John F. Kennedy for President

My final day: Boston. I tried to sleep in as long as I could and enjoy the privacy and quiet of my hostel until check-out at 11 a.m. I wouldn't be catching my flight until 9:10 p.m. so I had a long day ahead of me. I packed my things up, put them in the storage room at the hostel, and set off for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. It was one of those things I decided to do once arriving in Boston and I'm  glad I did. It was a bit of a journey, but well worth the trip. 

This is when my historical journey fast forwards to the 1960s. I have always loved the Kennedy family and the 60s is a decade that I am often obsessed with. Seeing the museum that is dedicated to the short lived presidency of JFK,was extremely intriguing to me. Typically, I go through museums at a pretty quick speed, but not this one. I stopped to watch nearly every video playing and read every bit of information. It filled me with pride and admiration of President Kennedy. I especially enjoyed the Office of the Attorney General exhibit, because it was for Bobby. I love JFK, but at times I love RFK more. I, like many Americans, love to wonder what may have happened in our nation's history if Bobby would have been able to run for president in 1968.
The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is a small journey from downtown Boston, but can be serviced by public transportation. In it, you will go through a short journey in time as JFK campaigned for president, won the election, and served in the White House. The museum sits 1.5 miles from the nearest subway stop and when arriving there I walked that distance to the museum. Later I found out I could have taken a free shuttle, oh well, I did it on the way back.

This blog is not typically very political, but in light of the recent Republican National Convention followed by the Democratic National Convention I want to make one or two comments. I think it's fitting within this post, which looks at a  time that is being mimicked by our current state of international and domestic affairs. Also a president who's energy and sentiment is being channeled by our current democratic leadership.

What is clear to see is that the recent RNC was filled with high amounts of hate, fear, cynicism, and individualism. While the DNC seemed to be a place full of love, hope, and togetherness. Sitting here, just a few shorts weeks before I plan to leave the country for a year or two, my American pride is reinvigorated. I've not been more hopeful about this country for many years. Despite all the hateful acts going on here, and dealing with that embarrassment, the DNC has made me more hopeful than ever. I will be casting my vote for president this year, though from afar, but I can't miss this opportunity to make my mark on this historic election.

Democracy is not a spectator sport. I know many people do not want to engage in political conversation because it happens to be a topic that is very polarized in the United States. Somebody always has to walk away mad. I find this unfortunate, because a democracy is for the people, by the people. It should not be a taboo subject or something you are afraid to bring up. It is our lives. The fact that we have the right to vote for our leadership is a privilege, especially for minorities and women, who have not always been so fortunate. Furthermore, it is a duty. Informed voting is what is most important of all. I do not care what your political views are, I do not care if we disagree, I only care that you have taken the time to research issues and candidates on reputable sources so you are making choices based on facts and unbiased opinions. Be cognizant of what information you are taking in, question things, and never be a slave to media sensationalism. I know politics can be frustrating with the banter, mudslinging, and gridlock. However, lets be thankful that we live in a country where issues can be argued over, scrutinized, and we don't have to accept what we don't agree with without putting up a fight.

Your politicians are working for you. Take time to remind them of that. Write letters, contact them, and realize that at the state and local level is where most of the decisions are being made that will effect your life.

Visit Project Vote Smart online to find a wealth of information on most all elected officials. Hundreds of dedicated individuals put in countless hours gathering information about their political stances, views on issues, and voting records. Also find addresses to write them letters and tell them exactly what you want from them.

If you don't know who represents you in congress, look them up here.

Travel details
What: The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
Where: Columbia Point, Boston, MA
Cost: $14 for an adult
Why go: If you enjoy learning about the early 1960s and John F. Kennedy.

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Freedom on Independence

It's was now day five in Boston and my day trip goals had ended. At this point exhaustion was beginning to hit me as I was walking most of my days in mid-80s sunny weather. I tried my best to stay as hydrated as possible. At times I struggled with this because I knew my options for finding a public restroom would be limited and I hate walking around with a full bladder. True to my frugal spirit, I likely wasn't taking in the amount of calories that I should have for the amount of traveling I was doing. I wanted to spend less that $20 per day on food so this meant at times I often skipped dinner hoping a large lunch would sustain me. On day five it was Independence Day in Boston and I was eager to hit the Freedom Trail. 

