Monday, March 31, 2008
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Friday, March 21, 2008
The Adams National Historical Park includes the birthplace of John Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams. It also includes the family estate, which John Adams christened "Peacefield." Most Americans are very familiar with the presidential estates of Mount Vernon and Monticello, but few know much about Peacefield. Visitors flock to the treasured presidential mansions of Washington and Jefferson and snap up items from their licensed product lines such as the Mount Vernon furniture collection or the Monticello wine collection. In contrast, there are no fancy Peacefield gift catalogs, and the only alcoholic beverage you'll find bearing the name of an Adams is the beer named after John's second cousin, Samuel Adams.
Peacefield served as a summer retreat for John Adams while he was president. If you think current presidents spend too much time away from the White House in summer months, consider that John Adams in 1799 spent nearly seven months away from the capital of Philadelphia at Peacefield from late March to September.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Saturday, March 15, 2008
I'm sure many people who watch the miniseries will like to learn more about John Adams. The best place in the Boston area to do that is the Adams National Historical Park in Quincy. The park includes the birthplace of John Adams, the adjacent house where he moved after marrying Abigail and which is the birthplace of John Quincy Adams, Peacefield—the estate in which he summered while president and where he lived in the decades after his presidency, and his final resting spot at the United First Parish Church.
Unfortunately, while the visitor center at the Adams National Historical Park is open limited hours during the off-season, the homes are not open to tours again until April 19. Still, there are some sights around Boston related to John and Abigail Adams that you can visit right now if you want to get your Adams fix. I've put together this walking tour with five sights in Boston related to John Abigail Adams. (Click here for the Google map of the route.)
1. Boston Massacre site. On a small traffic island on the Congress Street side of the Old State House is a small circle of inlaid stones that commemorate the location of the Boston Massacre, which occurred on March 5, 1770. A lawyer, John Adams agreed to take the case to defend the British soldiers. Yes, that's right, this founding father, who believed in the importance of the rule of law, took up the case of the British soldiers, and he successfully defended them. The HBO mini-series opens with Adams's involvement in the Boston Massacre trial.
2. John Adams Courthouse. Along with his second cousin, Samuel Adams, and James Bowdoin, John Adams drafted the Massachusetts Constitution in 1779. The Massachusetts Constitution, the oldest written constitution still in use in the world, would be a model for the U.S. Constitution. The John Adams Courthouse in Pemberton Square (behind Center Plaza across the street from City Hal Plaza) is the seat for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Massachusetts Appeals Court, and the Social Law Library, the oldest law library in the country. At great expense, a massive restoration of the courthouse was completed in 2005, and the building is magnificent in its architecture and interior. Particularly impressive is the courthouse's Great Hall. A room off the Great Hall has an exhibit on Adams and the Massachusetts Constitution.
3. Boston Public Library. It's a bit of a walk from the courthouse to the Boston Public Library, but it's a pleasant one along the Freedom Trail and through Boston Common. The library held an advance screening of the miniseries last week (the picture shows them setting up) and for good reason. The BPL hosts the John Adams Library, which you can search and browse online. It's a pretty cool feature. Deposited with the Boston Public Library in 1894, the John Adams Library includes over 2,700 volumes collected by the second president during his lifetime as well as hundreds of additional books later donated by his family members. It's one of the greatest private collections of its day, and the Adams Library remains one of the largest original early American libraries still intact. Adams made thousands of annotations in the books, which make them particularly valuable for scholars. The John Adams Library is permanently housed in the Rare Books & Manuscripts Department at the Boston Public Library.
4. The Boston Women's Memorial. This is one of the newer additions to the Commonwealth Avenue Mall (located between Fairfield and Gloucester Streets). The Boston Women's Memorial celebrates three important contributors to Boston's rich history - Abigail Adams, Lucy Stone, and Phillis Wheatley. In the innovative memorial, Abigail is standing at ground level, not on a pedestal, so it's possible to get face-to-face with her.
5. Massachusetts Historical Society. The final stop is at 1154 Boylston Street right near the Fenway. The Massachusetts Historical Society houses the Adams Family Papers, which includes 250,000 documents. They include the fascinating letters between John and Abigail Adams (the microfilm for all the letters is five miles long), diaries, speeches, and legal and business papers.
