February is African American History Month paying tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American Society. Within the three parks cared for by the Friends, there are two important sculptures memorializing Boston African Americans.
Boston Common is home to the Robert Gould Shaw and Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial, a bas-relief masterpiece commemorating Colonel Robert Gould Shaw leading the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, the first all-volunteer black regiment in the Union Army.
Commonwealth Avenue Mall’s Boston Women’s Memorial honors Phillis Wheatley as one of three important women from Boston. Phillis Wheatley was the first African American, the first slave, and the third woman in the United States to publish a book of poems.
A history of demonstration in American’s first park
The Women’s March on January 21 on Boston Common was just the latest in a long history of peaceful demonstrations on the Common.
“The Common has been at the center of Boston’s civic life since its establishment in 1634. Despite physical changes, the Common has remained a focal point for the community – from grazing cows and military activities to celebration, punishments, protests and recreation. Physically, as well, it has remained fairly consistent in size and character, a green respite in the midst of the city.”— Boston Common Cultural Landscape Report, prepared by Landscape Historian Shary Berg for Friends of the Public Garden
After rowdy demonstrations against the English Stamp Act and the tax on tea, the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766 was cause for a huge celebration on the Common. Following the Revolutionary War, the Common was host to protesters of every stripe, and Presidents from Washington to Jackson visited along with other notables.
Summer has begun which means the outdoor work of the Friends sculpture care program is in swing. Mr. Hale (pictured) in the Public Garden is one of eight pieces conservators are caring for this year as part of the Friends Sculpture Care Program. Another 10 pieces of public art are in the process of being cleaned and maintained. This work is not only necessary, it is also newsworthy. The Boston Globe recently ran a piece about the behind-the-scenes efforts involved in caring for these historic works of art in the article, “They get the gunk off Boston’s outdoor treasures.”
More than a dozen people have recently taken a very special interest in the Public Garden and have been studying this iconic greenspace for hours on end. What they are learning about America’s first public botanical garden is not for a class or research for a book. This studious bunch is the inaugural group of volunteer docents of the Friends of the Public Garden that will be serving as guides for a new tour program.
Walking a route that encompasses the northern half of the Garden, tour participants will gain a deeper understanding of the Garden’s special place in the history of Boston and the country. Hour-long tours will include interesting facts and anecdotes about history, horticulture, and sculpture. Casual visitors of the area are likely to find a new appreciation of its significance and neighbors who use it frequently are likely to discover at least a thing or two that might surprise them.
Docents have spent many volunteer hours learning about the Garden and working to craft their tours. In February, their training began with a Friends-sponsored lecture, Searching for the Histories of the Boston Public Garden by Boston University Professor Keith Morgan, held at Suffolk University. Friends President Emeritus Henry Lee gave a talk at the Friends office that traced the Garden’s history as well as the founding of the organization and highlights from its 45 year work in caring for the Garden in partnership with the Boston Parks and Recreation Department. Additional information sessions included trees and plantings by Friends Project Manager Bob Mulcahy; the history of the Swan Boats by fourth generation owner Lyn Paget; and the Garden’s sculpture including the Friends sculpture care program by Friends Collections Care Manager Sarah Hutt.
The group also attended two special training sessions. The first (pictured above) took place at the City’s greenhouses, where the City’s Superintendent of Horticulture, Anthony Hennessy and his team hosted the group. On an unseasonably cold day in March, docents were delighted to shed their coats in the 80-degree warmth of the greenhouses to learn about the plantings that would be in the Garden, and throughout the city, in the weeks to follow.
Volunteers were visibly enthralled as Anthony announced, “Right now, there are 35,000 tulips waiting to burst into bloom once the snow melts; most beds have 500 tulips, but the “footbeds” surrounding George Washington have 3500-4000 tulips in them.”
The second session was a guided tour of the Public Garden by Bobby Moore, longtime member of the Friends board and chair of the Public Garden Committee, who also owned a tour company and is an experienced guide. She recalled the years when she would take her toddler-aged children for walks through the Garden, a short stroll from her Beacon Hill home. Moore’s deep love of the Garden was palpable as she shared stories of the poor condition of the Garden in the1970s. Moore told the docents about broken fences and large amounts of litter, and of the important work of the Friends through the years to improve the Garden to where it is today.
