The Salt- and-Pepper-Shaker Bridge

Every city has history; Boston has more than most.

Okay, maybe not more than most, but definitely more good, old-fashioned, American history than most. Colonial times call up at you at every corner downtown, and not just because some costumed guide in a tri-cornered hat and breeches is leading a tour group to Sam Adams’s grave, yelling about beer brewing methods from the 18th century. History stares us in the face in Boston, where the buildings are old, many streets are cobbled, and everything is plastered with the names of our founding fathers and famous literary figures.

I’ve found that it’s nearly always the case that you don’t do the touristy stuff in the city you actually live in until out-of-town visitors come a’calling.

Luckily, visitors do show up every now and then, which is the only reason I’ve ever been to the Cheers Bar, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, or the top of the Prudential Center.

When we had friends visiting recently, I finally got to have the ultimate Boston tourist experience: The Duck Tour!

Many cities with water running through them have the Duck Tour, a romp around town by both land and sea in a WWII amphibious vehicle (or a replica of one). Ours was staffed by a funny fellow in what else but a tri-cornered hat and breeches!

We started off at the Museum of Science by the first of many bridges, the Craigie Bridge. I loved its ivy-covered, date-stamped sides:

The bridge crosses a man-made dam and lock that were created in the aforementioned year inscribed on the bridge, which turned the lower Charles River into fresh water. The way Boston’s dealt with its surrounding waters is truly mind-boggling; to think that Back Bay really used to be a bay, an area of boggy marshes, that was filled in and is now arguably the loveliest part of downtown … wowza!

After departing from the MOS and tooling round town for a bit, we got to the exciting part of a Duck Tour: the transition from land to water. As we rolled down a special Duck ramp into the Charles, I think I may have screamed a little. I can’t lie. It was scary!

The view from the water was spectacular. I had actually never been on the Charles before.

We passed more Duck Boats on the river, but what really caught my eye was the Longfellow Bridge. It is also known locally as the Chess Bridge, or the Salt- and-Pepper-Shaker Bridge, since its supports have decorative towers that resemble these things. The Red Line trains traverse this bridge, which connects Kendall Square and MIT in Cambridge with Beacon Hill and Mass General Hospital at Charles Street in Boston proper. The Longfellow is in notoriously bad condition, which was evident as we passed beneath its rusty pilings.

What I’d never notice before, having never been level with the water before, were the awesome carvings the Longfellow has, and how much they look like ships:

After a little research, I found that these granite supports were in fact carved to resemble Viking ships, to honor the supposed voyage of Viking Leif Eriksson up the Charles in the year 1000 (though no one’s sure he actually did that …). The seals are those of the cities of Boston and Cambridge.

I first came to know the Longfellow Bridge from the opening sequence of Ally McBeal, with its sweeping vistas of Boston, including a shot of the Red Line chugging along across the bridge. Come, on, you don’t remember it? Quality show, Ally. I may or may not have the entire box set, Singapore edition …

Regardless, it was a beautiful day to be on the water!

Maybe I’ll do a little more Boston exploration on my own, without the impetus of visitors. There’s lots to see!

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