your average duck tour...
By Kristen Pounds - Portsmouth Herald
March 16, 2003
used a microwave today? How about the telephone?
Checked your e-mail yet?
If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, then you
have a Boston inventor to thank.
The Innovation Odyssey is the Boston History Collaborative's newest
tour. It showcases the personal stories of the many inventors who
have lived and worked in Boston since its settlement. The tour bus
expertly winds through Boston traffic past the very sites where the
telephone, the mutual fund, the microwave and many other innovations
came to be.
Local actors Celeste McClain and Frank Ridley present the tour aboard
the bus by impersonating the inventors with the cunning use of hats
-sometimes, the actor plays up to four people at once!
Participants say they find this approach much more entertaining than
the usual fact-reciting tour. Even with a bus filled with somber reporters
and dignified patrons of local historical societies, Ridley donned
his bowler and gave such a boisterous impression of a native Red Sox
fan that we could not help but laugh.
Television monitors spaced every few rows on the coach supplement
the tour. Material includes film clips from the 1900s, short documentaries
on inventors and interviews with bioengineers. With the new timing
capabilities of DVDs, the images are synchronized with the actor's
sketch. As we travel over the Longfellow Bridge - locally known as
the "salt and pepper shaker bridge" - the monitors play
a synchronized clip filmed over the same bridge nearly a century ago.
Sightseers venture off the bus to visit the surgical amphitheater
at Massachusetts General Hospital where anesthesia was first used
in 1846. Electricity hadn't been implemented yet, so the surgery was
built under a huge glass dome to utilize every minute of daylight.
Tight rows of wooden chairs encircle an open space: the macabre site
of the operating table.
The first modern surgery was performed in this very room. Before 1846
ether had been a purely recreational drug, but eventually dentist
Dr. William T.G. Morton recognized ether's potential in modern medicine.
Or so history tells us
the actors of the Innovation Odyssey
might reveal a different story.
Since the surgical amphitheater was built way up on the fourth floor
so other patients wouldn't hear the screams, anyone unable to travel
up four flights of stairs will not be able to enjoy the full scope
of the tour. However, this tour involves less walking than the Freedom
Trail and better protection from the winter weather as well.
Tourists also hop off the bus to explore the MIT Museum. The museum
houses the first computer to use the Internet. Arthur Ganson's humorous
and intriguing mechanical sculptures reside there as well.
Unfortunately, it is a short visit; left-brainers will probably want
to return to the museum later and spend more time there.
The Innovation Odyssey Tour presents dozens of inventions and the
stories of how they evolved. Some inventions, like the telephone,
required attempt after failed attempt from the inventor. Other inventors
made their discoveries purely by accident; Raytheon worker Percy Spencer
just happened to have a candy bar in his pocket while he was experimenting
with radar, and the kitchen microwave was born.
Here are some examples of Boston innovations: Morse Code ®, Telephone
®, Anesthesia ®, Drinkable tap water ®, Radar equipment
mass-production ®, Microwave ®, First American college ®,
Polaroid cameras ®, Internet ®, E-mail ®, Mutual Funds
®, Smallpox inoculation ®, Ice shipping ®.
The two-hour tour concludes with a trip through "Genetown,"
the section of Cambridge where more than 200 bioengineering companies
thrive. Boston's Whitehead Institute continues to lead genetics into
the 21st century with the Human Genome Project. Because of the college
towns' trio of Harvard University, MIT and Boston University, the
Boston area continues to function as a center for innovative thinking.
In fact, Boston University professor Jon Lipsky wrote the Innovation
The Boston History Collaborative, recently founded in 1997, attempts
to unify all the smaller historical societies in Boston and connect
the city's museums and tours. This nonprofit organization has funded
four new major tours since its inception, including Boston By Sea
and the Literary Trail. The collaborative strives to make Boston's
revolutionary history come alive in ways that are fresh and fascinating.
The Innovation Odyssey successfully combines entertainment with history.
The city's character manifests itself not only through the neighborhoods
visited, but also by the humor and tenacity of the inventors. No matter
how well you think you know Boston, this tour is guaranteed to teach
you something new.
Tickets for the Innovation Odyssey are $25 for adults and can be purchased
at the Boston Museum of Science or by calling (617) 350-0358. Tours
run every Saturday at 2 p.m. from 28 State St., opposite the State
Street T stop on the blue line. The tour also picks up passengers
at the Museum of Science.