By ROBERT BOSWORTH
Next year the third statue for second President John Adams will be dedicated in Quincy.
The new Adams statue – along with one for Declaration of Independence first signer John Hancock, will be unveiled at the new “Hancock-Adams Green” public park being built near City Hall, United First Parish Church and Hancock Cemetery.
There are two other John Adams statues located in Quincy: one on the Burgin Parkway and the other outside City Hall. The latter one – commissioned by the Quincy Partnership – will be relocated in the new park along with its companion statue depicting Abigail Adams and a young John Quincy now standing across the street next to the historic “Church of the Presidents.”
Quincy takes great pride in its distinction as the birthplace of father-son Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams.
This past Oct. 28th, a wreath-laying ceremony marking John Adams’ 281st birthday anniversary – and the 50th anniversary of the Presidential wreath tradition – was held at United First Parish Church. Those speaking at the ceremony included author and historian David McCullough. McCullough’s biography “John Adams” won him his second Pulitzer Prize, spawned an HBO mini-series and sparked meteoric interest in the Second President and his family as well as tourism here.
It’s hard to think of a time when honoring someone like John Adams with a statue was not a slam-dunk in this city.
But it happened – some 56 years ago.
In 1960, a group of Quincy High School students came together to mount a public campaign for a statue for John Adams here. At that time, there was no such monument for Adams.
“He was our second President and we thought that was kind of odd that there wasn’t a statue for him,” recalls Stephen Dunleavy, one of the QHS students who spearheaded the drive back then. “We kept talking about it for a month or two and as more kids talked about it we thought we should get a campaign together and convince everyone that there would be a statue of John Adams in Quincy. Later we expanded it to both Presidents,” he explained.
They began to get the word out about their goal and to hopefully garner public support for the statue. One of their ardent supporters and key advocates turned out to be Henry Bosworth, who years later would establish this newspaper in 1968.
“We started writing letters to some area newspapers including the Boston Traveler. The Traveler had a South Shore bureau headed by Henry Bosworth. He also wrote a daily column for the Traveler. The Traveler was an afternoon newspaper that competed directly with The Ledger. The Globe really didn’t have anyone covering the South Shore,” Dunleavy says.
“At the time we were just trying to get the word out that there should be a statue for John Adams. It seemed like a simple thing and everyone would think it was a great idea. So, we had gone to the Ledger and to Henry and he wrote a number of columns that these kids had banded together and it was a good idea and that people ought to get behind it.
“As a result, state Rep. Joe Brett – a prominent Quincy public official who at one time ran for mayor – got behind it as well as a number of city councillors and eventually the entire school committee voted in support of it. That had a lot to do with Henry’s columns. He talked about what we wanted to do and we were pretty aggressive promoting it.”
One prong in their media blitz was putting up posters in downtown stores with the slogan “Quincy Should Have a Statue for John Adams.”
“We would call the businesses and we’d get our cheerleaders to pose for photos putting up posters. We even sent press releases as juniors in high school. This was all pre-social media.
“We brought a little mimeograph machine at the old Barker’s Office Supply store in Quincy Center so that we could mimeograph notices and news clippings. Merchants thought it was a good idea. We had posters all over Foy’s Market. Some of the kids worked in some of the stores like Sher Drug (where Quincy Market is at the corner of Washington and Temple Streets) and of course they would get the owners and managers to put up posters.
“We pretty much plastered the downtown with posters stating Quincy needs a statue of John Adams,” Dunleavy says. “At that point, Rep. Brett got behind us and got a bill filed setting up a study commission. Other people got involved and discussed what should be involved and discuss questions like what kind of granite should be used.
“There was a Granite Cutters Union that got involved in it. We got a lot of positive reaction to it. We went to a city council hearing, went before the school committee, and when we got the bill filed we had the school department hire a bus for us to send us to the State House so we could appear and testify at the public hearing.”
About 120 QHS students joined the grass-roots effort; about 50 of them went to the State House.
“We also had a meeting with then Gov. Foster John Furcolo who also supported us. A few of us got to sit in his chair in his State House office. Eventually, that bill passed.”
Then, the statue hit a snag. A big one at that.
You would think that a statue for the Second President of the United States erected in his hometown would be a cinch.
Soon after that study bill was signed into law, the Quincy Historical Society came out against the monument.
“They sent out a press release stating ‘statues were for the birds.’ It was a very harsh release stating no one put up statues any more and they were out of style,” Dunleavy says. “They basically said we shouldn’t be doing this which sort of blind-sided us. Why would anyone oppose this?”
Dunleavy said the group in general opposed it and some prominent members of the Historical Society were also adamantly against the statue.
But the battle wasn’t over yet.
“Henry took them on a number of times with some very strong columns. There was a split in the ranks of the historical society with some of them starting to support the idea.
“This became a big controversy. People were taking sides on the whole thing. Eventually, after a few years the opponents were able to get an adverse report and defeat this in the state Senate. Eventually the study commission came out against building the statue in a majority report. There was also a minority report. The main objective was that statues were out of style and no one was building statues anymore. That’s what they said,” Dunleavy remembers.
“They also said it would be too costly.”
The campaign ended when graduation rolled around in 1961. Many of the student proponents scattered; some off to college, some entered the military; others the work force.
“The opponents outlasted us,” Dunleavy says simply.
Looking back, the 1961 QHS graduate considers the statue effort one of the most important lessons he learned during his high school days.
“It was a very interesting learning experience for some kids who started off at age 15 through 17 thinking this was an interesting thing to do and get involved in. We testified before the City Council, the School Committee, and state legislature so we got involved in city government. It wasn’t one of those one-day field trips that you go and see how government operates.
