Reality Tweaks Fiction

6:48 AM Elizabeth Seckman 28 Comments

Old North Church
 From Wikipedia
I hate it when reality interferes with art.
For example, during my visit to Boston, I toured the Old North Church- the church where Paul Revere, et al, hung the lanterns to alert the colonists of the British invasion.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poetic depiction? Totally cool. 
Only one problem. Historic purists insist on pointing out the errors to the poem.
Don't they understand that reality often lacks the symbolic flair of fiction?

 Paul Revere's Ride
From Wikipedia
So, quick run-down on the Old North Church. During the 1700’s it was the tallest building in Boston. Because it could be seen for miles, the patriots in their rebellion against the crown hung the lanterns in its bell tower to alert other colonial towns of the British advance. 
As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow put it, the troops would be coming one if by land, two if by sea.
Okay, so 'by sea' was a stretch. It was more like one if by land two if by boat across the river, but that doesn’t rhyme as well as sea.
There is also the problem of Paul Revere possibly not even being at the church that night. 
However, he was a bell ringer as a young man, so he knew the floor plan and was undoubtedly the brains behind the plan. It was his instructions that got the lanterns hung by William Dawes and Samuel Prescott who then made a hasty exit out a back window of the church to escape arrest for “treason”.
What is engraved on each bell 
They did hang two lanterns, but only briefly. Then they and the other riders were off on horseback and via boat to carry the message. Oh, and they probably didn't yell, "The British are coming!" because they were also still technically British. Some historians speculate that they yelled, "The Redcoats" perhaps "Lobster Backs are coming!" 

But who knows for sure. Personally, I'm all for sticking with Longfellow. I like the flair of fiction.

Another place where a creative mind could have made a better story? During a bell restoration, someone wrote down the words engraved on each bell. 
The bells can't be seen during use. The cords hang down from the tower into an enclosed bell room. 
How exciting, right? Messages from the past shared forever on historic bells. 
Not wanting to slow the tour down, I snapped a picture of the bell inscriptions to read later. When I opened the picture on my laptop, there was no message. Not a single one. It's simply the names of the patrons who chipped in money for the bells.

Total bummer. Someone should have called Longfellow for an edit.

Before you go...
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28 comments:

  1. Like most history, not completely accurate, but it sounds better.

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    1. I suppose adjusting history to be more palatable and interesting is in our nature.

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  2. Longfellows description of the event makes you imagine being there and henceforth making it easier to remember the event. You get the gist. In short I’d say Longfellow was writing the first cliffsnotes of American history. Thank you Mr. Longfellow you made college way easier.

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    1. And rhymes are always easier to remember than the boring facts.

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  3. What a let down with the bells! A little note would have been fun or even a "was here" after the creator's name would have been exciting.

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    1. A 'was here" would have been the ultimate. I suppose life was more about surviving back then than having fun.

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  4. Longfellow was the first poet as a kid that I liked reading.

    There is always someone out there ready to mess with things.

    Teresa

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    1. Longfellow, Frost, and Poe. Those were the ones that I recall liking best as a kid. I still need a poem to rhyme to take it seriously. I suppose my early exposure to poetry left my with a "type".

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  5. The bells! The bells... What a lost opportunity...

    Oh, and by the way... looking at your caption, I never knew Paul Revere started off from the local Wikipedia office :) :)

    "Paul Revere's Ride
    From Wikipedia"

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    1. It's the hidden tidbits of history that always start with Wikipedia.

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  6. That stinks that there was nothing on the bells. History tends to embellish a bit.

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    1. I suppose when you buy a bell you want everybody to know your name (shameless Cheers/Boston spin).

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  7. I loved this post, Elizabeth. A refresher on some things I'd forgotten and new tidbits I didn't know. Thumbs up.

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    1. I had a mental list while touring the city of all the things I could write blog posts about, but of course, I've forgotten. That's why a person shoudl always carry a notebook!

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  8. I guess it's good to know the 'real history' ;) Does dull the shine a little bit though!

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  9. Goodness that Clara Houston is spamming your comments. I hope no one actually emails cause no telling what that will invite.

    I know history really is subjective and fact checking is, well, who knows sometimes.

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    1. That Clara Bot. I deleted her comments. No worry about people following spam links. :)

      Yes, history- even in its making- is subjective.

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  10. I'm with ya on the notebook. I have to keep reminding myself I can use my phone:)

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    1. I usually keep one in my purse but had taken it out to have more room for sunglasses.

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  11. So Longfellow took a little bit of poetic license in his poem, eh? Not surprising. I betcha a lot more people know about the story because of his poem than from a history class lecture. Might not be entirely accurate, but at least it encompasses the spirit of the matter. (And it's such a GOOD poem!)

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    1. As always, you ride in (get it, ride in?) with the perfect amount of wisdom. And I agree. It is a GOOD poem!

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  12. I think all history is probably a slightly embellished version of the truth. We're natural storytellers!

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  13. Happy Thanksgiving, Elizabeth. Hope it's wondrous.

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