The Boston Freedom Trail is a 2.5 mile long path winding through downtown Boston and into neighboring Charlestown marked by either a brick line or a red painted line depending where you are. It leads walkers past 16 locations significant to history of the United States. Good thing about this path was I couldn't get lost! Or could I? The path got confusing just in one or two spots but for the most part I found assurance in following the red brick road. Since there are 16 stops, I'll let you research it for yourself by checking out the Freedom Trail website. For now I'll tell you a bit about my own personal experience in a couple of spots.

The first stop  that I really loved was the Granary Burying Ground. Some 5,000 Bostonians have made this their final resting place since 1660, but a few notable residents are Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and family members of Benjamin Franklin. Since it was 4th of July, Boston began filling up quickly. I had overheard that the mayor would be stopping by this place after some time, but I got out and continued down the trail, anxious to see what laid head.

As I came upon what would be my 8th stop I noticed hundreds of people were gathering. I stopped and asked someone standing around and I was informed that there would be an annual reading of the Declaration of Independence from this stop which was the Old State House.

Though I understood being a part of this would be cool, I was really on a mission and frankly impatient. I began trying to traverse my way through the tight crowd. When I got nearly all the way out I realized there were barricades protecting the crowd from traffic. It became clear I wouldn't be able to get out, so of course I embraced it and tried to get the best view possible. Due to my short stature, this was no easy task. 

After the reading there was a small parade, none of which I could experience with my eyes. Confetti was shot off and since I was down wind I was showers in little red, white, and blue bits of paper. 

As I continued on I was nearing the edge of downtown Boston. The trail crosses the Charles River and concludes in the nearby Charlestown (the oldest neighborhood of Boston) with the Bunker Hill Monument and the USS Constitution. By the time I got to Bunker Hill I was hot, dehydrated, and in need of a restroom. When I saw the accompanying museum with restrooms I was happy and finally was able to rest by weary feet while sitting on the side of the hill. It became known to me that the public could in fact climb to the top of the monument, a decision that I weighed out over my rest period. I knew I could do it physically and thought it would be another thing to do to fill time. When I took my first step I didn't know how many were ahead of me. Instead I was given this information a third of the way up by someone descending in the compact two-way traffic. There were 294 winding stairs. 

After decending I made my way to the only subway station in Charlestown to journey back to Boston, where I wanted to attempt eating lunch at Union Oyster House, America's oldest continuously operated restaurant.  It was during lunch time and it was a holiday so I figured I may experience an extremely long wait at this landmark. Much to my surprise the restaurant was much larger than it appeared from the street and I walked right up to the bar to sit down. I was sitting next to another single gentleman and the bartender had the idea we were together. The two of us joked about that and I told him he was more than welcome to pay for me! He didn't bite. I had a cup of clam chowder, a salad, and a Sam Adams Colonial Ale, a beer made especially for this establishment.

I was pretty tired by this point and slightly tipsy from the one beer but I wanted to check out Quincy Market for its street performers, so I did that for a bit. I was beginning to feel claustrophobic around the large crowds so I walked to Boston Commons, the large public park, and knew some rest under a shady tree was just what I needed. When I finally chose the tree I wanted I looked to my right and of all the trees in Boston, there were sitting two of my German hostel room mates. We quickly acknowledged  this chance encounter and got to talking about everything from Brexit, to their careers, and the fireworks that would take place later that night. We agreed to go together which made me happy to not have to navigate Boston streets alone at night. My day ended with a bang, literally. Many heart shaking ones as we watched the fireworks display after the Boston Pops concert. We had an incredible view that was just 10 minutes from our hostel on the Charles River. 

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Lizzie Borden Took an Axe

Holy axe! Ever since my 7th grade math teacher so interestingly told our class how Lizzie Borden took an axe I've been intrigued by this story. For as long as I have wanted to go to Boston, I've wanted to go to her home in Fall River, just an hour south.

