April 11, 2011

Knox in da' House

The Knox Trail marker in Blandford, Massachusetts stands at the center of a collection of monuments located on a triangle-shaped splash of grass at intersection of Route 23 and North Blandford road. In front of the town garage, at the base of a set of flagpoles, Knox is flanked by monuments dedicated to the Civil War, WWII, Korea and Vietnam. The last two being labeled as a "conflict" and "the period," respectively. After perusing the garage parking lot for signs of life I moved a couple hundred feet down the road to the Town Offices and Post Office. Both were closed. Anticipating lunch in Westfield I decided to leave Blanford for Russell.

"No, General Henry Knox never lived here," was not an answer Richard Hansen, a long time employee of the local Strathmore Paper, anticipated giving when he named his bed & breakfast in Russell, General Knox House. Nevertheless it is one he gives regularly. Hansen's establishment is just a stone's throw southeast of the Knox Trail marker in Russell. It stands at the intersection of Gen. Knox Rd. and S. Quarter Rd. As Richard informed me, this is not the marker's original placement. It was moved from a spot on Route 20 during activities leading up the state wide Knox Trial re-enactment of 1976. Mr. Hansen was a member of the committee that relocated the marker to its present location, the site of a former schoolhouse in the formerly separate township of Woronoco.

A re-enactment of Knox's trek from Ticonderoga to Cambridge was staged as part of Bicentennial celebrations in1976. Historians and volunteers re-created the journey with a number of horse teams pulling period artillery. Mr. Hansen's children also participated dressing in period costume and joining the precession trough Woronoco. "It was a most unusual fluke" Mr. Hansen says, describing the scene at S. Quarter Rd. on that day. The re-enactment had paused at the marker site for lunch. Soup was served around a bonfire and music, that I imagine as the sound of fife's and drum's, filled the air. Just then, as "we were all standing there" an unexpected "snow-squall came up, it got dark." An unexpected snow seems a perfect addition to an event celebrating Knox's winter journey. Knox himself was occasionally delayed in 1776 byby the lack of snow during a particularly mild season.

April 3, 2011

Knox Rocks

What do Henry Knox and Late Triassic theropods (dinosaurs) have in common? Well, Henry was a big guy, but the truth is they traveled some of the same territory in Massachusetts—the dino’s probably left more evidence.

March’s installment of the Sheffield Historical Society’s ongoing series of talks featured a unique perspective of the exploits of Henry Knox through the Berkshires. Geologist and Sheffield native, Dr. Bruce F. Rueger of Colby College presented Gen. Knox's March though the Berkshires.

On a windy Friday evening about 45 people attended the talk held at Dewey Hall in Sheffield, MA.

After offering a disclaimer that he was “a geologist, not a historian” Dr. Rueger began with some background on Knox. He followed by explaining how the Taconic and Berkshire hills were formed over a succession of tectonic collisions spanning about 150 million years. The presentation traced Knox’s route east from Kinderhook, NY to Westfield, MA describing the geological forces that shaped the terrain and differing rock formations along the way. At one point Dr. Rueger helped the audience visualize the subsequent tectonic plate separation that helped form the Housatonic and Connecticut River valleys by comparing the process to “pulling apart a Snickers bar . . . the chocolate on the top is like the crust.”

Of the varying rock formations, the most interesting to me is the New Haven arkose which was formed by sedimentation between 180 and 200 million years ago. During this period “as the rocks pulled apart . . . volcanoes happened in central Massachusetts.” This is the paleo-river environment that a number of dinosaur species left their marks in. One place to see dino footprints is the Trustees of Reservations site in Holyoke that I have previously visited and, as Dr. Rueger said in “a plug for Amherst College” another is their new Beneski Museum of Natural History “has one of the most spectacular exhibits of dinosaur footprints.” This spot is on my list.

A brief question and answer session followed Dr. Rueger’s summation of the undulating terrain of Western Massachusetts. It seemed that all had forgotten his earlier disclaimer, as I heard not a single question pertaining to geology. I too, unsuccessfully struggled to come up with a question more suited to Dr. Rueger’s field. Dr. Rueger did his best to field the audience’s historical questions as some reflexively shook their heads in disagreement. Following refreshments were served and the crowd dispersed.

