The following posts are going to be a summary of the recent trip Susie and I took to Boston for our anniversary. I would have done this in real time, but the wireless connection in the hotel was kinda slow and more importantly, I was dog tired because in typical McKenna fashion, we squeezed every ounce of the city we were visiting into our allotted time. This is not meant to be an exact description of everything that we did, but rather a reflection on what struck me most during the day. Catch up on previous posts here: Boston Day 1: Faith, Boston Day 2: Rejection
Having just been in Boston about 6 weeks prior, there were not a great deal of things that I absolutely had to see. Except for one thing, the USS Constitution. I just was not able to squeeze it in to my initial visit and because it was not near anything else we wanted to see, Susie and I weren’t sure if we were going to be able to get there during this visit either.
But with the weather cooperating and some creative planning, we were able to make it happen. We woke up early and went down to the ferry that would take us over to Charlestown where the USS Constitution is docked. The sun was shining and the heat had abated, so it was an absolutely perfect day for a short boat trip across the harbor. And as we approached the dock, my excitement continued to build.
I cannot explain exactly why I was so excited to see the USS Constitution. In the end, it is just a really old boat. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that is part of its draw. It is the oldest commissioned ship in the world. More importantly, it is just old. This sounds like an insult, but it is meant to be an honor. This is a ship that was not just in one battle, but multiple battles in multiple wars and has survived mostly intact. This, despite the fact that it is a wooden ship, built in 1797.
For many years, enemy ships would launch countless cannonballs (and probably other projectiles) at it. Typically, one would expect that dense, hot iron hurtling at wood with breakneck speed would lead to utter destruction of the wood. And yet, the hull of the USS Constitution would consistently not just survive, but actually repel the projectiles like water rolling off a duck. (This is where the nickname, Old Ironsides, came from.) As we wandered on the ship and through the museum, I actually found myself getting a little teary eyed when I started reading about how in 1997, in celebration of the ship’s 200th birthday, this relic of a boat actually sailed in Boston Harbor under its own power!
The more I thought about it, the more I began to realize that much of what makes the story of the USS Constitution so great is that it is similar to the story of America. A simply constructed project that no one expected to be particularly special, goes out into the world under a myriad of conditions and not only survives, but thrives. A tough, scrappy vessel that takes the enemy’s best shot right on the chin and says “Is that the best you’ve got?” An underdog that believes in itself and never gives in.
To be able to retrace such historic steps and be on essentially the same ship that countless sailors had been on was certainly awe-inspiring.
Plus, being around the old fashioned (and sadly, replica) cannons, looking up at the complicated rigging and three towering masts,
kind of made me feel like a pirate. And we all know how much I love pirates. This fact is of course ironic, given that much of the USS Constitution’s early duty was protecting American merchant ships from the Barbary Corsairs (aka pirates) in the Mediterranean Sea.
Through most of my early schooling, I was very lucky in that none of my English teachers ever made me learn how to diagram a sentence and rarely did I ever have to memorize a poem, speech or a short story, with two patriotic (and random) exceptions. The first was Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclaimation speech. The other was Old Ironsides, the 19th Century poem written by Oliver Wendell Holmes, which is largely credited with saving the USS Constitution from the scrap heap. Fortunately, Oliver’s recitation of his poem was better than mine, for I botched mine epically. But it seems fitting to conclude the post with his poem (and sadly, none of the poem was transcribed by me into this post from memory.)
Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky;
Beneath it rung the battle shout,
And burst the cannon’s roar;–
The meteor of the ocean air
Shall sweep the clouds no more.
Her deck, once red with heroes’ blood,
Where knelt the vanquished foe,
When winds were hurrying o’er the flood,
And waves were white below,
No more shall feel the victor’s tread,
Or know the conquered knee;–
The harpies of the shore shall pluck
The eagle of the sea!
Oh, better that her shattered hulk
Should sink beneath the wave;
Her thunders shook the mighty deep,
And there should be her grave;
Nail to the mast her holy flag,
Set every threadbare sail,
And give her to the god of storms,
The lightning and the gale!