PLYMOUTH — Be forewarned: If you come to visit me over the holiday weekend, I will take you to Plymouth Rock. Longtime residents of “America’s Hometown” like me are required to do so, or face banishment to an inland community. I’ll wax semi-coherently about the rock’s outsized significance as a symbol — think 10-ton granite emoji. It signifies both the end of the Pilgrims’ religious persecution and the start of a genocidal assault on Native Americans. I’ll tell you it’s the subject of a famous Malcolm X quote (“We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, the rock was landed on us”) and that it’s been mentioned in songs by Brian Wilson and Cole Porter. There’s even a piece of it in the Smithsonian.
You’ll declare it small and uninteresting, the kids will barely look up from their screens, and we’ll move on. But not to that other high-profile symbol of Plymouth — the Mayflower II. The replica ship is in Mystic, Conn., being gussied up for the town’s 400th birthday celebration in 2020. You can then choose to ditch me and drive a few miles south to Plimoth Plantation (open through Sunday). But for those who want to stick around for a slightly less traditional Thanksgiving-time experience in Plymouth, here are a few suggestions.
A different kind
of Plymouth rock
of Plymouth rock
A stone’s throw (sorry) from Plymouth Rock, there’s a grove of trees where the cover photo for Bob Dylan’s “Desire” album was shot in October 1975. (Google “PopSpots” and “Plymouth” for a detailed description of the location.) Dylan was here to launch his now fabled Rolling Thunder Revue tour. The troupe included Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, Mick Ronson from David Bowie’s Spiders from Mars, Allen Ginsberg, and Sam Shepard. Their two-day stay has become the stuff of local legend. Wander up to Main Street and visit Tim Downie at Mars Records — he’ll cue up some stories.
While you’re there, cross the road to the British Imports shop. The proprietor, Unity MacLean, was Led Zeppelin’s publicist at the height of the band’s debauchery, working out of London. “I haven’t had a dull life,” she once told me. Indeed. Buy some tea and biscuits and politely ask for the sordid details.
Walk this way
At more than 100 square miles, Plymouth is geographically the largest community in Massachusetts, so it’s easy to wear out a pair of shoes. If you’re downtown, save your soles to trudge up Burial Hill, behind Main Street. The Pilgrims began using the hill as a cemetery in 1620, and the oldest stone marker dates to 1681. Narrow paths twist and turn between and around the more than 2,000 graves. The views out to Plymouth Beach and Cape Cod Bay are spectacular. On a moon-drenched winter’s night, with a chilled wind skipping through these ancient grounds, the past is unmistakably present.
Back at sea level, walk through Brewster Gardens, a park bisected by Town Brook, which supplied the Pilgrims with fresh water. Cross a wooden footbridge, pass through two underpasses and keep going until you reach the Plimoth Grist Mill, a working reproduction of the 1636 original. Beyond it is the muck-mired Jenney Pond, the setting for one of the darkest chapters in local history: Scenes from the execrable 2001 film “Osmosis Jones” were filmed here. Bill Murray came to Plymouth to make a movie and it was that?
See the big landmark
Just north of downtown, off Route 3A, you’ll find the National Monument to the Forefathers. Physically, it’s what the rock is not: massive and ornate. Set at the top of a lazy slope, the statue depicts Faith, Morality, Education, Law, and Liberty in a way that is the equivalent of an all-caps Facebook post. Not subtle, but quite impressive. Dedicated in 1889, the 81-foot-high structure is thought to be the tallest solid granite statue in the US. Fun fact: The monument is featured in a 2012 documentary called “Monumental,” narrated by Kirk Cameron. Yes, the kid from “Growing Pains.”
Drink like a Pilgrim
The Pilgrims might have settled on Plymouth because they ran of out beer. Without fresh water, the Mayflower’s passengers relied on suds during their voyage across the Atlantic. By the journey’s end, they were nearly tapped out, and after scouring the Cape coast for safe harbor, decided to come ashore at Plymouth. “We could not now take time for further search or consideration, our victuals being much spent,” William Bradford wrote in his journal, “especially our beer.”
Thirsty visitors in 2018 can choose from three excellent breweries: Mayflower Brewing Company, Second Wind Brewing Company, and IndieFerm. (For something harder, there’s the Dirty Water Distillery.) Each brewery has a tap room, but you can also drink their beer in many local restaurants. Eating out here once meant heavily breaded fried fish and soggy lobster rolls marketed to tourists. Today, the town supports a bona fide food scene. Restaurants like The Tasty, The Blue-Eyed Crab, Leena’s Kitchen, and Martinis have been joined by newcomers such as Thirty-Nine Court, Salt, Cork + Table, and — just last week — Su Casa, which bills itself as “modern Baja cuisine.” It’s a long way from scrod.Mark Pothier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @markpothier.