Monday, July 26, 2021

Presidential Sites: A Visit to the Adams National Historic Park Quincy, Mass.

I have been fascinated by the love story of John and Abigail Adams ever since I read the book Those Who Love by Irving Stone 40 years ago. I decided that I really had to visit the Adams National Historic Park in Quincy, Mass. 

John and Abigail Adams seem in many ways to be an odd pairing. John, well John was opinionated and difficult and a bit of a hypochondriac and Abby was outgoing and way too smart for a woman. Actually just how smart she was is proven by her marriage to John, who was perhaps the only man in Colonial America who was appreciative of her sound advice and financial expertise. 

No shrinking violet Abby, she used her very considerable skills as a businesswoman to keep her husband's interests from failing and to supply him with the funds he needed to survive in Europe during his several appointments there.

A visit to the Adams Historic site involves three houses that you get to visit. The first two are the birthplaces of John Adams and John Quincy Adams. They are the two oldest presidential birthplaces in the US. The first house was purchased by John Adams's father Deacon John Adams in 1720. Originally it had six acres of land and was a two over two construction. It is furnished with period pieces, but not original Adams pieces.

We begin the tour in Susanna Boylston Adams kitchen. They were not a wealthy family so Susanna would have done her own cooking over an open fire in the kitchen. In order to know how long to cook certain things they would sing a song or recite a verse the right length, pretty inventive I thought. John Adams wanted to be a farmer when he was young but his love of books won out and he attended Harvard and became a lawyer.

I was much more interested in John Quincy Adams birthplace. This is the house where Abby and John lived and had their children. But what really interested me was the parlor. It is the home of the original desk where Abby wrote all the wonderful letters to John, many of which have survived. 

While he was away on his lawyer circuit, while he was in Philadelphia, in Paris and London, their letters are one of the best historical records of the times, especially at the ground level. We get her view of events as they transpired. She watched the battle of Bunker Hill from a hillside in Quincy. She was always hungry for information about what is going on in negotiations wherever John was. We also get John’s view on some of the other great figures of the time. He was not a big Ben Franklin fan. It is a simple house by today’s standards and small, the Adams were always struggling to pay their bills.

The third house called Old House is a much larger house and it was here that the Adams came after John returned from England. It is built in the Southern style, and Abby had her uncle buy it while they were still in Europe. It was not nearly as well kept as Abby remembered, and required quite a lot to get it into shape. John Quincy Adams lived here until the end of his life and changed it from a farmhouse to a country estate. 

The last Adams family members to live here were the grandchildren of John Quincy. It is furnished with original Adams furniture and that alone makes the visit worthwhile.

You can also visit John Quincy’s library which is fabulous. John Adams had 4,000 books when he died, 3,000 were sent to the Boston Public library, John Quincy added an additional 12,000 books. It is now managed by the National Park Service and security is very tight. All three of the houses must be visited on tours that are conducted by the park service. 

In 2017 256,000 people toured the houses. Visits to the Adams National Historic Park the visitor center where a trolley provides transportation. The number of people is managed so you need to get your tickets early. The last trolley leaves the visitor center at 3 p.m. Allow 2 to 2 ½ hours to visit the three houses.  a carriage house that may be visited.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Hotel Review: Holiday Inn Brookline, Mass.

Located just one mile from the Boston Fine Arts Museum, The Holiday Inn Brookline is the perfect location, just outside the center city and easily accessible from the Mass. Turnpike. The hotel provides very good directions on their website. The T runs right up Beacon Street with a stop directly in front of the hotel. The hotel has its own parking garage, as these cost change frequently, check with them at the time you plan to visit.

I have to admit I had serious doubts after I booked this hotel for a ridiculously low price on one of the discount sites. Trip Advisor had some scathing reviews, which only deepened my doubt. Relax, this hotel is just fine and an excellent bargain to boot.

One of the complaints was about the smell of chlorine from the pool. We had room 189, which was located right next to the hot tub and adjacent to the pool. No problem whatsoever. Yes, you can smell chlorine when you walk by the pool, that is a good thing. In our room nothing. If you want to use them you call the front desk and it is then unlocked. I loved that because we had the hot tub all to ourselves.

