Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Quincy Massachusetts: Home of America’s First Family

By Jeff Burns

Before recent biographies like David McCullough’s classic and the brilliant HBO series based on it, John Adams was often overlooked in the pantheon of America’s founding fathers, maybe not in the top tier alongside Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin.  However, his stock has risen, so to speak, and he has assumed his rightful place.  While he had no direct role in the fighting of the American Revolution or the actions of the Sons of Liberty leading up to the war, his devotion to the principles of independence was crucial. If that was the whole story, it would be enough of a legacy, but there is much more that makes John Adams so fascinating.  His marriage to Abigail is one of the greatest marriages in American history.  He is the patriarch of one of America’s most prominent families of scholars, diplomats, and public servants.  Unfortunately, he and his son, John Quincy, also share the misfortune of having miserable presidencies that sometimes overshadow their greater non-presidential accomplishments.  The Adams family story is one of the greatest stories of American history.

In Quincy Massachusetts, visitors can learn that history.  Quincy is a short distance from Boston. On our recent stay in Boston, my wife and I took the convenient commuter train to downtown Quincy. The Adams National Historic Site Visitors Center is a very short walk from the train station. At the Visitor Center, there is a great video and gift shop.  It is here that visitors can purchase tour tickets and catch the bus for the visits to the three Adams family homes.  

The first stop is the birthplace of John Adams, purchased by his father in 1720.  Adams lived there until he married Abigail in 1764.

Just a few yards away is Adams’ second home, built around 1665, the birthplace of John Quincy and the family home during the Revolutionary years. 

After an informative tour of both homes, it’s back on the bus for a few  minutes’ trip to Peacefield, built in 1731 and purchased by Adams in 1787. The estate was the Adams family home until 1927 and became a national historic site in 1947.

The house is amazing. The history is practically palpable, but the gardens and the stone library are amazing features as well.

Upon their return to the Visitors’ Center, visitors should walk across the street to the United First Parish Church, built by the Adams family.  The family worshipped there, and both sets of presidents and first ladies are entombed in its crypt.  The church is not under the control of the National Park Service, but church volunteers conduct tours and answer questions for a small donation.
For lovers of American history, a day in Quincy is a must when visiting Massachusetts.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Traveling with History: Niagara Falls

By Margaret Duncan, Ed.D.
My Husband and I heading for the Falls

Historically, Niagara Falls was established as the ideal honeymoon destination by the French in the early 1800s. For my family, my parents honeymooned there in 1959 and my brother and sister-in-law celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary at the Falls. 

Legend has it that Napoleon’s brother, Jerome Bonaparte, spent his honeymoon in Niagara Falls, and since everyone wanted to be like royalty, people began choosing it as the go-to place.  Indeed, promoters jumped on the idea and began promoting the idea of a “honeymoon” and Niagara Falls as the place to do it.  There are even films dedicated to the idea like the 1953 film Niagara starring Marilyn Monroe, or 1980’s Superman II that shows Superman/Clark Kent professing his love for Lois Lane.

However, there is much more to the Falls than just a romantic getaway, it is also the major power provider to New York and Ontario, Canada. Niagara Falls consists of two waterfalls on the Niagara River, which marks the border between New York and Ontario.  The American Falls is located on the American side of the border, and the Canadian or Horseshoe Falls is located on the Canadian side. To the right of the American Falls is a smaller waterfall that has been separated from the American Falls by natural forces, which is called Bridal Veil Falls.  We stayed on the Canadian side and by many accounts, considered to have the best views.

Of course, Niagara Falls is not just for couples.  It has also been the place for daredevils in barrels and tightropes.  In October of 1829, Sam “The Yankee Leapster” Patch, jumped from a high tower into the gorge below the falls and survived.  This jump began the tradition of daredevils trying to go over the falls. On October 24, 1901, a 63-year-old schoolteacher named Annie Edson Taylor became the first person to take the plunge over Niagara Falls in a barrel.  Today, it is hard to go to the falls without making a barrel reference or joke. 

So, even today, Niagara Falls considers itself the “Honeymoon Capital of the World.”  While the city bills itself as the ultimate romantic getaway, it can definitely come across as more kitschy than romantic.  However, one constant does exist—the Falls are a work of nature and sight to truly see.