The next presentation of the Sheffield Historical Society is Springing to the Call: A Visit With a Civil War Soldier. On Friday evening Dennis Picard presents daily life for a 6th Massachusetts Volunteer soldier.

March 24, 2011

O' where, O' where could my little Knox be?

Otis, the forgotten marker. It seems odd to me that this particular marker should be regularly overlooked. It is conspicuously placed on a small grassy knoll carved out of the woods on the north side of Route 23, about 3 miles east of Otis center. In both directions there are signs announcing "Historical Marker Ahead." Yet, on the two best websites for Knox Trail locations it has been either misidentified or overlooked. The New York State Museum site, from a year 2000 "history Month" project, has the marker correctly identified on the map, yet the description is half Otis-half Blanford and the photo is all Blanford. The other site is The Historical Marker Database. On this site Otis is missing completely.

On my first trip to Otis to take photos of the marker I, myself, drove by it. When I turned around I noticed the "Historical Marker" sign. On that occasion, as I was preparing to trudge through the 360 feet of snow we had on the ground, I was approached by Titus Logsdon, who's business is nearby. Mr. Logsdon had mistaken me for a geocacher. It seems the he had hidden a cache near the monument. My knowledge of geocaching is that someone hides a cache, usually a container of items of little or no monetary value, and posts the GPS coordinates online. Others then use the coordinates to locate the cache, collecting one of the "prizes", maybe leaving one of their own and logging the find online. I suppose it's harder to miss the Otis marker if you have the latitude and longitude.

On a more recent excursion I stopped at Katie's, a general store in East Otis. Another lunching spot from the past, Katie's "aisles" are single lane only, as the store is packed with at least one of everything since the nearest supermarket is 20 miles away in Great Barrington. During the summer months the short order window outside is a local favorite. I was briefly excited when I asked the clerk about Henry Knox and she insisted that the woman seated to her left, tallying the day's deposit, was interested in that and "knew all about it." My excitement was short lived. The deposit tallier summarily informed me that she in fact knew nothing about "it". The large gentleman in overalls standing next to her asked again who it what I was asking about; I explained my interest and he nodded no while saying "yup." The Knox Trail Inn, more bar than inn, stands next door and the folks at Katie's wished me luck, if I wanted to know about that place, since ownership had passed to "out-of-towners." Interesting that a place where, in my memory, non-locals could walk in at dinner and get the "hairy-eyeball" from patrons who'd been seated since lunch would be owned by one of "them." But, I digress.

On my way out I grabbed a copy of the latest newsletter of the local snowmobiling club. The Knox Trail Sno-Riders publishes four installments of it's newsletter, appropriately titled "The Knox News", during the winter season. 

March 19, 2011

Cannonball Cake Anyone?

So, how was your Evacuation Day? Did you get together this past Thursday, like I do every year, with family and friends? Maybe Mom cooked a big ham and definitely some Boston baked beans. After dinner you probably went outside and played the annual game of “Chase the British Out of Town,” where whoever draws the short straw wears a red coat and gets chased out of the yard. Afterwards you all sat down in front of the flat screen to watch the Boston Cannons play lacrosse. Of course Aunt Helen brought her famous cannonball cake. Not only does it look like a cannonball, but lands like a lead weight in your stomach. I love it when Dad and all the uncles tell drunken stories of past Evacuation Days. That’s how it always goes in my family, probably yours too, right?

What? What do you mean you didn’t celebrate Evacuation Day? What do you mean you’ve never heard of Evacuation Day? Henry Knox? Cannons? British? No? Hmmm?

Well what else could you have been doing on Thursday? Oh, wait. were you eating corned beef, drinking green beer perhaps? I thought so. Well, since I’m Irish by descent and have a shamrock tattooed on my arm 24/7, 365, let me crack open my historical pot o’ gold and tell you about the holiday you missed.

Evacuation Day, first celebrated in Boston in 1901, marks the day in 1776 that the British troops left the city following the 11-month siege by the Continental Army. Henry Knox, who had returned from Fort Ticonderoga with his cache of artillery on January 26, 1776, began a bombardment of the city on March 2. The cannonade continued almost uninterrupted for days while the Americans stealthily setup new fortifications and gun-works on Roxbury heights.

