Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Hiking History
This noon I braved the North End's 17 degrees and wind to track down a couple of interesting historical locations near the Scotch & Sirloin building. First stop, Copp's Hill Burial Ground, the North End's oldest cemetery and Boston's second, which has been in use since 1660. In the late 18th century, the northeastern base of Copp's Hill was called "New Guinea" because it housed most of the African-Americans in Boston. Of the 10,000-plus people buried in the burial ground, 1,000 are African-Americans. Ironically, they're segregated into their own section of the graveyard.

Prince Hall, whose grave marker is pictured above, was an African-born Revolutionary soldier who was an active leader of Boston's African-American community and founded the black Masonic order. Increase, Cotton, and Samuel Mather are also buried on Copp's Hill (pictured below). Cotton, who started school at Harvard when he was 12, once claimed that Satan spoke English, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew -- but not the "Indian language."

At the edge of the burial ground, bordered by Charter Street, is Copp's Hill Terrace. Not far from here, on Jan. 15, 1919 -- just a week ago today! -- a storage tank holding 2.5 million gallons of liquid molasses burst. (Reports also suggest that the tank may have been located closer to Faneuil Hall or the New England Aquarium.) A 15-foot-high flood of molasses destroyed buildings and the elevated railway along what is now Commercial Street. More than 20 people and many horses were killed, and more than 50 people were injured as a result. I don't know exactly where the flood started, but supposedly, you can track its progress from Copp's Hill along Commercial.

I also walked by the Old North Church, Boston's oldest church, and one possible place that the lanterns that alerted Paul Revere that the British were coming might have been hung. (Folks also think Second Church might have been the place, but descendants of Revere hang lanterns in this spire every April 18 to assert its claim.) And I made my way back past 44 Hull St., the narrowest house in Boston. 44 Hull is 9.5 feet wide and was built to ruin the view of a neighbor who lived in the lot behind it. Talk about spite!

On the way back to the office from Hull Street, I came across several sad-looking chairs neatly ordered along a chain-link fenced parking lot. When the weather is warm, elderly men and women often sit in lawn chairs along the sidewalks and streets of the North End. Perhaps these chairs are waiting for the warmth and welcome of their owners come spring.

Source: Greg and Katherine Letterman, Walking Boston
Soundtrack: The Postman Syndrome, "Terraforming"

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