Leading up to the anniversary of April 19, 1775, we will be sharing some short remembrances from a few people who are from Lexington and Concord. Our first installment is by Alex Merenyi. Alex grew up in Lexington and moved to the Washington, DC area to attend college. He shares with us how he looks back on Patriots Day..
Patriots’ Day was always weird for me growing up.
Lexington’s Tourist Season would begin with a bang on Patriots Day – one specific bang, at 5:36-ish in the morning a Monday – and carry through until the snow would scare the tour busses back home for the winter. (Ironically, it meant that the foot and a half of standing snow made getting around a lot easier.) It wasn’t until I moved to DC that I realized nobody else knew what Patriots Day was.
What it was for us, in addition to being of the part of the year where tour busses blocked off the best way to Starbucks, was two discrete parts; the historical, which was the reenactment of the Battle of Lexington; and the festival, which was that the center was shut down for a carnival-like opening of the tourist season. (There was also a 5k, which I remember my Father running once. It always seemed odd that they’d run a race that day through the heart of town, but so it went.)
You couldn’t live in Lexington and not know about The Reenactment. Every year, on the third Monday in April, a bunch of Americans would stand up to the Regulars and be cut down in a single volley of fire. I went once, when I was young enough to ride on my Father’s shoulders, and watched my dentist and his friends get shot on the Battle Green. Two minutes later we began walking home, wanting to beat the crowds that had gathered there. A second volley of fire went off, and I remember asking my Dad if that meant the British had shot the wives that ran out to their fallen husbands. (He explained they fired to clear their rifles. I was maybe seven – by this point, ‘The British Were Evil” was pretty engrained; I remained suspicious.) All told, it took us longer to walk to and from the event than watch it. Even as a kid, I had to ask myself what all the fuss was about – a fifteen minute re-enactment of, let’s call it what it is – the first American defeat – seemed rather odd.
I mention my dentist not just as an anecdote, but to illustrate how deeply The Reenactment went – the men and women who would come together at the pre-dawn hours in April and fall over, year after year, were celebrities in Lexington. It was all over my dentist’s office, photos of him marching in the 4th of July parades, scenes of him at the then-standing Foxboro Stadium firing a musket for the other Patriots’ having scored. (Back in the pre-Brady days, those were fewer and further between). Schools would give extra credit for interviewing reenactors, and of course, every student had the requisite “Go to the re-enactment and write a paper on how important it is.” As a child growing up in Lexington, it had an aura effect that made all of the rest of American History seem rather… well, underwhelming – nobody was making a huge fuss about re-enacting the signing of the Constitution. (Adding to that of course was that my Mother is quite British; her answer to my asking about how the Battle of Lexington was covered for her in school? “It wasn’t.”) Until I left Lexington, I never really appreciated why all the fuss was made about The Reenactment, or why these few people were given such a disproportionate amount of attention; It was more than just “this is a thing that we do once a year”, it was a recognition of something that nobody ever dared point out:
“If it weren’t for these guys, Lexington wouldn’t be on the map.”