been open a year and the printing office has been open four years. So I didn’t feel quite as guilty for not knowing of their existence until a month or so ago.
As soon as I stepped into Old North Church, I realized that I had not been there before. I would have remembered the box pews!
Guests do a self-guided stroll and an employee gives a 5–10 minute talk about its history. Its claim to fame is that on the eve of the American Revolution, Paul Revere told some church employees to hang one lantern in the steeple if the British troops would be coming by land, and two if by sea. Once he saw the lanterns, he and William Dawes hoofed it to Lexington to warn the colonial militia.
It was fun to see the bell chamber and learn about the history of the change ringing bells. As a teen, Mr. Paul Revere approached the church and offered to ring the bells for a small fee. He and a group of neighborhood youth formed a little company of bell ringers. In recent years, volunteers from MIT have rung the bells. Each of the eight bells ring a different note, and there are thousands of different patterns that can be played.
Check out this video that shows the change ringers in action.
The crypt wasn’t terribly exciting in that there isn’t much to see. Just a bunch of brick walls covered by cement. But 1,100 people are buried there, which is hard to believe. The crypt was in operation between 1732 and 1853. Some of the more famous people buried there have carved stones or plaques in front of their tombs. A bunch of British soldiers are buried there, as well as Samuel Nicholson, the first commander of the U.S.S. Constitution.
Wow, this is a long post. I’ll make the recap of the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum quick. Visitors are taken on a guided tour by different character actors along the way. We walked around on a replica ship and kids were literally able to throw soft blocks of “tea” into the harbor. It’s a fun interactive experience with a few different videos and one of the actual tea chests on display!
Two birthday items checked off in a day…that’s how I like to roll.
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