Pillars of civilization

We unloaded the two busloads of Brookline fifth graders in front of the State House. Driving up Beacon Street, with all but the gold dome hidden by trees, I had not seen the huge Bruins banner hanging from the ballustrade and down over the portico.

Massachusetts State House, June 20, 2011 @10am

Our bundle of children, parents, and teachers stood on the sidewalk as the buses pulled away and left us. I leaned over to one of the other parents and murmured in her ear, “Ah, those twin pillars of civilization, politics and sports.”

Squinting, she nodded and agreed: “Especially in Massachusetts.”

This was the first stop on our Boston architecture tour. The teachers ran it like a quiz show with points for correct answers.

Teacher: Who was the architect of the State House?

Students: Charles Bulfinch

Teacher: Which English building did he imitate?

Students: Somerset House

Teacher: Who, in 1802, covered the wooden dome with copper?

Students: Paul Revere

Teacher: Why was the dome painted black during World War Two?

To this question, there were many responses, all guesses. One student answered poetically: “It was a dark time.”

Only the parent chaperones, all in their 40s, knew the answer to this one, having heard of the wartime practice of blackout. None of us, though, had ever lived it.

It was a bright, hot day at the end of the school year. Summer beckoned. The dome sparkled. Among the lucky, we feared nothing more than sunburn, lost lunch money, and a dawdling child. Our leisurely tour through Boston history — a stand-in for the American struggle for independence — began.

One thought on “Pillars of civilization

  1. I’m just glad one of the quiz questions wasn’t about the bells and the shotgun Paul Revere apparently carried on his famous ride, as recent “research” would have it.

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