Photo credit: The Washington Post / Alexandra Pecci | The Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum offers visitors an opportunity to yell and throw things. (Aug. 21, 2012)
Samuel Adams storms into the meetinghouse, and he's angry. He pulls off his hat and waves his fist in the air, shouting about taxes and tyranny. Even our playing cards are taxed, he cries. Hisses and calls of "fie" emanate from the angry crowd. We, too, have had enough.
"What shall we do with the king's tea?" he calls. The answer is clear.
Outside, it might be a regular weekday afternoon in the year 2012. But where I'm visiting, it's always Dec. 16, 1773.
The Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum reopened in June after a devastating fire forced the old museum to close in 2001. The newly revamped and rebuilt version is an interactive, multimedia experience that crams costumed role players, high-tech exhibits, audience input, replica ships, a film and one historical artifact into a 60-minute tour.
PATRIOTS, NOT PIRATES
I'm visiting the museum with my 3-year-old daughter, Chloe, who's having fun, despite wondering why there are so many pirates in this place; the re-enactors' tricorn hats are throwing her.
"They're not pirates," I whisper in her ear. "They're patriots."
We follow a guide outside to board what the museum calls a "floating nautical exhibit": a painstakingly crafted replica of the Brig Beaver, one of three ships the rebels boarded by night to destroy 342 crates of tea to protest British taxes. Bedecked with feathers to disguise ourselves as American Indians, we take turns shouting "huzzah!" and tossing replica tea crates overboard before hauling the dripping parcels back onto the deck of the ship.
Next, it's back inside the museum, into a darkened room that houses a re-creation of Griffin's Wharf, complete with the sounds of seagulls and crashing waves. According to our guide, it's now the morning after the Tea Party. "We are all now rebels in the eyes of the crown," he says. Suddenly, holograms of two women -- one a rebel, the other a loyalist -- appear in the scene. This hyper-modern image seems like a strange addition to me, but I go with it, imagining they're ghosts as they glimmer against the black background and debate the events of the night before.
ORIGINAL TEA CHEST
In the next room, portraits of John Adams and King George "come alive" to argue the merits of the rebels' cause. But the real star here is the Robinson Half Chest, which sits in a clear display case and slowly rotates on a pedestal. According to a voice-over, it's one of only two tea chests known to have been recovered from the Boston Tea Party.
Soon, we're ushered into the Minuteman Theatre, where we sit in rows to view "Let It Begin Here," a short film that re-creates the events leading up to the start of the Revolution, from Paul Revere's ride to the battle at Lexington Green.
When the tour officially ends, Chloe and I head upstairs to Abigail's Tea Room, a cafe where we're greeted by yet more costumed actors, trading stories about life in the colonies and how to properly serve tea. Our table overlooks the Brig Beaver, and (for an additional charge) Chloe and I share cups of tea and pastries while we watch another group of visitors toss tea crates from the ship.
The entire finely choreographed experience offers a whirlwind overview of the Boston Tea Party and its aftermath. Admission isn't cheap, but we certainly had fun. Plus, every kid on the tour seemed to relish the opportunity to yell and throw things. For parents, that alone might be worth the price of admission.