Monday, January 27, 2003

Hiking History III
The Boston World Explorers' Foundation held its inaugural meeting Sunday afternoon, with four founding members gathering at the statue of Captain Farragut at City Point in South Boston to explore the environs of Castle Island and Fort Independence.

Walking from Broadway station on the Red Line, Hiromi and I made our way along South Boston's main commercial street and through a decidedly industrial section before reaching City point and meeting up with Brad and Jennifer. One of the old buildings we passed on the way, just before we walked past the Edison power plant, had cryptic letters, numbers, and arrows stenciled on the building's brick corners. What are these codes for? Near Independence Square, we also passed an old factory building that's been closed down for asbestos removal.

The island is now connected to the mainland with a walkway winding around Pleasure Bay, but the fort is still largely as it was way back when. During the tourist season, the fort is open for guided tours, but in the off season -- which is now -- the fort is closed. So are the snack bar and the public restrooms. "Seasonal!" quickly became a popular cry in response to a suggestion that was difficult or impossible.

One of the highlights of the day was finding a Bruce Lee stencil spray painted on a corner of the fort building. Another highlight was finding an arrangement of broken shell pieces spelling out the word "love" -- using a concrete round set into the soil as the "o."

In addition to its history as a military outpost and the numerous war memorials -- and thin spire to honor a local boatmaker -- that line its perimeter, Castle Island comes complete with a fascinating story. Rumor is that Edgar Allen Poe, who was born in Boston and served briefly as a soldier on the island, wrote "The Cask of Amontillado" based on a legend he heard while serving in the armed forces there.

My memory may be faulty, but the general sense of the story is that an officer on the island took offense at the actions of a younger soldier. I don't recall what the action was, but it may have involved a young woman or a night watch the soldier accidentally missed. The officer challenged the soldier to a duel, and even though other people in the company protested that the young soldier's actions didn't warrant a duel, the officer insisted. The duel occurred, and the officer killed the young, innocent soldier. Some of the soldier's friends inquired about the officer's previous tours of duty and learned that in every instance, in every location, the officer had found cause to challenge someone to a duel -- killing them in that duel. The officer had found a form of officially sanctioned murder within the armed forces. The young soldier's friends ganged up on the murderous officer and sealed him into a section of brick wall, either in the fort itself or in an installation once outside the fort.

After walking around the fort, we headed around the bay along the walkway. On the far side of the walkway was a fascinating circular concrete structure that reminded us of '70s or '50s motel design. With a ladder, you could easily carry a bicycle up top to ride around the platform. We watched the geese and seagulls and enjoyed the panoramic views of the Boston skyline -- as well as the sound of sea water lapping against the rocks.

The walkway also afforded good views of the outer harbor, including an island that now houses globular sewage treatment facilities, an island that was once a dumping ground for dead horses and cattle -- and then an illegal casino and bar complex during the prohibition -- and an island once used to house an insane asylum, part of which is now ruins.

Then it was back to the car, Broadway station, and home. Thanks to Hiromi, Brad, and Jennifer for their role as founding members of the Boston World Explorers' Foundation. I think we may have even decided on a slogan for the group: "I may not know where we're going, but I've read a lot about it." The adventures will continue.

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