A Guide to This Summer’s Massachusetts Historical Events
In some parts of the country, a building constructed in the ’50s is considered “old.” Same thing here—if you mean the 1650s. In Boston, you can drink in a 300-year-old bar any night of the week. Hell, some of our subway cars are old enough to run for president. New England isn’t afraid to act its age, especially if it means dressing up in some spiffo costumes and shooting a bunch of Redcoats—like at our famed annual recreations of the battles of Lexington and Concord each April. If those Patriots’ Day shootouts have only whetted your appetite for creative anachronism, here are a few of our favorite local historical reenactments to look forward to this summer.
The Boston Harbor Islands weren’t always about carefree summer picnicking trips; many of their backstories are rather grim. Deer Island was a Native American internment camp. Rainsford Island served as a quarantine, then a poorhouse. Pirates were executed on Nix’s Mate. And then there’s Fort Warren, the pentagonal-star fort on Georges Island, which held Confederate prisoners during the Civil War. As a more lighthearted nod to its past, in addition to the island’s regular roster of ranger tours and fun-in-the-sun offerings, Fort Warren also hosts a few Civil War–themed events—including Civil War baseball, where players suit up in vintage uniforms and play according to 19th-century rules. Games take place on Sundays in July and August, and start around 11 a.m. If you’re looking for a more martial take on the Civil War, though, check out the Blackstone Guards’ re-enactment at Worcester’s Green Hill Park.
In spring, the USS Constitution wakes up from her winter slumber, and the public gets a formal invite to tour her 218-year-old decks. It’s also a July 4th tradition for this war frigate—best known for her role in the War of 1812—to leap into action: As part of Boston Harborfest, the Constitution usually makes a roundtrip voyage from the Charlestown Navy Yard to Castle Island, pummeling a few eardrums with an annual 21-gun salute along the way. Alas, Old Ironsides is in dry dock for renovations until 2018. In the meantime, its fellow Boston tall ships Liberty Star and Liberty Clipper will be available for harbor cruises. And the Hermione, a replica of General Lafayette’s French frigate, will be gracing Boston Harbor with a visit July 11-12.
This isn’t a historical re-enactment, exactly—it’s better. Apparently, some evil genius at the Collings Foundation has managed to supercollide the brains of Jules Verne and the producers of Top Gear, because that’s exactly the kind of gearheaded sci-fi weirdness that goes down in Stow every year. If the thought of watching a Stutz Bearcat, a Stanley Steamer, and the terrifying flying machine that is the Blériot XI racing at top speeds gets your motor running, check out the “Race of the Century,” an all-out transportation scrum pitting such oddities as steam cars and antique planes against horse-drawn carriages.
Whether you love to don an itchy 18th-century-style wool coat in sweltering heat or just watch a bunch of other brave souls do it for your own amusement, you’ll find Revolutionary War thrills aplenty in Old Sturbridge Village this summer. Every August, this living history village hosts New England’s largest Revolutionary War re-enactment on its Worcester County property—with roughly 1,000 soldiers portraying British, Irish, Spanish, Scottish, French, and Colonial troops—along with kiddie musket drills, historical dances, and battlefield wound-tending. If you prefer your patriotic activities a little less gory and a little more festive, Old Sturbridge Village throws a mighty fine Independence Day bash, too.