Monday, September 18, 2017

Literary Boston

by Paula Gail Benson

I’m going to follow in the footsteps of my blogging partner Dru Ann Love and write about my experiences on a recent trip to Boston. It’s a city I’ve always found captivating in books.

When I was young, I read Esther Forbes’ Johnny Tremain and was enthralled by the young apprentice studying Paul Revere’s workmanship. Later, I discovered Robert B. Parker’s Boston-based, single-named detective, Spenser, through a television series. I avidly read Linda Barnes’ mysteries featuring cabbie and sometimes investigator Carlotta Carlyle. Not to mention Hank Phillippi Ryan’s novels about Boston investigative reporter Charlotte McNally and her Jane Ryland thrillers; some of Toni L.P. Kelner’s Laura Fleming series; and Dana Cameron’s Anna Hoyt stories that take place in colonial Boston.

In Boston’s Public Garden, a line of bronze ducks represent the characters from Robert McClosky’s Make Way for Ducklings. A plaque explains that the story made the Garden familiar to children around the world and I have read that the ducks’ bronze surfaces never need to be shined because so many little bottoms come to sit on them.

Emerson House in Concord
Growing up, I found Boston’s neighboring town of Concord fascinating for its collection of literary figures. In high school, I read about the three Peabody sisters: Elizabeth, an educator and book store operator, who introduced her sisters to their famous husbands (artist Sophia married Nathaniel Hawthorne and Mary became Horace Mann’s wife). Ralph Waldo Emerson lived in Boston and Concord, and Henry David Thoreau was born in Concord and wrote of its local Walden Pond.

As far as I was concerned, the most famous Concord resident was Louisa May Alcott, whose Little Women had been a constant companion for me and seen me through good times and bad.

I was extremely fortunate to find a tour that went to Lexington and Concord, showing us not only the Revolutionary War significant sites, but also the homes of Emerson, Hawthorne (Wayside Inn), and Alcott (Orchard House).

Orchard House
Seeing Orchard House, made even more real Meg’s garden wedding and the attic where Jo wrote her novels. Yes, this was the place where the four March girls grew to become Little Women, and I rejoiced in seeing a spot that had so long filled my imagination.

Fortunately, our tour guide was experienced enough to make a story of the journey. He traced the route that Paul Revere had taken, showing us the monument at the place where Revere was captured, and even pointing out the house that belonged to the Merriam family (of Merriam Webster fame).
Revere Monument near Concord

I also learned also that a large portion of modern day Boston was created by years of immigrants (many of them Irish) working to fill in habitable land around the harbor. The hotel where I stayed was in the Back Bay. I thought the name unique, but quickly learned it was used to describe many of the area’s buildings. An Amazon search led me to discover a William Martin novel titled Back Bay, which traces the history, and is now on my reading list.

Probably the most invigorating thing I discovered about Boston was the pride in the sense of history so clearly exhibited among its inhabitants. Everywhere I went, from Fenway Park to the TD Garden to the harbor to the theatre district, people told stories about the past and pointed to monuments that commemorated important persons and events. The city was vibrant with memories of the past and hopes for the future.

I walked near the end of the Boston Marathon course and thought of the bombing victims. May we all continue to hear and tell the stories of Boston and to remain “Boston Strong.”


  1. When I was in college, I spent many weekends with friends in Boston seeing the sights. The Gardner Museum was a favorite.

  2. Margaret, I would love to see that museum. I'm sure I'll need to make a return visit to see many more places in Boston and the vicinity.