I went to a Labor Day barbecue in Arlington, MA yesterday. Thanks, Leahys, it was a great time. Beautiful day. And it amazes me that nearly all the collective kids are of the age where we can just let them cavort in the back yard and not really worry much about them.
Another thing that amazes me: Massachusetts Avenue, the main drag of Arlington. Every time I see it, which is not all that often, I get just a little bit of…something. Can’t really think of how to describe it. Tingle? Goosebumps? Something like that. Like that feeling when you’re touring a battlefield. Only, despite the fact that this was a battlefield, it sure doesn’t look like one. And I think that’s part of what makes it a little eerie. It’s a modern street. Sunoco Stations and CVS stores and boutiques and Stop and Shops. A busy, bustling avenue through a large town. But despite all the cars and shops and traffic lights, there is always just a second when I’m on that street that I can picture a brigade of panic-stricken redcoats moving just as fast as they could down this road towards Boston.
April 19, 1775 was a bad day for the British stationed in Boston. They had two objectives that day: capture the leaders of the Sons of Liberty, Samuel Adams and John Hancock in Lexington, and capture rebel war supplies in Concord. They failed in both. Concord is one of my favorite places, and worthy of several posts of its own…but that can wait. After failing in their objectives, the British column, eventually numbering about 2000 men when reinforcements arrived, retreated back to Boston as fast as their very tired legs could carry them. It is about 40 miles roundtrip from Boston to Concord and back. And on the way back, the British were being shot to pieces by pursuing provincials.
Parts of this “Battle Road” out towards Lexington, Lincoln and Concord are more rural and well preserved. There, it’s easy to picture the events that happened. But in Arlington, where things got really nasty and some of the worse casualties of the day occurred, it’s not so easy to look past the modern-day urban surroundings.
Back then, Arlington was a little village known as Menotomy. I can see why they changed the name. By the time the harassed British reached this village, losing men with every weary step, they were ready for revenge. Presuming that every house held snipers, they entered just about every structure along the road and killed everyone they found there. One of these places was Cooper’s Tavern where the tavern keeper and his wife were serving Jason Winship and Jabez Wyman. The two men apparently didn’t care that there was a battle going on and preferred to sit and drink their punch. The British first riddled the outside of the structure with bullets, then went inside and killed the two fellows who had, just moments before, been having a pretty good time for themselves. Supposedly about 100 bullets were found in the structure. The tavern keeper and his wife apparently got away.
There’s a marker on the spot now. And several other monuments along Massachusetts Avenue to mark the locations of other structures that the British attacked that day. The site of Cooper’s Tavern is now occupied by a Starbucks. I don’t know why I find this ironic, but I do.
As I look at this part of the Battle Road with its shoppers, drivers and bicyclists, I always wonder how many of them realize what happened here. The place is what it is and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. In fact, the number of historical markers is a good thing. It doesn’t bother me that few pause to look at them. Some do, and that’s good. But, for all I know, or for all she knows, that well dressed lady buying salon products is doing so where a provincial hopped off his horse, crouched behind a stone wall and took aim at a mass of soldiers in red coats 235 years ago.
May just be me, but I find that a little eerie.