Saturday, March 8, 2008

Boston Massacre Memorial: Let's Move It

I wish I had done this a few days ago, so I could have included it with my post on the Boston Massacre re-enactment, but yesterday I paid a visit to the Boston Massacre Memorial on Boston Common. The memorial is one of the stops on the Irish Heritage Trail, which I’ll post about a little later.
I’ve passed the memorial on occasion but had no idea that it was a monument to the five victims of the Boston Massacre. And I bet I’m not alone in that. What a shame if that’s the case because this is one of the most powerful monuments I’ve seen in Boston and probably the one that best honors the memory of those who lost their lives in the events leading up and during the American Revolution.

The memorial is located on the Tremont Street side of the Common. (It’s on the Common side of Tremont between Avery and West Streets.) Its base is a rounded, granite pedestal. Atop the pedestal are the names of the five victims of the Boston Massacre. Along the base is the date of the Massacre: “March 5, 1770.” Inlaid in the pedestal is a bronze bas relief of the engraving made famous by Paul Revere (and originally done by Henry Pelham). There are two quotes along the top from two great Americans about the importance of the Boston Massacre. The first is from Daniel Webster: “From that moment we may date the severance of the British empire.” The other is from John Adams, who represented the British soldiers in the subsequent trial: “On that night the foundation of American independence was laid.” The outstretched hand of one of the victims has been rubbed down; apparently shaking it is considered good luck.

The monument was erected in 1888 and was actually controversial at that time. According to the book Irish Boston from Michael P. Quinlin (a good read, particularly this time of year): “The memorial’s proponents were surprised to discover opposition to the plan from old-line Bostonians who considered the victims to be nothing more than rabble-rousers.” Hmm, nothing like some good old Brahmin condescendence. Wonder if that had anything to do with the victims including an Irish immigrant and a man of African-American and Native American descent? John Boyle O'Reilly led the effort for the memorial against the opposition, then wrote and recited a poem for the dedication.

My favorite part of the memorial is the striking, seven-foot statue of the Genius of Liberty. Liberty holds aloft a broken chain, clenched firmly in her right hand, symbolizing America’s break from tyranny. Her right hand is firmly planted on a royal crown. Liberty’s left hand holds the standard of a large flag, and an American eagle stands next to her left foot. I love the symbolism of that broken chain.

The memorial was sculpted by Robert Kraus, who had his studio nearby at 3 Winter Street. Kraus would meet an untimely end in 1901 when he died in insane asylum, apparently driven there by what The Boston Globe reported to be a “broken heart” because his masterpiece of Belshazzar was had to be abandoned because of a lack of funds.

I find this a much more fitting tribute to the Boston Massacre than the nondescript circle of inlaid stones that mark the location of the event outside the Old State House. But, unfortunately, I think the memorial is completely overlooked by Bostonians and visitors because of its location in the Common. (I found few mentions of the memorial in the Boston guidebooks on my shelf.) Any chance we can get this moved to outside the Old State House? Not only would there be a greater appreciation of the memorial if it were moved to the site of the massacre, but I think it would foster a greater recognition of the Boston Massacre as well, since it would serve as a much more visible marker (compared to the inlaid stone) that would be more readily noticed by tourists and Bostonians alike.

I’ve posted more photos of the memorial on Flickr. Be sure to check it out the next time you’re in the Common and resist the normal tendency to walk on by.


sparddenise said...

I am the great granddaughter of Robert Kraus, and I appreciate your comments regarding his exceptional talent which represents freedom for all. I agree that the location should be changed, so his work and talent can always be appreciated.

With sincere thanks,

Denise Sparda, RN

Chris Klein said...

Thanks for the post, Denise. I hope that even if the monument stays where it is that more Bostonians and visitors to the city will be sure to check out your great-grandfather's work.

Anonymous said...

I strongly agree the monument should be relocated
to help people fully apreciate its artistic and historical value. Robert Kraus progressive simbolism was ahead of its time.

Elle said...

My son is doing a 5th grade school report on Crispus Attucks - the first to die in the Boston Massacre. I think the monument is a beautiful tribute to a symbolic event. It is because of the monument (he thinks it's cool how Liberty is crushing the crown)that he wants to go to Boston and see all of the historical sites. How's that for inspiring our youth!

Chris Klein said...

Elle, Great to hear that. Anything that gets kids involved in history is fantastic, statues and memorials included! Chris