Our room had a king size bed, very comfortable, and with feather pillows optional. It was a very good size room with a desk, chair, table, and good lighting. Everything was very clean and in good repair. I have not one disparaging thing to say. No, we didn’t have a view from our window (another Trip Advisor complaint) but there was a flower box to compensate. Do I wish they had a deeper tub, you bet but I can live with just taking a shower.

The small gym is located right behind the pool area, which you can access with your room key card. They had cardio and weight machines. 

You can choose to eat in the hotel, there are a restaurant and a lounge. We stopped at the lounge Saturday evening for a drink Our bartender was a charming Irishman who gave us good service but did fail to offer us a bowl of pretzels. Just as well, I suppose, since we shouldn’t be eating them anyway.

The breakfast buffet that the hotel offers is quite good and has an omelet bar. It offered a variety of cereal, bread, fruit, yogurt, bacon, and sausage, pancakes, and potatoes. Your waiter will deliver your juice and coffee.  

Overall I was very impressed with everything at the Holiday Inn Brookline and I have actually bought another visit. Where else could I stay for under $100?

Monday, June 28, 2021

Presidential Sites: John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site Brookline, Mass

NPS photo
Having spent Saturday visiting the Adams family sites in Quincy, it seemed important to add one more president to our weekend. Finding the house on Beal Street was a challenge. It is very poorly signed and we kept going around in circles.  I am sure if Google Maps will help but I would give it a try.

Once you are on Beal St. you will be surprised by the street itself. It isn’t filled with mansions or large fancy houses. It almost looks like an urban working class neighborhood. There is a marker in front of the house and you can park along the street. This is a real neighborhood so please be aware of not blocking someone’s driveway.

What you will find most striking is that this is a real family home, you can imagine raising your own family in a very similar house. The entrance is around the back in the basement. There is an introductory film that runs about 15  minutes. The film is narrated by Rose and she talks about raising her nine children. This house is about Rose and her life as much as about Jack Kennedy.

Rose Fitzgerald was the daughter of the mayor of Boston. Her father Honey Fitz was the son of famine immigrants, and the first son of Irish immigrants to be elected mayor of any city. At 17 Rose wanted to attend Wesley College, but her father refused permission because it wasn’t a Catholic college.

She and Joe had a 7-year courtship. They married in 1914 and five of their children were born in this house.

Rose was very organized. She had a card file on each of her none children, this way she had all their information at her fingertips. She trained them from birth that those who had a lot owed a lot. Service was one thing that all the Kennedy children understood.

After watching the video you will be taken on a guided tour of the first and second floor of the house. It is every bit a family home with toys on display and comfortable not overly formal furniture. The Kennedy’s had money though, they had two live-in servants--a cook, and a nanny. We get to see the parlor where Rose darned socks, Joe read the newspaper, and the children played.

The children had a strict upbringing. Rose believed in healthy living and Joe expected his children to be able to participate in dinner conversation. They were encouraged to know about current events and were groomed to be articulate. It is obvious when you listen to any of them speak that they were born to public service.

You will see the room where Rose gave birth to the future president and also the room where he spent his early years. You need to be able to climb stairs to visit here. I highly recommend a visit to the John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site for anyone who remembers Camelot or who wishes they did.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Presidential Sites: United First Parish Church Quincy, Mass.

Now a Unitarian Church, United First Parish Church was Congregational when John and Abigail were buried here. Like many of our early leaders, John's leanings would have fit in very nicely with the direction the church has gone. The present church was built in 1828 but it has been a congregation for over 350 years and has had several different buildings (the current is the second stone church) and at least two different locations.

Today you will find the burial place of both Adams presidents and their wives in the crypt. While we were waiting for one tour to end we sat in the rear of the church. What we learned there was a little about the history of the town of Quincy, which began its life as the north precinct of the town of Braintree. Each of the suburban Boston towns had its own charter and by 1640 each was looking to form its own church since attendance was mandatory in Massachusetts Colony.