My journey began at Boston South Station with a bus ticket toward Fall River. Round trip cost me $49 on Peter Pan and I would only be spending three hours there before returning. I was a bit discouraged at how steep this was, but it was worth it for me. It took just over one hour to arrive in Fall River at the Louis Pettine Transportation Center. Fall River was larger than I though but fortunately my ultimate destination was just around the block from this bus station. When arriving at the house I bought my $18 ticket for a 45-minute full tour. A bit steep again, but I knew what I was in for long ahead of time. The Lizzie Borden House is a working bed and breakfast, but guests may not be in between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. to allow for public tours of all rooms. This is one piece of history that I knew a ton about. I enjoyed listening to the narration the guide gave of the Bordens' life and the murders of Andrew and Abby Borden. We got a play by play of the crime, just as if we were watching a documentary, but were really there. We sat on the furniture, which surprised me, but quickly I learned nothing of the current contents every belonged to the Bordens. Everything had been recreated from pictures using authentic period pieces. This is because after Lizzie and her sister Emma moved from the house, their belongings went temporarily into storage. All of their belongings were destroyed in storage by either fire or flood. 

Maybe one of my favorite moments was walking up the staircase and getting the view under the bed of the guest room of where the murdered Abby Borden lay.
After hitting the gift shop, and buying my mom earring with axes on them, I took the written directions to Oak Grove Cemetery, the Bordens' final resting place. The tour guide, Debbie, said it was just five minutes away-but as I walked, looking at my Google map I realized she had left out the "by car" part. It was a two mile walk. I began to get nervous because I had to catch the last bus back to Boston and had 1.5 hours left. I was hot (85 degree sun), hungry (only ate a Clif Bar), and thirsty (drank all my water), but I kept on trucking toward that cemetery. 

When I reached the cemetery I followed the white arrows leading to their grave, just as I was told. In no time I found the plot, took some pictures, then headed back in the direction of the bus station. I had 40 minutes to spare so I needed to grab some quick food. I did, and in the nick of time hopped back on the cushy bus to Boston.
If you don't know what I am talking about, and you want to know, you can read about Lizzie Borden's life here.

Travel details
What: The Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast
Where: 230 Second Street Fall River, Mass.
Cost: $18 for a hour tour, between $200-$250 for an overnight stay
Why go: If you find yourself being intrigued by the Lizzie Borden case.

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Plymouth: Rocking with the Pilgrims

In the past couple of months I have found myself submerged in American Civil War history. I knew journeying to Boston would take be back much farther in history, to the American Revolution. I had heard about a large living history museum from an Ella Sharp Museum staff member, that went back even farther, to the time of the Puritans landing at Plymouth Rock. I became very focused on going there. 

My day began with a walk to South Station where I got a bus to Plymouth, Mass. for $27 round trip. This bus was much nicer that the one I took to Salem, I was thankful for that. Buses on several lines left this busy terminal frequently so I only waited 10 minutes to depart after purchasing my ticket. The ride took a little bit longer that usual due to the holiday traffic, bound for Cape Cod. I wasn't going to make it there this trip, but many of my fellow bus riders were headed there themselves. I got dropped off in Plymouth at the exit 5 Park and Ride, and I wasn't exactly sure how I would be getting to my final destination. Luckily for me, another couple and their young son were dropped of as well and heading in my direction. I drafted off their kindness and navigation skills. We ended up taking a small bus to downtown Plymouth for just $1. Instead of getting off in downtown Plymouth, I remained on the bus as the friendly driver said Plimouth Plantation was a stop he would eventually make. After a lengthy stop and go ride, my whole reason for coming to Plymouth finally was upon me. I paid my $28 entry fee for Plimouth Plantation only, apposed to $36 to visit two other sites they manage. I knew I wouldn't have enough time to see them all. 

I'll address why I am spelling the word Plymouth in two different ways. When researching the lives of some of American's first European settlers, the town of Plymouth was most commonly spelled Plimouth, so founders of the museum decided to spell it the way of its original inhabitants. 

My journey began at the Wampanoag tribe village. It was a tiny village depicting life of the people who had inhabited this area for 12,000 years. Inside the few structures built were true native people who interpret the time period in first person. That means, that they speak as if they were people living in this time. This way, people can experience history in a three dimensional  kind of way. They know a ton about their topic and they aren't supposed to know anything past 1627. Their lifestyle seemed very beautiful. Their structures were built with wood and bark. I saw an amazing canoe that was nothing more than a hollowed out tree trunk. They wore beautiful clothing adorned with beads.

