“Marathon Monday” is a term one often hears used to describe the third Monday in April here in the Boston area. And indeed, the Boston Marathon tends to dominate the collective consciousness on that day each year. But the annual holiday is officially called Patriots’ Day, and it's named that for a reason. It’s a commemoration of the Battles of Lexington and Concord — the opening of the American Revolution — fought right here in Massachusetts on April 19, 1775.
On a typical Patriots’ Day, long before the marathon starting gun goes off in Hopkinton, plenty of shots have already been fired on Lexington Green. They’re blanks, of course, but they are pretty convincing.
"For the reenactment community who live in New England, Patriots’ Day is like the Super Bowl," said Jim Hollister, a park ranger at Minute Man National Historical Park who manages, among other things, their living history efforts.
And Patriots' Day weekend is usually chock full of living history events. There are demonstrations and reenactments throughout the park, in historic houses and at Concord’s Old North Bridge — with hundreds of re-enactors portraying everyone from minutemen to redcoats, citizens loyal to the crown to residents forced to flee when the fighting erupted.
"It’s kind of a cultural phenomenon in Massachusetts," said Hollister.
But it’s the Monday morning, full-scale reenactment of the Battle of Lexington each Patriots’ Day that garners the most attention, often drawing thousands at 5:30 a.m. to watch the drama unfold on Lexington’s Battle Green, much as it would have in 1775.
"We take the reenactment very, very seriously," said Merrimac, Mass. resident Alex Cain — a member of the Lexington Minutemen who help organize the annual event and bring it to life.
"Each of the members is assigned a person to portray on the green," he explained. "And they will spend months, sometimes years, researching the person they portray."
They’ll also spend as much as twenty-five hundred dollars on a kit as they call it. Everything from hand-made, historically accurate clothing and accessories to detailed replica weaponry.
"We’re people who are very passionate about this," said Cain. "Where some people may want to go golfing or fix up an antique car — this is our hobby."
For years, Cain has spent Patriots’ Day portraying a minuteman named Jonas Parker.
"He was the gentleman, when the British began to sweep across the field, refused to retreat off the field," said Cain.
Parker was hit by enemy fire. As he attempted to reload his musket to fight back, he was bayoneted and killed — one of at least 49 Massachusetts residents and 73 British to die in the battles of Lexington and Concord.
But Parker is brought back to life each year with honor and gusto by Cain. As for a taste of what Cain might say to the redcoats on the field of battle as Parker?
"No sir, here I stand! You damned bloody-back! Go back to Boston!," said a full-throated Cain.
My attempts to get a response to those fighting words from a number of "redcoats" went unanswered. Perhaps not surprising, as they stood to — yet again — suffer a humiliating defeat in 2020.
All kidding aside, the patriots and redcoats are fighting together this year — along with the rest of us — in the battle against the spread of the coronavirus. And that means all events have been canceled.
"So to make up for it, we’re still reaching out to the public," said Cain. "To ... fill the gap and at least provide something for the public so that the day is not forgotten."
That something is a panoply of online content, produced by individuals, museums and historic organizations — across social media platforms — all under the umbrella "Virtual Patriots Day."
There will be photos of artifacts and documents. Jim Hollister, from Minuteman National Park, will roll out new interviews with historians on their Facebook page, and a virtual group reading of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s legendary poem, Paul Revere’s Ride.
"We have the curator at Concord Museum reading a stanza about the lanterns — one if by land, two if by sea — in front of the surviving signal lantern," said Hollister "We have a park ranger form Longfellow House, reading a stanza — you know — where the poem was written."
So if you want to remember the men and women who put the Patriot in Patriots’ Day, keep your eyes open for the hashtag #VirtualPatriotsDay on social media all weekend long — and throughout Monday.
"We wanna use this opportunity to kinda share with a larger audience some of the real history," said Hollister. "If people really wanna follow along they may come away with a deeper appreciation of what the day means."
At least you don’t have to get to Lexington at 5:30 a.m. to experience it.