Fun at the Tea Party Museum, or Simba (King George III) and Scar (Samuel Adams) Visit Boston Harbor

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The Boston Tea Party Museum is a fun, entertaining, educational, hour-long historical extravaganza. It provides a good overview of Revolutionary-era Boston history, a climb-aboard visit to a recreated tea-ship (complete with simulated tea chest tossing), the chance to see one of two remaining tea chests from the fateful night (pretty cool), holographic-enhanced reenactments of key events and personalities, and a ten minute film of the events of April 18-19th, 1775 (Paul Revere’s Ride, the battles of Lexington & Concord, and the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World”). Good fun, but unless you crave Disney-style entertainment or are purchasing a package that includes the Museum, it is pricey.

Is it worth the time and expense? Does Boston need Disneyesque historical entertainment? Is the Tea Party “The single most important event leading up to the American Revolution?” Read on…

The Visit

Boston Tea Party Museum New Identity Card

Boston Tea Party Museum Identity Card

Once you arrive at the museum and have a ticket, you are invited to join the next available tour queue. Tours run every ½ hour and can be pretty full in the summer, so when it’s busy you may want to arrive ½ hour before your desired start. You are then ushered into the “Meeting House” and given a card by a colonial-garbed actor. The card holds the pseudo-identity of an actual revolutionary-era citizen (you may be asked to read a line from card later). Once the meeting starts, and in great in theatrical fashion, your guides explain events leading up to the Tea Party.

[Note that you are kept moving from station to station – there is not much time to linger or explore; virtually every step is choreographed. The guides are well trained, personable, and happy to answer questions, but they speak quickly; pay attention as it is easy to miss something.]

Boston Tea Party Museum Ramp

Boston Tea Party Museum Ramp

Leaving the Meeting House, you proceed down a gangplank to visit one of the replica tea ships. The replicas are close to the actual Tea Party ships and are amazing. On board, you learn more about the ships and their context, then go below deck to experience what life aboard was like – very tight quarters for the eight men who lived aboard, and these must have been awful in rough seas.

Boston Tea Party Museum Ship Deck

Boston Tea Party Museum Ship Deck

(Click for a wonderful Boston Globe video on the recreation of the ships.)

Boston Tea Party Museum Tea Toss

Boston Tea Party Museum Tea Toss

To make it more interactive for the kids, simulated chests of tea are heaved overboard. (A full tea chests weighed well over 300 pounds.)

Boston Tea Party Museum Ship Captains Quarters

Boston Tea Party Museum Ship Captains Quarters

On exiting the ships, and while waiting on the dock for your group’s turn to enter the museum, your guide provides additional context to the events and personalities.

Entering the museum, the first stop is a short holographic reenactment of a conversation between two colonial women – one with patriot, and the other with loyalist leanings. The technology is impressive, but the content seems more for show than substance.

The next room houses the Robinson Half Chest. This half chest (a half-chest contained about 100 pounds) was found by teenager John Robinson the morning after the Tea Party. It remained a Robinson family heirloom until it was purchased by the folks who run the museum. After viewing and learning about the chest, visitors turn around and view a holographic-enhanced conversation between the portraits of King George III and Samuel Adams. This is technically innovative and fun, but a little over the top. The pre-recorded reenactors are entertaining, and what they say is true to the history, but a lot is taken out of context.

The last room, the Minuteman Theater, shows a +/- 10 minute film, “Let it Begin Here,” that dramatizes the events of April 18 and 19, 1775. The film wraps around the audience and is complete with air puffs to simulate musket balls flying by. The tie in is that these events were directly as result of the Tea Party. The reenactments are good and historically accurate, the layout and feel of Lexington Green is particularly good; but the portrayal of the participants is overdone and stilted – the actor portraying John Hancock in Lexington is particularly amusing. (Click for an excerpt.)

After the film, you are encouraged to partake in refreshments at Abigail’s Tea Room & Terrace and visit the Gift Shop, which is stocked with every revolutionary-themed tchotchke imaginable. The only thing missing was the chance to purchase a photo of the visitors with a smiling Samuel Adams reenactor.

Historical Accuracy and Quality

Quite good. The Museum provides a solid and largely accurate overview of the events leading up to the Tea Party and the American Revolution as well as useful context of life in this period. The recreation of the tea ships alone is a marvel and worth the visit.

That being said, the events and people are simplified and hyperbolized – both for effect and to pump up the presentation of the Tea Party as “The single most important event leading up to the American Revolution.” No doubt, the Tea Party was a very key event. But it is not the entire story.

