Hunting for Robin Williams’ Bench in Boston Commons

your move chief

One of my favorite pastimes is finding iconic film or literary locations. I know I’m not alone, but it’s one of my quirks that suddenly manifests itself while traveling to new places. I have a deep love for film and literature, and I continue to use that passion to fuel my wanderlust. In 2007, I finished Orhan Pamuk’s Snow and ended up strolling through the strasse the narrator described during an overnight stop in Frankfurt. I squealed when I saw Montjuïc in Barcelona last year because I recognized it from Woody Allen’s film Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona. However, I fondly remember a small, but memorable film location while strolling through Boston Commons last summer. How many of you have gone hunting for Robin Williams’ bench in Boston Commons? You all know which one I’m talking about: that miraculous scene in Good Will Hunting where Williams delivered his famous monologue. Let me tell you how I found it…

boston commons skyline
Boston’s skyline peaks over the trees of Boston Commons.

Rediscovering Paths Already Taken

One of the things I love the most about travel is that no matter how many times you’ve been somewhere, each visit feels new. Boston was no different.

I lived in Boston during my college years at Brandeis University. This was a huge step for me: I had grown up very sheltered and painfully shy during my high school days. Nevertheless, I yearned to explore someplace different and live on my own.

After a long weekend in Vermont, Leon and I spent a two days in Boston. Before leaving for the airport, we decided to walk through Boston Commons. I’d only been there once before. (I know, I really kick myself for not taking more advantage in college.) I knew I had to give it another chance.

Leon and I entered Boston Commons at the corner of Beacon Street and Arlington Street, just off of Commonwealth Avenue. It was a glorious day: blue skies, a gentle breeze, and locals lounging on the green. At first, I didn’t even recognize the park. When I first visited, it was during Parents Weekend at the beginning of my college years. A heavy rain and silver skies covered the park, and we didn’t spend much time walking around. I was so grateful for this second chance to visit Boston Commons.

statue in park
Passing by George Washington’s Statue on our way into the park.

We turned inwards after catching a glimpse of the George Washington Statue just in front of the Boston Public Garden and the entrance to the Lagoon Bridge. Suddenly, it dawned on me that we were standing in the same place that Robin Williams delivered his famous monologue to Matt Damon’s character in Good Will Hunting. I have my own peculiarities and I had to fulfill this one. I turned to Leon and determinedly pointed out I had to find that bench.

Hunting for Robin Williams’ Bench

Leon switched on Google Maps so we could track down this famous bench. The map indicates the bench is just off of the Lagoon bridge hidden under trees. I was certain I’d find a group of people surrounding it, so we set off in its general direction.

lagoon bridge
Walking under the Lagoon Bridge while hunting for Robin Williams’ bench.
I was wrong: there weren’t a lot of people looking for this one bench. In fact, I felt like I was the only person in the world who cared about finding it at all. Keeping close to the lagoon’s perimeter, we kept an eye out for anything that might point it out.

It’s funny how things work out. By searching for something inconspicuous, I got to see the sprawling grounds of Boston Commons. Eventually, the beautiful scenery and the buzzing energy of people picnicking on the lawn distracted me. Crowds took rides on Swan Boats around the lagoon, while live swans dozed under the shade of weeping willows. Summer flowers peppered the earth and exhaled a light fragrance across the park. In my brief memory lapse, I saw Boston Commons in all its glory.

swan lake
Swans rest near weeping willows.

happy tree climbers
People sit laughing in trees on a carefree day in the Commons.
picnic on lagoon
Walking by a family’s picnic as Swan Boats pass by on the lagoon.

Suddenly, Leon said we had 30 minutes before we had to leave for the airport. We buckled down and really began hunting for Robin Williams’ bench. After another 15 minutes of closely inspecting each spot, we found it casually nestled beneath an elm tree.

We visited this spot less than a year after Robin Williams’ early departure from this world. Since his death, people have transformed this one spot into a tiny memorial dedicated to Williams’ brilliant acting career and dedication to his craft. People scribbled his famous quotes across the woodwork on the bench. While I did not see any gifts left in his honor, this tradition has been kept up more than 2 years after his passing.

scribbles on bench
People have scribbled Williams’ famous quotes on this bench.

Devoting Time to Peculiarities

It’s funny how people give up so easily on finding the things they love or that dazzle them. This bench, this insignificant looking object, held a lot of meaning for me. Say what you will about the movie (it’s brilliant, shut up), that one scene spoke to me at an age when I was uncertain about my future. I love giving credit to things that initially seem small or inconsequential because I know that surprises wait around every corner.

I got to sit in the same spot where a brilliant actor delivered a stirring speech about discovering and experiencing things for yourself. For years, I kept my nose in a book because I was too afraid to look around. Judgment and failure frightened me. Of course, I still have the same fears, but I don’t let them stop me from indulging in new experiences. To this day, I still get a tear in my eye when I listen to Williams deliver that monologue.

Leon pointing out my peculiarities.
Travel is in the senses. You can read a book or look at as many pictures as you want, but you’ll never quench the thirst for new discoveries until you drink them in yourself. Travel means staring into the void that is this beautiful planet of ours. It means accepting the peculiarities and differences of other cultures. And it means feeling, tasting, and smelling the differences of every place where you plant your feet. You don’t have to travel far to discover something new. Since moving 20 miles from my childhood home, I’ve discovered nooks and crannies that I never knew existed. All you have to do it take that first step outside.

Your move, chief.

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