Friday, April 16, 2010

One if by Land, Two if by Sea

Statue of Paul Revere by Cyrus E. Dallin, in t...
I was doing okay until the Park Service Ranger said something about a column of British soldiers approaching the bridge held by Minutemen. That's when I heard the sound of drums and a chill ran down my spine. I reached for my musket, an English-made Brown Bess, but it wasn't at my side. I looked around almost in panic, the Regulars closing fast enough to feel the ground tremble from their numbers, and then I remembered this was a reenactment. The day was right, April 19, but the year was wrong -- it was 1997, not 1775.

The crowd of onlookers with cameras and children didn't help much, because as the column marched past I felt an urge to charge into their midst, bare-handed, shouting invectives and threats against the Crown. I don't know if I was channeling some young, idealistic Colonial ghost from nearby Sleepy Hollow Cemetery or had just gotten caught up in the moment, but time and reality suddenly felt very fluid.

The night before, Paul Revere had ridden to the home of Dr. Joseph Warren in Lexington, to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams of the movement of British troops. In the cold, misty dawn hours, Minutemen met Regulars on Lexington Green, an open, grassy space in the heart of town where farmers grazed cattle, and gunfire was exchanged. From there, it was on to Concord, where I stood, waiting, hoping for a miracle.

That's what my first Patriot's Day, the equivalent of a national holiday in Massachusetts, was like. For all practical purposes, it marks the beginning and end of the Revolution in northern New England, since most of the fighting took place in the Mid-Atlantic and Southern Colonies. You wouldn't know it, however, on Patriot's Day. People crowd historical sites like the Old North Church, gazing up at the steeple where lanterns indicated one if by land, two if by sea. It may have taken another year to be formalized, but if you ask anyone this day, America was born in Boston on April 19.

And for a few magical seconds, I was there.

(GNU Free Documentation image of the statue of Paul Revere behind the Old North Church via Wikipedia)

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