Boston, Harvard, and the Big Dig

September 3, 2021
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FROM Chicago, I caught a train to Boston, Massachusetts. I was going to see the world-famous Harvard University. I also wanted to go to the Boston Tea Party Museum. I arrived in Boston on Tuesday night at 8 p.m. and I was to leave again on Thursday at 3 p.m. for Washington DC. It was going to be a short, busy stay.

I got a hostel on Stewart Street. It was an outrageous $80 a night. I got there and saw smashed windows and speculated that it had been a bullet. I checked in because it was late, and I just wanted to go to sleep. They showed me my room, and, on the way, I saw another smashed window. It was shocking and very unpleasant.

So, I went up to the room and then decided to walk around and came across people talking about the sports rivalry between Boston and New York.

If you look on the internet, and you put Boston vs. New York, up pops an article about why Boston is so much better than New York, or vice versa. Apparently, there is even a ‘city rivalry week’.

Particularly strong is the baseball rivalry between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, which has been going on for more than a hundred years and results in some heated conversations.

Anyway, after that rather horrific arrival, I decided I wasn’t going out at night, even though the area I was in had a lot of theatre and movies which I’m sorry I didn’t see. I decided the next day I wanted to go to Harvard and the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum before leaving on the 3 p.m. train to New York. The Tea Party was, of course, the famous pre-revolutionary incident in which chests of tea were thrown over the side of British tea- ships by a band of colonists who had been careful to disguise themselves beforehand.

On the waterfront, the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum showed the origins of the War of Independence from the UK and King George III. The museum employed three actors to act like sailors and merchants on an old sailing ship, one of two actual eighteenth-century tea-ships, the Eleanor and the Beaver, which are tied up on the waterfront and form the ‘ships’ part of the museum complex.

Although one of the slogans of the eventual Revolution was ‘no taxation without representation’, the Boston Tea Party, which only later acquired that nickname and was simply known at the time as ‘the destruction of the tea’, had little to do with the level of taxes on tea or who it was that enacted them. The famous Tea Party seems to have been instigated by local tea merchants furious that the corrupt, failing British East India Company, one of the few really big businesses in an era when most commerce was carried out by small merchants and artisans, was to be given a virtual monopoly on the supply of tea to the American colonies, as a form of bailout, by distant authorities in London who were quite possibly in the pocket of the giant corporation in one way or another.

So, there was a connection to the issue of the colony not being in charge of its fate. But the issue was by no means as simple as ‘no taxation without representation’; a slogan that was really a distillation of a whole range of grievances to do with distant and unaccountable government, pervasive corruption, the struggles of small merchants in the face of big business, and so on.

To begin with, the escapade was condemned by many other colonists, including George Washington, who argued that the vandals should, if found, be made to pay for the tea destroyed. Even after the Revolution, many Tea Party participants would not admit to having taken part. In the meantime, however, a massive over-reaction to the disturbance on the part of the British authorities helped propel the colonies toward rebellion, and the initially disreputable tea partiers toward (anonymous) hero status, as is so often the case in episodes of this sort.

Among other things, the Tea Party explains why coffee became the American drink of choice. Up until that time the Americans had mostly drunk tea, just like the Brits. Indeed, up to that time, they had been British themselves. Thereafter, tea-drinking came to be seen as unpatriotic; which is probably not the outcome the tea merchants intended!

It was a very good museum, showing the 13 colonies eventually declaring their independence from the UK in 1776, following the Tea Party protests, of which the main one took place in 1773 though there was also another, smaller Tea Party in 1774. The tour lasted an hour and cost $26 so it was well worthwhile and very interesting.

I got a taxi to Harvard University, driven by a black driver who basically said he had seen the noose appearing after Trump was elected. People were fearful.

I didn’t realise that Harvard owned vast amounts of Boston. The price of property was going up quite dramatically I was told, much to Harvard’s benefit.

Incredibly, Harvard University has been around since 1636. It is the oldest University in the United States and was named after its first benefactor, Minister John Harvard, who left half his estate and his library to the University when he died in 1638. There was a statue of him in front of the University Hall and is a significant landmark. It was a beautiful day and I visited the Business and Law Schools, got some food nearby and enjoyed just simply being there.

I can say I have been to Harvard University now.

Apparently over 20,000 students study there year, so it is by no means small and there was no possible way I was going to get around the entire complex in just a few hours.

Another really interesting thing about Boston is the way that a section of motorway on its downtown waterfront was placed underground recently, as part of a massive infrastructure realignment known informally as the Big Dig.

A park was laid on top. This is called the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, named after the mother of former President John F. Kennedy and his siblings. The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway re-united the city with its waterfront and nicely complements the other inner-city parks, such as the Boston Common and Public Gardens, and the boulevard of Commonwealth Avenue behind

I got a cab to the train station, and it was only a four-hour ride to New York which was good, so no overnight sleeps on trains.


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