Inspired by Stage 8 of the Tour of California -- which ended in a multi-lap circuit around Thousand Oaks -- I decided to create my own circuit route here on Boston's South Shore. For my 5:00 a.m. rides yesterday and this morning, I rode a circular course through the neighborhoods of Wollaston and Merrymount in Quincy, Mass. -- round and round a ring of seaside roads.
It took me along the bay...
...and up into the small hills and marshes of Merrymount:
Many, many ghosts inhabit Merrymount. Its unique story probably would have disappeared if it wasn't for Nathaniel Hawthorne, who used it as the subject of his short tale The Maypole of Merry Mount.
In it, Hawthorne writes of the fun-loving 17th-century colony of Merry Mount, which dedicated a tall pine tree as its spring maypole. The colonists decorated it with flowers and ribbons, crowned a lord and lady of spring, and happily danced around. All was well, until the neighboring colony of Puritans found out what was going on. I won't tell you the ending, but it isn't pretty.
In reality, this part of Quincy was settled by the very colorful Englishman Thomas Morton, who arrived here in 1624 and called his new home Ma-re Mount. Officially, that meant "Mountain by the Sea", but Morton also knew it could easily become "Merry Mount", which was fine by him ... because that's just what he intended to establish -- a merry, Utopian society. He got rid of some guns by trading them with the Native Americans for furs, established equal-rights among former indentured servants, and basically set up a free-spirited society that integrated with the Native American population -- and yes, set-up a maypole, around which he led some pretty wild drunken celebrations, mixing pagan elements with classical mythology.
Here's my abstract depiction of the mystical maypole at night, deep in the Merrymount forest:
Merrymount got to be such a popular place, that residents of nearby Puritan settlements soon began joining Morton's little hippie colony ... all of which angered Puritan leaders, in their usual self-rightous and violent way. It wasn't long before Morton's experiment came to an abrupt end when Myles Standish of the Plymouth Puritans (a.k.a. the Pilgrims) invaded Merrymount and banished Morton to the Isle of Shoals off the New Hampshire coast. The maypole was no more.
Thankfully though, the Puritans never counted on Hawthorne writing about it 200 years later. So the story of Merrymount's maypole lives on ... even on the Merrymount Homeowners Association webpage:
Merrymount remains an integral yet unique part of Quincy, MA – minus the Maypole, but filled with warm and friendly neighbors, friends and families.
Nicely put. They should also add that it's a great place to ride a bike! I rode three exhilarating laps through Merrymount each morning ... all in the shadow of its incredible story.