On August 15, 1765, Andrew Oliver, Massachusetts’ “Stampman” resigned his post in response to a mob which had gathered the day before to protest the unpopular Stamp Act. They hanged his body in effigy, then pulled it down and stamped on it and tore it apart in front of his home. Resistance to the Stamp Act played a significant role in Boston’s history leading up to Revolutionary War.
On August 15, 2015, the city of Boston hosted Echoes of the Past, an event by Revolutionary Characters, commemorating Boston’s historic demonstrations against the Stamp Act. (Bostonians just love their colonial history.) I found a description of the event online and thought it sounded a lot like an alternate reality game, or ARG, even though that term wasn’t used in the promotional materials. (It did pop up later on their Facebook page.) I’ve been wanting to attend an ARG for some time; ARGs often come up in conversations about trying to determine where the limits of LARP are, and where LARP ends and other, related activities begin. I also just happen to really enjoy walking around Boston and looking at the various historical sites (which is part of why I liked Izgon 2 so much.)
The event was scheduled to start at noon, at the Old State House. There, the friend accompanying me and I received a booklet that contained descriptions of recent ghost sightings in the city, tips for interacting with them, a map of a few blocks marked to indicate where the ghosts were most commonly seen, and short descriptions of the individual ghosts, describing personality traits, each accompanied by a photograph.
We spotted the first ghost wandering around Pi Alley, which gets its name not from the number, but from the type letters printers used to drop in the alley. This would have been after the ghost’s time, but I still thought it was a clever idea, as the ghost in Pi Alley turned out to be the Printer, who gave out anti-Stamp Act fliers and asked players to bring him news-worthy stories to print. I thought his ink-stained hands were a particularly nice touch.
Other ghosts we met during the event included the Quiet Lady, Madam Riddle, the Patriarch, the Sheriff, and the Shifty Man. They chatted with us about their opinions on the Stamp Tax and the unruly crowd gathering to protest it. A few told us about the Loyal Nine/Sons of Liberty. Most asked us to perform various tasks on their behalf, whether it was decoding mysterious notes or passing along letters or packages.
Of course, being LARPers, we couldn’t simply chat with the ghosts and perform the tasks. We wore tricorn hats (and I wore a mock white powder wig made out of quilt batting when the heat allowed it.) My friend ended up developing a character, complete with a backstory about traveling from Philedelphia and looking for work in the Boston shipyards, and we carried around sweets to offer to the ghosts. We expected the ghosts to be portrayed by actors who wouldn’t really know what to do with us, but as it turns out, they were history buffs and enthusiastic reenactors with the Historical Society who knew the history of time period and their own characters more than well enough to roll with it.
I think my favorite part was meeting Madam Riddle and the Quiet Lady. We discovered them sitting in the window a tea shop. The Quiet Lady revealed herself to be Sarah Hutchinson, whom my friend correctly identified as a relative of Governor Hutchinson upon introduction. She asked us to have her letter defending the Governor published. (We brought it back to the Printer, who refused.) Madam Riddle, of course, shared a riddle a correspondent had sent her that she couldn’t solve. We gave her a riddle of our own in return, but I must say, hers was much better.
What goes into water black but comes out red?
(Do you know the answers?)
When we solved her riddle, Madam Riddle rewarded us with two coupons for a free cup of tea. (Highly recommend it; it was David’s Tea. They have locations all over the Northeast and Canada.)
We dawdled too much to meet every ghost — we missed the Painter and the Ruffian before the grand conclusion at 4:00 pm: a reenactment of the Stamp Act Protest. We gathered at the Corner of Summer Street and Washington Street, many of the participants carrying signs, and some bearing the effigy of Andrew Oliver (along with a green soled Jack boot representing Sheriff Greenleaf). Bostonians and tourists alike gawked at us as we marched to the Old State House, chanting things like “Liberty! Property! No Stamps!” and “Down with the Stampman! No stamps!” I spotted a number of cameras pointed our way, and I’ve found one short video on youtube taken by a spectator. You can see us being lead by the Ruffian, Ebenezer MacIntosh, with the Printer and the Painter bearing the effigy. (Yours truly is visible for two brief moments.) The Bostonian Society twitter feed also has a few nice shots of the protest and the ghosts.
At the State House, we held a brief “trial” for Andrew Oliver and found him guilty; he came out onto the steps and resigned to great cheering from the crowd. After the event ended, we got a chance to talk to some of the ghosts. There was also a man filming short interviews on re-enactment so… I guess if you happen to watch a Chinese documentary on re-enactment sometime in the future, let me know if a clip filmed in Boston made it into the movie? The friend accompanying me talked for the camera for a few minutes, so maybe he’ll end up in it.
Overall, the event was a lot of fun, and proved to be quite educational. I liked the way they designed the characters to represent the different sides of the Stamp Act issue and how the tasks gave us fodder for small talk and a reason to go back and forth between the ghosts. The costumes and props were all quite nice as well.