Making History on the Common

Fishweirs, sheep, protests, dancing, and colonial punishments return to Boston Common

Despite the rain on June 5th, just under 1,000 Boston elementary school children (grades 3-5) enjoyed the Friends of the Public Garden’s Making History on the Common on Boston Common!

It was a fun-filled, action-packed day where they learned about more than 1,000 years of history through various interactive activities.

Making History on the Common was made possible, in part, thanks to a grant from The David P. Wheatland Charitable Trust.

Meet the Friends: Anne Swanson, a Passionate and Longtime Friend

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Anne Swanson has been a member of the Friends almost since the early 1980s.  Before joining, Anne volunteered picking trash up in the Public Garden. Through this activity Anne met other people just as passionate about the parks and discovered the Friends of the Public Garden. She quickly got involved and used her editing skills by volunteering to help with programming for the Victorian Promenade, created in the 1970s by the Friends to bring attention to the parks with a positive and festive event. Anne remembers The Victorian Promenades fondly: people dressed in period costume, a croquet game played in whites, and one year Henry Lee dressed in his great-grandfather’s military uniform! History was brought to life with the Promenades.

One of Anne’s favorite things about the three parks the Friends cares for is their deep and rich histories that few parks can claim. The Public Garden’s origins as the first public botanical garden in the country, and the efforts of Bostonians to ensure that it would remain a public garden, make it special. The Boston Common boasts centuries of history, but the Shaw/54th Regiment Memorial stands out. Anne says, “One can’t look at it [Shaw Memorial] without thinking of its historic impact.” The piece created by celebrated American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens commemorates the first regiment of African American soldiers who fought in the Civil War. The Commonwealth Avenue Mall is her backyard, an essential part of the Back Bay community. Another volunteer effort of Anne’s was creating cards for the Friends that featured historic etchings of the Mall. Anne has spent countless volunteer hours on behalf of the Friends and is a member of the Board of Directors. As a board member she loves working with a dedicated group of people sharing a common mission and finds the way it all comes together to be fascinating.

A sense of community is what inspired Anne to volunteer and to be committed to the preservation and enhancement of these parks. She wants everyone to know that anyone can be a part of this community that cares for the parks. She recalls one of her favorite memories that depict the passionate commitment of this group: elm trees were ailing, and back in the 1960s Ted Weeks, Dan Ahern, and Stella Trafford worked tirelessly to save them by injecting disease-fighting fungicide into the trees using bicycle pumps. These veteran park lovers mentored the present group of stewards who are now reaching out to educate future generations through events such as Duckling Day and Making History on the Common. For Anne, the preservation of these parks is essential for their “function beyond greenspace by fostering community filled with history that accumulates to a spiritual quality.”

Students dive into history on Boston Common

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More than 1,000 Boston school students attended the 5th Annual Making History on the Common event sponsored by the Friends of the Public Garden. On Monday, June 2, America’s oldest public park served as an outdoor classroom with a variety of true-to-life learning stations that showcased the hundreds of years of historic events and activities that took place on and around Boston Common.

Students were entertained by New England Contra Dancers and invited to participate in this blend of dance and music that came with Colonials from England, Ireland, Scotland and France. Many participants seemed to be on their best behavior that day; perhaps the sight of the colonial punishments station hosted by the Freedom Trail Foundation was all the encouragement needed? This interactive display demonstrated the use of wooden pillories, a hinged wooden framework used for punishments in Massachusetts in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Apples available for students to snack on, donated by Whole Foods Market commemorated the orchard believed to have been planted on Beacon Hill by William Blackstone in 1623. A learning station new to this year’s event on 20th Century Protests evoked passionate pleas for “no more homework” as students were asked to protest on an issue relevant to their lives

“It was simply inspirational to see kids actively connecting to the rich history of our country while learning in one of America’s most historic parks, the very place where so much history was made,” said Elizabeth Vizza, Executive Director of the Friends of the Public Garden. “Making History on the Common works because it’s simple yet profound.”

Many organizations came together to make this Friends event happen including, The Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Regiment, The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers, Historic New England, the City of Boston Archeology, The Ancient Fishweir Project and Wampanoag Nation Singers and Dancers, Boston Public Library and Leventhal Map Center.

Thank you to the Motor Mart Garage its generosity as the lead sponsor for this event.