“We were involved in a fight that also got covered nationally,” Dunleavy notes. “There were some AP stories about it. There were editorials about it. The Boston Herald and Herald Traveler supported us but the Ledger eventually came out against us. Local TV stations covered it. It became an interesting fight.
“We even got a letter of support from John F. Kennedy as well as the governor, senators and congressmen.”
But there was also strong opposition that eventually scuttled the campaign. “A lot of people thought it was kind of nice but some people didn’t.”
Critics of the statue idea at the time said Adams and his son were worthy of such a monument but argued they were unnecessary.
One group opposed was the Board of Curators at the Quincy Historical Society. They were quoted in the local press as saying:
“There are few if any communities that can offer a visitor as true an impression of famous persons as Quincy does of Presidents John and John Quincy Adams. Their birthplaces, their home of later years, their church and tombs, and many other places and mementoes of them and their family, together present the Presidents as living people in a uniquely complete manner.”
The Board also said the state had better things to spend its money on than two statues for the Adams presidents. One estimate put the cost at $100,000.
And there were others who said statues had gone out of style and were strictly ‘for the birds.’
We know that isn’t true today. They continue to be erected for leaders of all walks of life including the political and sports arenas.
In retrospect, Dunleavy credits Henry Bosworth with keeping the campaign’s momentum going until the very end.
“We would have been dead a lot sooner if Henry hadn’t really supported it and written about it and given us a lot of coverage,” he says. “As a columnist he was free to point out some of the reasons these people were opposing us and they took it out on him, too, that he was supporting us. It became a controversy about something that you wouldn’t think would be a controversy.”
Henry’s columns chronicled the students’ drive for the statue campaign. Originally, the students wanted to erect statues for both John Adams and his son, sixth President John Quincy Adams.
In one of his columns, Henry wrote about a former Bay State resident who was living in Kansas. She was more than furious that the students’ drive was being met with some serious opposition.
“As a Massachusetts native I am ashamed of Quincy and its small people who belittle the statues of its one-time BIG people. The Adamses should be memorialized even though the family today hesitates to sanction such an honor,” wrote Muriel Standley in a letter to then Mayor Amelio Della Chiesa and reprinted partially in Henry’s column.
“It’s not up to them to say anything about it. People have a right to honor great people. Mr. Mayor, read this and do something to get the statues erected. Those young people in Quincy High are the future Americans. Encourage them to look upward as they’ll be statesmen, too.”
Looking back, Dunleavy says the students and Henry Bosworth thought the statue idea was a ‘no brainer.’
“But we ran into first the hidden opposition and then they were out in public. When you read some of the things that they said like statues were for the birds – this was a group of adults attacking a bunch of high school kids. We were surprised.
“I think the kids that got involved in this thought it was a lot of fun and the right thing to do. We didn’t think of it as a political thing but it turned into that.
“It was a learning experience; certainly I learned a lot.”
Dunleavy credits Henry with setting him on his career path. He became interested in newspapers because of Henry’s support and while attending college worked for him as a correspondent helping him cover the South Shore. Later Dunleavy became a reporter and news editor of the Boston Herald before moving to the Boston Police as assistant to the commissioner then head of Boston’s Public Safety Office for Mayor Kevin White.
Dunleavy later served as senior vice president of Boston’s World Trade Center and then Boston Garden before becoming general manager of Regan Communications. He is now retired and lives in Marina Bay with his wife, Hilary.
Quincy eventually got its first John Adams statue – some 16 years after the first effort ceased.
In September of 1977, a granite statue of the Second President was dedicated by the Freedom Park Association and today stands at Freedom Park on the Burgin Parkway near the Dimmock Street intersection.
This statue is carved of fine-grain Westerly granite from Rhode Island and stands on a Quincy-granite base. It was sculpted by Franco M. Marchini who modeled the statue from a painting done in 1798 by Gilbert Stuart. It was paid for in part by a $8,000 grant from the American Revolution Commission.
The second Adams statue – a life-size portrayal made of bronze – was commissioned by the Quincy Partnership and created by noted sculptor Lloyd Lillie. It was unveiled Oct. 30, 2001 – the 266th anniversary of John Adams’ birth. Four years earlier, the Partnership dedicated the Abigail Adams and young John Quincy statue also created by Lillie.
It’s not a stretch to say the statue effort – to some degree – can be traced back to those ambitiously civic-minded students like Dunleavy more than a half century ago.
He agrees the city is a lot different today and does a much better job at promoting the many historic sites Quincy has to offer.
“Whether you look at the park being built out in front of City Hall and the Church of the Presidents – tying those things together and promoting the city’s history – those sort of things didn’t happen back then. There was no real interest in promoting the history of the city.”
Today, thousands flock to the Adams National Historical Park annually. The site consists of the Adams Birthplaces on Franklin Street as well as the Old House on Adams Street.
The city’s tourism effort got a bump after JFK was elected President. First Lady Jackie Kennedy requested that some of the Adams artifacts from the “Old House” be brought to Washington, D.C. for display at the White House.
McCullough’s book on Adams further ignited the Adams legacy both here and nationwide. One could reason more people probably know about John Adams, his contributions as one of this country’s Founding Fathers, and the Adams family today than any other time in history.
The statue controversy – while long over in Quincy – still conjures up memories for a special group of local high school students.
“We recently had our 55th reunion and it was interesting how many classmates – some of whom came from California and Florida and were out of town – how many asked, ‘hey, did they ever get the statue? Is it up?’
“Kids in the class remember the fight about a John Adams statue,” Dunleavy says. “Even after all these years they still remember.”