If you can’t study it, eat it
Comestibles on sale at historic sites run the gamut from disconcerting to immoral. There are plenty of Boston baked-bean pots, featuring dried beans with inappropriate recipes, like the one at the Old North Church store: “Molasses is already in the seasoning packet so all you need to add is brown sugar and catsup.” If you ever do make Boston Baked Beans — a doubtful proposition, now that actual food is available year-round in the Northeast — you know that Boston beans contain molasses, mustard, salt pork, and, occasionally, beans, if you’re feeling especially extravagant. Catsup and brown sugar are the mark of a carpetbagger bean. Perhaps it’s a recipe the Romneys picked up in Utah.
Every store also has a candy display, the raison d’être of every school-trip-going third-grader. Allergy alert: “Boston Baked Beans,” which are red candy-coated peanuts, are available at every shop. If the threat of juvenile diabetes isn’t terrifying enough, the National Park Service store carries bloodcurdling, combat-ready candies, including candy cannon and musket balls and black-powder sugar cartridges with gumball bullets inside. It’s “Ordnance for Your Innards,” according to the Web site of the candy’s manufacturer, Cyrus Wakefield Inc., a Canadian firm clearly not run by aging draft dodgers.
Adults might want to buy a box of Boston Tea Party Tea, a teacup, and tea strainer at any of these fine emporia. If you are in need of a more powerful restorative, skip the tea and buy Constitution beer mugs and shot glasses, just perfect for “Pour Your Own Boilermaker Friday” at work.
Celebrating crime across the centuries
Everybody loves old-fashioned pirates, those jolly folks who just happened to spend their time looting ships and killing their crews in the 17th century. You can buy racks of Pirates of the Caribbean movie trading cards, the book Pirateology, pirate puzzles, and bendable, posable pirate dolls at both the Old North Church and the Constitution store (the latter’s museum at least offers an exhibit about the Barbary pirates, who operated 200 years later on a different continent. The Constitution was the flagship for a Mediterranean campaign against them in the early 1800s). Now, plenty of pirates sailed off the Massachusetts coast back in the day, with names like Blackbeard and Quelch, but they’re not the folks with the big splashy pictures on the racks. Heck, we even had a pirate named Rachel Wall operating out of Boston in the 1780s. Where are the “Notable Pirate Women in American History” decks of cards?
Your historic home
The historic gift shops actually do sell alluring items for the home. Bayberry soap is omnipresent and smelly, and reproductions of glass deck prisms — which refracted light through dark ship hallways — glow at the Constitution and Old South Meeting House stores. The Meeting House’s map reproductions of Boston from 1765 through 1877 show how the land was distorted as our forerunners filled in the Back Bay. The writing sets of quills and ink powder are a bit silly, but the Old State House shop sells pens made of swirled glass with six tempting colors of ink. It’s far too lovely to use on the Constitution’s Story of Whaling coloring book; you will just have to purchase an historic writing journal and a scrimshaw kit.