Sunday, March 2, 2008

Boston Massacre Reenactment

March 5 marks the 238th anniversary of the Boston Massacre. The word "massacre" may sound a little overblown in this day in age, since the number of fatalities totaled five, but it was a seminal moment in the lead-up to the American Revolution.

Paul Revere's engraving of the event certainly makes it look like the colonists were the innocent victims of a massacre as a line of British soldiers deliberately fires on an unarmed group. (An original of the engraving has been on display at the Old State House, but it will be removed on March 17 for restoration work.) The event that occurred on March 5, 1770, was decidedly more chaotic and the colonists helped provoke the British, but Revere's engraving served as a powerful propaganda piece for the cause of the patriots, and its effects still filter down today in our visions of what happened that winter night. (It's interesting to note that Revere actually copied an engraving done by Henry Pelham, the half-brother of John Singleton Copley.)

One of the historical quirks about the Boston Massacre that has always fascinated me is that patriots John Adams and Josiah Quincy agreed to defend the British soldiers in the ensuing trial--and won. Can you imagine such a thing happening in this day in age where partisan divides are so cavernous?

The Boston Massacre took place at a location near the intersection of State and Devonshire Streets, just outside where the Old State House. You'll have to look hard for the marker commemorating the event. It's a simple set of inlaid cobblestones on a traffic island for pedestrians. The five victims were buried in a common grave at the Granary Burying Ground, where a marker stands near the front along Tremont Street. (The Boston Globe had an interesting article on Crispus Attucks last week, about whether he truly was a hero and from what town he came from.)

The Bostonian Society will commemorate the Boston Massacre with a series of events this week. On March 5, there will be free admission to the Old State House. At 6:30 PM there will be commemoration speeches at the Old South Meeting House. On Saturday, March 8, there will be a reenactment at 11 AM and 2PM for kids, and there will be a reenactment of the trial at 11:30 AM and 2:30 PM. Both events at the Old State House.

At 7 PM, there will be a reenactment of the Boston Massacre on the State Street side of the Old State House. I've gone to this in the past. It doesn't last very long, so be sure to get there early. (Plus, it can be tough to see, so the earlier you get there, the better chance of a good view.) You get a good sense of how chaotic the circumstances were when the British fired into the crowd. There's a lot of jeering on the soldiers by the colonists before the opening salvo. (Leave the snowballs at home; those aren't part of the reenactment.) When I went a couple of years ago, as soon as the wounded colonists hit the pavement, they were surrounded by photographers getting their shots. Somehow I don't think that's a fully accurate portrayal. Anyway, it's good fun and educational at the same time. For more information, check out the web site of The Bostonian Society. Can't make it? There a video of a previous reenactment at this web site. If you do go, here's the requisite disclaimer from the fashion police: leave the red coat at home, it's as much of a faux pas as wearing white after Labor Day.

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