John Hancock was born in Braintree and both he and John Adams were baptized by Rev. Hancock. In 1792 the town received its name of Quincy, after Abby’s grandfather. Now you starting to get a picture of just how much a part of the Massachusetts fabric these two families were, think of the names of some of the towns Adams, Quincy, Boylston just to name a few.

We sat in the Adams family pew while our docent gave us our verbal tour of the church. The pews are the original ones, there is a mahogany pulpit and some of the glass is the wavy original. The ceiling is beautiful with a passion flower in the center. Two plaques in the church are dedicated to the Adams family.

One interesting fact that I took from this tour was that "It came upon the Midnight Clear" was sung in this church for the first time ever in 1849. A bit of trivia that might come in useful.

What most people come here for is to visit the graves of the second and sixth presidents and their first ladies. John and Abigail were buried first in the cemetery across the street but were later moved into the more secure crypt of the church.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Hancock Cemetery Quincy, Mass.

Being a cemetery lover I couldn’t wait to get into this one and look around. You can get a map of the cemetery at the First Parish Church. Make sure you get the map, even with it finding all the graves is a challenge. Looking at the map it seems so obvious, don’t let the map fool you, it is anything but obvious.

The main entrance is located on Hancock Street. If you turn left after you enter you can walk past the grave where John Quincy Adams was buried before he was moved to the United First Parish Church. Off to your right will be the Quincy family graves. Here you will find Abigail’s grandfather Col. John Quincy and other prominent members of the Quincy family. Close by is the oldest surviving gravestone, that of William Townsend who was the town’s first minister. Also buried here is  Joanna Hoar who is called the "great mother" because so many prominent families descend from here including the Adams, the Quincy’s, and also Holmes, as in Oliver Wendall...

Go back to the walkway that runs along Hancock Street and turn right at the first cross street. If you continue up this walkway until it reaches the cross walkway you will find the grave of Henry Adams, the town's earliest identifiable grave. He died in 1646 and is the great great grandfather of John Adams.

One more grave of particular interest is that of Rev. John Hancock, the father of John Hancock of the Declaration of Independence fame. His is about halfway down on the right on the middle walkway. Anyway, be sure to have your map because this was a stubborn one to find.
This cemetery is also the final resting place of Ruth Alden who is the daughter of Priscilla and John Alden. John Adams is descended from this famous couple, I guess they all belong to the Mayflower Society. I am delighted to say that my grandson Alex is also one of this famous couple's descendant. 

Monday, March 8, 2021

The Queens Home Sandringham House

This is one of several houses that the Queen of England owns personally. It is where the Royal Family spends the Christmas holiday and the Queen makes her Christmas Address from here.

The house was originally built by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. They lived here most of the time (I think he wanted to get away from his mother, Victoria).

We entered the house through an entrance way that has an old scale in it. Guests used to be weighted when they came to visit, and then again when they left. Your guests were supposed to gain weight while they were visiting. I figure it was also a way to discourage people from pilfering the silver.

The first room we visited was a very comfortable room with a piano, lots of family pictures, couches with pillows, TV and VCR. It looks like most of our family rooms just a bit larger and grander. It has wonderful lighting from the wall of windows and you can imagine the family reading here.

After going through a hall filled with Oriental armor we entered some beautiful drawing rooms. There are cases here displaying Queen Alexandra's jade collection which takes up several cases. There is also a case filled with small Faberge items and another filled with fans. There is a room divider used as a portable picture gallery to display photos of a shooting party from long ago.

In the dining room, the table is set as if it were 1894. There is a sample menu they had at least 10 courses - 2 menus have 14 courses. Nowadays they still use this room but they limit themselves to three or four courses. There is even a Grand National Trophy from 1900 won by the Prince of Wales horse. The last room we visited was filled with canine pictures. The Royal family have been real dog lovers for several generations. They lost me here, I like my dog but looking at paintings of other peoples dogs is like watching videos of someone else's vacation. Boring!!!!
Be sure to check their website for opening dates and time.

