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Boston cemetery stirs up thoughts

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POSTED: May 9, 2012 3:11 p.m.

As part of my plan to better understand the history, geography and culture of this wonderful country that I now call my home, I recently visited Boston for a weekend with my husband.
It is certainly different from Boston in Lincolnshire, England, after which it is named and from which a contingent of hardy souls seeking religious freedom formed the Massachusetts Bay Company and founded a new Boston on this side of the Atlantic in 1630.
I was thrilled to finally visit the city which plays such an important part in America’s history and was interested to hear it described as the “Savannah of the North.” It shares much of the charm — if not the heat — of our own city. With so much history and so many amazing sights, I cannot possibly do Boston justice in just one column.
For instance, I can’t possibly cover:
• The Freedom Trail
• The 23 pounds of gold covering the Statehouse dome
• The streets named alphabetically after British aristocracy
• Boston Common
• The oldest restaurant in America
• Paul Revere’s famous ride
• Liberty House
• Fenway Park
• The Sam Adams Brewery
So what I will cover here is the Granary Burial Ground.
The WHAT?? Yes, the Granary Burial Ground, which is a much-overlooked but fascinating slice of Bostonian history. My husband says that I am fascinated by old monuments, and I am going to resist the obvious joke here as it would not really be fair or kind. However, it is true that, as a history major and a European who grew up taking for granted nearby buildings dating from hundreds of years ago, I feel an affinity with cities steeped in history
The Granary Burial Ground, established in 1660, is a mere 2 acres in size on the famous Tremont Street. This cemetery is the resting place of some of Boston’s most famous historical figures including three of the signers of the Declaration of Independence: John Hancock, Sam Adams and Robert Treat Paine. Other famous Bostonians buried here include Paul Revere of the vital midnight ride and Peter Faneuil, the Boston merchant and philanthropist who donated Faneuil Hall to the city he loved.
The Granary Burial Ground was named for the bushel-grain storage building that used to be next door, although it now is penned in by much larger, more modern buildings.  As Boston’s third-oldest cemetery, it was established to cope with the city’s growing population about 100 years before the American Revolution. There are 2,345 grave markers, but it is estimated that bodies are buried up to four deep, and that as many as 8,000 people were laid to rest there. Some of these graves really made me stop to think: I wonder what John Phillips, Boston’s first mayor, would think of the magnificent place his little city has become, and if the five victims slain by British soldiers in 1770 during the Boston Massacre would rejoice in the “one person, one vote” democratic superpower that their little colony now is a part of.
I was touched to see the memorial that one of the Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, erected for his parents “Josiah Franklin and wife” (these were pre-feminist days, so poor old Abiah does not even get a name check on the grave marker). Although he spent many years in Philadelphia and is buried there, Franklin was born in Boston, a fact this city is rightly proud of.
One of my favorite sayings from this famous Bostonian: “The U.S. Constitution doesn’t guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it yourself.”
God bless America!

Francis grew up in London, England, and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009 with her American husband, Carl, and their dogs. She can be contacted at lesley@francis.com or www.lesleyfrancispr.com.

 

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