Visiting a place like Gettysburg is powerful, not for what you see, but for the experience of being in the very place where world changing events took place. Touching the mundane reality of the place, the roll of the earth, the slant of the sun, the birds that swoop across the sky, helps turn the people who fought there from story characters to flesh and bone people, with lives that stretched beyond that moment in history.
I think that's why any day when the sun shines bright, you're sure to see visitors at the site of Paul Revere's capture along what's now known as Battle Road in Minute Man Historical Park. There's little to see. It's a small field split by busy route 2A. There's a stone circle, where parents and children, Boy Scout troops and folks walking their dogs, all stop to read the inscription and learn of how Revere was taken into custody, but Prescott bolted into the woods and evaded pursuit. It's just a field, like a hundred others, but there's magic in imagining what that field looked like in the predawn hours of April 19, 1775. What amazes me the most is that Revere was taken unharmed, and according to his own account willingly answered the soldiers' questions about his intentions that night.
It's these little additions, to a story I thought I knew, which made me glad I decided to walk the length of the park last weekend. Prior to that I'd visited several parts of the park, trying with nominal success to understand what people saw in it. Based on these visits I'd concluded visitors were either tourists looking for a bit of history or locals who appreciated the wide, well maintained paths, six parking lots and proximity to Rt 2A. It was really because I write this blog and Patriot's Day is the biggest event of the year around here, that I decided to give it one more shot.
The park stretches across three towns: Lexington, Lincoln, and Concord. Parts of the park (The Wayside and the North Bridge) are satellites, unconnected to the main Battle Road Section. I opted to start my walk not far from the Lexington Battle Green, where the first shot was fired, a couple miles from the actual park. You can view the route at GMap if you like.
When I set out for the walk I figured it would be good exercise and I'd finally be able to cross this blog post idea off my To Do list. My expectations were not especially high, but then I arrived at the eastern edge of the park, the Ebenezer Fiske house site, a place I'd never been. I know it doesn't look like much, but these stones put a smile on my face. Here's a place where you can step into history. Walk over the doorway and notice just how small the house's footprint is. From that front step look to the right where a small orchard still exists and imagine the family gathering its fruit. Out behind the house see where the Fiskes dug into the hillside to house their animals, and reinforced that structure with stones so heavy that they stand to this day (look near the treeline in the photo).
It was through this yard that British soldiers and the local militia continued the battle that had begun four hours and many miles earlier. Just steps from the house, there's a well where it's said that two opposing fighters met, one told the other that he was about to die, the other said, you are too and they shot each other at point blank range. The British soldier lived for some time and was taken in and cared for by the Fiske family. A reminder that the colonists were still part of the British Empire and that not everyone in New England saw the King's Regulars as the enemy.
Let me take a moment to set the scene. The British had set out from Boston under cover of darkness, to capture the militia's arms supply in Concord, some twenty miles away. Nothing went according to plan. They left late, their approach was announced well in advance and when 77 militia formed a line in Lexington "to make a display of patriot resolve" (park map), someone fired on them. By the time the British got to Concord and started searching houses for arms news had spread, more shots were fired and the British had to fight their way back across the 20 miles they'd just hiked.
There are many points along the trail devoted to the fighting of that day. Along with the stone markers there are also signs which depict the route, the number of troops on both sides at that point. In addition there's an audio tour available via cell phone. I'd never run into one of these before and I was impressed. You can take a listen right now, wherever you are by dialing (978) 224-4505.
To be continued...