Massachusetts

Chappaquiddick: A Sober but Colorless Docudrama

Chappaquiddick (2017) recounts the tragic death of campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne in this historical drama supporters of the late Senator Ted Kennedy don’t want you to see. Written by Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan, and directed by John Curran, the film is competently handled but falls into the trap of “and then” storytelling, with only a halfhearted conflict between Ted Kennedy’s character and a funny but oddly out of place Ed Helms.

The year is 1969. Senator Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke) is still mourning the loss of his brother, Robert F. Kennedy, the second brother to fall to an assassin’s bullet. The country is preparing to fulfill his late brother President John F. Kennedy’s dream of putting a man on the moon. He plans a party on Chappaquiddick Island for Robert’s former campaign staff, including Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara). He is joined by Massachusetts US Attorney Paul Markham (Jim Gaffigan) and his cousin, Joe Gargan (Ed Helms).

Kennedy and Mary Jo drive off alone together, and although it’s implied there might be an affair brewing (Kennedy was married), it’s never shown. Kennedy, drunk, accidentally drives off a bridge. We see him lethargically return to the beach house where, despite protests by Markham and Gargan, he waits until morning to report the accident. Gargan, his family’s longtime “fixer,” is unable and unwilling to help Kennedy make this “problem” go away.

Kennedy returns to his family home, where he seeks help from his nightmarish and stroke-disabled father Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. (Bruce Dern). Kennedy, Sr. summons a damage control team led by ruthless Robert McNamara (Clancy Brown), who attempts to gain sympathy for Kennedy in the press. Joe Gargan urges him to resign, but Kennedy ultimately chooses to run for re-election. “Even Moses had personal flaws,” he argues, but Gargan retorts, “Moses didn’t leave a girl at the bottom of the Red Sea.”

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Lexington Battle Green

The fight at Lexington Green between American colonial militia and British regulars is more significant for what it represents than what actually happened there. The fight itself was brief, spontaneous, and indecisive. But it represented the opening salvo of what became the American Revolutionary War and the birth of our new nation.

On the morning of April 19, 1775, British soldiers set out from Boston to capture colonial leaders Sam Adams and John Hancock. Paul Revere famously rode out to alert local colonists of the British plan. Later that morning, several hundred British soldiers arrived in Lexington and were met by approximately 70-77 militiamen. It’s unclear who fired the first shot, but when the smoke cleared, seven colonists lay dead and eight wounded.

It was chilly when I visited Lexington Battle Green in the Spring of 2017. A recent rain wet the streets and monuments. I found a volunteer tour guide, dressed in period clothes, sitting in the park waiting to give a short tour to whoever was interested. What a cool idea! I felt sorry for her having to stand out in the cold all morning, but it was nice to have an impromptu guide to tell the site’s story.

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Minuteman National Park and Concord Battleground

Before visiting Minuteman National Park, my impression was the battles of Lexington and Concord were separate and distinct engagements. I didn’t realize they were part of a longer, running fight between British soldiers and militiamen spanning several miles. Though periodic rain dampened my trip, it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm to explore this exciting piece of our country’s founding history.

The fight at Concord’s North Bridge actually took place in the middle of the whole affair. On April 19, 1775, after the confrontation at Lexington Green, the British continued on to Concord, where they set fire to some supplies. American colonial militia gathered and tried to push across the bridge. A fight erupted, touching off the Revolutionary War. It was “the shot heard ’round the world.”

At North Bridge, 400 militiamen confronted 100 British regulars, resulting in approximately two militia killed and four wounded, and three British regulars killed and eight wounded. The engagement shocked both sides. On one side of the bridge stands Daniel Chester French’s 1875 Minute Man statue, on the other, an obelisk memorializing the militia casualties. There was a group of British tourists there when I visited, and I couldn’t help wondering how they felt standing on this ground.

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Bunker Hill Monument

The Battle of Bunker Hill was one of the earliest engagements of the Revolutionary War, and the Bunker Hill Monument, a 221-foot granite obelisk, was one of our nation’s first monuments. Neither the battlefield nor the monument, however, are actually located on Bunker Hill. The monument sits atop Breed’s Hill, where most of the fighting occurred.

After the battles of Lexington and Concord, the colonial army besieged the City of Boston, which was held by the British. On the night of June 16, 1775, Colonel William Prescott led a force of 1,200 men onto the Charlestown Peninsula, across the Charles River from Boston, to fortify Breed’s Hill. They built a square earthen redoubt, from which they could fire artillery at British ships on the water and British forces in Boston.

On June 17, the British landed two columns on the peninsula, totaling 1,500 men, with 400 reinforcements joining the final attack, and stormed the colonists’ defenses. Though victorious, they suffered 226 dead and 828 wounded, the highest British casualty count of the war. The colonists lost 135 dead (including 20 prisoners) and 305 wounded.

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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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