The statue of Revere sits on Hanover Street in the North End of Boston.
Photo by C. Gavin
You know this tale or at the very least remember the poignant and exclaimed phrase “The British are coming!” from your fourth grade history class. Maybe you had read a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow about the fateful night that made a local Boston craftsman a Revolutionary hero years after America gained independence from Great Britain. Maybe you remember the saying, “One if by land. Two if by sea.” Either way, you probably know Paul Revere; the horse-riding silversmith who made the Old North Church a signal tower and himself a patriot.
In Boston though, history is not history. History is buildings; history is the Boston Common; history is not dead. With that said, it comes as no surprise that one can come to a city like this and not walk into a piece of the American Revolution.
For example, you can take a walk down the Freedom Trail and as you meander through the streets of Boston, you are walking past the graves of colonists, standing where the Boston Massacre took place and even standing upon the deck of the USS Constitution herself in Charlestown. As you make your way about, cars come flinging past as if suddenly reminding you that you’re standing in 2013, not 1776.
At one point in the middle of all that you may find yourself in the city’s “Little Italy,”-or as the locals simply call it-the North End.
Besides being home to pastries and pasta, the North End is also home to a statue of Paul Revere, where you can find it canopied by trees and surrounded by bricks (and most likely tourists with digital cameras) in a walled memorial park known as The Paul Revere Mall on Hanover Street.
The bronze-coated replica of Revere stands high above the heads of its admirers. His head his down. His left arm is out. His horse seems to be riding nobly onward as if it knew the importance of the man on its back.
Cyrus Edwin Dallin, the statue’s sculptor, came to Boston in 1880, to work as an apprentice to Truman H. Bartlett, the father of a respected sculptor named Paul Bartlett. In 1882 Dallin was able to open his own studio. Three years later, his model for a statue of Revere won in the competition for the figure’s design, which became arguably his most famous work.
Today the statue is not only a tourist attraction but also a symbol of Boston as well, gracing the front of post cards and even acting as a scene setter for movies that take place in the city, such as “Fever Pitch,” released in 2005.
Yet this emblem of Boston was not so easily set in stone. The commission that accepted Dallin’s model did not finalize the exact design until 1899.
The mall is where Webster Avenue, a small street that was home to tenement buildings, used to be in the mid-1920’s, Jeremy C. Fox said in a 2012 Boston.com article. The 17 buildings were abolished-kicking out 100 angry North End residents-to make way for a playground, the Elliot School and then the mall. Displaced residents often stole construction materials and fought back against the city with the law.
James Michael Curley, the Boston Mayor at the time and future Massachusetts governor and congressman, had originally thought of the idea of the public space.
According to Fox, Curley’s vision came from the City Beautiful Movement, which was popular in Boston in the early 1900’s. The project would also create construction jobs during the Great Depression while also helping Curley with his chances to gain the Italian-American vote in his US Senate election. By removing the slums, the mall would connect the Old North Church with St. Stephen’s Church.
Dallin’s work of art was finally installed four years before his death in 1940.
Revere made his famous ride on April 18, 1775. He rode through the countryside between Lexington and Concord warning colonists to arm themselves for the arrival of British soldiers. However, Revere never made it to Concord for he was caught by the British, released, and then sent back to Lexington without a horse.
The statue that sits behind the Old North Church as if Revere was going to gallop down Hanover is not only a symbol for America; for the birth of a nation, but also of a community. The Revere home is only a few blocks away in the North End where tourists and visitors can walk through the old green, wooded house in the footsteps of Paul himself.
Standing around the statue for a few minutes, one can see these tourists pose for a quick Kodak moment, stare up at the figure for a few seconds, and quickly continue on their way through the mall as the top of the Old North Church guides their footsteps and their attention. Maybe the true meaning of the statue is lost on them.But perhaps one could even say that the bronze figure engulfs a call to service for both
neighborhood and nation; to put ourselves forward for everyone else behind us; to ride forth into the
darkness with the idea of a brighter day ahead flourished with the promise for a better world for every
man, woman and child. Paul Revere rides for us.
"Cyrus Edwin Dallin." Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973. Biography In Context. Web. 14 Mar. 2013.
Fox, Jeremy C. "Friends of the Prado to Celebrate Paul Revere Statue on Sunday." Boston.com. Boston.com, 27 Apr. 2012. Web. 14 Mar. 2013.
"Paul Revere." Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936. Biography In Context. Web. 14 Mar. 2013.
"Paul Revere: A Brief Biography." The Paul Revere House. The Paul Revere Memorial Association, 2013. Web. 13 Mar. 2013.
"Paul Revere Heritage Project." Paul Revere Heritage Project. Boston University Graduate History Club, 2007. Web. 13 Mar. 2013.