Did Bessie Eat Grandma’s Ear? The Boston Series

An estimated 5000 people are buried in the two acre Granary Graveyard. A few of them even have tombstones. It helps to be a Revolutionary War hero.

An estimated 5000 people are buried in the two acre Granary Graveyard. A few of them even have tombstones. It helps to be a Revolutionary War hero.

My laptop has finally returned from the doctor! So I can return to the world of blogging. It’s back to Boston and the Revolutionary War today.

Call it yellow journalism, if you will, or a post with a National Enquirer flair. Except this story isn’t filled with the ‘alternative facts’ of modern tabloids, tweets, and Facebook. Bodies did actually float to the surface in the Granary Graveyard found along Boston’s Freedom Trail. Back in the early 1700s, families occasionally discovered their loved ones surfing and needed to replant them.

It was a swampy area, overcrowded with dead bodies. An estimated 5,000 people were buried in the two acres. Digging a new grave inevitably meant running into the previously departed. Plus, there were the cow pies. Grass grew quickly in the graveyard (was it because of the wet conditions or the enriched soil) and the city fathers determined there was money to be made by renting the land out to a grave-digger as a pasture for his cattle. On a positive note, he was required to repair any damage his herd caused.

I imagine his report to Boston’s Selectmen went something like this: “Yes sir, Old Bessie did eat Grandma’s ear. She thought it was a mushroom. But I reburied Grandma along with the appropriate cow pile.” (Definitely an alternative fact.)

Today the Granary Graveyard is considered to be one of America’s most hallowed grounds. Benjamin Franklin’s parents are buried here. As are several Revolutionary War heroes including Paul Revere, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, James Otis, and Robert Treat Paine. Hancock, Adams and Paine were all signers of the Declaration of Independence. There is also a grave marker for the five men who died in the Boston Massacre— Crispus Attucks, Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, and Patrick Carr.

Samuel Adams is one of the Revolutionary War Heroes buried in the Granary. One of America's most ardent revolutionaries, he was an early proponent of independence from England.

Samuel Adams is one of the Revolutionary War Heroes buried in the Granary. One of America’s most ardent revolutionaries, he was an early proponent of independence from England.

The graveyard backs up the stately Park Street Church, which in turn, sits on the edge of the Boston Commons. The leading Abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison, gave his first fiery sermon against slavery in the church on July 4, 1829, and the anthem, America (“My country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty…”) was first sung from its doorstep. Liberty wasn’t so sweet for black people.

Park Street Church was built in the early 1800s and became a center of opposition to slavery.

Park Street Church was built in the early 1800s and became a center of opposition to slavery.

As for the Commons, it was a true cow pasture. Communities in early New England often set aside a common area where all of the town’s cattle and other livestock could graze and be jointly tended. In 1775 the British turned it into a campground for its Redcoats. That would be the common soldiers, of course; the officers stayed in much more amenable accommodations, held parties and danced the night away. Today the Commons is an attractive public park and has served as a rallying point for the likes of Martin Luther King, Pope John Paul II and the recent Women’s March. Massachusetts’ attractive gold-dome statehouse overlooks the area.

The Massachusetts' State House overalls the bucolic Boston Commons.

The Massachusetts’ State House overalls the bucolic Boston Commons. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

One of the really attractive things about the Freedom Trail, besides its historical significance, is the fact that it can easily be walked in a few hours, or a day if you prefer to dawdle and take time at each of the sites. Or, if walking isn’t your thing, a number of popular bus tours will take you to all of the locations minus the exercise.

Peggy and I did most of the Trail but didn’t cross the Charles River to Bunker Hill. That will have to wait for another time. We did, however, reach Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, a site I found equally interesting to the Granary Graveyard, not because of the people buried there, but because of the tombstones.

The crooked tombstones on Cobb's Hill remind me of someone having a really bad tooth day.

The crooked tombstones on Cobb’s Hill remind me of someone having a really bad tooth day.

Another view of the tombstones on Cobb's Hill.

Another view of the crooked tombstones on Cobb’s Hill.

The Puritans were sensitive about elaborate headstones, wanting to keep things simple. This death's head with its crossed bones was allowed, however, and is found on many early tombstones in the New England region.

The Puritans/Congregationalists were sensitive about elaborate headstones, wanting to keep things simple. This death’s-head with its crossed bones was allowed, however, and is found on many early tombstones in the New England region, including those of my ancestors.

Later, a slightly more friendly cherub was allowed, including this one found in the Cobb's Hill Burial Ground.

Later, a slightly more friendly cherub was allowed, including this one found in the Cobb’s Hill Burial Ground. I think it may be smiling.

I’ve already introduced you to a number of sites along the Freedom Trail including Paul Revere’s home, the Old North Church, the Old State House, the Old Corner Bookstore (there are a lot of old things in Boston), Faneuil Hall, and the Latin School. I’ll finish my posts on Boston today with a few other sites and some additional photos of Faneuil Hall and the Old Statehouse.

This is a modern version of the Green Dragon Tavern that served as a secret gathering place for hatching many of the early protests against England's efforts to tax the colonies, including the Boston Tea Party.

This is a modern version of the Green Dragon Tavern that served as a secret gathering place for hatching many of the early protests against England’s efforts to tax the colonies, including the Boston Tea Party.

Faneuil Hall served as a more public venue for discussing the tax on tea. It wasn't big enough to accommodate everyone who wanted to protest however...

