Last night Leslee and I met after work to go walking at the Minute Man National Historical Park in Lexington. We picked the spot because it’s convenient and good for walking, with a big parking lot and long, shady trail—the so-called Battle Road—that wends its way through sun-dappled woods and stonewall-circled pastures.
If Leslee and I had met at the Minute Man on the weekend, we would have seen busloads of tourists visiting the sites of the American Revolution; instead, on a weeknight, we saw dog-walkers, joggers, and pairs of women, talking. The last time I walked at the Minute Man, I lent my cell phone to out-of-towners who were trying to locate relatives who had been patiently waiting at the North Bridge in Concord: right war, wrong parking lot. After those out-of-towners located their kin and I was leaving, I saw two Revolutionary re-enactors with muskets and tri-cornered hats chatting with a Lycra-clad fellow on a bicycle, a temporal mash-up the founding fathers could have never envisioned.
If you’re a visitor to New England, places like the Minute Man are hallowed sites where Something Important Happened; if you live in the greater Boston area, however, Minute Man is just another place to walk the dog. When you visit a museum, you hush and grow reverent, trying to imagine what things were like back then when history happened; when you live in a museum, on the other hand, you’re more concerned with the happenstance of today, like what you’re going to have for dinner.
Years ago when I visited Gettysburg on a foggy summer morning, I remember seeing joggers, a fellow reading a newspaper in his car, and a family waiting for the Visitors’ Center to open. That particular assortment of people summed up that place for me. For the family, Gettysburg was an educational destination, a place where history lessons come alive. For the joggers and the man with the newspaper, Gettysburg is a quiet, calm place to get some exercise or take a break before heading to work.
I suppose you could see these two mindsets as being at war with one another, the battle between tourists and locals being as deeply entrenched as that between redcoats and rebels. But the difference between those who see Minute Man as being a historical site and those who see it as a recreational one is temporal, not ideological. If you visit Minute Man to see the sites of the American Revolution, you revere the place because history happened here; if you visit Minute Man because it’s a lovely place to take a stroll, you value the place because history still happens here.
What is history, after all, but the happenstance of yesterday viewed through the prism of days: surely those redcoats and rebels had dogs to walk, dinners to eat, and friends to catch up with. It’s an error, in other words, to think that past lives were somehow more pristine or pure than our own, enacted with hushed and reverent tones. Instead, history never stops happening, the stories of today simply layering-over the stories that happened before.
Click here for more photos from last night’s walk at the Minute Man National Park: enjoy!