Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tales From the Political Crypt

This blog post chronicles the kick off of Freedom Tour 2009, which is a semi geeky way of saying my friend and I are traveling around New England to visit the grave sites of the signers of the declaration of Independence who are intermed in the New England area. This is part of a "quest" of his which has brought him across the country visiting sites in many states. Our friendship started in 2003 when we were both interning in John Kerry's DC Senate office in 2003 so that also might explain our geekiness towards this subject (my history geek credentials are much more evident being a Political Science major in college with a minor in Constitutional History and involvement with campus history and political groups.)

I promised a crypt and I will deliver, do not worry we will get there at some point.

Sunday brought us down to Quincy Massachusetts, home of Dunkin Donuts, Stop and Shop, the former Democratic State Treasurer, the Adams family and my friend Mike who was not in attendance. The historic district looked quite nice all decked out in Adams banners, clean streets, and plenty of New England charm even if it was sometimes a little feigned with the faux Tudor building across from the grave yard. The available signage was quite handy and it became apparent very quickly that this was a longer stop then we had originally thought.

After entering the tourist office for the Adams Historic site we found out that it was free to enter any historic park that day, nationwide, I had not heard that anywhere but hey free is free. The museum was like most other tourist museums, lots of stuff under glass and a large gift shop. There was also a video playing in the back and some replicas of the homes (they are a mile away, not sure why we are subjected to this when I will see it in person.) It turns out that the tour comes with a trolley ride to the three houses the park service owns that used to belong to the Adams family.

Yes yes there will be a grave site SOON I promise , calm down.

The first two houses were rather uneventful. They started in one, moved to the other one, and they are right next to each other. Seemed more modern day suburban subdivision then colonial agricultural , especially considering the fact that they were originally not owned by the same people and it was not in the center of town. While taking the tour we find out that Abigail made her own bullets out of pewter for the war effort, had John send over china from France that she would resell and was subjected to numerous dress fires that required the children to douse her with water. No where were her efforts, failed efforts, to bring him back by sending a horse to Philadelphia for him mentioned (via Universal Hub, HEY this blogger has the same template as me!!!) Of course I took it upon myself to bring it up later on between stops, what is the use of some juicy colonial gossip if you don't use it.

Things got a little more exciting at the "old house" otherwise known as "Peacefield" where there was more excitement among the tour guides and actual period furniture was in use. Many of the rooms were sectioned off, which is a pet peeve of mine which can be seen in a previous blog. There was an interesting storyline in this house as we were brought from one period to the next, and finally to the "First Presidential Library" which was a stone building built after the death of John Adams to store his books. It was a nice room, not nearly as big as say the Kennedy library but hey big companies did not exist to fund these projects yet.

Our tour guide shared all sorts of gossip about the 4 generations of Adams' that lived in the house. How Abigail did not like Louisa (wife of John Quincy), how the wife of one grandchild was such a fan of her servants bells that they literally cut her bell off in the kitchen, and how John Adams would allow people to spend the night but his house did not have a hallway between his study and his bedroom which led to him stepping over visitors at 4am (Abigail in her wisdom installed a hallway to prevent this later on, she also lowered the floors in part of the house when she wanted higher ceilings and was told they could not be raised up any higher.) I was all for this gossip but the guide did make a blunder or maybe it was a historical revision and it involved Andrew Jackson.

The tour guide goes on to tell us about Louisa Adams and her European upbringing, oh how she liked to throw large parties and oh how much the socialites (if not historians and others) loved her so. She was so generous with her parties that she even threw one for General Andrew Jackson who was relatively unknown at the time and would go on to return the favor by beating John Quincy Adams for the presidency... hold on BRAKES PLEASE. It was by a quick bite of my tongue that I avoided challenging the tour guide to a duel (as I am sure Jackson would have done.) Anyone who knows me knows that I have a fondness for the General and therefor a distaste for John Quincy Adams. As we all know Jackson was very well known by the time he ran for president, he was an accomplished General, Territorial Governor, Senator, Congressman and established socialite. His reputation was well known throughout the colonies before any such party. Granted it was a grand party but lets be honest it was obviously a rouse on her part to try to sway Jackson to her husbands side. Old Hickory went on to win the popular vote before having the election stolen from him by Congress for the political insider John Quincy Adams, I'm sure this sounds nothing like any recent elections we have had. THEN he went on to beat JQA four years later. Just so were all on the same page here. Yeah yeah there was an accusation of Jefferson saying untrue things about Adams senior but I am in no position to defend number 3.

I of course wait until wait until were back on the trolley to inform my friend of the grave injustice of what happened on the tour. I vaguely remember tossing around the terms "Adams style revisionist history" and possibly charlatan. I am sure by this point our fellow trolley riders are either enthralled or confused. I'm sure it was a mixture of both.

Back in the middle of town our tour is over so we head over to the United First Baptist Church where both the Presidents Adams are buried along with their wives. The first thing you see is a giant rainbow flag, my first reflection is wondering how upset John Adams would be over this but then come to the conclusion that as a man who opposed slavery at a time when everyone else condoned it and as someone who believed in separation of church and state that he would be behind the LGBT movement if he were alive today, just a hunch. The church is very nice and we were greeted by a very nice tour guide and end up on a tour alone with just us and the guide. This proved to be very informative and fun until she brought up the Louisa Adams party for Jackson and how that allowed him to win the presidency blah blah blah, what is going on here! Seriously she doesn't even work for the parks service, who is feeding these people these talking points. We got to sit in the Adams family pew before heading downstairs to the crypt. Our guide informs us that photography is ok, which was a no no everywhere else. We get to the crypt and she leads us into this little room that is barely tall enough to stand in with the four caskets.

Here we are, after being told not to touch anything, we are standing in a crypt surrounded by two Presidents. We can touch the granite caskets, she leans on one to tell us a story. I feel surreal as I look around knowing that we were that close to two presidents and nobody else was around. The crowds at the museum never made it to the church. The tour guide decides to go upstairs and leaves us down in the crypt alone, another surreal moment for me, after having a tour guide in the old Adams homestead give us the evil eye for falling behind to stop and look at a painting. I understand how this works now, chair that may have belonged to the great grandson of John Adams = more important then Adams himself. Check. Amazingly enough there seemed to be a daycare center for the parish children within feet of the crypt (lots of pictures drawn by children on the wall, and toys on the floor.)

One last oddity we saw was the plaque outside for Louisa Adams. The rest were very flattering of the occupant, hers starts off

"Frail of body, simple in tastes, and retiring in nature,
She filled the onerous positions to which it pleased God
To assign her with grace, dignity and fortitude."

Talk about your back handed compliments!

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