Who: Globe staff writer Stephanie Ebbert; her husband, Ted Devlin;
and their children, Anna, 8, and Nick, 5
What: A visit to Fort Warren
Childhood today is hardly free-range. Our kids’ manicured play areas are safe and age-appropriate but often drained of adventure when they’re sanitized of danger.
Georges Island in Boston Harbor offers a refreshing departure. It’s a place with few rules, hard edges, and only intermittent railings. Exploring the island, I kept expecting to be told that we couldn’t walk there or climb that, that my children should be wearing helmets. Allow me to explain.
The island is dominated by Fort Warren, a Civil War-era fort with imposing ramparts, dismantled gun turrets, and a tall observatory with an impressive view of Boston Harbor. The fort was decommissioned in 1947 and is now preserved as a National Historic Landmark. Rangers provide guided tours, but exploring on our own increased our sense of adventure.
Fort Warren has a decidedly spooky vibe. It even has a legend of a ghost, called the Lady in Black. We didn’t see her, but we felt a sense of mystery as we wandered through a labyrinth of dark corridors that wound around to a pitch-black room. We explored cannon turrets now pooling with green water. We found thick nets of spider webs. We were never quite sure what we’d find around the next turn.
Or what the kids might try to scale: Fort Warren offers unbridled exploration. The kids climbed on a cannon because no one said they couldn’t. They dashed to the edge of an overlook, taking a few years off my life, if not their own. The fort is surprisingly unconcerned with railings. Steep steps down curving granite stairwells yawn ominously unguarded. A yellow painted line is all that warns of an upcoming 10-foot drop. Thank goodness for the lush parade grounds, which offered plenty of space and cushion for our kids to run around.
But the island also has great attractions for day-trippers — a Jasper White snack shack, a playground shaped like a miniature fort, a picnic area with grills, and spotless restrooms. There’s a gift shop and museum where you can learn about the Confederate prisoners housed there during the Civil War.
That combination of well-planned tourist attractions and creepy neglect makes this not-quite-abandoned fort feel like something out of a Scooby Doo episode. (Maybe the “Lady in Black” is a scheme invented to ward off developers!)
It also gives assurance that this place, for all its mystery, is not that scary. Except, maybe, for moms.