J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, March 06, 2016

A Visit to the Massacre Site in the 1970s

The photo above shows one family’s own little reenactment of the Boston Massacre in 1974 or so. A few years back Josh King, political aide and proud son of Newton, told the full story. This is just a taste:
Charlestown, Massachusetts was the site of “The Whites of Their Eyes” at now-dismantled the Bunker Hill Pavillion, an epic multi-media show and diorama that brought the American Revolution, depicted mostly in oil-on-canvas, to life.

Bunker Hill Monument is a stop on Boston’s famous Freedom Trail, willed into existence in 1951 by Bill Schofield, an editor and columnist for the old Boston Herald Traveler. Another stop on the Freedom Trail is the Old State House, which was the center of Boston’s civic life in the 18th Century. Over 35 years ago, that kid grabbing his gut on the streets of my hometown, circa 1974, is me, recreating the seminal moment of the Boston Massacre which happened outside the front door of the Old State House on March 5, 1770.

My dad and brother are playing the part of British troops and rebellious colonists, clogging the thoroughfare with some theatrics. For someone who as a young fellow dressed at Halloween as Patrick Henry and who now continues to read new biographies issues by the likes of Joseph Ellis, David McCullough, and Walter Isaacson, Boston around the time of the Bicentennial was the place to be, hanging out in the footsteps of the Founding Fathers.

But Boston in ‘76 had a dark irony not so visible, or understandable, to a 10-year old whose most valuable possession was his replica Civil War musket bought at a souvenir store somewhere near Gettysburg. Beneath the veneer of its storied heritage, the cradle of liberty was home to a searing racial divide over forced busing.
Once during those years, busing opponents coopted the reenactment to stage a “die-in” protest. In 1999 people in the crowd were shouting about the police killing of Amadou Diallo, which was a closer parallel. More recently it’s hard not to see the experiences of both the soldiers and civilians through the lens of our overseas military occupations. Such thoughts show how the event continues to resonate.

King’s book Off Script: An Advance Man’s Guide to White House Stagecraft, Campaign Spectacle and Political Suicide will be published by St. Martin’s Press in April.

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