When I think of the Freedom Trail, I think of a few things: Paul Revere, Bunker Hill, “one if by land, two if by sea,” the grave of Sam Adams, and the Boston Massacre.
I must have been in the restroom when our middle school history class covered the lesson on Paul Revere stopping for a plant-based chorizo bowl with double veggies and extra guac after his midnight ride, having worked himself up an appetite while letting everyone know the British were coming.
A couple of friends and I just walked the 2.5-mile-long path in Boston, which passes by 16 locations & landmarks significant to American history.
One of which is a Chipotle.
It’s been something like 12-13 years since I walked the Freedom Trail on a middle school trip. I remember being excited about getting to see the places we had learned about in class.
As you grow up, you learn (arguably) more things outside of a classroom – guided by life and personal interests as opposed to state-regulated standards – and you start to care more about different things.
Now as an adult, I am less excited to walk around the State Houses & churches and more interested in following the footsteps of significant writers and inhabiting their spaces if only for a moment.
One of the Freedom Trail lessons we did not learn about for the unit test was the Old Corner Bookstore.
Outside of the classroom and later in life, I learned this was the home of a powerhouse publishing group responsible for iconic American titles such as “The Scarlet Letter,” “Walden,” and “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.”
Built in the 1700s as an apothecary shop, it was a mixed commercial space and became a bookstore in 1828. The bookstore served as a regular meeting-place for authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
After the publishing company had moved out, the site was home to a succession of other booksellers and publishing companies.
It’s a designated location along the Freedom Trail – a location we didn’t learn about in school and subsequently skipped on the field trip.
As an adult on a pseudo-field trip with my friends, it was added to the itinerary.
While walking the Freedom Trail, we passed the old city hall and I cartoonishly stopped in my tracks and did a double-take.
My boyfriend’s family are fans of Ruth’s Chris Steak House; and, when I saw the old city hall had swapped out polling booths for porterhouses, I immediately dropped it in the group chat.
It was funny to me until it wasn’t.
Fri, March 25, 1:03 PM
They turned the old city hall in Boston into a Ruth’s Chris. #America
That’s awesome 👏
At least they didn’t tear down history
Oh it gets better. If you keep going on the Freedom Trail, you get to the Old Corner Bookstore – one of Boston’s first bookstores (1828) and a go-to meeting spot for iconic American authors like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Charles Dickens.
It’s now a Chiptole.
That seems a little wrong 😑
Yeah, I laughed too soon. I thought the Ruth’s Chris was funny and then walked like another block and saw the Chipotle and that one hurt. I actually wanted to see books not burritos 😔
That’s too sad. They should keep it a historical site
I felt personally victimized by the Chiptole.
To get ourselves into my state of mind in that moment, let’s flash back to when my friends and I went on a trip last year that included a stop to walk some of the Trail of Tears.
While passing through Missouri, we detoured to a Trail of Tears trailhead and were very confused when the GPS had us pull into a Walmart parking lot.
As there was no way that was where we intended on being, we assumed the GPS was wonking out and we drove around looking for signs that would point us in the right direction.
Behind the Walmart, we found it.
They (whomever) backed a Walmart right up to a trailhead along the Trail of Tears.
I couldn’t believe it.
I was angry. My first thought was that this was probably the most disrespectful thing (not that Corporate America is a respectful place to begin with).
It felt wrong. I tried not to cry.
So, by the time I saw the Ruth’s Chris I felt desensitized by #America and thought, “Yeah, that tracks.”
When I turned the corner on the next block, however, that scab was ripped off and a fresh wound bled at the sight of the bookstore.
I think there are three (3) main causes here:
1). I was turning the corner under the pretense of seeing the Old Corner Bookstore – designated spot along the Freedom Trail – not the new corner Chipotle.
2). It’s the third piece of history I’ve now seen with some sort of corporation’s footprint on it; there’s a mental reconciliation that wasn’t clicking for me between standing in front of the world then vs. the world now. What will be left for the next century? Walking tours where stops include big box stores or “this is where a McDonald’s once stood?”
3). I was emotionally invested in the history of the Old Corner Bookstore. I can laugh off a steakhouse and chalk it up to #America because there is no buy-in from me – I wasn’t emotionally invested in the local city politics the history of the old city hall offered and as far as the steakhouse goes I don’t eat meat.
I think that’s the fundamental root of it all: inherently, we don’t care about things unless they affect us directly.
We see it in voting trends & the voter turnout rates every election cycle. We see it when petitions are circulated. We see it when donations are sought.
There I stood, watching through the window as people paid extra for guac, cursing them all and wondering how they couldn’t care about the loss of this particular piece of history.
I cared; so everyone else should, too.
What I didn’t know in that moment was that, in fact, a lot of people cared and that’s why the Old Corner Bookstore is a Chipotle. To my boyfriend’s mom’s point, “At least they didn’t tear down history.”
I learned about the Old Corner Bookstore by myself. But, I never finished learning about it. I knew of the ‘historical’ history, but I was unaware of the ‘modern-day’ history. It wasn’t until the anger had dissipated from my body the next day that I started researching it.
In 1960, the building was set for demolition and was to be replaced by a new parking garage.
“A group of Bostonians, concerned about the impending loss of an important piece of the city’s architecture and heritage, formed the non-profit Historic Boston Incorporated (HBI) and pooled their resources and connections to acquire and restore the building for continued use as retail shops and commercial offices.”
The group purchased the site for $100,000 and preserved the building. It continued to serve as a mixed commercial space, just as it had when it was built.
There is a Chipotle on the Freedom Trail because people cared about the history of it.
I was so quick to dismiss it as an injustice by a selfish world of now not preserving the world of then that I was ignorant to the possibility of the now in tandem with the then.
It is history living and breathing.
It is an organic history not taxidermied by time.
There is no then vs. now.
It is history repeating itself.
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