Sidney Kenyon of Beacon Hill and Sherley Smith of the Back Bay are champions of the new docent program. They are committed volunteers with a deep love of the Public Garden. In their leadership roles, they are coordinating this inaugural class of volunteer docents that will be guiding groups throughout the summer in teams of two. The guides are eager to share what they have learned with others interested in gaining a deeper knowledge and appreciation of Boston’s special and most iconic greenspace, the Public Garden.
1. The author of Make Way for Ducklings, Robert McCloskey, kept a family of ducklings in the bathtub of his apartment as he was writing the book.
2. The Make Way for Ducklings sculpture is the only one one of its kind in the world!
3. The Make Way for Ducklings book is the official children’s book of Massachusetts?
4. “Oooh-ack” is definitely the proper pronunciation of duckling Ouack’s name.
5. Duckling Day has been a Boston Tradition for less than 10 years.
1. True. The author, Robert McCloskey, kept a family of ducklings in the bathtub of his apartment as he was writing the book. His tolerant roommate at the time, Marc Simont, also went on to become a famous children’s book writer. And in case you were thinking that might be fun? McCloskey noted, ”Ducks start quacking at the break of day, very loudly and emphatically.”
2. False. The duckling sculptures that the Friends of the Public Garden had made and placed in the Garden in 1987 exist in just one other place – Moscow! Raisa Gorbachev fell in love with the ducklings on a visit to Boston, and former First Lady Barbara Bush presented them to Raisa during a 1991 summit meeting.
3. True. Make Way for Ducklings is the official children’s book of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts….and it’s best enjoyed with some chocolate chip cookies – the official cookie of Massachusetts!
4. False. The mystery of how to pronounce “Ouack” has never been solved: some prefer “Oh-ack” and others “Oooh-ack”!
5. False. Duckling Day has been a beloved Mother’s Day tradition in Boston for over 30 years! It’s a morning of fun for the whole family organized by the Friends of the Public Garden.
Duckling Day is on May 10th, Mother’s Day. Dress up the kids in their duckling best and enjoy entertainment and games on Boston Common – with a free mini-massage for Mom! The famous Harvard Band will lead a parade to the Make Way for Ducklings statues. The event is hosted by the non-profit Friends of the Public Garden.
You may register at the event. Registration opens at 10 a.m.
On Wednesday, April 8th, the Friends of the Public Garden held their 45th annual meeting. Over 150 members and neighbors gathered at the First Church in Boston to hear from the Friends and featured speaker Boston Parks Commissioner Chris Cook talk about the accomplishments of the past year and plans for the future. Open discussion and warm conversation made the 45th Annual Meeting a successful update on the Friends.
The evening began with a greetings and updates from the Friends Board Chair Anne Brooke, and Board Directors Patricia Quinn and Jeannette Herrmann. Elizabeth Vizza, the Executive Director of the Friends, presented a summary of the work that the Friends completed over the past year. She began by thanking members and the Boston Parks Department for their contributions in making 2014 a successful year for the organization. This year, the Friends pruned 330 trees and protected 1,100 from disease. More than 30 sculptures in the Boston Common, Public Garden, and Commonwealth Avenue Mall were cleaned and two of the sculptures, the Leif Eriksson statue and the Robert Gould Shaw/54th Regiment Memorial, underwent major masonry conservation work. The Friends also launched the off-leash dog program on the Common and continued improvement work on the Boylston Street border of the Public Garden. The $4 million multi-year Brewer Fountain Plaza and parkland renovation, the group’s largest capitol project to date, was officially completed at the end of 2014. Ms. Vizza also outlined the Friends plans for the future, including working with the City to revitalize the Boston Common.
Parks Commissioner Chris Cook followed Ms. Vizza’s presentation. He made note of the important strides that the Boston Parks and Recreation Department is making in the upkeep of the City’s greenspaces. Cook’s announcement that a second park maintenance shift will be added this next year, which will be stationed in the Boston Common, was met with applause. Cook also announced that the just-released Mayor’s budget included funding to fix the sidewalk on the Tremont Street border of the Common in front of the Visitor Information Center, which for too long has been deteriorated with major, and in places dangerous, cracks. The budget also includes several other top priorities for the Common and Garden that were suggested by the Parks and Recreation Department and the Friends.
Following his remarks, Cook opened the floor for a Q and A session. He shared valuable information in response to questions, which ranged from “When will the broken fence in the Common be repaired?” to questions about how parks management can address climate change. Cook stressed the importance of the relationship between the Parks Department and the Friends, saying, “Many hands make light work.”
The evening concluded with a reception where attendees mingled with fellow Friends members and discussed the topics of the evening.