As a Californian, sometimes I forget that our involvement with the history of the United States doesn’t go back very far. California, a late 19th century state, is one of those middle children of the U.S. family. The East Coast — the older sisters — is where what we know as the United States began. So when I traveled to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the history geek in me lit up, because Boston is a city of historical firsts in so many ways.
I thought this was a unique idea of mine, Boston being a place of first times in the United States’ history, but then I read Wikipedia, which told me that Boston has many “firsts” that I had forgotten from the long litany of facts various tour guides told me. You probably didn’t know that they had the first public school and the first subway system in the United States.
It’s not just the basic institutions that began there, though; the very beginning of our country can be traced to Boston. The Bostonians we encountered on our trip were quick to remind us of so many things that began or happened for the first time in their city. Most of all, they told us that Boston is where the American Revolution first began, and I think you would have a hard time disputing that. Boston’s certainly where many important moments leading up to the war, like the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party, took place. The surrounding towns of Cambridge, Lexington and Concord are where Paul Revere (and William Dawes and Samuel Prescott, let’s give them their due credit) rode through to warn that “The British are coming!” (Except they didn’t really say that, because the colonists were British too, if you remember, and no one would have taken our boy Revere very seriously if he announced that their own people were showing up.) Finally, Lexington is where the first battle took place.
Of course, Boston claims fame in more than just our wars — also education. Harvard University, right next door to Boston in Cambridge, is the first institution of higher learning in the United States. And particularly because they state their founding date as the first year the Massachusetts Bay Colony commissioned the First College of Newton in 1636 (Harvard’s first name), it even predates the founding of our country.
Rounding off warfare and education, there’s sports. Boston hosts the Red Sox in the oldest ballpark still standing, Fenway Park, which is 100 years old and counting. While it’s not the first park ever, it’s the first to stand that long.
Massachusetts was home to more than one president: both father and son presidents Adams and presidents Bush lived in Massachusetts at some point. Boston itself has proudly claimed our first and only Catholic president, John F. Kennedy. His presidential library and museum are located there. There is no way to describe the feelings that this building evoked in me. Whatever your politics, you can’t deny that this place, which sits on the water on prime real estate near the University of Massachusetts, Boston, combined with the legacy of the Kennedy family, can inspire you.
We experienced a lot of history on our trip, but I think we also participated in a small part of Boston’s history as it was being made. We went to Boston’s first major event since the deadly Boston Marathon bombings this past April. Less than three months after that tragedy, Boston celebrated Independence Day. We didn’t sit on the Esplanade, where many families traditionally gather for the Fourth, so we didn’t have our belongings searched. But even on the MIT side of the Charles River, every form of law enforcement imaginable was present: Massachusetts Police, FBI, National Guard, bomb dogs and even a helicopter were patrolling to make sure everyone was safe and “Boston Strong.”
I could go on and on about how many “firsts” I learned happened throughout history in the Greater Boston area. But for me and my traveling companions, Boston was also a last. It was the last time we would take a trip together as a Girl Scout troop. While I’m sure we will travel together again, our last girls graduated from high school this year, and our troop will disband. Boston provided us with an historical trip, both for learning the history of our country and for helping us add to the history of our group.