Wednesday, May 25: Arrival in Boston

We took off from Lincoln at 7:30 and drove to Omaha—as is the usual for us, given that Lincoln’s airport has so few routes—and then travelled all day—from Omaha to Atlanta, with less than an hour layover, and on to Boston. As we approached the airport, we had great views of the downtown skyline on one side and the open water on the other. I had been to Boston once before, but with no time for anything except a conference, so this is the first time either one of us has explored Boston. Six days is short, but we are excited to get a glimpse.

Approaching Boston

I had not done my usual research into the details of public transport from the airport to downtown Boston, so it took a bit for us to figure out that there were shuttle buses to get us to the MBTA train. But it turned out to be easy and quick, and we only had to walk about 10 minutes from the State St. station to our Airbnb /guest house (“micro apartments”–probably converted from a previous hotel or apartment complex). The location is perfect—right downtown and two minutes from Boston Common—so the strange layout (a single L-shaped room with two “windows” without view that just look out into an air shaft) doesn’t matter much, and Mark found a workaround for the very slow WiFi.

“The Embrace” (2022) in Boston Common, honoring MLK and Coretta Scott King

We did not even unpack before we wandered back out, taking advantage of the last hour of daylight to walk across the Common, looked at the various monuments, including Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Robert Gould Shaw Memorial from 1897, and a brand-new enormous bronze called The Embrace (2022). The Saint-Gaudens was the important one for me to visit-it is famous for its representation of the Black soldiers that served under Shaw (shortcut: the them of the movie “Glory”), and so I looked mostly at the soldiers, and not so much at Shaw on horseback. Saint-Gaudens may have harbored some racist ideas (as per the art historian Albert Boime) but he also has to be credited with portraying these Black soldiers with dignity and humanity, when public sculptures showing nonwhites in general were still absolutely nasty 99% of the time. It was also fascinating to see how Saint-Gaudens presented these soldiers “in echelon” four deep with a bas-relief technique, just sketching out some of the faces and squeezing them very close together.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Shaw Memorial
Saint-Gaudens Monument: Black Soldiers from the 54th Regiment in echelon

Since my focus for this visit is to get a better sense of the Black history of Boston that keeps coming up in my research, seeing the memorial was already a step in the right direction. But it wasn’t even on my radar that Park Street Church, on one corner of the Boston Common, was where in 1829, the white abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison delivered his first anti-slavery speech. So I suspect I’ll find new threads to connect familiar people and events everywhere I look.

Park Street Church

Aside from this particular focus of mine, we’re just looking around, enjoying the fantastic contrasts in architectural style in the buildings that surround the common, and just the general „first look“ at our surroundings. The Park Street Church was definitely one example, in front of all the high rises, but even en route to our quarters, we walked right by one of the oldest Boston buildings, the former State House, which is now encircled with all the other layers of architecture that have come since then. More of that in days to come for sure.

The Old State House (from 1713) surrounded by everything that came after!

After our stroll through the Common, we had a much-needed but mediocre dinner at a halal fast-food place (the French fries were much better than my chicken kebab or Mark‘s burger), bought some breakfast food and went back to our little micro-pad for the evening. It‘s been a long day, and a bit of rest will be good!