Boston Common

Boston Common 1634 Sign

Boston Common at Twilight Childe Hassam
Childe Hassam, Boston Common at Twilight, 1885-1886, at the MFA.  Note how Hassam, from Dorchester, contrasts the urban bustle of the trolleys and traffic on Tremont Street with the quiet calm of the girls feeding the birds and the serene snowy landscape.

Boston Common is the oldest public urban park in the country–set aside in 1634.  Though it was not set aside to be a “park,” but was a common grazing area and militia training ground.  The Boston City Archaeologist has found one of the oldest artifacts ever discovered in North America here–an arrow point 1000 years old. This parcel has seen a lot of history!  And it is open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with a Frog Pond for wading in the summer, skating in the winter, baseball fields and tennis courts, a bandstand, free Shakespeare on the Common in the summer, food trucks and the Earl of Sandwich.

The Soldiers and Sailors Monument is dedicated to the Bostonians who served in the Civil War.  Martin Milmore’s sculpture was dedicated in 1877, just twelve years after the war ended, on the Common’s tallest point, Flagstaff Hill.

boston common 1886
Memorial Day, 1886.  Veterans from Massachusetts and New York gather on Boston Common.

The Monument had extensive restoration work done in 2014, and now it shines, with the figures of a soldier and sailor, the figure of Peace, and Clio, the Muse of History facing North, South, East, and West.

A Sailor.

And the Monument features 4 small reliefs, showing the soldiers marching off to war, the soldiers returning from war, and the US Sanitary Commission, led by Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, and the action of sailors in the war.

US Sanitary Commission.   President Lincoln wanted to reduce the death rate from disease;  he enlisted Samuel Gridley Howe to lead the Sanitary Commission, shown here tending the wounded.  As her husband began to form the commission, Julia Ward Howe was inspired to write “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”


The Central Burying Ground on the Common is where you will find the graves of portrait artist Gilbert Stuart, who painted Washington and other notables, and William Billings, the first real American composer–a Boston tanner and choirmaster who wrote “Chester” the anthem of the Continental army.  Also buried here–Chow Manderein, a 19-year old sailor from China who fell from a ship mast and died in Boston Harbor.  The ship master placed this stone on his grave. chow manderien

And did you know that Football was played on Boston Common?football monument

Make sure to see the Oneida Club monument, put up in the 1920s to Boston’s only undefeated team–not only did they never lose when they played here in the 1860s, no team ever scored against them!  Gerritt Smith Miller was the team captain, and players included Robert Apthorp Boit, Winthrop Saltonstall Scudder, and Huntington Frothingham Walcott.

Dedication of the Monument in 1925.  They still look like a formidable line.

Pay a visit to Historic New England, at the Harrison Gray Otis House at 141 Cambridge Street, to see the original football!

The Football, at Historic New England.

Recently a new Oneida Club has been formed, playing rugby in homage to this earlier team.

The Parkman Plaza, in front of the Visitor Center, features three statues–of Learning, Religion, and Industry. Adio di Biccari, a sculptor, and his brother-in-law, woodcarver and architect Arcangelo Cascieri, made these sculptures in the early 1960s, to represent three crucial parts of Massachusetts’s culture.

Parkman Plaza Group, Cascieri & Biccari  (2)Parkman Plaza Group, Cascieri & Biccari  (13)Parkman Plaza Group, Cascieri & Biccari  (9)

What was the largest gathering on the Common?  October 1979, Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass.

An historic papal visit … in 1979
Pope John Paul II distributes Communion during his Mass on Boston Common in 1979.Pilot photo/ Courtesy Archdiocesan Archive

Commemoration of Pope John Paul II Mass in USA October 1 1979 Boston Common


And in 1965 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a march to Boston Common, and spoke from the Parkman Bandstand.


boston common dr king
Martin Luther King., Jr., on Boston Common, April 1965.

There is much more to see–and do–on Boston Common, but I should leave you somethings to find out on your own.  But if you learn nothing else from this–it is Common.  No “s” on the end!

By the way–did you know that the most famous writer born in Boston actually hated the city and mocked it because of the Frogpond?  That’s right–Edgar Allan Poe was born just off the Common in 1809, and never forgave the city.

Stefanie Rocknack’s Poe Returning to Boston, unveiled 2014.