After leaving the Wampanoag, I traveled to the 1627 English Village. This is a settlement of some of the original passengers of the Mayflower voyage of 1620. It was fun interacting with the characters who speak in English accents and formal ways grammar which we have deviated from today. Each of them has a back story of people who lived this life. At first I struggled trying to think of questions to ask them. Though I was a bit out of my element as far as knowing historical knowledge to ask educated questions, I could tell there were some other visitors around me who knew their stuff. However, then I realized I didn't have to talk to them about historical events, names or dates in time. I could just talk to them like regular people and find out what their lives were really like.

I began talking to a young woman and asked her what the most difficult part about living in the new world was. She said she was missing the conveniences of their home in England like having a baker, a mill, and a laundry nearby. How, they have to do all these chores for themselves. The homes they live in now are very basic with dirt floors and stick roofs. She told me her home in England was nicer, with wood floors and a more comfortable bed. I asked her why she wanted to come to the new world and she replied that she didn't have a choice. Her step-father brought her with him because he was working for the settlement company. Another pull was because there were far  more women than men in England at the time, which meant that marrying off his step-daughter in England would be a tough task. There were far more prospects for marriage in the new settlement. 

I spent some time watching men having a shooting drill. From what I could observe, they had to pour gun powder down the barrel of the gun, pack it down, light it with the long fuse (a rope lit at the end), and fire one shot. All of this just to shoot one time. I know that by the American Civil War (over 230 years later) firearms were not a whole lot more advanced than that. These contraptions were very primitive to us now, but to the native people they became a demise. After their drill I spent some time doing some writing and taking in the sites. I even had a chicken friend come visit me who happened to be roaming around the village.

There was a lot more to do in Plymouth in addition to visiting Plimouth Plantation. You can see Plymouth Rock, the  Mayflower II, and take in downtown Plymouth. After I was through at the plantation I began making my way back to my bus to Boston. I was concerned I may miss the last ride out that day, so I played it safe. When I arrive back in Boston I collapsed on my bed for about an hour. I was compelled to explore a nearby Park, Back Bay Ferns, so I ended up jogging around it and ended with some yoga in the grass. It felt really nice after a long day. Though I took my phone to navigate, I still got lost in the park. I can get lost inside of a paper bag and you may insert any other get lost easily cliche phrases.  I was near Fenway Park and close enough to hear the roar of the Boston Red Sox play the Los Angeles Angels.

Travel details:
What: Plimouth Plantation
Where: 137 Warren Ave, Plymouth, MA
Cost: $28-$36 for an adult depending on how many locations you want to see
Why go: To experience first hand what life was like for settlers and native people in 1627.

What: Plymouth, Mass.
Cost: It cost me  $27 round trip on the Plymouth-Brockton bus line
Why go: If you want to see landmarks that showcase some of the first European settlers in this country.

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Life List #54: Visit Salem, Mass

Suffice to say, this day was the true inspiration for this entire trip. 

A dump truck woke me up to a busy Boston morning, in my otherwise quiet hostel. I was easily able to lie there in a sleep-rest mix until seven when I got up and began my day. I did a little yoga to loosen up, packed a day bag, and ate some free toast and tea for breakfast. I followed my directions to the station where I would catch a public bus bound on a tedious journey to Salem, Mass, just 17 miles north of Boston. There are many nicer and faster ways to Salem, but at $4.20, this was the frugal journey. I studied my visitors guide like a text book, long before and while I was on the journey. It was full of notes, stars and dogears for where I would be spending my time. Though I had my day mapped out, I started at the National Park Service run visitor's center, to see if I could get any insider suggestions or tips. I told the man that I wanted to have fun but not spend a fortune. Salem has nearly uncountable museums and attractions dedicated to their witchy history and I knew I only wanted to afford entry to a couple of them.  I was told all admissions ranged from $9-$13 so two was plenty. I also had several free experiences marked on my map. Though I only experienced two paid attractions, I think I choose well. This is where I went:

