Founding Fathers, Arianna Too

BOSTON — While the afternoon would be devoted to the homes of John Adams and John Quincy Adams, the morning and lunch concluded the learning portions of the conference. See, it was just that quick. (I understand that to most folks the point of many conventions is for delegates to sleep in and attend only enough sessions to validate their expense reports. We had about 70 columnists, and most sessions had nearly full attendance. Maybe it’s because most of us pay our own way. Some sessions are of little use, every year, and I should skip those because those hours are when I ask myself about the expense, the effort, the point, when even the good panels could have been summarized in a newsletter article.)

This morning’s breakfast comprised the only separate sessions of the weekend. Recent conferences have had one to three of the hours with attendees splitting into small groups on their more specialized interests. Lots of us, including me found that some hours had nothing we were that interested in and others we wished to attend two or three at once. This is what made the CD recording of 2005 in Texas such a valuable purchase.

Today I stayed with the Blogging breakfast table, led by Tom Regan of the Christian Science Monitor. Mainly I got a feeling of camaraderie where 12 crowded the round table for 10. “The thing about blogs is their style,” he said. “Columns are personal by definition, but blogs are somehow more personal.”

J. Michael Robertson of the University of San Francisco announced results of surveys he’s been giving columnists in the last year. The findings are interesting but too spare for any reasonable validity. Though entertaining, I hate to repeat invalid statistics. Last year’s conference comprised most of his sample, and with Robertson’s self-effacing wit on how he needs more data, we learned we are exactly who we thought we were.

The circus of the weekend was when our conference was hijacked into a production backdrop for a cable television “Beyond the Book” program. Learning of an upcoming book on I.F. Stone from his biographer was fascinating — I will read it — but it was not about columnists turning their columns into books, our program’s title. A second panelist did say columns can only be the starting point of a single-subject book, that collections are failures from a sales view. The third panelist disagreed totally.

The famous writer and innovative blogger Arianna Huffington was our luncheon speaker. I had a few professors at Stanford like her: fascinating, brilliant and talked in circles, even though she was using notes — hard to know what to remember for the test and hard to figure out her main and subsidiary points for, say, Brick.

Huffington did say that we should be cognizant that online readers are different from print readers. Blogging has opened up the mainstream media, which is vital. She sold me that her upcoming book on Fearlessness must go on my must-read-soon list, because it is more memoir and little that’s mere political commentary.

A feature of the conference is the Saturday afternoon excursion. Only half to three-quarters of us, some with families, boarded the charter trolleys for the Adams National Historical Park in Quincy. It comprised three separate locations all in the heart of the suburb: One lot has two saltbox houses. The senior Adams was born in 1735 in the one built in 1681. It’s the gray-sided one. The younger Adams was born in 1764 in the one built in 1663 and now is seen as the whitewashed, fresher house. Rangers — what a nice job that seems to be — walked small groups of us room by room.

There are rocks in my garden in Fayetteville, Ark., that aren’t that old.

The elder Adams bought the so-called “Old House” in 1788, built in 1731, and is a few blocks away. It is large and appropriate for a successful lawyer with a large family, not to mention ideal for a man to return to after the White House (J.Q. got elected to the House after his presidency and died in the Capitol.) Generations of Adamses, many of whom had distinguished careers in public service and academia, lived there until 1927. The furnishings here are from the 1920s. According to Ranger Karen Yourell, the family’s instruction was not just that things be left as they were, but that things really be left, not renovated or brightened at all. Besides the early 20th century furnishings, items came from a century earlier. There was the chair in which the nation’s second president (J.Q. was the sixth) died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Republic and the same day Jefferson (allies then enemies then friends again) passed, at Monticello, Va. Even I knew that tidbit before the tour, but it’s remarkable enough to mention yet again.

The last segment of the “park” is a church, a few blocks in a third direction, where in the basement is the Adamses family crypt.

On the land of the Old House is what amounts to the first presidential library, a two-story stone, ivy-covered building, constructed in 1870 by Charles Francis Adams, a son of J.Q. Visitors are allowed in only along one side. It has no interactive, audiovisual displays, just the family’s books. The patriarch loved collecting books and this was passed down. The second floor is more of a mezzanine ringing the ground floor, just like in some old movies. It doesn’t have the leave-as-is bequest instruction, and the the temperature and humidity controls to preserve the volumes are obvious.

A couple of family bibles sit on a huge table in the middle of the single-room. They’re encased in custom pasteboard (no doubt acid-free) boxes. One was, Yourell said, opening the box, the Mendi Bible, presented to J.Q. by the African Amistad captives in appreciation of his legal assistance in 1841. The first signature is that of Cinque. I keep intending to rent the video of that movie; now I must. -30-

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