To celebrate Boston

"A place to go by boats." Boston once again lives up to the meaning of its old Indian name, Shawmut, when the tall ships arrive today to celebrate its 350 th anniversary year.

With skyscrapers rising over the harbor and helicopters muttering in the air, the old place would be a bit of a surprise to Anne Pollard, the "romping girl" who was the first off the boat from what is now Charlestown to what is now Boston's North End. She recalled the 1630 scene as "very uneven, abounding in small hollows and swamps, covered with blueberries and other bushes."

Another surprised former resident would be the second mayor of Boston after it became a city in 1822 -- Josiah Quincy, the so-called "Great Mayor" who inspected his domain on horseback, once being arrested for dangerous riding. He always thought the market buildings he promoted would be money-makers. But could he have imagined the renaissance of the Quincy Market as a chic 20 th-century enterprise?

Symbols could be multiplied of the ways Boston has sought to hang onto the past while cultivating the present. Needless to say, there have been strains in recent years no less than in centuries gone by when resistance to protesters for independence, abolition, women's rights, and other causes contributed to civic turmoil. But Boston's problems have been aired sufficiently without going into them on this gala day.

Speaking of Josiah Quincy, it might be recalled that two of his descendants by the same name also became mayors of Boston. They represented a valuable element -- a family tradition of public service, of "moral stewardship," some called it -- that combined with rough-and-tumble politics to keep Boston moving more steps forward than backward in the continuing adjustment to changing times.

Some of the leading local lights -- Emerson and Thoreau, for example -- preferred nature to cities anyway, calling on the latter not to lose humanity. Perhaps it is thinking of their sort, along with the multifaceted input of citizens from around the world, which has helped to round some of the harsher city edges off the place that looked like a berry patch to that first girl off the boat.

At any rate, with the tall ships coming in, Boston seems like 350 years of doing something right. As a writer on "the personality of the city" said when Boston was merely going on 300: "One smiles at her idiosyncracies, or criticizes her frailties -- but how she is loved by those who know her best!"

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