Knox’s guns were now in such an advantageous position that General William Howe ordered the evacuation of Boston. On March 17, 1776 over 10,000 soldiers and loyalists left the city for Nova Scotia. Among the loyalist evacuees were Henry’s wife’s family. Lucy’s father Thomas Flucker, secretary to the Royal Governor of Massachusetts, her mother and her sisters left Boston never to return. Shortly after, the Continental Army took possession of Boston in what was arguably the first major victory of the American Revolution.

So, next year, when your looking for leprechauns out of the corner of your eye and busting out those shamrock-printed boxers, take a moment to remember the impact of Knox’s brave expedition. Maybe I’ll invite you over to watch the big lacrosse game and have some cannonball cake.

March 16, 2011

Who's that guy?

Well, when I started this project I said I was looking for a learning opportunity and so far so good. I am daily learning about my ability to schedule, produce and stay focused. This week’s lesson: don’t lose your notes.

That being said, last week I visited Monterey, the next town with a Knox marker after Great Barrington. I had driven through Monterey earlier in the winter taking pictures of markers. At that time the marker, set in a low stone wall on the left hand side of Route 23 just past the intersection with Tyringham Road, was barely visible through the snow.
On this occasion the snow had melted considerably and some one had placed flowers and a flag on it. The Monterey General Store was always a favorite stop during my time as a flooring installer. One of the joys of working in a construction trade was always getting to eat lunch in a new place every few days or so. The store in Monterey always had some of the best lunch specials in Berkshire County and when in season some fantastic local cheese.

I got a beverage and couple of cookies, the other thing I always liked about a trip to Monterey. I asked the women behind the counter what she knew of Knox and her reply was some thing akin to “not much.” But, when I asked if anyone ever mentions Knox or the trail, she said she knew a guy in Otis I should talk to. She said, “He knows all about that stuff, who was it you wanted to know about?” I smiled and took the information. I grabbed some local newsletters on the way out and went next door to the Post Office.

I think I may have startled the women behind the counter at the Post Office with my questions about Henry Knox since she gave the “thousand-yard” stare. She explained that she was just a temp and usually worked out of the Pittsfield office. At this point a women who had been sorting her mail at a table behind and to my left offered that she certainly knew of Henry Knox. The woman, who I came to know as Francine, said she it was “amazing what he was able to accomplished with such [comparably] primitive means.” Francine told me that her knowledge of Knox came from a general interest in history. After a bit of pleasant conversation I informed her of the Henry Knox presentation coming to the Sheffield Historical Society, thanked her for her time and made my exit.

March 2, 2011

Getting Back to Knox in Great Barrington

Apologies for the delay in posting to anyone following the progress of this project. Although my interest and passion for history and the accomplishments of Henry Knox have not waned, I have been guilty of pushing it down my to-do list much to my personal dismay. But, I’m back and more motivated than ever, so please stay tuned.

A common saying about the weather here and elsewhere is “If you don’t like, wait a minute it’ll change.” So was the case as I made my why to Great Barrington in search of Henry Knox. In less than an hour the weather had gone from flirting with spring to a near white out and settling somewhere in between.

The third marker in the Massachusetts leg of The Knox Trail stand near the sidewalk at the intersection of Route 23 east and Route 7 in Great Barrington. It is at the edge of a small green centered by a gazebo type structure with a stone bench under its cover. This part of Great Barrington is known as Belcher’s Square, so named for Gill Belcher, who in 1772 was arrested for counterfeiting the currency. Belcher’s home stood at the base of what was known as Bung Hill, a steep rocky hill rising a couple hundred feet above Route 7. Today a gas station stands in that approximate location.

Behind the green where the Knox marker stands is Corashire Antiques, which was a welcome refuge from the winter wind. Mr. John Dinan, who owns Corashire, told me that he certainly knew of “the cannons [Knox] brought through here” and added as others have that there seems to be continuing controversy over the exact route. Mr. Dinan told me he occasionally sees people inspecting the marker and in fact “some people where looking at it and taking pictures yesterday.” He added that the gazebo marked a stop on the Berkshire Street Railway that used to run trolley type cars throughout Berkshire County. Mr. Dinan said, “I think this part was known as the Huckleberry Line” and directed me to a photo of the cars in downtown Great Barrington in the current edition of Shoppers Guide. That photo will be part of a program Wednesday, March 17th in Great Barrington presented by the Historical Society celebrating Great Barrington’s 250th anniversary.

