History at National Landmarks
an Unsung Hero Bunker
Hill National Monument
BOSTON — Richard
Tourangeau, a veteran ranger at the Bunker Hill Monument, dutifully
answers a daily torrent of questions about the famous battle that unfolded
there. But he would much rather talk about Sarah Josepha Hale.
was a 19th-century magazine editor who wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb,”
lobbied to make Thanksgiving a national holiday and made sure the 221-foot
obelisk that commemorates the Battle of Bunker Hill got built. She is
something of an obsession for Mr. Tourangeau, below, a blunt 63-year-old
who sent red roses to Mrs. Hale’s grave on her birthday last year.
mind-boggling what this woman was able to do,” Mr. Tourangeau said last
week from his post beside the monument, whose spiral staircase leads 294
steps up to a heady view of
and its harbor, though it will close this summer for repairs.
Mr. Tourangeau is
not one for climbing those stairs; when he is not relaying highlights of
the 1775 battle — how the British won, for example, and that bit about
the whites of their eyes — he seeks to shine a light on Mrs. Hale.
The partly built
monument was languishing, and the men behind it were out of cash, when
Mrs. Hale stepped in. It was 1840, and her magazine, Godey's Lady's
Book, was a national sensation.
Mrs. Hale, whom Mr.
Tourangeau calls “
combined,” organized a giant craft fair at Quincy Market, exhorting
readers to donate to help get the obelisk built. They did, and the fair
raised over $30,000, more than enough to get the project moving again and
finished by 1843.
bristles at the oft-repeated tale — “So ridiculous,” he said —
that the $30,000 came from a bake sale. Refreshments were sold, he said,
but they brought only a fraction of the profit.
“I had to convince
some of the bus tour guides to stop talking that up,” he said. “It’s
kind of a put-down, really. Like, ‘Oh, women can only bake.’ ”
Like Fenway Park and
Faneuil Hall, Bunker Hill is a must-see for Boston tourists. They came in
droves the other day: children in tricorn hats, a high school group from
and a tour group on Segways, to name a few. But Mr. Tourangeau, who has
worked for the
National Park Service
here for 26 years, is selective in mentioning Mrs. Hale.
“You’ve got to
know who you’re talking to,” he said, conceding that his passion
the eyes of battle fanatics. Get him started, though — mentioning the
bake sale is a sure way — and you might find yourself rapt.
“Sarah was an
amazing person from any perspective,” Mr. Tourangeau said. “She’s
got to get her due.”
Times, July 4, 2010