Saturday, November 7, 2009


Charlestown is steeped in history. It was founded 381 years ago and has been officially part of Boston since 1873. It's where the Battle of Bunker Hill was fought. George Washington had trenches dug there as part of the siege of Boston. It has been a tight-knit, mostly Irish neighborhood since the 1860s. The Charlestown Navy Yard has been there for more than two centuries, and it has been the permanent home of the USS Constitution since 1934. Townies take a justifiable pride in their heritage.

About twenty years ago a lot of what we used to call “yuppies” moved into the neighborhood. They were not always welcomed with open arms by the established residents, as it was thought that the newcomers might change the essential character of the place. About ten years ago another wave of upper middle class people began to move in. Condos were built and old buildings were turned into new condos. The newcomers liked the old town. Mostly.

The only blot on their otherwise perfect urban paradise was that ship. Not the view, mind you. Looks great, adds to the resale value and all that. It's the noise. The Constitution is a Navy ship. It is, as you've probably heard, the oldest commissioned warship in the world. Every day, just as it has since 1798, the crew raises the flag in the morning and lowers the flag in the evening. At each ceremony, morning and night, they fire a cannon in salute and play the national anthem. The townies have been setting their watch by it for 75 years.

But the newcomers say it must stop. At the very least not on weekends. And maybe turn down the volume. “Over the summer, we have entertained several times, and we have had guests sit up in shock when the cannon goes off,” the residents wrote. “It has also awakened them at 8 a.m. while they are vacationing and then blasted them again at sunset.”

I feel for them. I do. When you are entertaining your guests, it just doesn't do to have cannon fire when they want to sleep in or enjoy their evening cocktails on the balcony. Certainly not.

I just wonder why, if the sound is such a terrible bother, they moved in next to a ship that has been doing exactly the same thing in exactly the same spot for three quarters of a century?

I would like to suggest a solution. I believe that the problem could be one of the load being fired. The sound would probably be muffled if actual cannonballs were loaded instead of just powder and wadding. They would most profitably be aimed inland, perhaps up on the heights where the newer buildings are located. Such a plan would likely eliminate the source of the problem.

No need to thank me. I'm just glad to help.

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