Modern History: Revolution and Innovation Intersect at The Boston Tea Party Museum
History in the Harbor
The phrase “Tea Party” has come to have such a different connotation in recent years that it’s easy to forget it was a real event that happened right here in Downtown Boston. Fortunately, the new Boston Tea Party Museum has developed a fantastic set of experiences to bring the original event back to life.
The short walk from South Station on a crisp, late fall day takes me to the site of the historic revolt, where I find the perfect setup for a reenactment. The weather and the location are the same as they were for the event in 1773, so when I am greeted by costumed reenactors, it is not hard to imagine that I have stepped back in time.
The museum’s multisensory version of the Tea Party story reminds me that one of the most significant moments in American history happened right here, and it lets me feel as if I am standing in the shoes of the people who lived it.
The live actors, replicas, artifacts, holography, and audio and video commentary combine to create an environment that is as much theme park as it is museum, and that’s great if you have kids you’d like to teach some history to without their catching on. This approach also works well for adults. You may find the smart, cheeky humor of the museum’s interpreters refreshing.
Museum tours include a rousing, participatory simulation of the town hall meeting that took place on the eve of the famous revolt. Visitors are given “identities” and “disguises” and are called on to speak the lines of particular Sons of Liberty. Unlike any other cultural institution that I’ve ever been to, this one encourages loud hooting, booing, and stomping. My character, Thomas Porter, was very grumbly about taxes he’d paid on the cards and dice he needed for gambling. Others were called out later in the tour to represent some of the lesser-known, but definitely colorful characters who participated in the decision to defy the British Parliament that night.
The tour includes a visit to one of two reproductions of cargo ships that carried the ill-fated tea across the Atlantic that December. These are detail-rich explorations of the space, with eerie wax replicas of sleeping crew members, realistic-looking rats, boxes of tea available for throwing overboard, and stories galore. Did you know that colonists and sailors alike were drinking liquor day in and day out, more or less from birth? I didn’t. It was because of the lack of potable water.
The multimedia dimensions of the tour are perfectly integrated into the experience by the tour’s leader, and they are a delightful surprise each time.
Celebrating the Big 240
The new Boston Tea Party Museum has been operating daily, and garnering accolades, since mid-2012. December 16, 2013, marks the 240th anniversary of the historic revolt, so if I’ve sparked your curiosity here, there’s no better day to come try your hand at tea tossing.
This time, the participatory reenactment will begin at downtown Boston’s historic Old South Meeting House, where Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, and other patriots speak resounding words in a debate with Loyalists in an effort to break the gridlock about tea taxation with a midnight deadline. When the debate turns rowdy, colonial reenactors will lead a fife-and-drum march to the waterfront along the route taken by the Sons of Liberty in 1773. Then, you guessed it—tea throwing! A large crowd will gather to watch and cheer as chest after chest of tea is dumped into Boston Harbor from the museum’s Brig Beaver, exactly as it was on that date 240 years ago.
Get deep into the spirit of this place you call home and let the Boston Tea Party Museum make this key event that lead up to the American Revolution come alive.