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HOLY SMOKE!
10/29/2011 5:47:47 AM


Except for Edgar Guest and Ogden Nash, my favorite American poet has to be Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. His A LANDLORD’S TALE: THE RIDE OF PAUL REVERE is a prime example of my all-time favorites.

Of course, most people know it as THE MIDNIGHT RIDE OF PAUL REVERE, but Longfellow never called it that. In fact, he only involved the renowned skillet salesman because his name was more easily rhymed with than the other two protagonists, William Dawes and Dr. Samuel Prescott (“Billy Dawes, no kin to Santy Claus” and Prescott’s “wry Sammy a double whammy” were perhaps avoided as a bit of a stretch.)

In any event, in April 1775, the embryo of a revolutionary war was incubating, and Paul Revere and his colleagues were dispatched from Boston to Lexington (Concord was an alternative) to alert residents the Regulars (as the Brits were called) might be en route and hell-bent on glomming onto the Yankees’ guns and ammo.

“One if by land, two if by sea” was the proposed signal, originally planned to be lanterns placed in a handy church steeple. Obviously overlooked by Longfellow and astute historians was Revere, Dawes and Prescott’s membership in the Antioch Congregationalist Church of the Unmitigated Truth, where all three were accomplished musicians and performed each Sabbath as featured “classical bell ringers.”

Each man was responsible for four of the 12 polished chiming bells, ranging from the pure tones of middle C all the way up to B, including D flat, E flat, F flat, G flat and A sharp, plus a hybrid bell that Revere was assigned for special occasions. As the three were adept at sight-reading, especially in the treble clef, all the parishioners anxiously looked forward to Yuletide renditions of the HALLALUAH CHORUS.

“I don’t think we should rely on those dang lanterns,” Dawes warned. “What if the wind comes up and blows one of ‘em over? We could burn the whole bloody church down!”

All three suddenly recalled Longfellow’s immortal ditty:
WHILE THE ORGAN PEELED POTATOES,
LARD WAS RENDERED BY THE CHOIR;
WHILE THE SEXTANT WRUNG THE DISHRAG,
SOMEONE SET THE CHURCH ON FIRE!
‘HOLY SMOKE,’ THE PREACHER SHOUTED;
IN THE RAIN HE LOST HIS HAIR!
NOW HIS HEAD RESEMBLES HEAVEN,
‘CAUSE THERE IS NO PARTING THERE!

“Good thinking!” good Dr. Prescott concurred.

“I know!” Revere enthused. “Why don’t we just ring the bells? We could do JUST AS I AM or THE OLD RUGGED CROSS. The citizenry would be alerted the Regulars were coming, and they could hide all their guns and ammunition, like under their beds!”

Dawes thought that was a superb idea. “And just to make sure, we could fire our single shot muzzle loaders as we ride into town playing our musical bells! That oughta get their attention!”

Of course, as with all great plans of mice and minutemen, this may have looked better on paper than it turned out.

Even before they hit the outskirts of Lexington, the British captured them. Dawes and Prescott were released after standing several drafts of Sam Adams Lite, but Revere was detained for a few days and finally sent home to Boston on foot, minus his old steed, Hannibal, which had been confiscated by the Regulars.

A few years later Longfellow received a note from his publisher: “We’re really short on epic historical sonnets, and G. Washington wants you to read something dynamic at his Second Inaugural. See if you can comer up a few lines about how John Hancock managed to keep his insurance records out of the Redcoats’ hands. Didn’t a cobbler, a doctor and a frying pan salesman have something going for them? Would you mind taking a crack at it?”


Copyright©2011 by Robert A. Mills


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