Faneuil Hall served as a more public venue for discussing the tax on tea. It wasn’t big enough to accommodate everyone who wanted to protest however…

So the meeting was switched to the Old South Meeting House, which was apparently big enough to accommodate the 5,000 people who wanted to participate. Samuel Adam's final words to the gathering, "This meeting can do nothing more to save the country," were apparently the secret rallying cry that sent the Sons of Liberty dressed as Mohawk Indians off to the Boston Harbor for their Tea Party.

So the meeting was switched to the Old South Meeting House, the largest building in Boston at the time. Samuel Adam’s final statement to the gathering, “This meeting can do nothing more to save the country,” was apparently the secret rallying cry that sent the Sons of Liberty dressed as Mohawk Indians off to Boston Harbor for their Tea Party. 

Boston's Old State House sits just across the road from Faneuil Hall. The Boston Massacre took place between the tow buildings. Check out the weather vane... (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Boston’s Old State House sits just across the road from Faneuil Hall. The Boston Massacre took place between the two buildings. Check out the weather vane… (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Grasshopper weathervane on top of the Old State House in Boston.

It’s a grasshopper. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

You may have noticed the lion and the unicorn on the Statehouse as well. This symbols of British power were torn down after the Declaration of Independence and were later restored.

The lion and the unicorn on the Statehouse are symbols of British power. They were torn down after the Declaration of Independence but later restored.

NEXT BLOGS:

Wednesday: Back to the Sierra Trek. Our first night out, a conservative doctor out of Sacramento camps next to us and claims he is going back to Sacramento and tell the media that the Lung Association is running a “pot smoking orgy” in the mountains. Not true, but worrisome, none-the-less.

Friday and Saturday: The wonderfully weird world of mutant vehicles at Burning Man.

31 comments on “Did Bessie Eat Grandma’s Ear? The Boston Series

  1. Your pictures make me want to return to Boston. We’ve been the past two years to watch a friend run in the marathon, but he didn’t qualify this year. Your photos of the cemetery contain some of the same headstones I fell in love with — and just saying I love headstones sort of creeps me out! Really nice post of one of America’s best cities.

    • Thanks, Rusha. We almost made it over to the finish line for the Marathon. The New England Genealogical Society is only a few blocks away. But we had already been walking for six hours and my buddy thought it was time to head back to the hotel. I agreed. 🙂
      Those graveyards seemed just the place to be on a spooky Halloween Night. –Curt

  2. Love the post title – a real attention grabber!

    Good news about the laptop!

    For ten years I lived in the town of Spalding in Lincolnshire which by coincidence is only ten miles or so away from UK Boston. Spalding is below sea level and rumour has it that although there are gravestones there are no remains because over the years they have shifted in the soil and slipped into the river and then to the sea.

    The oddest graveyard that I visited was the Jewish cemetery in Prague where in a very small area there an estimated hundred thousand bodies (twelve layers deep) and twelve thousand gravestones!

    https://anotherbagmoretravel.wordpress.com/2012/09/02/prague-the-jewish-quarter/

    • I’ve always enjoyed coming up with titles, Andrew, all the way back to high school journalism, and that was a while ago.:)
      Wow, 100,000 bodies 12 layers deep. That is definitely a city of the dead. Your photos of the tombstones packed together are fascinating. Thanks for sharing.
      As for being washed out to sea. Not a bad fate, perhaps. –Curt

      • I have really understood the history of the Jews in Europe, they were and are so hated in so many places. In Prague they were obliged to live in a small space surrounded by a wall way before Hitler and the Nazis.

      • It’s complicated, Andrew. Lots of factors. One really struck home with me. I remember an instance when I was serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia. A PC Staff member who was Jewish lived next to us. A young Liberian who worked for him, attended a Baptist Missionary school. One day the young man came home and asked him why he killed Jesus. And this, 2000 years later. –Curt

  3. The Granary Graveyard sounded cool even before you mentioned all the famous people buried there … was that on the Freedom Trail? (Because somehow I missed it!)

    • It is on the lower end of the Freedom Trail, Lex, right next to the Common. I found both of the graveyards interesting. I’ve been in a lot over the years, because of genealogical research, and I never seen any with such crooked stones. –Curt

  4. A special place to me, since this is where my son was born and where I became an American citizen. I liked it that it happened in Massachusetts “The Spirit of America” and in Boston which also symbolizes many great American traits of character and values.
    Great post as always, Curt.

  5. I fear I hear a cow come near —
    She’s dear, but still — this much is clear.
    To munch upon sweet Grandma’s ear
    would lead poor Gramps to shed a tear.

    Ok — a heroic couplet it’s not, but it’s what came to mind. You started it, with that title!

    The photos are really nice, and it’s fun to read your take on places I’ve only heard about, like the Boston Common. And I loved the graveyard descriptions, and the background on some of the stones. I’m not sure what the Puritans would think of the gravestone in Paris, Texas, that has a more than life-sized Jesus wearing cowboy boots.

  6. You did know the grasshopper’s belly has a treasure, right? Apparently it’s a time capsule, that includes a message. I’m not sure where I heard the story the first time, and since then I’ve heard multiple varying accounts of what’s inside, but I love the idea that the grasshopper has things in its belly. I also love it that the lion and unicorn are still on top of the statehouse. I’m the kind of person that finds it easier to imagine details like our early colonial life, when there are additional sensory inputs. Those gravestones are just wonderful, and your analogy to teeth is good. 😉

    So glad to hear your computer is fixed!

    • I didn’t know about grasshopper’s belly, Crystal. I’ll have to pass that on to Peggy. I agree on the lion and the unicorn. They were torn down right after the Declaration of Independence was read. I’m glad they were put back. My computer is humming along just fine, now. 🙂 –Curt

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