Plan to visit the museum, gardens, a great gift shop and a restaurant. You can also walk over to the parish church.

Monday, February 8, 2021

A visit to historic Sudley Castle WInchombe, Gloucestershire

Sudeley is one of the most beautiful, romantic castles in England. It was the final home of Katherine Parr the 6th wife of Henry the VIII. After Henry's death Katherine went back to her great love Thomas Seymour. That she loved him, there can be no doubt, about him I have grave doubts. He was extremely ambitious and it ultimately cost him his head. One of the many personal items that is on display is a love letter and lock of hair (a beautiful honey blond) that Katherine sent to him.

Katherine's is a tragic story, after three arranged marriages she finally married the man she loved only to die after a difficult childbirth. Thomas didn't even stay for her funeral, he rushed off to see Princess Elizabeth who he had hopes of seducing and marrying leaving Lady Jane Grey as the chief mourner. But that is another story.

Sudeley itself was turned into a ruin during the Civil War. All the important rooms in the castle were destroyed so that it could never be used as a military base again. The rent room  shows a model of what the Castle looked like before the Civil War.

The North Hall has several interesting pictures including a Van Dyke and also a unique collection of wax portraits. Also on display are a letter signed by Charles I and a waistcoat that Emma Dent believed belonged to Charles I.

The next two rooms deal with Emma Dent's time at Sudeley and there are two portraits of her there. It was through her that the marvelous art collection came into the Dent family.

After the Oak Lobby you travel down a hallway with several small bedrooms, one the Rupert bedroom has a Charles I mourning ring and Oliver Cromwell's inkwell.

In the Chandos Bedroom they are several interesting diplays including one on Alice Keppel (King Edward VII mistress and great grandmother of Camilla Parker Bowles) she is the great grandmother of the current Lord Ascroft.

On the Tutor Staircase are the love letters I mentioned before, some important miniatures, and portraits of Thomas Seymour and his brother Edward , The Lord Protector.

Katherine Parr's nursery is a sadly poignant room. She never got to enjoy her baby daughter and nothing is known of the little girls fate. This room is in the oldest part of the house. In one of the rooms there is a wall of miniture paintings and a case with a lock of her hair and a tooth and a fragment of the dress she was buried in. In 1792 her tomb was opened.

When we visited Sudley Castle, there was a headphone tour which is excellent. It takes you into the ruins and the gardens as well as the chapel. I am not sure that it is still offered.

The gardens here are too wonderful not to rate a story of their own. It is more than just one garden it's several gardens.

The Ruins Garden is within the walls of the parts of the Castle that were destroyed in the Civil War. There are intersting stone seats where you can sit and absorb the beauty. You enter through a door within a small tower at the corner of the wall. The headphone tour will lead you into this garden.

The Secret Garden was built by the current owners to celebrate their wedding in 1979. You walk through the garden wall and enter a wonderful display of Mediterranean foliage. It was in full bloom when we were there.

The Rose Garden is amazing. Even when I was here in December there were roses on the bushes, I couldn't believe it. In September naturally they were even more spectacular.

A Tudor Knot Garden in an interior courtyard can be reached from the Ruin Garden.

The flowers around the Chapel are all white. There are roses and lots of other varieties. It makes an outstanding display.

You walk through a trellis' with a crown on top covered in a splendid display of roses onto the terraces on the outside of the garden to enjoy it from every angle.

The Chapel is a peaceful haven amid all this floral beauty. It contains a lovely tomb effigy of Katherine Parr. It is not the original, it was done in 1959. What always amazes me is that there were fresh flowers laid on the grave by fans of hers, even after over 400 years.

Come here prepared to be enchanted and a little intrigued as well. Several years ago I took a picture in the ruins which has a very usual splash of light in it. There are rumors of a ghost or two. Did I capture one? Maybe!!

Don't miss the really great gift shop or the restaurant. 

If you want the ultimate experience, staying at the rental cottages on the property is great. We have done it twice and loved it.

The house is open March-December 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. From November the closing time is 4 p.m.