Making History on the Common 2018-01-29T12:48:01+00:00


Friends of the Public Garden 9th Annual Making History on the Common Day

Making History on the Common is free for schools in the City of Boston but participation MUST BE PRE-ARRANGED. In order to attend, your school should contact Karin Turer at

On Monday, June 4, 2018, over 1,000 Boston Public Schools students in grades 3-5 will experience the rich history and culture of Boston while participating in the Friends of the Public Garden’s ninth annual Making History on the Common. “It is great to see kids experiencing our rich history in tangible ways,” says Friends Executive Director Elizabeth Vizza. “Making History on the Common works because it’s simple yet profound.”

Boston Cultural Council Logo

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Boston Cultural Council, a local agency which is funded by the Mass Cultural Council, and administered by the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture.


Activities and Participants, 2018

Educators from Historic New England demonstrate carding and spinning techniques used to process wool gathered from sheep, which once grazed the Common. In addition, students play games popular during colonial times.

Before the arrival of European colonists the Native American family groups living in this area traditionally planted corn, beans, and squash in the late spring. Referred to as the Three Sisters, these plants benefit by being planted close together on small mounds of soil, and were fertilized with local herring and seaweed. School groups learn about this planting method, and receive a set of seeds and information for planting a three sisters garden at their school.

5,000 years ago fishweirs were built in tidal water near what is now Boston Common to catch fish during the spring spawning season. Remnants of early fishweirs still exist, buried in clay below the streets of Boston’s Back Bay. The Ancient Fishweir Project connects school students with members of the Native American community, public artist Ross Miller, archaeologists, and educators, to build a fishweir replica along the Charles Street side of Boston Common. To further celebrate Native American traditions, the Wampanoag Nation Singers and Dancers perform throughout the event.

Educators from Historic New England introduced students to the use of the Common for Victory Gardens to support the war effort especially during World War I. Students take a food pledge and learn more about how the U.S. Government aimed to shape attitudes towards food through school textbooks and math problems.

The Freedom Trail Players lead exciting educational tours displaying Boston’s rich history. They describe how Boston Common was used during the Colonial period, from grazing land to military encampments to a site for hangings and punishments. In addition, the Freedom Trail Foundation also demonstrates the use of wooden pillories, a hinged wooden framework used for punishments in Massachusetts in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts is the oldest chartered military organization in North America. Each year on the first Monday in June, the company reenacts a drumhead election on Boston Common, where its officers are chosen in a ceremony overseen by the Governor of the Commonwealth. The parade began at Faneuil Hall and arrives on Boston Common at approximately 12:30 p.m. with a historic cannon blast occurring shortly thereafter.

In 1863, the Governor of Massachusetts authorized the recruitment of an infantry regiment that was to be composed of African American enlisted men, commanded by white officers: the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment. It was the first regiment of African American soldiers to be raised in the North. They were greatly heralded for their valor in their first major engagement in the assault on Ft Wagner in Charleston Harbor, SC, July 1863. Their valiant performance in that battle changed the opinion of the Federal government about the ability and willingness of black Americans to fight for the Union and freedom. In 1897, a memorial to the 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Colonel Robert G. Shaw, was dedicated on the Boston Common and is prominently located across from the State House. Re-enactors of the 54th Massachusetts regiment are participating in Making History on the Common to tell the story of the “Glorious Fifty-Fourth.”

Contra Dances are an American melting pot of dance and music that came with the Colonials from England, Ireland, Scotland & France. They were popular from the 17th century onward and were later influenced by Scandinavian and German dances. These dances and music were blended and modified by the New Englanders who kept them alive. They are now danced all over the country and world. The ‘Jefferson & Liberty’ ensemble from MIT’s Contra Dance for All will lead students in these traditional dances, which are enjoyed all over the U.S. and the world.

Boston City Archaeologist, Joe Bagley, will share the Native American history of Boston Common through the Frog Pond site, found on Boston Common during an archaeological dig in 1986. This site contains the oldest artifact known in the city, a 7,500 year old spear point, as well as a 3,000 year old shell midden containing clams from Back Bay and artifacts from daily life on the place we now call Boston Common. Joe will also give flintknapping demonstrations on the art of making stone tools such as spear points, knives, and arrowheads. Also popular is a hands-on pottery making activity where students make their own pots, decorate them in traditional Massachusetts Native pottery design, and attempt to reconstruct broken vessels.

Throughout its nearly 400-year history, people have used Boston Common as a place to gather and protest. Although the 1960s and 1970s are most well known for bringing crowds to the Common – some of the largest demonstrations against the Vietnam War had up to 100,000 people – January 2017’s Boston Women’s March broke all records for peaceful protest on the Common, with over 175,000 protesters. At this station, school groups re-enact a protest relevant to their lives, and learn the power of many voices united for one purpose.

With guidance from the Leventhal Map Collection at the Boston Public Library, school groups learn about the early geography of early Boston: how quickly could they complete an interactive 5-foot wide puzzle of how the city looked in 1722? What routes would settlers take to bring their livestock to graze on the Common? Students also play an active trivia game to reinforce geography concepts of early Boston.

In Boston, public transportation is used by thousands of people on a daily basis, often without second thought. At the turn of the 20th century, however, the changing public transit system raised many questions of urban planning, including the fate of the city’s beloved Common. New England Historic Genealogical Society shares how Bostonians banded together around a heated campaign to “Save The Common” led by local activist Julia Ward Howe and the Boston Evening Transcript.

The buildings surrounding the Common along Beacon Street have their own unique history, and the Boston Landmarks Commission will be sharing what makes these historic homes so special… and why many of them have purple windowpanes! Students will also learn about basic architectural structures as they create their own postcards to mail or take home.

When the first European colonists arrived in this area the geography was very different from the landscape you see today. The water’s edge was right along Charles Street, at the edge of the Boston Common. Twice each day tidewater flowed in and out of the Back Bay exposing mudflats, shellfish beds, and in some places sandy beaches. Soon after the colonists arrived they began to increase their usable land area by filling in these mudflats, making land for the Public Garden, and for buildings in the Back Bay. A line of blue survey flags marks the line of the pre-colonial shoreline along the Charles Street edge of the Boston Common.

Whole Foods Market provides apples in commemoration of the orchard believed to have been planted on Beacon Hill by William Blackstone in 1623.

The Carousel at the Boston Frog Pond generously provides complimentary rides during the event.