The Witch Dungeon Museum $9, hour long experience
This began with a 15 minute live performance adapted from 1692 transcripts of a witch trial in Salem. It was a great learning experience to learn more in depth about the witch trials in a hands-on way. There were two character actresses and a narrator, all in period costume, who set the scene of 1692 Salem. I learned more information that I ever knew. Our tour group was then led downstairs to a recreated version of a dungeon that used to stand close to the museum's building. This dungeon held men and women accused of witchcraft while a trial could be arranged. Due to my love of the creepy, this was one of my favorite sites in Salem, as well as some of my favorite moments on the trip. We were first shown "luxury" cells which housed prisoners who's families could afford room and board. There were several mannequins in what looked to be the size of a small college dorm room. As you might be able to tell, the mannequins looked miserable, though they were the lucky ones. They got the most access to food, a straw bed, and even a chamber pot to relieve themselves in. The medium sized cell was about enough space for one person to stand with outstretched arms. The small cell, for the poorest of the poor, was a column like space with enough room for a person to stand upright and maybe turn in a circle. We learned that a cell this size was once home to a woman and her 4-year-old daughter. It was most interesting to hear the reasons of the starting and continuation of the witch trials. 
The majority of the trials took place in 1692, when 19 people were put to death by hanging by their own government due to speculation of witchcraft. The moral climate among the fairly recent Puritan settlers  was one of purity and devotion to religion. Fear circulated easily as these vulnerable people could easily be succumb to death by starvation, exposure, and Native American backlash. The hysteria kicked off with some young girls, who began to act strangely, blaming their behavior on being possessed by the devil. The girls would accuse several women, often the most vulnerable in the society, of bringing the devil onto them. 

As the girls followed the leader, the entire community was on the lookout for strange behavior which deviated from Puritan values, that could only be blamed on the devil. Women especially were targeted due to their increased independence in the growing colonies, which fell out of line with what it meant to be a good law abiding Christian. With little control over nature's challenges and armed with only archaic medical knowledge, these people had no other information to explain what was going on. In the interest of making the colony safer, they tried and executed people that were a threat.  From my time at Witch Dungeon Museum, I also learned that it could be common practice to accuse a person of witchcraft or wizardry, to make claim to their land. If a person confessed they were no longer able to hold land, if they did not they were in danger of execution. Colonial government was similar to the Wild West, though eventually the people of Salem got the newly appointed governor of Massachusetts involved to stop what was clearly becoming unrealistic persecution.

To learn even more about the Salem Witch Trials check out this info from the History Channel. 
The House of Seven Gables, $13, 60-90 minute experience
It was the picture of this attraction that sold me in the first place. Though I wasn't 100% sure what to expect, I was in for an interesting learning experience. This colonial mansion was built in 1668, has experienced lots of changes, and now stands as a museum commemorating the inspiration of Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel of the same name. I have always respected this great American author, but was not aware he called Salem home, until arriving there myself. Hawthorne published the book in 1851 after being inspired by this home, which belonged to his second cousin, Susanna Ingersoll, of a prominent Salem family. The house had a few secret passage ways, including a tight, hidden stairway which the nimble among us actually got to climb! Entry to the House of Seven Gables also included entry to Hawthorne's childhood home which was moved to the site to prevent it from being torn down to make way for a parking lot. 
Salem is, unbelievably walk able, and I often found myself passing locations because I underestimated how close everything was. Free things I enjoyed were the Witch Trials Memorial, Old Burying Point Cemetery, Friendship of Salem,  and Common's House. I spend some time eating lunch and relaxing in the park, Salem Commons, one of the numerous shooting locations of the movie Hocus Pocus.

For any lover of U.S. Colonial history or the macabre, a visit to Salem is a necessary evil. I enjoyed lots of people watching and window shopping in addition to my learning. Here are just a couple of tips I have to enjoy Salem.
1. Request the Salem visitors guide by visiting their website. You can plan out your stops even before you get there.
2. Know what's important for you to experience. There are many similar experiences to be had so unless you want to spend load of cash on admission, pick and choose from the lengthy list. Salem is for witch lovers, literary fanatics, and colonial history buffs.
3. Salem is real people living among history. Part of the reason that I wanted to visit this area is to experience centuries old buildings. Though it's full of tourists, people live their entire lives here. Historical buildings and sights are just a part of their daily life.

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