Thursday, May 16, 2013

Dates, Stories and Scrabble Words: The Boston by Foot Final Exam

The final exam for my Boston by Foot docent training is coming up on Saturday morning and I’m cramming everything I can into my head.  We have to study 15 buildings and, for 10 of them be prepared to list five things for each:
  • Architect/Builder
  • Date
  • Location in Boston
  • Architectural Style
  • Additional significant facts or attributes
Old Corner Bookstore
Old Corner Bookstore

This doesn’t sound too bad but many of these buildings have multiple dates.  The Old Corner Bookstore, for example, was first built circa 1718 by an unknown mason but it was constructed on the site where Anne Hutchinson lived until her house was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1711.  

Mistress Hutchinson was expelled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1638 for the outrageous crimes of holding prayer meetings attended by both men and women, criticizing the colony’s ministers, and asserting that a person could know God’s will directly.  She was the first female defendant in a Massachusetts court.  Although she defended herself brilliantly, Mistress Hutchinson was banished from the colony along with 60 of her followers.  She moved to Rhode Island and later to New York where she was killed in an Indian raid.  She was my kind of gal.

Anne Hutchinson Statue at
the Boston State House

(Charles Bulfinch, 1795 - 1798)
The building constructed for Dr. Thomas Crease served as an apothecary shop until 1828, when it housed the first of a series of printer and booksellers.  Most notable of these was Ticknor & Fields, which published the works of Longfellow, Emerson, Hawthorne, and Thoreau.  It also served as a salon where these Transcendentalists met to talk and debate.  If walls could talk, however, they might say, “How many slices ya want?” because it was a pizza parlor in the Fifties.  Now it houses a Chipotle Grill. 

See what I mean?  Over the past weeks, I have also discovered several things.  I like (and remember) stories about people better than dates.  I enjoy learning about how buildings were constructed and what problems the architects had to solve.  The geology of Boston, which has more made land than any other city, is equally fascinating.

I have also learned much besides architectural styles and (sigh) dates.
  • Boston’s streets are not paved cow paths.  The poor cows have gotten a bad rap.  The seemingly random nature of the streets has more to do with the early city’s odd topology and how land was created over time than any cow.
  • Three famous dishes were created at the Parker House hotel.
  • Boston has the largest hidden forest in the world.
  • The first European inhabitant rode around on a white ox.
  • Benjamin Franklin was the Boston Latin School’s most famous dropout.
  • Boston was settled by Puritans, not Pilgrims.
  • The Bulfinch Triangle is not a musical instrument.
  • Horses generate 7 to 10 gallons of urine and 20 to 37 pounds of manure a day.
 Who knew?  I’ve also picked up a lot of great Scrabble words, like quoin, corbel, dentil, and polychromy.

OK, enough of the fun and back to studying dates.  If only they would stick in my head.

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