As I was reading blogs dedicated to Fathers yesterday I was wracking my brain to think of a charming story about my own Daddy, but nothing really came to me that made him sound like all these other Fathers. He was uniquely him! As is my habit, no picture I could upload would do it and the weekend came to a close with not an idea in sight. This morning at six o’clock sharp my eyes popped open and there was the perfect tale, as usual a day late and a dollar short. I think that you may like this one, and learn something from it because I did. One of Boston’s great institutions are the Swan Boats. I thought they were one of a kind but I never really knew the history, now I do and so will you.
The Swan Boat story dates back to the 1870’s when Robert Paget, whose descendants continue to run the business, was granted a boat for hire license by the City of Boston. Rowing a small boat in the Public Garden lagoon was a favorite summer pastime for city residents during the day and evening.
In 1877, Robert and others introduced a new kind of boat to the waters of the lagoon. With the popularity of the bicycle expanding, he developed a catamaran which housed a paddle wheel arrangement that was foot-propelled. To cover the captain, Robert suggested a swan.The idea came to him from his familiarity with the opera Lohengrin. The opera is based on a medieval German story in which Lohengrin, a knight of the Grail crosses a river in a boat drawn by a swan to defend the innocence of his heroine, Princess Elsa.
Initially, the fleet was composed of single-seaters that could carry eight. The present boats are replicas of the originals, but have five or six benches, carrying up to 20 passengers. Robert Paget lived only one year after the first Swan Boats were launched. He died in 1878 at the age of 42 and his wife Julia, a young widow with four children, assumed full management of the new enterprise.
From 1878 through the early 1900’s, Julia persevered to keep the family business alive. Because she was a woman, she was required for many years to gather signatures from local business owners in the Back Bay to provide testimony to her ability to run her business.
In 1914, Julia’s youngest son, John carried on the tradition for the Paget family. With increasing popularity of the Swan Boats, John started work on larger vessels with five benches on each boat. The current fleet consists of six boats, the oldest of which was built by John in 1918. John and his wife Ella raised six children, all of whom spent many summers working on the boats. Along with his father and mother, John loved nature and wildlife. To him, the Public Garden was a very special spot. After 50 years of commanding the tiny fleet, John Paget died in 1969 and his son, Paul took over the helm.
The tradition, which began over 120 years ago, has grown to become a symbol of Boston and the city’s unique blend of history and beauty. Paul and his wife Marilyn maintain the charm and integrity of a vision that became a reality for a young boat builder and his wife many years ago. The view while riding on the Swan Boats gives each passenger the opportunity to enjoy the natural splendor provided by the 24 acres of the Public Garden. This green and flowering emerald, in the middle of the bustling metropolis, provides a natural refuge for man and bird alike. In describing the enchantment of old Boston, one local scribe wrote “The Swan Boats are cruising and the ducks are chasing peanuts. It will be just that way for a hundred springs from now, we hope. The New Boston is here and maybe some day there will be a new, New Boston, but good old Boston, like the Swan Boats, quietly glides on forever.” Now you would wonder what all this has to do with my Father? When I was in elementary school, every spring all the children went to ride on the Swan Boats. That in and of it self was not a new experience for me. My father owned a very large men’s clothing store across from the Public Gardens and my brother and I had ridden on these boats hundreds of times. This particular day I was there with my whole class. I should tell you now that I was a very shy little girl and I would have been happy to simply fade into the background. Not a quality anyone who has seen me speak publicly can comprehend, but she is still in here somewhere.
There I was just sitting in my seat, trying not to stand out in any way, when I gazed up and on the bridge, that you see captured so beautifully in the picture at the top, was my Daddy and his entire staff arrayed along the bridge yelling Judy, Judy! One more Judy and we all would have waited for Cary Grant to appear. I was mortified, I am sure that at that point I wanted to jump overboard. But, I lived and now that Is one of my fondest memories.
So, that would be my Father, often absent, as were Fathers of that time. At work, playing golf or at the track. When he was with us he was larger than life. Handsome, sweet and funny, never the disciplinarian. Everyone loved him, I more than he ever knew. I always felt special when he was with me and I realize now that not every little girl gets that gift in life and I must treasure it.
If you look at the banner across the top of this blog, you will see a Father looking lovingly at his baby, that is me and my Dad, and when I am feeling down I just look at that picture and say to myself, “one day someone really loved me”. Please find that picture of yourself that makes you feel that loved…….Happy Belated Fathers Day to all!