My Introduction to the East Coast and Boston’s History

Written by: Marjorie Anne Portillo

Moving Coast to Coast –

My first weeks here in Boston have been quite eventful. As a California native, it was such a big adjustment moving to the other side of the country for the summer. When I first arrived, I was in awe with just how much history there is to see in my surrounding environment. Being an intern for Boston National Historical Park, I have been residing in the Marine Barracks at the Charlestown Navy Yard and will be staying here for the duration of my internship. Now that is history enough in itself! The Marine Barracks here is considered the oldest Marine Barracks in the country. Although it is no longer active in housing Marines, it has been converted into administrative offices and housing for National Park Service staff. It’s pretty crazy living here knowing that there was so much history that occurred in this very building! And because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are only four of us residing here instead of the usual 17 that can be housed. Which means that there is so much space here for us to enjoy!

My home for the summer.

Boston National Historical Park –

Like I mentioned, I will be interning for the Boston National Historical Park as a Curatorial Assistant. My main project here will be assisting the Museum Technician with the annual inventory of Boston NHP’s collections but I spent my first couple of weeks here getting acquainted with the park’s different sites, its collections, and historical significance. Living in the Charlestown Navy Yard makes everything super convenient because everything is so close by! The USS Constitution and USS Cassin Young are basically right outside my door while the Boston Freedom Trail can be started just a short walk away! And for those who are not aware of the Charlestown Navy Yard and the Freedom Trail sites, here is a quick background: The Charlestown Navy Yard is known for its role in the construction, repair, and servicing of vessels of the United States Navy from the year 1800 until its closure in 1974. It is currently the home of two ships: The USS Constitution aka “The Old Ironsides”—a ship launched in 1797 and is considered the oldest commissioned warship in the world that is still afloat—and the USS Cassin Young—a WWII era Fletcher class destroyer that is open to board as a museum ship. (Fun fact: It is built to be quick and agile so its hull is thin.) The Boston Freedom Trail is a 2.5 mile long path throughout downtown Boston that passes through various locations of historical importance in the United States. Sites include the Bunker Hill Monument, the Boston Massacre Site, Old North Church, Paul the Revere House, Faneuil Hall, and many more!

On board the USS Cassin Young!

Coming from California and not necessarily being a history buff myself, everything here has been completely new to me. I was never all that into history when I was younger but seeing everything right in front of me just makes this experience so exhilarating. It is exactly why I love the idea of museums and historical sites: when you’re there in person, you get to take everything in much differently than when you are reading about things through a textbook or a scholarly article!

Bunker Hill Day 2021 –

In addition to getting acquainted with the different sites here in Boston, I also got to participate in an important event here in Boston: Bunker Hill Day! Last week on June 17, 2021 was the 246th anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill which was celebrated at the Bunker Hill Monument. This year was special because a few Bunker Hill guestbooks from the Civil War era were donated to the Bunker Hill Monument Association. These were books that visitors of the monument used to sign upon visiting the monument. Somehow these three guestbooks were separated from the rest of the collection and popped up in an auction. (The story of how they came to be missing is still unknown.) Thankfully, the gentleman that won the auction decided to donate it back into the rightful hands of the Bunker Hill Monument Association! The Bunker Hill Monument Association has then given it to Boston NHP on a loan to store in our collection storage facility. It was pretty cool to be present when the paperwork was completed and to witness the change of hands of these items. The coolest part? One of the books contained the signature of former First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln from when she visited the Bunker Hill Monument back in 1861! Keep in mind that this was just months after President Abraham Lincoln’s presidential inauguration! How awesome is that? We were in charge of displaying the guestbook during the ceremony and many people came up to see it in person!

Many gathered for Bunker Hill Day.

David, the Museum Curator (and my supervisor) preparing the display.

Mary Lincoln’s signature! (first line)

The past two weeks have been pretty awesome and very eye opening and I am excited to see what’s next to come! In my next post, I will talk more in depth about my main project: Annual Inventory!

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