An old proverb says “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Much of the tourism industry has come to a screeching halt due to COVID-19. This means many tour operators are looking for new ways to generate income. Well, if people can’t travel to Boston due to travel restrictions, why not take a bit of Boston to them? Hence the virtual tour.
I first heard about virtual tours because the travel site Airbnb started running them. They are successful but their focus is more on learning a skill or trying an activity as opposed to experiencing a walking tour. (I did do a walking tour of Prague during the Black Plague that was very well done.)
I wanted to create a virtual tour for guests that told the same stories as my walking tour of the North End. But I didn’t want people to sit and stare at me for 90 minutes while I told those tales. People want something that will hold their attention: videos, photographs, and so on. I knew I needed to dig deeper.
The process of putting together a virtual tour would need a lot of research. First I had to think about my stories. I outlined them and looked at the who, what, where, and when. I then looked for pictures, drawings, and maps that would give people context to that time and place, as well as the individuals involved. Most of the images are from Google image searches, which provide a wealth of possibilities (almost too many, sometimes).
Even with historical photographs and maps, some people were hard to find. One of the characters about who I speak, Goody Glover, was a poor immigrant who lived in 1688. There aren't photographs of her. But by using a woodcut from the time and a drawing from some centuries later, it gives you an idea of how she might’ve dressed. Thus, even when there aren’t images of the individuals in question, other materials can give clues and fill in the gaps.
In the end, I came up with over 80 slides and dozens of photographs, maps, drawings, and paintings. It’s safe to say I put in well over 50 hours of work researching and finding sources for the tour. While I tell the seven stories on this tour, you’ll get to see the results. The tour is live; this isn’t a video you sit and watch. I ask questions and interact with you throughout the 90 minutes.
Finally, I knew guests would want to know what the places looked like where the actual stops are on the walking version of the tour. I went to the North End one sunny May afternoon. I took my smartphone and a stabilizer to help film scenes from each of the locations where I tell the stories on the walking version of the tour. At first, I thought of filming the entire walk. Given the equipment I had at my disposal, stabilizing the camera would’ve required me to walk slowly and on some uneven surfaces. I knew that wasn’t going to be a possibility. Still, I got 30-90 seconds at each stop, showcasing the location and the area surrounding it. It’s the next best thing to being there!
Nothing can exactly match being at the sites of the event in a story. Yet, the virtual tour offers things the walking tour never could. First, you get more context for the stories. It’s one thing for me to tell you about the Reverend Cotton Mather. It’s another thing to see paintings of him. I share maps that show how the area has changed over the years. When there is a tour of 25 people, it’s not as though I can pass around photographs or hold up images above my head. With the virtual tour, you not only get the engaging stories but the images and videos bring them to life.
Another thing the virtual tour offers is that you can enjoy it from the comfort of your home. Sit back in your favorite recliner, or cuddle up with your partner on the couch. Grab your favorite beverage. All that’s necessary is your interest in entertainment and a sense of curiosity.
That all said, if you’re interested in trying out the virtual tour, it’s only $5 per screen! That means you buy one ticket and you can watch it by yourself or with your roommates. Or watch it with your spouse and college-aged kids. Whoever is there, it’s only five bucks (although I appreciate tips)! I wanted to keep the price low to get more people involved.
There’s a lot going on in the world right now. Many of us aren’t going to travel anytime soon due to health concerns or travel restrictions. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a bit of Boston history brought to you. My hope is that by signing up for the virtual tour, you’ll have something to take your mind off of your surroundings for 90 minutes. At the same time, you'll find some entertainment and education. I can’t wait for people to try this out, so please sign up today! Tours are Tuesday through Sunday at 2 PM Eastern time!
Want to learn more about the crime history of Boston? Take our virtual or walking crime tour!