Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
(© 2010. Duane D. Stanley)
It is a special week. Well, it certainly was 235 years ago.
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
You are not unusual if you can, from memory, add the words of the couplet that precedes these lines from the epic poem of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
Now listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.
So it was, eighty-five years after the historic event itself, that the Harvard professor of French and Spanish elevated a true - but not necessarily unique - patriot to such fame that even today his recognition as a hero of the American Revolution is probably second only to the "Father of our Country."
When my wife and I visited the Granary Burying Ground just off Boston Common, I was struck by the fame bestowed upon this patriot by the professor. The midnight rider has two grave stones. The original, a dark slate a couple inches thick, now chipped around the edges, stands no more than 18 inches high. It reads simply, "Revere's tomb." The second, raised to Revere's memory after Longfellow recreated the patriot for a new generation, is a considerably more distinguished square column, about three feet high, with dates of birth and death.
At the time of his death, Revere was renowned more to his contemporaries for his bell foundry and skilled silversmithing than for his daring ride. His faithful, but not particularly distinguished, military career throughout the Revolutionary War was soon forgotten as the new nation turned its attention toward building a future to match their dreams.
Be clear on this: I am not implying that Revere was not a patriot hero: he most certainly was. But in the years following American independence, the Bostonians had many heroes of this remarkable period in our nation's history. The famous Freedom Trail from Boston Common to the USS Constitution and Bunker Hill has thousands of reminders of every kind - statues, plaques, historic artifacts, restored buildings. There are, quite literally, heroes around every corner.
Revere was indeed a patriot and a hero. But he would have been forgotten, as many thousands of others were, had Longfellow not turned a literary spotlight on his service, and bent history a bit to create a legend.
Revere's history was a story similar to many of his neighbors, all early immigrants to the new world. He was the son of Appolos Revoire, non-conforming Huguenot who escaped religious persecution in Catholic France by coming to America to begin a new life with new dreams. He changed his name to mark that new beginning, becoming the senior Paul Revere.
As the younger Paul grew to manhood, he shared dreams with other sons of liberty, dreaming of what could be. Those dreams led him along the path of separation from the shackles of British control. He was one of the early revolutionaries, but he was only one of them.
He worked with others to surreptitiously observe movements of British soldiers around Boston, reporting their observations to local patriot leaders. He was one of the patriot "express riders," couriers carrying information from Boston's Committee of Correspondence and the Massachusetts Committee of Safety to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Similarly, he carried word of the Boston Tea Party to New York and Philadelphia. And that April night of '75, on request of Dr. Joseph Warren, the 41-year-old silversmith willingly provided his services.
Longfellow has done us a service, giving us a great hero to inspire us, and we will celebrate him. If Longfellow has also done us a disservice, it has been to turn such a bright spotlight on Revere at the expense of other true heroes who surrounded him every day.
Christopher Bing, in his illustrated version of the poem, reminds the reader that the famous poet "took liberties with history. Writing on the eve of the American Civil War, he was consciously creating an American myth and felt free to bend and mold facts to shape a patriotic legend." He urges the reader to discern "where the paths of history and Longfellow's interpretation ... converge and diverge."
If your knowledge of that midnight ride comes only from Longfellow, it is time to look afresh at that fateful day and year.
For starters, the signals from the Old North Church - "one if by land and two if by sea" - were from Revere, not to him. Revere had the signals sent lest he be captured on his way across the Charles River, a crossing that was prohibited at that time of night.
In two weeks, we will do a little more fact-checking as we consider more about fame and heroism.
* * * * * * *
Editor's note: We will continue the early history of Kimball as taken from the 1936 Tri-County Messenger in four weeks.
* * * * * * *
Welcome back to our member-writer Duane Stanley with a story that's a special one to fit the season. Your stories are appreciated, Perhaps you have a story that we could feature here, too. Let us know.
Mark your calendars: April 27, the 1856 (and following years) grasshopper plague is the unique feature and first time in Kimball, as we welcome back pioneer-family member Duane Stanley to present this unforgettable true story that devastated meadows, pastures, cattle, clothing, and buildings, leaving a trail of eggs to be hatched the next years. You can't help but marvel at how these pests were stopped by 1877 in their tracks, so plan on spending an evening in Kimball's Historic City Hall at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 27, including refreshments and social. All are welcome. No charge.
With spring cleaning time just around the corner, remember that history can be found in many forms. If you have old obituary cards, memorial folders, prayer cards from a funeral home that you are disposing of, please don't throw them away. Donate them and anything else you could add to historical collections we save.
And the 2010 Expo winners are: Alice Luebke - pewter tray; Laura Hanson - Maine Prairie Booklet; Lee Hoskins - Centennial map; Doug Kersten - keepsake cups; Ronda Sommers - keepsake trivet; Diana Lang - keepsake note cards; Marilyn Sterling - membership. Congratulations to you all.
Ongoing dedication and hard work is needed in preserving the Kimball City Hall and restoring history for all to enjoy. To donate, renew or join our membership, have any questions we can help with, contact the Kimball Area Historical Society, Box 100, Kimball MN 55353, or call (320) 398-4743, 398-5250 or e-mail
* * * * * * *
The first taste of spring
is always the sweetest