On the Freedom Trail, guides battle modern city life

David L. Ryan
David L. RyanEmily Kovatch, a history major in college, stopped at Paul Revere’s gravesite at the Old Granary Burying Ground./Globe Staff

Amid the throngs of office workers and tourist groups in downtown Boston you’ll soon come across a historical reenactor, clad in Colonial-era garb.

Emily Kovatchhas spent nearly a decade leading tours of the Freedom Trail, and she is used to the double-take she gets from visitors, even as locals pass by without a glance.

Known as a Freedom Trail Player, Kovatch doesn’t just follow a script as she escorts tourists through the city’s rich history. Like other guides, she uses her extensive historical background to give tourists a distinctive experience.

“This is different than just knowing history. Our job is to tell history,” Kovatch said. “You can do the tour with five different people and get five different tours.”


With a degree in history and a deep interest in Colonial times, Kovatch quickly found a home with the Freedom Trail Foundation when she moved to the area in 2009. Kovatch, 33, said the popularity of the tours offered has increased steadily since then.

This year, some 21 million people will visit Boston, up 1 million from last year, according to the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau. In the past five years, the number of nonstop international flights to Boston has risen by more than 50 percent.

That puts more pressure on tour guides like Kovatch, who must sometimes project their voices over the background din of the city to crowds of more than 50 people.

Whether battling the wail of sirens or competing with squirrels on the Boston Common for visitors’ attention, tour guides learn to “roll with surprises,” she said. In a bustling city, all sorts of things can happen, and tour guides must be prepared to handle anything that comes their way, especially the fickle New England weather.

Players must be prepared to give tours in any conditions, including bitter cold. That means layering up while still adhering to the clothing guidelines, which means no North Face allowed. The foundation offers wool gloves, hats, socks, and heavier costumes during the winter months. Kovach’s favorite is a heavy wool cloak.


“I mean, I love cloaks. It’s like walking around with a blanket,” she said with a laugh. “It’s all very comfortable and practical.”

The clothes are bought from various companies that specialize in reenactment clothing. The clothes take a beating outside, so the Freedom Trail Foundation has to make new purchases every couple of years.

But Kovatch said her commitment is long-term.

“I believe history affects and is important to everyone. It’s great that I can go out there and watch people get excited to learn something new on tour,” Kovatch said. “That’s my favorite thing, to see that what you do is making a difference.”

Maysoon Khan can be reached at maysoon.khan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at@maysoonkhann.