In celebration of the HBO miniseries, the exhibition “John Adams: A Life in Letters” will be on display at the Society’s headquarters through May 31, 2008. The exhibition is free and open Monday-Saturday, 1:00-4:00 PM. The selection of items on view focuses on Adams’s correspondence with Abigail and later his renewed correspondence with an old friend and colleague who had become his bitter political rival, Thomas Jefferson. The exhibition also includes diaries kept by John Adams, his manuscript copy of the Declaration of Independence, and a first printing of the Massachusetts State Constitution. In addition to the earliest portraits of John and Abigail Adams by Benjamin Blyth, the Society will exhibit Mather Brown's portrait of John Adams, painted for Thomas Jefferson, together with views, engravings, memorabilia, and a costume worn by Laura Linney as Abigail Adams from the HBO miniseries. If you can't make it to the exhibit, the Society is posting some of the letters that are connected to the miniseries on a special web site.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Sunday, March 9, 2008
Everyone in Boston is familiar with the Freedom Trail and its red line that threads through the downtown streets. Well, did you know there is also an Irish Heritage Trail? There’s no green line on the city sidewalks to lead you along, but the Irish Heritage Trail incorporates 20 sites across Boston that both honor those who emigrated from Ireland and left their mark on the city and country and tell the story of the Irish in Boston. What better time than around St. Patrick’s Day to take a trip along the Irish Heritage Trail?
The trail starts at the Rose Kennedy Greenway, makes its way through Government Center and Boston Common, goes up to the Esplanade, and then across Back Bay where it ends at Fenway Park. What better place for the Irish trail to end that at a place renowned for its gigantic wall of green? And if you are need in libations along the way, I feel pretty confident you’ll pass an Irish pub or two. (An Irish Pub Trail in Boston would probably have 10 times as many stops as the Irish Heritage Trail although I doubt you’d be walking it at the end.)
The trail is about three miles of walking. I did it yesterday and will profile some of the individual sights in the coming days. Some of the notable stops are:
● Statues of Boston mayors Kevin White, James Michael Curley, and Patrick Collins
● Boston Irish Famine Memorial
● Old Granary Burying Grounds and Boston Massacre Memorial (one of the massacre victims, Irish sailor Patrick Carr, is buried at the Old Granary)
● Colonel Robert Shaw Memorial and Boston Public Library, which include the work of Augustus Saint Gaudens, who was born in Ireland
● John Singleton Copley Statue
● John Boyle O’Reilly Memorial
The web site for the Irish Heritage Trail has a map of the route along with a description of the sites, but it’s not really conducive to printing out at home and using to guide you along. You can pick up a large postcard with a map and site descriptions at the Boston visitor center on Boston Common, but here’s hoping the Boston Irish Tourism Association posts a PDF of the postcard up on the web site so that it makes it easier for people to wander the trail. The Boston Common visitor center is not at the beginning of the trail, so it’s not a great place to start your journey. Printing the map from home would be much easier.
Saturday, March 8, 2008
The memorial is located on the Tremont Street side of the Common. (It’s on the Common side of Tremont between Avery and West Streets.) Its base is a rounded, granite pedestal. Atop the pedestal are the names of the five victims of the Boston Massacre. Along the base is the date of the Massacre: “March 5, 1770.” Inlaid in the pedestal is a bronze bas relief of the engraving made famous by Paul Revere (and originally done by Henry Pelham). There are two quotes along the top from two great Americans about the importance of the Boston Massacre. The first is from Daniel Webster: “From that moment we may date the severance of the British empire.” The other is from John Adams, who represented the British soldiers in the subsequent trial: “On that night the foundation of American independence was laid.” The outstretched hand of one of the victims has been rubbed down; apparently shaking it is considered good luck.
The monument was erected in 1888 and was actually controversial at that time. According to the book Irish Boston from Michael P. Quinlin (a good read, particularly this time of year): “The memorial’s proponents were surprised to discover opposition to the plan from old-line Bostonians who considered the victims to be nothing more than rabble-rousers.” Hmm, nothing like some good old Brahmin condescendence. Wonder if that had anything to do with the victims including an Irish immigrant and a man of African-American and Native American descent? John Boyle O'Reilly led the effort for the memorial against the opposition, then wrote and recited a poem for the dedication.
