bet you didn’t know… (no. 21)

last summer i immersed myself in new england history. it kind of happened by accident – but before i knew it, i had read a dozen books on the subject and subjected my family to numerous field trips, lectures and (they loved this), sudden, unannounced, three-lane-cutting pull-overs to tell the story of an obscure statue or read a historical marker or admire a view which i happened to know a little anecdote about. i also rediscovered plymouth, massachusetts, a town which lies under an hour from where i live now, and did for the first 23 years of my life.  i associated plymouth with school field trips and crushing numbers of tourists, the story of the founding of plymouth colony kind of buried alive by these two things. this summer i managed to see through the cranberry fudge-eating Rock-gawkers and really digest that this place, this touristy town by the sea, was the site of such determination, guts and raw survival that a small group of gritty people were able to plant some of the primary seeds that would one day sprout into not just this busy, thriving town, but an entire nation. on one of my trips to plymouth this year, i found an incredible monument to the mayflower passengers. and i implore you to make a point of visiting here if you can. it’s called “the national monument to the forefathers“, and is a magnificent tribute to the immenseness of their undertaking. sadly, it is crumbling. no one seems to care that it exists, save for a few tourist buses that run people in for a quick snapshot. i spent over an hour making photographs of this spectacular granite sculpture, and with each shot i took, another facet revealed itself. at 81-feet tall, this is the largest granite sculpture in the united states. the core principles and early experiences of the pilgrims are represented in sculpted figures, bas relief scenes and various terms engraved around each. there are panels with the passenger list of the mayflower engraved on them. all are just beautiful, and it is heartbreaking to see chunks of granite crumbling, entire limbs of figures missing. local organizations are desperately trying to raise money to save this great tribute, which took nearly 40 years from planning through dedication (it was dedicated in 1889), each detail painstakingly designed and executed, the makers understanding the magnitude of their tribute.  in modern day, the tourists know about plymouth rock, which actually represents a suspect (and likely fabricated) story of the pilgrims. yet the story of this monument, created out of genuine gratitude by people who understood how huge the task of paying homage to these brave, determined souls was, is one that goes largely untold and is discovered mainly by those who follow tiny brown signs on residential plymouth roads in search of another story from our past.

two notes:
1) i strongly encourage you to read nathaniel philbrick’s mayflower.it is an incredibly readable (and concise) account of the mayflower voyage, landing, that first terrible winter and the ultimate abundance that followed, leading into the details, causes and effects of king philip’s war, an event often just grazed by history courses and books.
2) in the past 15 minutes it come to my attention that a film was recently made about the monument by kirk cameron. one part of me shouts “hurrah” for the publicity, the other wants to cry because it seems he has spun the monument and all it represents into a purely christian symbol. my hope is that people can understand there is so much more to it and realize how vital saving “the national monument to the forefathers” is.