Boston by the Books

Boston is often nicknamed the “Athens of America,” and has been the birthplace of plenty of famous authors, philosophers, and political figures. This tiny state capital of Massachusetts has made a worldwide impact with home-grown luminaries like John Adams, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, and Amelia Peabody. Taking a literary tour of Boston can involve a variety of divergent paths, from visiting the houses of the literati to searching for the locations mentioned in their poems and stories. I went on a literary tour of my own through the city and discovered an artistic trail at every turn.

  • The State House – Though Henry James was not born in Boston and only lived in the United States for the first twenty years of his life, his subdued tales of Americans living abroad are still considered classics. In his short story “A New England Winter,” James focuses on a small Bostonian family and mentions “the most felicitous object” of the city to be “the gilded dome of the State House.” Seeing it on a gray, overcast morning, the golden topped Capitol still gleams as brightly as it did for Henry James.
  • Old North Church – Very few poems are as stirring as the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s tale of American rebellion in “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” The belfry tower of the Old North Church features prominently in the thrilling events. It gives me an actual chill to see the white-tipped, red brick tower and realize that the church’s part in the epic night was no mere child’s story, but real history. Through the modern bustle of the city, I try to picture how on a silent night in 1775 two lanterns were shown at the steeple to warn Bostonians of approaching British troops.
  • Parker House – The current Omni Parker Hotel may be replete with modern amenities, but it stands on the site of one of the oldest hotels in America. In 1855, Harvey Parker established the Parker House hotel as a meeting place for members of the State House, located nearby. Transcendentalists found it a convenient spot to gather for their Saturday Club meetings. But the gilded elevator doors and dark oak paneled bar reminds me of the romantically illicit meeting of Edith Wharton’s main characters in “The Age of Innocence.”
  • Pubic Garden – Every child in Boston knows of Robert McCloskey’s endearing tale “Make Way for Ducklings,” and a meander through the city’s Public Garden near the lake shows plenty of ducks and their babies waddling about. The city so loved this story about a family of ducks wanting to cross the street and the police officer who helped them, that a bronze outdoor sculpture of Mrs. Mallard and her children is set out in the garden. Though the kids love the silent statues, I prefer to watch the amusing antics of the live ducks as they make their way around.

If you’ve visited Boston, what literary landmarks have caught your attention?

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3 thoughts on “Boston by the Books

  1. Good job Jay. I love your work. superb photography.

  2. FlorenceMcC says:

    Great post! I loved exploring Literary Boston when I was there. The Old Corner Bookstore is worth a stop: http://www.tourthepage.com/2011/08/29/old-corner-bookstore/

    • Cabbie Notes says:

      Thanks for the tip. When I’m next in Boston I’ll certainly stop by the Old Corner Bookstore. Perhaps a new tenant will inhabit the space and pay homage to the history of the building.

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