Monday, April 17, 2006

Patriots Day

For those of you who stumble across my blog from outside of Massachusetts, you may enjoy this little bit of trivia.

Patriots' Grave in the Old Burying Ground, Arlington, Massachusetts

Today Massachusetts celebrates the Battle of Lexington and Concord — the famous “shot heard 'round the world” — generally considered to be the beginning of the American War of Independence.

It’s a holiday that doesn’t really exist in the rest of the country (except, apparently, Maine, according to Wikipedia), and brings blank stares from out-of-staters, and even from not a few in-staters. Seems kind of odd to me that people in this country wouldn’t want to celebrate the start of the Revolution, though I suppose the Fourth of July is considered to be enough in most states.

Every year on this day (celebrated on the third Monday of every April), a bunch of colossal history nerds re-enact the whole Old North Bridge in Concord

schebang, from Paul Revere’s famous ride, on a real horse, in real Georgian costume, up Mass Ave into Lexington, to battles complete with muskets on the Lexington Town Green and down by Concord’s Old North Bridge (Google Map). If you’re willing to get up at the crack of dawn, it’s quite a lot of fun to watch.

'Minute Man' statue by the Old North Bridge in Concord

Patriots Day is also the day of the Boston Marathon. Everybody’s heard of the Marathon. The attention given to the Marathon probably explains the lack of attention to the goofy re-enactments of Patriots Day itself.

Just about everybody has also heard of the origin of the word “Marathon” in the legend of Pheidippides, the Athenian herald to ran the 26 miles to announce the victory of the Athenian army over the Persians in the Battle of Marathon, considered to be one of the great “hinge points” of history, especially as Persia was at the time the largest empire the world had ever seen. Oddly, the Wikipedia articles on this topic keep referring to the “Town of Marathon”. That’s news to me. Although there is certainly a town there now, and was probably a town there in ancient times (though whether it was there at the time of the battle is something I don’t know), but I always understood it to refer to the name of the field where the battle took place. Wikipedia also incorrectly defines Marathon (Μαραθών as the Ancient Greek word for “fennel” (which is presumably what the field was full of): the word for fennel was μάραθον, with the accent on the first syllable and a short ‘o’. Μαραθών is apparently an adjective meaning “overgrown with fennel” (“befennelled”?). Whether Marathon was already a real place-name, either of a field of of a town at the time of the battle is something I don’t know.

An apparently “official” site for re-enactors on Patriots Day:

WBGH did a very fun documentary on the Patriots Day re-enactors, which gets re-broadcast around this time of year on PBS stations.

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At Tue Apr 18, 03:37:00 PM EDT, Anonymous margaret said...

I was standing at the corner of Harvard and Brighton in Allston with my triple espresso just purchased at Herrell's and I heard sirens. Looked left and there was a police car at intersection stopping traffic. Then, right behind him was a minute man (tri corner hat, black cape) on a running white horse yelling "The Red Coats are coming!" .... NEAT!
Behind him were 2 national park service men, also on white horses, and behind them a car then a horse trailer.

I guess this was “William Dawes” according to William Dawes Ride Schedule

I gave William a great wave and smile and it sure made my Patriot's Day!!


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