I realize that everyone loves a myth with a hero and a villain (Cinderella vs Evil Queen Grimhilde?) – here Samuel Adams vs King George III. But reality is always more nuanced, and the museum makes only anemic attempts to balance their presentation. While this is not necessarily bad, and perhaps even appropriate for a theatrically-themed venue, it is misleading. Suitable for Orlando or Las Vegas, I had hoped Boston might be more thoughtful, or visitors given time to ponder a counterpoint.

Value

Normal admission is $25 for adults, $15 for children – which means a family of four would pay $80 for a one hour show, not including the encouraged refreshments and souvenirs.

Is it worth it? It depends how much you value this type of entertainment. If cash is tight, there are many better values in town – such as the free Freedom Trail Tours run by the National Park Service, a visit and climb through Old Ironsides, the modestly priced visits to the Old State House or Old South Meeting House, or the behind the scenes visits to King’s Chapel or Old North Church, just to name a few.

If you are considering a visit, a much better deal can be found bundled with the purchase of a ticket from the hop-on-off Old Town Trolley (trolleytours.com), which includes admission to the Tea Party Museum. Historic Tours of America owns both the Tea Party Museum and Old Town Trolley, and they also offer packages with admission to the Aquarium, Fenway Park, and other Boston sites that might be on your short list. Check online as tickets are available at a discount.

The Verdict

I had fun and found it worth my time. My visit was fun, participative, educational, and entertaining.

Is it a “must see?” IMHO, it doesn’t fit that category as there are many other places where you will learn and experience more, are more authentic, and are much better values. If I was bringing children, I would weight it a little more positively as its technology and interactivity will hold a child’s attention and memory more than some other sites; but still not in the must see category.

But I had fun, Huzzah!

Old South Meeting House – Freedom Trail Stop 8 Overview

Old South Tower Meeting House - Freedom Trail Stop 8 - 1729

Old South Tower Meeting House – Freedom Trail Stop 8 –

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Home of Rebel Dissension

As Boston’s largest building in the Colonial period, Old South was the site of many important gatherings and became the emblematic home of the Patriot cause.

Admission $6, seniors & and students $5, Children (6-18) $1 – AAA/WGBH discount

Open Daily all year: April 1 – October 31 9:30-5; November 1 – March 31 10-4

Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve Day, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

Official website

National Park Service website

617-482-6439617-482-6439

Handicap access: wheelchair accessible, listening devices available

Public transportation: State Street (Blue/Orange Lines), Government Center (Green Line) and Downtown Crossing (Red Line).

Plan about 1/2 hour to view the interior and the exhibits.

For more about the Boston Tea Party, click here

Background Information

The Old South congregation was created when a group of dissenters split off from the First Church in 1669. Their original meeting house, a simple cedar sided building, was built on a part of what was the corn and potato patch of John Winthrop – the first Puritan leader. After Winthrop died, the land was owned by influential preacher John Norton. It was donated to the congregation by John’s widow, Mary.

The original meeting house was the site of Benjamin Franklin’s baptism, which took place on a wintry night in January of 1706. The first meeting house was torn down in early 1729. The current structure, based on Christopher Wren’s work in London, was dedicated in April of 1730.

The new meeting house was the largest building in Boston and was host to many significant meetings. As the conflicts with England amplified during pre-Revolutionary years, it became known in London for its role as a key place for Colonial protests. Almost every significant Patriot leader held court here – including James Otis, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Dr. Joseph Warren.

Perhaps the most famous meetings associated with Old South are those that preceded the Boston Tea Party. At the final meeting, over 5,000 townspeople (1/3 of Boston’s population at the time) heard Samuel Adams say “Gentlemen, this meeting can do nothing more to save the country.” Legend has it that this was the signal for about 100 Patriots dressed as Native Americans to march to Boston Harbor and begin the Boston Tea Party.

Old South Pews & Pulpit

Old South was such a symbol of Patriot dissension that during Boston’s occupation during the Siege of Boston (1775-1776), British troops ripped out the pews and pulpit and used them for fuel. It was filled with dirt and turned it into a riding school for the British Cavalry. After the war, it took almost eight years to raise the money to refurbish the Meeting House to make it usable as a place of worship.

Old South was almost destroyed in the Great Fire of 1872. Soon after the fire, it was soldand the congregation moved to Copley Square in Back Bay. Today it is a museum and one of the most important and interesting stops on the Freedom Trail.

Benjamin Franklin’s Birthplace

Site of Ben Franklin's Birth

Site of Ben Franklin’s Birth

The site of Benjamin Franklin’s birthplace is just across the street from Old South at the location of the current 17 Milk Street. Ben was the eighth child of the ten children of Josiah Franklin and his second wife, Abiah. (Overall, he was the fifteenth of seventeen for Josiah.)

Today it is an office building.