LEXINGTON — This year, there was no roar of muskets on the Lexington Green.
The annual commemoration of the battle between Minutemen and British soldiers on April 19, 1775, was not held Monday for only the second time in the past 48 years because of the coronavirus pandemic. For historical reenactors who hold the Patriots Day commemoration dear, it was a heavy blow.
“It’s an annual ritual. It’s really the best day of the year for us. It’s better than Christmas. This is what we live for,’’ said Sam Doran, adjutant of the Minutemen. “It hurt not being able to do it. But we know it was necessary right now and we are looking ahead to 2021.”
Doran said the Minutemen have conducted the reenactment each year since 1971, the year after it was canceled when a gale slammed into the region. More than 10,000 people typically attend the event, which features 40 to 50 Minutemen confronting far more numerous British soldiers in a noisy mock battle with muskets.
The Minutemen, however, could not let Patriots Day 2020 pass without acknowledging the sacrifices of that day. Wearing Colonial garb with COVID-19 facemasks on, a handful of reenactors gathered on Lexington Green without firing a single musket.
Instead, they laid flowers at the memorials around the Lexington Green and paused to make short videos summarizing the historical events.
“There was no musket fire mainly because we didn’t want to draw a crowd,” Doran said. “We wanted to make sure the Minutemen weren’t forgotten on Patriots Day, but we wanted to be very careful about how we held the program.”
Joann Gschwendtner has lived in the Jonathan Harrington House since 1977 and annually opens the doors of her historic home on the Green to families, some of whom first came as children themselves in the 1970s and now bring children and grandchildren to the house. Gschwendtner makes sure the children have prime viewing spots.
“Well, it’s a special house. It’s an historic house,” she said. “The man (Jonathan Harrington) who lived here went and fought in the battle and was wounded and died on the doorstep. So the house is part of the battle.”
Gschwendtner’s hospitality draws anywhere from 35 people to 70 people on Patriots Day. But there is one constant, regardless of the number of attendees.
“It’s a zoo” she said. “It’s a lot of people but it’s fun ... it’s a festive day in Lexington.”
This year was far different.
“There’s nothing going on today. A friend of mine came over and we just sat on the steps with our red shirts and tricorn hats,” she said. “I think it’s always a disappointment when you can’t celebrate the beginning of the Revolutionary War right outside your front door.”
Gschwendtner is cautiously optimistic the commemoration will resume next year.
“Hopefully we will all be healthy and we will have the battle out front again and all the regular festivities of the day,” she said. “And hopefully, we will have a nice day with the sun shining and maybe 65 degrees out.”
Today’s Minutemen trace their organization back to 1689 and still take the oath created in 1773 by the Rev. Jonas Clark that called on its members to sacrifice their own wishes and own needs for the “common cause.”
“We tried to take a page from their book and in 2020 we socially distance for the common cause,” Doran said. “There are still ways for us to carry on even in the midst of the social distancing.”
The National Park Service, which runs the Minuteman National Historic Park, has created a list of virtual Patriots Day events.