Elvis devotees have crossed the continent to view a jacket The King once wore on a TV show. Football fans have pawned their wedding rings for a ticket to the Super Bowl. Otherwise normal men have donned leather and fishnets to participate in a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. People will do almost anything for entertainment. But guess how many go out of their way just to see a rock. Would you believe nearly a million a year? It’s true.
The rock in question is no precious gem. It isn’t cursed like the Hope Diamond. It’s a boulder, a slab, a stone immovable except by heavy machinery. It’s an impediment, an eyesore, a big chunk of granite left behind by a retreating glacier millions of years ago.
What sort of rock can wield such inexplicable power over the average tourist? What kind of boulder can boast such superstardom? Think back to your fifth-grade American history class. This stone of contention is none other than Plymouth Rock, where the Pilgrims are said to have landed on the continent on November 21, 1620.
“I knew that,” you say, like a couch-bound Jeopardy junkie with the right answer after the buzzer. Well, what most visitors say upon viewing Plymouth Rock for the first time is more along the lines of: “You dragged me away from Faneuil Hall for this?”
The historic rock is perched on a beach in Plymouth, a coastal town in Massachusetts about forty miles southeast of Boston (home to Faneuil Hall and other historic shopping centers). In Plymouth in the summer, at the height of tourist season, you can expect to endure long lines, wailing children, hot sticky weather, and building anticipation for a glimpse of the large, rounded rock with the number “1620” etched into its torso. Some tourists actually take home videos of the event. Pity their poor relatives who had to remain back in Ohio.
Protected by a concrete canopy donated in 1921 by the National Society of Colonial Dames, the rock sits in a shaded cage looking somewhat like a sleeping walrus. It doesn’t move. It doesn’t talk. It doesn’t, in fact, teach history at all.
What the fuss is all about. Take a look, then move on. Quickly.
As if this weren’t enough to qualify it for the official Don’t Even Go There Hall of Lame, the rock’s very legitimacy has been called into question. The official story cites Plymouth Rock as the very spot where the Mayflower’s passengers, America’s first pilgrims, set foot in the New World after dry-heaving their way across the Atlantic in their quest for religious freedom.
Hogwash, according to some.
The first published references to Plymouth Rock weren’t discovered until over 100 years after the alleged event. Two sources written by the Pilgrims themselves never mention the rock at all. Think about it. Wouldn’t you have aimed for the sandy part of the shore if you were steering that boat? Why would anyone land on a rock?
Time—and a well-organized public relations campaign by city fathers—have put Plymouth on the map. They’ve made the boulder the world’s first and most authentic rock star, a world-renowned symbol for the courage and faith of those who founded New England’s first colony. Funny how history rewrites itself.
Judge for yourself, but by all means, save yourself the trouble of a trip to Plymouth. That’s our job. If you want to rediscover history, look to a different era or for a different location. It’s not like there’ll ever be a shortage of history. Just like there’ll never be a shortage of travel stories gone bad. Lucky us . . .
Little Known Quote: “Here is a stone which the feet of a few outcasts pressed for an instant; and the stone becomes famous.” -Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835.
Lessons Learned: Beware of places claiming historical interest. At best, they’ll leave you feeling satisfied but vaguely annoyed, not unlike the cheesy residue of a pizza stuck to the roof of your mouth. At worst, you’ll spend precious vacation time waiting to see something as mundane as an empty field or a well-worn rock.
How We Saw It:
Communication Breakdown: 1
Customer Dis-service: 2
Discomfort Level: 4
Grunge Factor: 1
Inactivity Guide: 5
Spontaneous Consumption: 3
Fun Fraction: 1/5
If You Won’t Listen to Us:
Nearest Airport: Logan International Airport (Boston) & T.F. Green Airport (Providence, RI)
Native Population: 52,000
Normal Attractions: Plimouth Plantation, Pilgrim Hall Museum, the Mayflower II, and whale watching.
Final Point of Interest: The town promotes itself as “America’s Hometown.”