I was a little sad to leave the comfort of the antiques shop, with its creaky floors and beautiful old furniture, for the blustery winter scene outside. I thoroughly thank Mr. Dinan for his time, promised to look into the railroad stop as he suggested and took my leave. Bracing against the wind I cranked up the heat in the car and headed east towards Monterey.

February 16, 2011

The Alford/Egremont Learning Curve

So, in search of Henry Knox and how he is remembered or not, I thought I would go to the places where the trail is marked and strike up a conversation with the locals. Turns out, so far, in southern Berkshire County that’s easier said than done.

Knox Trail Marker
Alford, MA

Alford is the site of the first marker in Massachusetts after crossing the New York boarder. The marker, although interesting due it bearing both the Massachusetts design and the New York design on opposing sides, is positioned along a section of Route 71 not exactly conducive to spontaneous conversation. In Alford, aside from trespassing or flagging down a car going 55mph I’m just a guy standing next to a rock no one notices. I am curious about how much has changed in Alford since Knox passed through. Then a small farming community Alford separated from Great Barrington in 1769 and incorporated four years later. Today it boast just 507 residents and, as its official website states, “Alford has no post office, no stores, no motels or hotels, and not a single gas station.”
Standing on the border facing MA

Less than three miles southeast of the Alford marker is the Knox Trail marker in North Egremont. This marker is located on a small green, currently under three feet of snow, in front of the Olde Egremont Store. Surely here was my chance to chat up some locals about my man Henry Knox, or maybe not. The only customer in the grocery/deli/coffee shop/video store was an ardent supporter of the state lottery system. Having placed his bets he promptly left to begin wearing the edge off of a perfectly good quarter. The woman behind the counter seemed pleasant enough as I paid for a beverage and 99¢ bag of popcorn I didn’t actually want. I asked, “Do you get many people noticing the Knox Trail marker?” adding that I realized winter wasn’t the ideal season for curious tourists. Her response to my question was “Why?” I briefly explained my purpose in asking. She observed, “The marker has been there so long no one pays any attention” and added “we’re not even sure he came through here, there’s some controversy in that.” With a sigh she said, “it is interesting though” in a way that made be believe it wasn’t. As she turned to greet what seemed to be a regular customer I retired to the car and headed for Great Barrington vowing to brush up on my people skills.
Knox Trail marker
Egremont, MA

February 15, 2011

The Where & Abouts of Henry Knox

In addition to being the 235th anniversary of Henry Knox's expedition and the 250th year of the town of Great Barrington's incorporation 2011 is also the 250th anniversary of Pittsfield's incorporation. In recognition of this The Berkshire Eagle is producing a feature they call Pittsfield 250 wherein they "will profile a notable figure in Pittsfield's history each day this year." To date Pittsfield's namesake William Pitt, Presidential sweetheart Mary Hurlbert Peck and the original "tree-hugger" Lucretia Williams have been profiled. However it was the installment on the "fighting deacon" Colonel James Easton that gave me pause. Certainly as someone with an interest in history and its lessons I am glad to see such attention to local history, however the article attributed some acts to Henry Knox that I could not rectify with my knowledge of his life and deeds. The Pittsfield 250 on Col. Easton has published is below and my letter to the editor published this week follows,

