"Souvenir” is the French word for memory. In the Boston that local schlockmongers want us to remember, the city was lousy with pirates, ghosts, and ducklings; children ingested bullets and gunpowder; and first lady Abigail Adams wore plenty of eyeliner when she, anachronistically, played cards with entertainer Josephine Baker. Boston’s historic Freedom Trail gift shops are, clearly, the manifestation of our confusing, conflicted, amusing past.
The Freedom Trail stores are each run by different organizations, but they share the same bifurcated mission: to educate the public, and to rope in as much moolah as possible to keep their museums solvent. That is why you are condemned to spend precious minutes watching your tween niece mull over sets of fuchsia polka-dotted sneaker laces at the Old North Church when you could be snarfing cannoli at Modern Pastry. Here’s what you can expect when, as a loyal Bostonian, you carry out your duty to accompany easily impressed visitors to the Old South Meeting House Museum Shop, the Old State House Museum Shop, the National Park Service Bookstore, the Old North Church Gift Shop, or, across the river in Charlestown, the USS Constitution Museum Store.
Want to know inside tips from the souvenir world? Read Gift Shop magazine, which notes that “Every gift retailer knows — you have to stock plush.” Of course, since cows left the Boston Common, we haven’t had a heck of a lot of cute taxidermy subjects around town, so our local historic retailers have decided to make plush toys out of animals that have no natural fur! Ducklings are the chief beneficiary of this phylogenetic reimagining, thanks to Robert McCloskey’s 1941 picture book Make Way for Ducklings, an upbeat tale of how a cheerful, portly policeman saves a flock of helpless ducklings led across four lanes of traffic by a crazed, desperate mother in search of the father who abandoned the mallard family. In commemoration of the ducks’ fearless stupidity, the Old North Church gift shop has at least 36 cubic feet of store space devoted to fuzzy duckies, duckie shirts, duckies, duckie onesies, duckie books, and still more duckies.
Mammalized lobsters are also given pride of place at the Old North Church shop, furry and soft, though they still lack breasts and spinal columns. Patrons of the Constitution who wish to defend traditional hairy-animal values can purchase a bear named Scuttlebutt. He is dressed like a member of the crew, and his name is not funny.
A few humans have also been plushed, growing a thin, soft layer of fur from the palms of their hands, as well as from their necks. George and Martha Washington and John and Abigail Adams dolls populate the National Park Service store in Boston, along with a Paul Revere doll. Abigail and Martha seem to be wearing heavy eyeliner. So does Paul, though George and John are just wearing wigs. There is no Ringo doll.