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Bring the Family

A glimpse of history at Lexington tavern

mark shanahan/globe staff

WHO: Globe staff writer Mark Shanahan and his children, Julia, 11, and Beck, 7

WHAT: Going back in time

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WHERE: Munroe Tavern in Lexington

The redcoats weren’t coming; they were here, at least one of them, and he was standing right next to us in the taproom of Munroe Tavern. Beck couldn’t take his eyes off the make-believe British soldier with the antique rifle and the black tricorn hat.

My son and daughter and I had come to check out the house in Lexington that, for at least a few hours on April 19, 1775, was the headquarters of the British Army. It had been taken over by several hundred unruly redcoats who plundered William Munroe’s place, gorging on his food and drink, overturning furniture, and firing a musket ball into the ceiling. (No wonder they lost the war.)

Munroe Tavern is one of several Revolutionary War sites operated by the Lexington Historical Society, and it’s the most recently restored. Also worth checking out is the nearby Hancock-Clarke House, where John Hancock and Samuel Adams happened to be staying when Paul Revere rode through, and the Old Burying Ground, whose inhabitants include Captain John Parker, the leader of the Lexington militia on that fateful April day 237 years ago.

We were greeted at Munroe Tavern by Paul and Diane O’Shaughnessy, husband-and-wife reenactors who took us on a tour of the house, but not before we sat down and watched “First Shot!,” an entertaining short film about the events leading up to the first bloody battle of the war.

Built in 1735 and purchased by Munroe in 1770, the house on Mass. Ave. was not only a temporary headquarters for the Brits. The O’Shaughnessys — she in her linen dress, he in his scarlet jacket — took us upstairs to the bedroom where, during a visit to Lexington in 1789, President Washington was served dinner by Munroe’s three daughters. (Items preserved from that visit include the chair he sat on and the cup and spoon the commander in chief used for his tea.)

“He was Lexington’s first tourist,” said Paul.

“He was a rock star,” said Diane. “There was Washington mania in Lexington.”

We concluded our tour by watching Paul demonstrate how to load and fire a musket. (No, he didn’t actually shoot it.) The process captivated my son, in particular, who quizzed our host on how the tiny musket balls were made and how far they traveled.

We exited through the gift shop, where an older, white-haired gentleman had fallen fast asleep waiting for the next tour to start. Julia smiled. “History is interesting but maybe not exciting, Daddy,” she said.

Munroe Tavern  1332 Massachusetts Ave., Lexington. Open noon-4 p.m. daily Memorial Day-Oct. 31; weekends March 31-Memorial Day. Tours given hourly.

Mark Shanahan can be reached at
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