John Adams comes alive

Mark Brooky • Jul 21, 2015 at 10:59 AM

“I thought it was cool how he was kind of forgotten a little bit, so I got really interested in him, and I wanted to learn more and more about John Adams,” she said.

The soon-to-be ninth-grader said seeing the musical “1776” late last year sparked her interest in the country’s founding fathers, which led her to read biographies of Adams. Her parents drove her to Grand Haven to see the “John Adams Unbound” exhibit at Loutit District Library this week, and they plan to return for the

“Jefferson & Adams: A Stage Play” at Grand Haven High School on July 14.

Portraying Adams on Monday was Bill Chrystal, 64, of Charlotte Courthouse, Va. He is a retired pastor and historian who spent 10 years as host of a National Public Radio show, “The Thomas Jefferson Hour.”

The man portraying Jefferson on the radio show urged Chrystal to impersonate Jefferson’s political foes, John Adams or Alexander Hamilton. Chrystal now portrays both, and has made his Adams presentation all over the country — from Boston to Pueblo, Colo. — in conjunction with the “John Adams Unbound” traveling exhibition at local libraries.

“In 2004, I was at an event ... where I spoke as President Adams, and I got talking with another speaker at the conference — this young state senator from Illinois,” Chrystal said. “I’m still doing this and he’s (now) president of the United States.”

Chrystal said he portrays Adams at no particular age, but rather in “an indefinite way” so that he can talk about the president’s life and death, and address contemporary issues as Adams would.

“The reasoning — if somebody asks you a question, they want to know the answer,” Chrystal explained. “And if you let some sort of methodology prevent it, then you’ve really kind of frustrated the educational process.”

To see a photo gallery of the presentation, click here.

Grand Haven City Councilman Bob Monetza attended Chrystal’s presentation.

“This is about a period of time when people were very engaged in public life and very engaged in the changes that were happening in the country,” Monetza said. “... I wish now that people had the same kind of engagement, the same kind of integrity in public life. I think that many people do, but this is a good reminder of where we came from.”

Chrystal said he was inspired by the crowd that attended Monday’s “town meeting.”

“If you really believe that the past can teach us lessons that will make us more viable in the present and in the future, then it’s really heartening to see a group show up for something like this,” he said.

Several historical re-enactors — many from the Brethren of the Great Lakes, a Michigan group that provides the pirates and wenches for Loutit District Library’s annual Pirate Festival in September — were decked out in period costume for the event, including a Ben Franklin. Larry Halverson, the library’s public relations coordinator, portrayed Edmund Randolph, the country’s first attorney general.

Monday’s presentation was announced by a town crier — who strolled up and down Washington Avenue, ringing a bell and shouting, “Hear ye, hear ye.” Dennis Dufresne of Allendale will act as the town crier, dressed in period costume, each weeknight at around 6 through Aug. 5 to announce the Adams events.

Earlier Monday, the first official day of the six-week exhibit, Halverson said 75 people attended an afternoon “Colonial Tea with John Adams” at the library.

“It was wonderful,” he said.

Chrystal had high praise for Halverson’s work in arranging the Adams exhibit and activities.

“Larry has just done an incredible job of creating a constellation of events around this Adams exhibit that the library has been able to obtain, and it’s a wonderful thing,” Chrystal said.

John Adams (1735-1826) was a member of the first Continental Congress and served as vice president under George Washington. Adams served one term as president (1797-1801). He lived to see his son, John Q. Adams, elected the country’s sixth president in 1824.

The schedule of Adams activities continues at the library at 7 p.m. Thursday, when “John Adams’ View of Fame” will be addressed by Gleaves Whitney, executive director of the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies at Grand Valley State University.


Recommended for You

    Grand Haven Tribune Videos