Becoming a Freedom Trail Player
I’m on Boston’s Freedom Trail walking tour only out of loyalty to a history-buff pal, not my personal interest. I whisper to my friend, “History … boring …” when a man dressed in a tricornered hat and knickers announces, “Let’s go see how America was born.” He says his name is James Otis Jr., the pro-bono legal firebrand from the 1700s who stated, “Taxation without representation is tyranny!”
“Hey, how come I didn’t know about you?” I ask tourmaster Otis.
“Because I ended up insane, in a very hush-hush sort of way,” he replies, channeling the disgraced colonial lawyer.
As we meander on, the dish gets dirtier. Turns out, after the midnight ride, Paul Revere remained a no-big-deal local silversmith until 86 years later, when poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow urged, “Listen, my children, and you shall hear / Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere …” John Hancock was probably a bootlegger. Benjamin Franklin left Massachusetts in disgrace. Samuel Adams–the tax collector, not the ale–was seriously delinquent on his own debts after driving the malt business he inherited from his father into the ground …
My office window peers down onto Tremont Street, epicenter of the Freedom Trail. After the tour, my attitude is different. I smile when I pass by my old friend James Otis Jr., a little disturbed by how he coolly ignores me to stay in character while telling his story to an enraptured circle of strangers. When I see a tour happening, I slow to catch a bit of the performance. “Eavestrailing” is so easy that I cross the street and quicken my step to catch up with the tour. My
history-buff friend asks, “What are you, a Freedom Trail stalker?”
In full skirt-and-bonnet costume, an actress playing Paul Revere’s first wife, Sarah Orne Revere, is heading back to Boston Common after wrapping up a tour at Faneuil Hall. I swoop in beside her. “What’s it like?” I ask.
She turns to me with a polite, maternal gaze. “What’s it like wearing a costume from the 1700s in the middle of 21st-century downtown Boston? Being Paul Revere’s wife? Or being a Freedom Trail player?”
“A player?” I ask.
“That’s what we’re called, instead of ‘guides,'” she explains, with a slight trace of tour fatigue. “We take on characters who lived here around the time of the Revolutionary War. Sarah died before the war, but had a strong influence on Paul’s revolutionary spirit.”
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