BOSTON -- Boston has long been known as a walking city, compact enough for tourists to see its history without ever riding a bus, jumping into a cab, or taking the subway. The Freedom Trail and the Black Heritage Trail are among the city's favorite attractions.
Now tourists can take those historic walks with the help of new technology -- a taped tour accessed via cell phone, stretching the tour out over hours or even days.
"We're taking an old tourist tradition and applying modern technology to it," said Miles Kronby of Candide Media Works Inc., the producer of the "Boston: City of Rebels and Dreamers" tour, narrated by charismatic Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler.
"You can start when you want, go at whatever pace you want, skip points, do it in whatever order you want," Kronby said. "It's very flexible ... and opens walking tours to a much wider audience."
Kronby got the idea for his Talking Street walking tours while on vacation in Istanbul, Turkey, a few years ago.
"As I was walking around, I thought there was all this history and stories that I wasn't appreciating," he said. "I was at an outdoor market, they were selling cell phones, and I thought cell phones might be an answer and a way to tell all those stories that are swirling around you invisibly."
He established two cell phone walking tours of New York in 2003 -- one narrated by actor Jerry Stiller, the other by actress Sigourney Weaver -- and Boston was the next logical step.
"Boston is a great city, and it's a great walking city, and it's a city with a tremendous amount of history, and it's a city people go to walk around and appreciate that history," Kronby said.
The Boston tour, officially launched last fall, takes people through a cross section of Boston history from Colonial times to the modern era. Not by coincidence, it intersects with the Freedom Trail at a number of spots. It stops at the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial, the Granary Burial Ground and the site of the Boston Massacre. It also has stops to explain the $14.6 billion Big Dig subterranean highway project, and the Leonard P. Zakim-Bunker Hill Bridge.
Tyler, a Massachusetts resident with deep roots in Boston, weaves the stops together.
"He is someone really connected to the place, someone with a real passion for the city," Kronby said.
And although Kronby said Tyler's presence may help draw in Aerosmith fans and younger tourists who might not otherwise be interested in a walking tour, his appeal is universal.
"This tour is a total trip," Tyler said in a press release from the company. "It shot me right back in time to when I first moved to Boston with four other equally broke musicians, living off of brown rice and big dreams."
Tyler also provides the comic relief. At the stop on Beacon Hill, Tyler finishes by reciting a laundry list of the rich and famous who have lived in the historic neighborhood. "Just talking about it makes me want to move here," Tyler says. "There goes the neighborhood."
The tour provides tidbits of history that even natives may not know. For example, at the Shaw Memorial, which celebrates the all-black 54th Massachusetts Infantry in the Civil War, Tyler informs listeners that when Shaw's parents had a chance to bring his body back to Massachusetts for a proper burial, they refused because their son would have wanted to remain with his men.
Tyler isn't the only famous voice on the tour. Baseball Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski narrates a piece about Fenway Park and Emmy-winning producer of the documentary "Eyes on the Prize" Caley Crossley weighs in on the Shaw Memorial.
Cell phones are entering an audio tour market long dominated by other delivery systems. Earlier this year, the Minute Man National Historical Park outside Boston launched the first cell phone tour in a national park, developed by Ashburn, Va.-based Spatial Adventures. The company also has created phone tours for a Baltimore museum, the Sacramento, Calif., zoo and a historic area of Denver.
Candide Media Works has been working with the nonprofit Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau to promote its tour.
"We are in favor of any kind of tour that provides fun and history," said Larry Meehan, the organization's director of tourism.
"You have a personality in Steven Tyler narrating, it's entertaining, and everything I have heard is 100 percent historically accurate," Meehan said.
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