The pandemic has disrupted just about every calendar everywhere. Starts are stopped worldwide. Now, Boston is experiencing another opening day that isn’t: The swan boats season had been scheduled to begin Sat., April 18, but the annual spring ritual in the Public Garden — one of the city’s most enduring traditions — has been postponed until further notice.
The people who run the historic attraction say the pedal-powered fleet will resume its glides around the lagoon eventually. In the meantime, the six swan boats with their gleaming wooden benches and ornamental brass poles will remain in storage, miles from their familiar dock.
The business has stayed in the hands of the Paget family since Robert Paget introduced the boats to Boston in 1877. His great-granddaughter, Lyn Paget, is president of Swan Boats Inc., and she spoke to WBUR’s Weekend Edition.
On how it feels to miss the swan boats opening day celebration:
I think this is tough. I think that the boats have become a symbol of our city. They have become a reliable and expected part of the calendar. ... It’s hard when something has that long-standing existence in a community, and where we are typically a symbol of spring. And now I think we, too, are one of the many symbols of uncertainty. When we posted on our social media that we were needing to indefinitely delay our opening, most of the reaction was just sadness. We all feel this in some sense. There’s confusion, there’s anxiety and we're sad for the things that we've lost — even if we've only lost them temporarily.
"[M]y hope is that we're doing this for many years to come. ... We’ll launch when the world is ready."
On the need for patience in this challenging moment, and how patience is also central to the swan boat appeal
We're a throwback in a lot of different ways. But I think one of the ways is that we somewhat intentionally slow everybody down. And a child who's waiting in line might be jumping up and down and watching the squirrels and the ducks and the pigeons. And there's a lot of activity. And then you get on the boat. You have to stay in your seat. And it's really just a forced experience to chill, and quite an environment in which to do that. And I think that one of the things that I continue to appreciate is that for a small child, it's one experience, and then as that person gets older, it becomes quite different. But it still seems to have some impact and create some pretty special stories for people to remember. ... I find the ride is often part of a bigger story that's meaningful in someone's life. The grandparents are there with their grandkids and can recall doing the exact same thing with their grandparents.
On the future of the swan boats:
One thing I hear a lot is that it's hard to imagine a Boston without the swan boats. ... For our visitors, when they come into the Public Garden, the first botanical garden in the United States, they are really expecting that unchanged experience — that time kind of stands still. ... I really hope that we can maintain and keep for people that sense of things untouched, because somehow that gives us some well being. And I think the boats seem to anchor us in a fairly special way. So my hope is that we're doing this for many years to come. ... We’ll launch when the world is ready.
This segment aired on April 18, 2020.