Massachusetts

USS Constitution and Museum in Boston, Massachusetts

Compared to modern warships and aircraft carriers, the USS Constitution might not look like much, but it was once the most storied ship in the U.S. Navy. It was launched on October 21, 1797, and is still considered to be in active service.

The USS Constitution was originally a 44-gun frigate with a crew of 450 sailors, including 55 Marines. She earned the nickname “Old Ironsides” during the War of 1812. Today, she is still crewed by 60 active duty U.S. Navy personnel, though she has been in dry dock at the former Charleston Navy Yard in Boston under restoration for the past three years.

The USS Constitution Museum is a private, nonprofit museum located in a restored shipyard building nearby. It is a first class effort at telling the USS Constitution’s history through art, models and dioramas, hands on displays, and volunteers.

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Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site

Founded by John Winthrop the Younger, future governor of Connecticut and son of Massachusetts Bay Colony founder John Winthrop, the Saugus Iron Works was the birthplace of the American iron and steel industry. In operation from 1646 to 1670, incredibly the iron works sat overgrown with weeds and brush for nearly three centuries.

In the first English colonies in North America, iron had to be imported from Europe, despite an abundance of natural resources. John Winthrop recognized the potential of a native iron works and set out to raise capital. The first site chosen for the project proved not to be adequate, so a new location was chosen on the Saugus River.

The Hammersmith Works, as it was called, consisted of a blast furnace, forge, 500-pound hammer, and a rolling and slitting mill. Mismanagement and legal trouble doomed the works, despite producing a ton of cast iron a day, and it closed in 1670.

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Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum

Paranormal tourism, or tourism driven by allegedly haunted places and high profile crimes, is a growing cottage industry, with places like the Villisca Ax Murder House raking in the dough for tours, overnight stays, and paranormal investigations. The Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum in Fall River, Massachusetts is another prominent example.

At 11:10 a.m. on August 4, 1892, Lizzy Borden, 32, yelled for the family maid, Bridget Sullivan, to quickly come downstairs. She discovered her father, Andrew, slumped over the sofa. His head had been bashed in. Abby, Lizzy’s stepmother, was found on the floor of an upstairs bedroom, her head and face smashed. Lizzy gave police strange and often conflicting information, and she quickly became the chief suspect.

Her New Bedford trial, beginning in June 1893, was a national sensation, widely reported in the newspapers. It took the jury 90 minutes to acquit her, and with her inheritance, she purchased a new home and lived there with her sister Emma.

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Burial Hill Cemetery and Cole’s Hill Burial Ground

In late fall, 1620, English religious separatists known as Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth Harbor, present-day Massachusetts, on a small ship called the Mayflower. There were 102 Pilgrims in December, but only 50 by the following spring. They interred their dead on a hill above the settlement, which became known as Cole’s Hill.

Over time, the settlement grew and they began burying their dead on the appropriately named Burial Hill, which was also the original location of a small wooden fort. Erosion and excavation exposed bones on Cole’s Hill, and some were stolen, while others were collected under the roof of a stone canopy over Plymouth Rock. After more than three centuries, the bones were placed in a large sarcophagus, which sits on the hill to this day.

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Plimoth Plantation

Plimoth Plantation, founded in 1947, is a living history museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts, featuring a replica of a 1627 Pilgrim village. It is located at 137 Warren Avenue, a few miles southeast of the actual site of the Plymouth Colony. The museum also owns and operates a replica of the Pilgrim ship Mayflower, but it was undergoing repairs when I visited in the spring.

The museum offers an impressive variety of things to see and do, including a large visitor center, Wampanoag Homesite, Craft Center, Maxwell and Nye Barns, Plimoth Grist Mill, and of course, the village itself. The visitor center has a large gift shop and even a movie theater, although it was playing two random, nonhistorical movies when I visited.

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Lizzie Borden Took an Ax

Christina Ricci stars in this made-for-TV dramatization of the 1893 trial of Lizzie Andrew Borden for the murder of her father and step-mother in Fall River, Massachusetts. The highly-stylized production recounts events immediately surrounding the murders and subsequent trial. Lizzie Borden Took an Ax (2014) was later developed into a TV Mini-Series The Lizzie Borden Chronicles (2015). It blends a modern soundtrack with historic events to create an oddly entertaining take on the controversial case.

At 11:10 a.m. on August 4, 1892, Lizzy Borden (Christina Ricci), 32, yelled for the family maid, Bridget Sullivan (Hannah Anderson), to quickly come downstairs. She discovered her father, Andrew (Stephen McHattie), slumped over the sofa. His head had been bashed in. Abby (Sara Botsford), Lizzy’s stepmother, was found on the floor of an upstairs bedroom, her head and face smashed. Lizzy gave police strange and often conflicting information, and she quickly became the chief suspect.

Her New Bedford trial, beginning in June 1893, was a national sensation, widely reported in the newspapers. It took the jury 90 minutes to acquit her, and with her inheritance, she purchased a new home and lived there with her sister Emma (Clea DuVall). Despite efforts to start a new life, Lizzy Borden was ostracized from Fall River society, since many people believed she was the murderer.

There are several alternative theories about “who done it,” but Lizzie Borden Took an Ax doesn’t entertain any of them. It openly implies Lizzie was the murderer, even going so far as to imagine Lizzie confessing the crime to her sister, causing her to flee their home in disgust. In fact, the two sisters split in an argument over a party in 1905, 12 years after the trial. We’ll never know what the sisters said to each other in private conversation, so this is creative license at work.

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Witch History Museum in Salem, Massachusetts

I completely overlooked the Witch History Museum on my first trip to Salem, Massachusetts. Located at 197-201 Essex Street on the pedestrian mall, this is not the same as the Salem Witch Museum, located on Washington Square. Like a half dozen other museums in Salem, this also features dioramas/wax figures, though of a slightly higher quality.

An actress in period costume gives a short introduction to the Salem Witch Trials before taking you down into the museum. I came in early spring, just before the tourist season started, so I was the only one in the audience that day. My host was gracious enough to show me around anyway.

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