Day 22: Colonel James Easton
By Brian Sullivan, Berkshire Eagle Staff,

There was revolution in the air, and Col. James Easton was all for it. He was the go-to guy in faith matters. He was the guy you could talk to over a hard drink after a tough day. He was the fellow who built your home. And he was the commander of your local militia. Easton remains somewhat under the radar on the list of people who served the city in ways few could ever hope to duplicate. Born in Hartford Conn., Easton settled in Pittsfield in 1761. He soon became a leader in public affairs, as he was an active businessman in town. He performed duties as a general contractor and was deacon at "the meetinghouse," which served as a congregational church on Park Square, about where First Church is now. He owned Easton's Tavern, which wasn't far from Park Square on the east side of South Street. But when he took control of the Berkshire militia that was centered in Pittsfield, his military star shined the brightest. The Boston Tea Party having passed, it was time for true military action. To that end, Col. Henry Knox, with an endorsement from Gen. George Washington, was on a self-imposed mission to capture the British-controlled Fort Ticonderoga in New York. En route to meeting Gen. Philip Schuyler in Albany, Knox hooked up with Easton and made plans with the Pittsfield man for what would be the assault on the British fort. The plan was to return with the British artillery, so that it could be used in what later would be the "Seige of Boston." While Washington and his staff gave Knox the go-ahead, they remained skeptical of its success. In fact, they called it "impractical, absurd and foolhardy." But Knox and Easton had other ideas and succeeded in their mission. The return route -- much of which covers Route 20 in Massachusetts -- is called Knox Trail. Knox and Easton would team again and provide a victory against the British in the Battle of Bennington. Easton was the first to report to the Provincial Congress in Boston about the success. How good was Easton? He'd give a sermon in the morning at the "meetinghouse," and while the women and children went out back and sat on tree stumps while eating lunch, Easton and the men would retire to the tavern and tip a few before coming back for the afternoon sermon. Easton lived his life in Pittsfield and is buried here. Few have come along since who could stand in his

The whereabouts of Henry Knox
Letter to the Editor

Monday February 14, 2011

As a student of history I am heartened to see an examination of local history in Pittsfield 250. However, I have some concerns about the accuracy of facts attributed to Henry Knox in the Jan. 22 section on Col. James Easton. Knox was in Cambridge offering his services to the local militia leader at the time he was said to be planning the capture of Ticonderoga with Col. Easton in Pittsfield. Additionally, the capture took place on May 10, 1775 while Knox would not meet George Washington until June and would not leave the Boston area until November. Knox's expedition to retrieve the cannons Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold had captured left Cambridge for Ticonderoga via New York City in Nov. 1775. Knox did meet with Philip Schuyler in Albany, but that meeting came some seven months after the fort's capture. Also, while I am not aware of Col. Easton's role in the Battle of Bennington on August 16, 1777. Knox was in Philadelphia at the time attending fortifications along the Delaware River.



February 6, 2011

Walking Great Barrington with Bernard Drew & Henry Knox

It seemed serendipitous to my purpose here that one of the first events sponsored by Great Barrington’s 250th Anniversary committee, co-chaired by Edward McCormick and Betsy Andrus, would be a historical walking tour with author and local historian Bernard Drew. I must say that I was a little surprised to see just how many people had gathered at the law offices of McCormick, Murtagh & Marcus on Main St. It had been previously joked to me that perhaps Mr. Drew and myself alone would be going for a walk. However, when I arrived there must have been 30-40 people gathered inside and out, by the time we begun I counted at least 60 participants. The home, which houses the offices, has somewhat of a legal pedigree. It was standing, though it has been moved twice since, when Henry Knox passed trough Great Barrington from Alford and Egremont as the home of Elijah Dwight. Dwight was the first court clerk and register of probate for Great Barrington. The structure was later home to lawyer-poet William Cullen Bryant.

Bernard Drew
introduces Henry Knox
The group, ankle deep in snow, posed for a photo on the front lawn. Mr. Drew, during his introduction of Henry Knox, reminded our group that not only was this year the 250th anniversary of Great Barrington’s incorporation as a town in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the 235th anniversary of Knox’s expedition, but also the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech in which he references “that first Revolution” saying, “We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of [it].”

We proceeded south along Main Street kicking and stomping the snow from our collective footwear. Having always held an unexplained aversion to proper winter attire I was glad the walk would soon warm me up. Our first stop was in front of Finnerty & Stevens Funeral Home. The original 1815 structure was home to Charles J. Taylor, author of the 1882 “History of Great Barrington.” The list of names in Taylor’s history reads like the class roll for most of my childhood. The more things change the more they stay the same, hmmm.

