Boston Beginnings

By Maureen A. Taylor Premium

In Boston, a city filled with historical attractions, competition for tourists’ attention is fierce. One of the city’s newest museums, Dreams of Freedom, successfully pulls in visitors by telling the story of Boston’s rich immigrant history with lifelike mannequins, virtual environments and traditional artifacts. You enter hearing the words of one immigrant — “I’ve made up my mind. I have to go. Life must be better over there…;” — and leave with a view of immigrants’ assimilated lives.

Upon arrival at the museum, you’re issued a “passport” that’s stamped five times as you move through the immigration process. Mannequins with video-generated faces tell their stories of immigrating to Boston at different points in history. In the section on modes of transportation, you walk across a ship deck rolling with the ocean’s waves; “years later,” you experience an immigrant’s airplane trip to America. Interactive exhibits invite you to try to assemble a puzzle once given to non-English speaking immigrants to test their intelligence, test your knowledge by matching definitions to immigration terminology, or explore changing immigration laws. A 22-minute film tells the stories of famous Boston immigrants such as early settler John Winthrop and Camelot’s patriarch and matriarch, Patrick and Bridget Kennedy. At the end of your visit, you can preserve your own immigration story by recording it in the museum’s oral history center.

Ask anyone what ethnic group is associated with Boston and they will probably say Irish. But many other ethnic groups have passed through the city, which today is home to Senegalese, Italian, Chinese and Russian communities, among others. Dreams of Freedom captures this multicultural history with charts, graphs and artifacts.

To learn more about Boston’s immigrant history, take one of the guided walking tours of the city’s historical immigration spots led by guides costumed as Benjamin Franklin, Calvin Coolidge, Abigail Adams or Sophie Tucker. (The seasonal walks begin in spring and include lunch at a historic Boston restaurant.) Or you can explore these sites yourself with a free, self-guided tour of Boston’s Immigrant Heritage Trail; free maps are available at the museum gift shop. For more information on Dreams of Freedom, visit its Web site <> or call (617) 338-6022.

From the February 2001 issue of Family Tree Magazine