BOSTON — It’s not every day that you get to charge down a ramp hollering, “Dump the tea into the sea!” and hurl a bale of tea into Boston Harbor.
But here we are doing just that at the city’s newest attraction, the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, recreating the Dec. 16, 1773 event that led to the American Revolution.
Well, sort of recreating it. At the original Boston Tea Party, rebellious Americans chopped open chests full of tea and poured the leaves into the harbor, creating one heck of a mess. Boston wouldn’t much like our doing that. So, we tourist patriots merely toss overboard square packages with strings attached, so that they can be hauled back in.
It’s the spirit of the thing, you see. Actual civil disobedience is not required.
This museum is not a static, look-at-stuff-on-the-wall museum. It’s a little more than an hour of interactive learning in which we’re constantly moving around indoors and out (although there are places to sit almost everywhere, and my feet greatly appreciate that).
We begin sitting indoors on church pews. A young woman dressed as a colonial patriot exhorts us to get into the act, responding to speeches with “Hear, hear!” or “Well said!” or, best of all, “Huzzah!” when we like something and “Booo!” or “Fie!” (complete with fingers waggling next to nose) when we don’t.
Samuel Adams then takes the podium, explaining why colonists are riled. He decries the British act of unilaterally laying down a tax on tea in America — this, after already taxing newspapers. (Taxing newspapers? Fie!) We learn that some colonial women are refusing to drink tea as their way of opposing the tax. (Hear, hear!) An East India Company ship full of tea just came in, he says, and must not be allowed to unload. (Huzzah!) He revs us up to go dump some tea in the harbor, warning us we are technically committing treason and the king might be mad.
Off we charge down the gangway to the ship, hollering, “Dump the tea into the sea!” Oh, but first we are each given a feather. This, we’re told, is to disguise us as Indians so they’ll get blamed. I stick my feather in my hair. (The original tea partiers also painted their faces. Happily, we weren’t asked to do that.) We’ve also been given identity cards, each bearing the name of a colonial patriot who participated in the actual tea party.
As our unruly mob (Huzzah!) boards the ship, a patriot on board compliments our clever disguises and proceeds to whip us into a froth for tea-dumping. Then it’s time to throw the rope-attached packages into the sea. Whee! I mean, Huzzah!
This ship we’re aboard, by the way, is an entirely seaworthy vessel, one of two ships that authentically replicate those original 18th century tea ships. We are taken into the hold to learn more about shipping in that day and how the crew aboard lived. At this point, my husband, who’s following me in the line of tourist-patriots, complains that my feather is tickling him, so I undisguise myself.
We disembark and spend some time hearing from the aforementioned colonial woman about what became of some of the tea partiers. (One, for example, made the mistake of hanging on to some of the tea as a keepsake — something that could have gotten him strung up. But it didn’t, so, huzzah!)
We’re led into a small theater where we watch two holographic women discuss what happened at the tea party — one from a patriot’s perspective, one from a Tory’s view. Then, into the inner sanctum of the museum we go to see the Robinson Half Chest, one of two tea chests that are still around from that day in 1773. Standing on its corner on a revolving pedestal within a glass case, it was, we’re told, found in the sand near the harbor after the tea party by one John Robinson and preserved by his family’s generations.
On a nearby wall, portraits of Sam Adams and King George III come to life and debate about what happened after the tea party: Britain cracked down on Boston, closing its port, taking away its self-governance, installing soldiers willy-nilly in private homes and essentially shutting the city down. Fie, right?
Finally, we watch a short film called “Let It Begin Here” — a really nicely made one, actually — about the beginnings of the American Revolution. It’s a stirring, noisy, occasionally graphic film (bullet wounds are shown; parents may want to have little kids skip this part), and during it, our seats shake — unnecessarily, in my view, but I’m not really into the 4-D thing. Still, it’s a well-produced and acted piece, and when it ends with the singing of “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” the effect is moving rather than corny.
That ends the tour, and we’re left to graze in the gift shops (three-cornered hats, “Don’t Tread on Me” T-shirts and more) and have a spot of tea in Abigail’s Tea Room ($2 to taste five teas). The whole thing’s both fun and educational — and just about a 10-minute walk from Faneuil Hall and Boston’s Freedom Trail of historic sites, where I suggest you head either before or after.
Boston Tea Party and Museum
The hourlong interactive tour runs every 15 minutes all year long on the west side of Boston’s Congress Street Bridge. You’ll save money by buying your tickets at bostonteapartyship.com, where they’re $22.50 for adults, $13.50 for children 4 to 12 and $19.80 for seniors and students (including tax).
On Dec. 16, the museum will stage a re-enactment of the Boston Tea Party (with real actors, not tourists with feathers in their hair). Tickets for that are available on the website, and if you buy one by Thursday, you’ll pay only $12. They go up to $15 after that. The nearby Hotel InterContinental is offering packages that weekend. Find out more and buy tickets at bostonteaparty2013.bpt.me.
See Boston, CityPass style
If you’re into museums, you’ve noticed that in the past decade, admission prices have skyrocketed. One way to put a lid on the total is with a CityPass, available for 11 cities, including Houston.
I recently used one in Boston, and the $51 adult nine-day pass paid off nicely. It’s good for the New England Aquarium (a $24.95 ticket), Museum of Science ($23), Museum of Fine Arts, Boston ($25), the Skywalk Observatory at the Prudential Center ($15) and either the Harvard Museum of Natural History ($12) or Revolutionary Boston at the Old State House ($8.50).
Use it for the Museum of Fine Arts, for sure. Right now, there’s a small, fun exhibit on how hippie chic invaded fashion in the ’60s and an even better Audubon bird show. But what you’re here for, of course, is the vast and varied permanent collection. (Note: Keep the whole CityPass with you. A severed ticket alone is no good.)
A fun bonus with CityPass Boston: a free cup of chowder and priority seating at Union Oyster House, founded in 1826. Daniel Webster used to eat oysters there. More on CityPass at citypass.com.