Approaching 23W on Route 7S
Taylor recounts how a committee was formed in 1774 charged with drafting an agreement to boycott British goods in reaction to the “arbitrary and oppressive acts” of the British government. The agreement stipulated that “all persons who should refuse to sign this covenant, or having signed should not adhere to the real meaning or intent thereof, should be treated with all the neglect they justly deserved.” On August 16, 1774 the first open resistance to British in the colonies rule occurred in Great Barrington. A “large body of men . . . including from three to five hundred from Litchfield County . . .took possession of the court-house” and kept court officers “from occupying the building or transacting any business.” One of two regiments of minute-men later “raised by enlistment” in Berkshire County would be commanded by Colonel John Patterson, namesake of Berkshire Community College’s Patterson Field House.

From Finnerty & Stevens our curious parade crossed the intersection of Route 7 South and 23 West at Main St. and Maple Ave. Mr. Drew discussed the travels through Great Barrington and the Berkshires, along the same roads Knox would later utilize, of Commander Jeffery Amherst, hero of the French and Indian War. Sir Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst is the namesake of Amherst, MA. The mascot of Amherst College athletics is the Fighting Jeffs. Amherst captured Fort Ticonderoga, then known as Ft. Carillon from French forces in 1759 following the failed attempt of General James Abercromby in 1758. Brigadier General Augustus Howe was among the first to fall in that failed attempt. The loss of Howe would promote General Thomas Gage. Having served under Abercromby and Amherst, Gage went on to become Governor of Massachusetts and would be succeeded in 1775 by Augustus Howe’s brother William Howe. It is Howe who orders the evacuation of British troops from Boston March 17th, 1776 under threat of the cannon Knox secured from Fort Ticonderoga. The chorus of “It’s a small world after all” rings in my head.

As we disassembled to cross to the eastern side of Main Street, a woman asked me what newspaper I was writing for. I suppose my note scribbling and photo taking had suggested me as a reporter. My cap, the kind worn by newsboys in period movies, may have added to her suspicion. Feeling a little flattered I explained my interest was part of this project and directed her to the History Dept. webpage at Berkshire Community College.

Walking in Knox's footsteps
We made our way across Main and headed north towards Searles Castle. Along the sidewalk south of the castle a stone and iron fence separates the Searles property from the street. About halfway from Maple Street to the Searles entrance there is an opening in the trees that line the route. Facing east you see the Searles property, which lies in the low, flat floodplain of the Housatonic River, stretching away from the road. A slight turn to the right revels a narrow path lined by a uniform row of trees. As promised by Mr. Drew this is likely an original section of the road travel by Henry Knox on his way through Great Barrington. I paused to marvel that I was standing in the 235-year-old footsteps of simple men who ultimately affect the history of the entire world.

Searles Castle
Our tour continued to Bridge Street and a discussion of colonial era taverns and the methods by which Knox would have likely reimbursed local merchants. Following we crossed again to the west side of Main Street to the front of the town hall. It is here that the previously mention rebellion is memorialized with a large inscribed stone. Again I was asked if I might be a reporter and I began to second-guess my career aspirations.

The tour concluded when the group turned south once more and returned to McCormick, Murtagh & Marcus. Most participants promptly left, a number stayed to partake again of the snacks and refreshments that had been available preceding our walk. A few of those still left when I returned were eagerly bending Mr. Drew’s ear and over the next twenty minutes or so he was not without company. I myself remarked at the positive turnout, made a pleasant introduction and made my way out.

Before leaving Great Barrington my route took me along more of the modern roads of the Henry Knox trail. I tried to imagine how it might have been to travel the same path on horseback in the snow or leading an ox team carrying a cannon that weighed almost as much as my car. Knox’s expedition accomplished an extraordinary feat at a time when it was most needed. Preceding the Declaration of Independence by nearly six months his deeds came at a time when the fledgling Continental Army and the Congress in Philadelphia were merely rebels to the crown, subject to hanging for treason. We may not remember the contributions of Henry Knox everyday, but he was well remember this day in Great Barrington.

In reference to Tories or British loyalists Charles Taylor wrote, “In Great Barrington were a considerable number . . . who were slow to adopt revolutionary measures . . . Many by word and deed rendered themselves obnoxious to their more patriotic townsmen.”