My favorite part of the memorial is the striking, seven-foot statue of the Genius of Liberty. Liberty holds aloft a broken chain, clenched firmly in her right hand, symbolizing America’s break from tyranny. Her right hand is firmly planted on a royal crown. Liberty’s left hand holds the standard of a large flag, and an American eagle stands next to her left foot. I love the symbolism of that broken chain.
The memorial was sculpted by Robert Kraus, who had his studio nearby at 3 Winter Street. Kraus would meet an untimely end in 1901 when he died in insane asylum, apparently driven there by what The Boston Globe reported to be a “broken heart” because his masterpiece of Belshazzar was had to be abandoned because of a lack of funds.
I find this a much more fitting tribute to the Boston Massacre than the nondescript circle of inlaid stones that mark the location of the event outside the Old State House. But, unfortunately, I think the memorial is completely overlooked by Bostonians and visitors because of its location in the Common. (I found few mentions of the memorial in the Boston guidebooks on my shelf.) Any chance we can get this moved to outside the Old State House? Not only would there be a greater appreciation of the memorial if it were moved to the site of the massacre, but I think it would foster a greater recognition of the Boston Massacre as well, since it would serve as a much more visible marker (compared to the inlaid stone) that would be more readily noticed by tourists and Bostonians alike.
I’ve posted more photos of the memorial on Flickr. Be sure to check it out the next time you’re in the Common and resist the normal tendency to walk on by.
Sunday, March 2, 2008
Paul Revere's engraving of the event certainly makes it look like the colonists were the innocent victims of a massacre as a line of British soldiers deliberately fires on an unarmed group. (An original of the engraving has been on display at the Old State House, but it will be removed on March 17 for restoration work.) The event that occurred on March 5, 1770, was decidedly more chaotic and the colonists helped provoke the British, but Revere's engraving served as a powerful propaganda piece for the cause of the patriots, and its effects still filter down today in our visions of what happened that winter night. (It's interesting to note that Revere actually copied an engraving done by Henry Pelham, the half-brother of John Singleton Copley.)
One of the historical quirks about the Boston Massacre that has always fascinated me is that patriots John Adams and Josiah Quincy agreed to defend the British soldiers in the ensuing trial--and won. Can you imagine such a thing happening in this day in age where partisan divides are so cavernous?
The Boston Massacre took place at a location near the intersection of State and Devonshire Streets, just outside where the Old State House. You'll have to look hard for the marker commemorating the event. It's a simple set of inlaid cobblestones on a traffic island for pedestrians. The five victims were buried in a common grave at the Granary Burying Ground, where a marker stands near the front along Tremont Street. (The Boston Globe had an interesting article on Crispus Attucks last week, about whether he truly was a hero and from what town he came from.)
The Bostonian Society will commemorate the Boston Massacre with a series of events this week. On March 5, there will be free admission to the Old State House. At 6:30 PM there will be commemoration speeches at the Old South Meeting House. On Saturday, March 8, there will be a reenactment at 11 AM and 2PM for kids, and there will be a reenactment of the trial at 11:30 AM and 2:30 PM. Both events at the Old State House.
At 7 PM, there will be a reenactment of the Boston Massacre on the State Street side of the Old State House. I've gone to this in the past. It doesn't last very long, so be sure to get there early. (Plus, it can be tough to see, so the earlier you get there, the better chance of a good view.) You get a good sense of how chaotic the circumstances were when the British fired into the crowd. There's a lot of jeering on the soldiers by the colonists before the opening salvo. (Leave the snowballs at home; those aren't part of the reenactment.) When I went a couple of years ago, as soon as the wounded colonists hit the pavement, they were surrounded by photographers getting their shots. Somehow I don't think that's a fully accurate portrayal. Anyway, it's good fun and educational at the same time. For more information, check out the web site of The Bostonian Society. Can't make it? There a video of a previous reenactment at this web site. If you do go, here's the requisite disclaimer from the fashion police: leave the red coat at home, it's as much of a faux pas as wearing white after Labor Day.