Saturday, November 01, 2014

Winthrop Square, Charlestown, Boston

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When I was in Boston a while back, I spent a few days wandering around the city taking in the standard tourist sites. At one point I crossed a bridge over to the Charlestown neighborhood, first to see the historic USS Constitution, and then the Bunker Hill Monument. On the way uphill to the monument, I ran across a small, shady city park with a statue in the middle. So I took a couple of quick photos before continuing on. This park is called either "Winthrop Square" or "The Training Field". The name situation is a little confusing here. Wikipedia isn't helpful in this case; its measly Winthrop Square article is a short disambiguation page, pointing at three different parks in the Boston area, none of which are the one here. So in addition to this place, there's a Winthrop Square in the downtown Financial District, and others in Cambridge and Brookline. And none of these parks have their own Wikipedia articles. The city's recent "Cultural Landscape Plan" for the park splits the difference and calls it "Training Field / Winthrop Square". As far as I know this is the only Winthrop Square within the Charlestown neighborhood, though, so hopefully the title of this post points at one place and one place only.

If my past record with Boston posts holds up, I'll get at least one irate commenter here pointing out that I've gotten it all wrong. Inevitably it will turn out that both "Training Field" and "Winthrop Square" are official legal names that nobody ever uses, and the actual name in use is something else entirely, something I could never figure out by googling the place since locals never utter it online where outsiders could see it. Or possibly there are multiple unofficial names, and the one you use indicates what part of town you're from, or which pilgrim ship your great-great-etc.-grandparents came over on, or your side in a centuries-old blood feud dating back to the old country, or something like that. Or possibly it really is called "Winthrop Square" and the irate commenter is just here to heap random abuse on a random outsider purely for the lulz, which I understand is a traditional and beloved Boston pastime. Which is kind of weird since everyone I encountered in Boston was actually really nice in person, at least really nice by Portland standards. I don't claim to understand this phenomenon; I just hope I got the name right this time.

The next surprising thing about the park is that last year marked the very first ever archeological dig here. One would think that in a city full of universities and history nuts, at some point someone would have wondered what might be underground here. Apparently nobody ever got around to looking until now, though. The article mentions the city thinks the park might be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, seeing as it's been a city park since the 1850s, and served on and off as a militia training ground for over two centuries before that. I'm no historian, but I think they have a fair shot at landing that historic designation, if they play their cards just right.

Third mildly odd thing: The park's named for Gov. John Winthrop, who governed the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1630s and 1640s. The statue here is not of him, though. It's a Civil War memorial called either the Soldiers Monument or Soldiers and Sailors Monument, depending on who you ask. Which is not to be confused with the much larger Solders and Sailors Monument in Boston Common. Meanwhile, it turns out that the Winthrop Square in the Financial District also features a statue, and it's not of Gov. Winthrop either, but rather of Scottish poet Robert Burns. Burns was Plan B after the square's developers tried and failed to obtain a historic Winthrop statue owned by a historic Unitarian church in the Back Bay. I think I've located it in Google Street View here; if it's the right statue, it seems to be a bit on the small side, and would probably look out of place in any sort of grand monument.

I mean, this is all assuming the park in Charlestown is named after this one particular Winthrop. At this point I'm not willing to assume that as an undisputed fact. It could just as easily be named after Jezebekiah Winthrop, a mad industrialist and warlock of the early 19th Century, uniquely feared for both his work with electricity and his knowledge of arcane manuscripts, and the heavy monument actually exists to seal an interdimensional portal he created, and there's a very, very good reason everyone's avoided disturbing the soil here until now. I'm not saying I know this to be the case, obviously. I'm just saying that if an army of steampunk golems emerges from beneath Charlestown to spread havoc and mayhem, well... I'm just saying there were certain potential warning signs.

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