2. John Adams
6. John Quincy Adams

The Adams Family (August 5, 2008)

John Adams has his own mini-series, on the same newtork that brings us the show about the Bunny Ranch, and for that alone we should respect him. John Quincy Adams was featured in that mini-series a little bit, plus he was in that "Amistad" movie, so we should respect him too.

For these guys, it's one-stop-respectin' when you visit the Adams National Historic Site in Quincy, Massachusetts, which thanks to the efforts of the Adams boys has had the freedom to engulf their historic homes. Back in the day it was all farm land, but now the birth houses, for example, are on a wedge of grass between two busy roads, right across from a bank. Yes, history and convenient banking side by side! This is a great country.

The birth homes are both what you'd call a "New England saltbox" -- big sloped roofs so the snow can slide off, a central chimney, and walls made from large bricks of solid salt. That's not practical for wet weather, but New Englanders like it rough; it builds character. The relatively tiny house where JA was born features the room where Deacon John (JA's father) held town meetings; supposedly a young and studious JA was turned off from becoming a minister when he witnessed the trial in that room of a minister who had strayed a bit from the Puritan path, probably by buckling his shoes or hat in such a way as to invite the seductions of Lucifer upon his congregation. It also has JA's first law office -- where he botched a case about a cow trespassing on someone's proprety by goofing up the paperwork. That fateful cow served as a searing reminder of hubris, and so John Adams never lost a case ever again, ever, or something along those lines. In fact, if you jaunt next door to the JQA birthplace (where Adams moved with his wife Abigail, it's alot like "Everybody Loves Raymond"), you can see the law office he used while defending the British soldiers from the Boston Massacre, a case which made him the Johnny Cochran of his day, only slightly less black (but apparently as annoying). The whole building is a bright orangish-yellow, which apparently would have been considered a great advertisement for Adams' law practice, because only the truly wealthy can afford to have awful taste.

From there it's back on the Park Service trolley and over to Peacefield. JA bought the mansion in 1787 while living in London; he and his wife were delighted to find that it was a run-down dump on their return to the states, and so Abigail pimped it out a bit while JA was on the road as vice president and then president. What's standing today is fascinating -- the house stayed in the Adams family for four generations before they handed it off to the government, under the condition that the government not change a thing. NOT EVEN THE BRITA FILTER! So you aren't seeing the house from John Adams' time, or John Quincy Adams' summer home; instead, you're getting four generations of history crammed into one mansion. Each room has four or five layers of history to it.

And there is some seriously cool (to me) stuff: JA's library, complete with the ugly wingback chair (like something your grandparents would own) where he sat on his last day on Earth; the dining rooms and parlor where they entertained thousands of guests over the years; an unbelievably rare print of the Declaration of Independence presented to JQA, now hanging on the wall like the Led Zeppelin posters your or I might have in our hallways. Especially impressive is the Stone Library, built in 1870 to house the family's papers; it's a separate structure with something like 14,000 books and working desks of both presidents. I looks like the kind of room they could use in "National Treasure 3."

You get moved through the sites fairly quickly, because they need to make room for the next wave of dork tourists; I still give it high marks, because it's the Park Service, and those guys have their routines down cold and answer your questions. It's definitely worth a visit. And if you want something a little more subdued, after you're dropped back at the visitor center, go about 100 yards to the United First Parish Church. They'll give you a rundown on the parish's history and the Adams' involvement with the church. Me and buddy Don got this while sitting in John Quincy Adams' pew (back them it was like owning really good season tickets).

Then they'll take you downstairs to the crypt where John, Abigal, John Quincy and Louisa Catherine Adams are all resting, in very simple sarcophagi. You're really right there next to them -- no bars, no red velvet ropes, no burly guys in leather vests telling you that you aren't on the list. Awesome.

Fun Adams Facts!

  • John Adams had the physique of a bag of potatoes, an abrasive, argumentative personality and a profound distaste for his line of work. And he still found love. Don't give up hope, reader!
  • John was the author of the oldest functioning constitution in the world, for the state of Massachusetts. He also wrote America's first "list of people who were mean to me during the Revolution who will one day get theirs."
  • John Quincy Adams could speak seven languages and read 13, but he never learned how to express his feelings through the exquisite language of power ballads.
  • John Quincy is the only president to serve in the House after leaving the White House, and he died of a stroke suffered on the House floor in 1848. His request to be mummified and propped up in a corner of the House chamber was denied.

One man's quest to be the humblest person alive
Copyright 2013, Chris White