4 reasons why Boston should be on your travel list this year

Visit this city to truly understand the history of USA

By Anjaly Thomas

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Published: Thu 18 May 2023, 7:23 PM

Approaching the Boston Tea Party Museum is like going back to school. In my childhood, the name struck me as a happy event and oddly enough became the driving force for my future travels. Little did I know that that event changed the course of American history.

I approach the museum with mixed feelings and a need for coffee, which, considering the name is rather ironic, but I plod on in hope. In Boston, one is always in luck.

My agenda is simple — visit the museum that enlivened my childhood, explore libraries, drink coffee and unearth legends and meet the ghouls.

Let’s have a party, shall we?

The floating Boston Tea Party Museum is buzzing with tourists looking for a glimpse into the history of Modern America and a chance to “dump” a tea chest into the river. I join the queue to watch this enactment of the actual event of 1773, where one night, Bostonians snuck onto a British tea ship and dumped all the tea into the harbour to protest tea tax. Bostonians are very proud of this historic act of defiance.

As luck has it, there is a delightful little tea-room named Abigail’s Tea Room at the end of the pier (where you can look into the Museum) that sells some excellent coffee, besides colonial-era tea, snacks and cookies. And drinking coffee in a museum named Tea Party feels strangely defiant. Like school.

Freedom Trail historical walk

The next day, I join a group walk for the Freedom Trail, a painted yellow line that connects sixteen historical sites across the city. With every step it is easy to see why Boston is one of the most historic cities in the United States. At every corner and on every cobblestone, there are evidence of revolution that changed the face of America. The walk is easy and takes about three hours. The guide, dressed up as a character from the past takes us through the USS Constitution, the Old State House and the Paul Revere House among others, explaining the significance of each site.

In Boston, history isn’t just a footnote; it’s a way of life. As we leave Boston’s Holocaust Memorial located along the freedom trail near the Haymarket MBTA station, I wander off towards my next destination. It is time to keep my appointment with the ghouls that live nearby.

Boston is where ghouls reside

Boston is ripe with macabre stories — that of serial killers like Albert DeSalvo (Boston Strangler) and Jolly Jane, tragic stories of unrequited love, the reason for spirits to haunt several historic streets, buildings and landmarks. Locals swear by one or two paranormal activities regularly, thus making Boston America’s most haunted city.

In hope, I head to Caffe Vittoria, closest to the Holocaust Memorial on Hanover Street, for a cup of the famed hot chocolate followed by coffee, arguing that if I were to face a ghoul, it should be only after a cup of coffee. This café is the oldest Italian cafe in Boston, having opened doors in 1929 but its rich history is mired in mystery. Vittoria’s enchanting old-world décor and its collection of vintage coffee machines — all sit on what was once a baby farm, thus explaining the infrequent ‘ghostly appearance.’ Investigations into these claims unearthed a syringe in the building’s foundation, thus supporting the baby farm theory, and upon the removal of the syringe, paranormal activities stopped. The waitress who brought my coffee has little or no interest in discussing the past, but a newspaper clipping on the wall tells the story.

The spirits have long gone, but curious tourists are welcome to relive the frightful experiences through many of the city’s haunted cafés.

Next, I head to Omni Parker House near Quincy Market for a chance at seeing the ghost of Charles Dickens and indulge in famous Boston cream pie, which owes its origins to this very hotel. The Boston Cream Pie nudged out Toll House Cookies and Fig Newton to claim the status of Massachusetts’ official state dessert. This knowledge makes the potential encounter more delightful.

The most famous ghoul in this hotel is that of Charles Dickens, who stayed on the third floor of this hotel in the 1800s when writing A Christmas Carol but even to this day, the elevator often stops on the third floor — but there is no one waiting for it. Along with the ghost of Dickens, Harvey Parker the former owner also haunts the halls of the 10th floor, rearranging furniture and checking in on the guests. Stories of guests witnessing apparitions wandering through the hotel dressed in 18th-century attire, flickering lights, sound of rocking chair are but common. One cannot say with any certainty if the spectres are harmless or malicious but they are not out of their depths here.

I dig into the famed cream pie, eyes peeled for any out-of-the-way occurrence, but unfortunately no spectre or apparition is putting in an appearance today. The waiter, in jest, feigns shock at my request for a second helping of the pie. “Too much sweetness,” he says, “keeps the ghosts away.”

A haunted library and books on the floor

Of the many reasons to love with Boston is its books, bookstores and libraries. While Boston’s brick facades, cobblestone streets, history and significant landmarks make it interesting, its libraries define its character.

On the quest for old libraries, I fetch up at the Historic Neighbourhood of Beacon Hill (you can’t miss the State House located prominently at the top) and make way into the Boston Athenaeum, a library of considerable proportions and reputed to be the country’s oldest independent libraries. The special thing about this library (founded in 1807 and moved to its current location in 1849) is its five floors of rare books and historic art, but what draws tourists to it is a book bound in human skin and sweeping views of the city’s spookiest cemetery, the Granary Burial ground.

Plus, its reputation of being haunted. Legend has it that the ghost of Reverend Dr Harris (a Harvard librarian in the 18th century) is occasionally seen reading the Boston Post in the reading room. However, the good reverend isn’t the only ghost in the library and shares his space with the ghost of James Allen, a criminal whose skin was used to bind the copy of his memoir. Clearly Allen lives alongside his skin-book at the Athenaeum.

Following this, I make my way back through Beacon Hill area, past Federal-style row houses, brick sidewalks and cobblestone streets and ending on Acorn Street, one of the most photographed streets in the world.

Speaking of small libraries, my personal favourite turns out to be the Commonwealth Bookstore near the Old South meeting point (also the start of Freedom Trail), with its dusty rows of rare books and maps. I like libraries with dusty shelves and books on the floors and this one pretty much ticks all the boxes. Quotes of famous authors are stuck on shelf corners, adding to that rare aura that only libraries can exude. This small store boasts a collection of authors I’ve never heard of. And for once, there are no ghouls lurking around!

From here, following the scent of books, I proceed to Brattle Bookstore in the heart of Downtown Boston, a company that existed since 1825 (currently in the Gloss Family since 1949), thereby holding the title of the country’s oldest and largest used book shop.

It is here I find what I am looking for — a book that pretty much sums up everything I have heard of Boston’s ghosts in the form of Taryn Plumb’s Haunted Boston, a fine collection of stories of its famous phantoms, sinister sites and lingering legends.

Enough to leave the reader delightfully frightened and strangely fulfilled.


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