Next Post: Alford & Egremont

January 27, 2011

Why Knox?

Henry Knox, by Gilbert Stuart
You know how, when you get a new car, suddenly you notice just how many other people have that same exact car. You suddenly notice the car you chose, a four-wheeled appliance the sole purpose of which is to move you and your stuff from point A to point B, that every automotive marketing campaign wants you to believe is an extension of you, an extension of your personality or yikes, an extension of your self-worth, is also an extension of your neighbor, that weird guy at the Laundromat and every 7th person you pass on the road. Suddenly you feel a little less special than you did, a little less unique than you thought you were. So, to make yourself feel special, to get back that feeling of uniqueness you get yourself some zebra print seat covers, tint the windows and slap on a set of shiny new wheels.

This is a little like how I felt when I decided to study Henry Knox and the Knox Trail for this semesters Independent Study. Of course, decided is a bit misleading actually. You see the idea of retracing the trail of historical markers commemorating the improbable winter journey of a brilliant, but young and untested, colonel in the rebel army of colonial America is the first and only one that came me two weeks before I pitched it. Saying I decided assumes I had made a choice among possibilities, not the case. If was going to do this Knox was it.

I had been intrigued by Knox’s contributions to the American Revolution, particularly his mission to retrieve desperately needed artillery from 300 miles away to force the British out of Boston, ever since reading a biography of Washington as a solider. It was a pedestrian account of Washington bumbling about in the Ohio River Valley during the French & Indian War and later flashes of brilliance during the Revolution, but Knox always stood out for me. So here I was with a topic, all shiny and new, to me, just like a new car. Surely nobody else was interested in my topic; nobody I knew had even heard of him. “Knox, isn’t that the Fort where the gold is?” they asked. Well, yes the United States Bullion Depository is located on the U.S. Army post named after Henry Knox. A second fort in Maine, the city of Knoxville, TN, counties in nine states and a military tugboat are also named in his honor. The later honor is quite fitting given Knox’s stout physique and reputation for strength. In addition, historical commissions in both New York and Massachusetts, in 1927, had installed the very string of markers I now propose to visit and bicentennial celebrations in both states brought renewed interest in the travels of Knox’s artillery train, but surely this lessor known hero of the Revolution had been all but forgotten nearly 35 years later.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Just as I was driving my shiny new idea off the lot I realized I wasn’t alone in my interest. Others were driving the same idea I was. Both Pittsfield and Great Barrington are celebrating their 250th year. This means that local history is in the news. It means local historians, like Bernard A. Drew, are sharing their interest in Knox with the public and local reporters are printing snippets with glaring historical inaccuracies. Elsewhere, historical societies are remembering Knox with talks and slideshows. Indeed, I’m seeing my new car everywhere. Knox, the Trail and at least one impersonator account for dozens of Facebook pages. One page has the amusing title of “Henry Knox: Overweight White Guy, American Hero”. A search of “Henry Knox” on Twitter reveals a multitude of Tweets with Knox quotes or starting with “Today in 1776, Henry Knox . . .” in both English and Spanish. The Twitter feed for this project is at HnryKox. I take some solace in the knowledge that Hudson, Ford and David Thoreau overshadow Knox in Google results. Apparently Henry is being Facebooked and Tweeted more than Googled.

So, what am I doing driving the same car as everyone else? Where’s the interest? Well, that’s precisely it; the interest lies in how everyone else is remembering Knox. A friend recently admitted she had likely walked past one of the Knox Trail markers a hundred times while working nearby, she’d seen the stone, but never bothered to look closer. Conversely, on a recent afternoon photographing markers I meet a business owner and neighbor who took time out to inquire about my interest in Knox and made sure I knew there were other markers nearby. And obviously Knox has found his way to the Internet 200+ years since his death. How do we live with history everyday? How do we interact with the figures we’ve exalted, or the ones thought forgotten? Do we notice the markers and monuments once erected? How are the significant and insignificant being celebrated in the 21st century? These are the interesting questions.

Examining the what, why, where, who and how of remembering Knox is a means to taking a fresh look at the topic. This project is how I propose to slap some shiny new wheels on Henry Knox.

Next Post: Walking in Gt. Barrington with Knox & Bernard Drew.