The Commonwealth Mall

A few weeks ago, I ended up somewhat accidentally walking down the Commonwealth Mall. While I’d crossed or walked down short segments of it in the past, I’d never gone from one end to the other. That day, I realized what a treasure I had been neglecting.

Yesterday, I reprised the walk, camera in tow and a little more time on my hands. (view photo set)

The Mall is the link between the Public Garden and Frederick Law Olmsted’s “Emerald Necklace,” weaving a tapestry of of greenery through the heart of the city. On a day like yesterday, with the trees sporting spring’s first green and the weather bright and seasonable, it truly felt magical. Removed from the commercial hubbub of Boylston and Newbury Streets, lined by elegant brownstones and stately apartment buildings, and just a couple blocks removed from the shores of the Charles that once overtook this very space, the Commonwealth Mall is a special place.

While arboreal splendor is a highlight of a stroll down the Mall, the real treasures are the various statues and memorials the inhabit the space. From a regal depiction of prominent abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison (complete with an affirming quote) to a memorial for trailblazing Boston women such as Abigail Adams, Phillis Wheatley and Lucy Stone, the Mall offers a history lesson and a museum visit all in one. There are also statues for legends whose name you may not find in your history textbook, like naval historian Samuel Eliot Morison, whose monument carries the inscription, “Dream dreams, then write them, aye, but live them first.” One of the more striking memorials is to the nine firefighters who lost their lives in the 1972 fire at the Hotel Vendome. My favorites, though, were the ones for ordinary people, like the homeless man who was devoted to the neighborhood’s dogs, or Thomas Walker, whose plaque underneath a young tree simply reads, “Special.” Beneath the boughs of trees flush with the renewal of spring, these lives and moments intermingle for posterity.

I took note of the two statues that bookend the Mall: George Washington at the western edge of the Public Garden, and Leif Erikson where the Mall begins its transition to the Fens. On both ends, you have discovery — discovery of a land, and discovery of a country, or what a country could one day be. I like to think that in the space between those two figures, with all the lives immortalized in stone and bronze therein, that sense of discovery lives on in the history we learn and re-learn, in a city that knows that remembering the past gets you halfway toward forging the future.


One response to “The Commonwealth Mall

  1. Cool walk! There’s a story behind the Eriksson statue. Eben Horsford, a Harvard professor (and the inventor of baking powder!) became convinced the Vikings had sailed up the Charles (“Norumbega,” out in Newton, he claimed, was an Indian corruption of “Norway”). He had the statue put at the spot where the Vikings supposedly landed in the New World (back then, rich Harvard professors could dictate where statues go, natch).

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