CONCORD -- History will be on full display in Concord as a full weekend of events arrives to commemorate Patriots Day, a holiday that one expert says defined the character of the town for generations.
The Concord Museum will be open both Saturday and Monday, and museum officials have plans ranging from a silversmithing demonstration to an open house for a historical tavern.
Almost a dozen events are planned in Minute Man Park during the week of Patriots Day, including the traditional commemoration of the North Bridge fight and a candlelight vigil. A number of historical re-enactments are planned over the course of the week.
"(Patriots Day) is obviously the key day for us in this story here," said BJ Dunn, the park's superintendent. "It's the busiest day of the year at the park."
Despite the popularity of the Boston Marathon, which is perennially run on Patriots Day, the holiday was established as a statewide holiday to commemorate the April 19, 1775, battles of Lexington and Concord, battles that set the groundwork for the American Revolution.
David Wood, curator of the Concord Museum, said that day has defined the community for hundreds of years.
"One of the interesting things about the 19th to me is how immediately and how completely the people in Concord recognized that they had changed history," he said. "It started the next day, literally. It never went away. It's informed the way this community has thought about itself for every moment that's passed since."
Minute Man Park has preserved many of the key sites from that day. The area around the restored North Bridge, where colonial militia were ordered to fire on British soldiers for the first time in what would become the Revolutionary War, is dotted with landmarks. A statue of a minuteman bears a quartet from "The Concord Hymn," a Ralph Waldo Emerson poem about the events of that day and, as he called it, "the shot heard round the world."
The bridge will be a hotspot during the week of Patriots Day. On Saturday, a 40-person company will perform a historical demonstration nearby, and on Monday, the Concord Parade will march to the bridge and conduct a re-enactment of the fight, as is tradition.
A new "patriot vigil" has been planned this year, too. On Tuesday night, those in attendance will form a procession from the nearby visitors center to the bridge carrying candle lanterns for a ceremony including poetry, music and a recitation of the names of those who died during the fighting on April 19, 1775.
The Concord Museum will also open the Wright Tavern to the public for the first time this weekend. On Saturday and Monday, folks can visit the tavern -- which Wood said was at the "very center of the action of the day" -- and get a sense of what it was like hundreds of years ago.
"There will be interpretive material around, but the interior spaces are 18th-century spaces on the first floor," Wood said. "They haven't really been modified that much."
The weekend will include a re-enactment of the fighting at a section of the park called "Parker's Revenge." Historians say that while British troops were retreating through Lincoln and Lexington after the skirmish in Concord, they were repeatedly harassed by colonial militia in the woods.
In recent years, historians and park experts have learned more about a section of the trail where minutemen led by Capt. John Parker ambushed the British. For decades, the prevailing theory was that the militia stood near a rocky outcropping during the battle, but after finding several dozen musket balls, experts now believe the fighting likely took place farther west, in a wooded area that provided more cover.
"It's completely different to how we thought, and it makes a lot of sense," Ranger Jim Hollister said. "It's a fantastic position, and we never would have thought about it."
By Ralph Waldo Emerson
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.
The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.
On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.
Spirit, that made those heroes dare,
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.