Each year on the Sunday closest to June 17, Charlestown closes its borders and celebrates Bunker Hill Day, commemorating the Revolutionary War battle that colonists lost, but fought so valiantly that they emboldened other colonies and gave the British pause. It was a pivotal point in the American Revolution, and world history.
Residents fly their Bunker Hill flags, their Gadsden (Don’t Tread On Me) flags, or different regimental flags. People line the streets and throw parties on the parade route, but it’s all over in a day.
It didn’t used to be that way. In fact, Charlestown used to call it “Parade Week,” and according to long-time Charlestown resident Patty Driscoll Gould, “It was the official start of summer."
"Others had Memorial Day," Gould said. "We had Bunker Hill Day as our start of summer. We even got new parade outfits!”
The parade lasted a day, but the carnival lasted a week, and Townies of a certain age all have carnival stories to tell, but no one under 40 has any first-hand memories of it at all.
The last carnival was in 1974, when, on Sunday, June 16, a 20-year-old Cambridge woman named MaryBeth Pero was killed and 19 others were seriously injured in an accident on a ride called the Hurricane. Charlestown held the parade the following year, but there would be no more carnivals.
Sean Boyle, an earnest 20-year-old student and fourth-generation townie, grew up hearing stories about the carnival from his father, uncles, aunts, and neighbors, but he never got to attend one.
Boyle and some of his friends have formed a group called The Townie Association. They’ve sought input from neighborhood groups, contacted vendors and sponsors, scouted locations, enlisted support from the community, appealed to the Charlestown Neighborhood Council, and even Mayor Menino’s office in an effort to bring the carnival back to Bunker Hill Day celebrations.
“We're doing this because it’s what my generation wants—the younger generation who never got to experience our very own carnival, want this to happen. At all the safety and parade committee meetings, we were constantly told if you want something to happen, then make it happen. So that's what we are doing.”
Boyle enjoys the parade, but he feels that it is “geared more toward the older generation.”
The Townie Association is trying to resurrect the carnival to give back to the community where its members live, work, and go to school. The group wants to give younger townies the kind of experiences that his parents’ generation cherish.
In a follow-up email Boyle wrote: “Another reason is because it would be an awesome way to surprise the older generation Townies. Think of their faces when this carnival happens; the memories of their childhood will come back to life. It would also be an awesome reason for Townies who no longer live in Charlestown to come back. It will reconnect people to their hometown.”