The Saga of the Bunker Hill Day Holiday

March 1, 2011
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Last year, there was a celebration among budget cutting members of the State Legislature when Governor Deval Patrick signed a law requiring government offices in Suffolk County to open on Evacuation Day and Bunker Hill Day.

We have our own questions about Evacuation Day remaining as a paid Suffolk County holiday.

Forcing the British fleet out of Boston Harbor by firing cannon from Dorchester Heights is not exactly comparable to the spilling of blood at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

About Bunker Hill Day we have no questions.

It should have remained a holiday, as doing away with it is a travesty considering the number of Americans who died there or who were wounded there in the name of the revolution.

What happened at Bunker Hill should never be forgotten as it represented the first time in 300 years that citizens of a rising nation had stood up against the power of the British Empire.

More than that, it represented a monumental moment in time when the British were badly beaten by American irregulars although in the end, they sent the Americans into retreat and then burned down Charlestown before sailing away.

Had the Americans not run out of ammunition, they might well have routed the British entirely.

The Battle of Bunker Hill marked the beginning of the end of British rule in North America.

Fast forward to two weeks ago when it was learned that even though the holiday had effectively been put to rest in order to save precious public funds, it will go on, but at the added cost of well over $1.5 million for Boston, Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop.

The reason: union contracts still must pay Suffolk County public employees a paid day off even if the government offices are to remain closed. The cities and towns are now forced to give those employees double-time on the holidays, or two paid days off later.

Boston alone will have to pay $1.53 million this year to keep city hall open on Bunker Hill Day and on Evacuation Day.

Mayor Menino, to his credit, is giving city employees the right to take the day off or to give them a comp day.

Most employees will likely take the holidays off, as these are real time, historical holidays and in Charlestown, well, what needs to be said about celebrating Bunker Hill Day?

The effort to erase Bunker Hill Day and Evacuation Day to save money and to do away with what have come to be known by some as “hack holidays” has back-fired, thankfully.

What existed in the past as a paid holiday for Suffolk County public employees remains so after the Legislature’s special touch.

They remain so at a much higher cost.

How ironic. How sad. How utterly ridiculous government can sometimes be.

  • Bob Allison

    Thank you for your defense of these two historical holidays. But as to the relative importance of Bunker Hill and Evacuation Day, while Bunker Hill demonstrated that the Americans could hold their ground against the British, tactically it was a defeat for their army; at the end of the day the British held the ground. Evacuation Day, on the other hand, was the first American victory in the War for Independence. The British were forced to leave, not because a cannon had been fired from Dorchester Heights, but because General Washington had effectively out-generaled them. Congress was so impressed they awarded Washington a gold medal–in effect, the first Congressional Medal of Honor.

    We do not need to denigrate one day to boost the other, both commemorate major events worth remembering. This year, you should attend the Evacuation Day ceremonies being held at 10 am at Dorchester Heights, at 11 am at Fort Hill in Roxbury, Thursday, March 17.

    Incidentally, the first Evacuation Day parade went from South Boston to Beacon Hill, at a time when the whole city, not just its neighborhoods, celebrated our shared history.

    Robert Allison
    History Department
    Suffolk University
    President, South Boston Historical Society

    • Loraine AshPlayera4

      It was heartwarming to see your explanation in the Beacon Hill Times regarding the importance of Bunker Hill as compared to Dorchester Heights. I, too, disagree with the notion that, since nobody was killed at Dorchester Heights, the achievement there is less deserving of recognition. Here in Revere, the local newspaper seems to be of the same mindset.

      As you point out, both events were major undertakings, well worth remembering.

      Incidentally, as someone born and brought up in South Boston, I always felt sure that I knew just about everything about the history of Evacuation Day. However, until I read your article, I had never heard that the first Evacuation Day parade went from South Boston to Beacon Hill. Thank you for including that information.

      Loraine Ash

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