Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Photo of the Day: Steeple of ‘Old North Church,’ Boston MA

Even without knowing it at first, I knew there was something important about this steeple when I saw it from a distance while I was in Boston 12 years ago this October.

Technically speaking, this is now the Episcopal Church’s Christ Church. But it is known to history as “Old North Church,” and if there’s a more famous steeple in American history or literature, I can’t think of one right now. I had to take this picture as soon as I became aware of it.

You know about it from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Paul Revere’s Ride,” with the memorable lines:

He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry-arch
Of the North-Church-tower, as a signal-light,–
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country-folk to be up and to arm.”

A plaque downstairs commemorates Revere and William Dawes, the other rider who alerted the countryside that, per the steeple signal, the British were marching to Lexington and Concord by sea across the Charles River and not by land.

The two men, unnamed in Longfellow’s poem, who actually climbed the steeple and held high the two lanterns were Old North Church’s sexton, Robert Newman, and vestryman, Capt. John Pulling, Jr.—men whose courage was all the more conspicuous because, as Patriots, they went against the prevailing Loyalist sentiment in the congregation.

Here I am, using the phrase “technically speaking” again—this was not the original steeple glimpsed by Revere. This is actually the third on this spot. The first, the one seen by Revere, was destroyed in the 1804 “Great Gale of Boston.” The second, built two years later, fell down into Hull Street in 1954 as a result of Hurricane Carol. (Luckily, the steeple was swaying so long that the neighborhood had enough time to be evacuated.)

The steeple you see now was rebuilt a year later, and made to look more like the one that Revere saw—only this time, with added steel reinforcements to safeguard against future storms. So far—God willing—it has held.

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