Friday, November 23, 2012

My kind of town

We have a lot to catch up on! First, thanks to all the backers for Kickstarter project #2. It's pretty clear I set the goal too high, as you all raised nearly half of the goal, which was in effect one of the two trips. I have a plan B to get back in action soon, so this shouldn't slow us down too much.

Also, last week I dropped by the annual wreath laying ceremony at Franklin Pierce's grave in Concord, and got some good pictures. I'll have those for you shortly.

But on to the present: the Midwest. This week I'll see President Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois and President Ford in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I spent part of today in Chicago enjoying world-class wind chill and dropping by a few of the city's presidential statues. I haven't processed my full-size photos yet, but through the magic of Instagram I have a few moments to share for the time being:

A cold day at Grant Park with Mr Lincoln.

Here's the Lincoln statue at Grant Park. The sculptor here is Augustus Saint-Gaudens, whose studio in New Hampshire is now a National Historic Site.

Lincoln Park well protected from vampires.

Lincoln has four statues in Chicago, and this is the one at Lincoln Park, appropriately enough.

Saw Lincoln at Grant Park; now here's Grant at Lincoln Park.

I saw Lincoln in Grant Park, so to complete the circle I had to see Grant in Lincoln Park. This statue is just south of the entrance of the zoo, built into the side of a hill. Grant and his horse have a pretty nice view of Lake Michigan.

Tomorrow I head to Dixon, to see yet another Lincoln statue and several Ronald Reagan statues... and soon: two presidents!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Gerald R. Ford House

Jerry's house

A house says a lot about a person, and that's often the case when the person in question is a president. Visit Mount Vernon and you'll see the gears in George Washington's mind turning toward agriculture, not war or politics. Drop my Monticello and everywhere you look you'll find examples of Jefferson's passion for science, literature, natural history and just about everything else. And in Gerald Ford's house in Alexandria, you'll see a suburban dad. A regular guy. Just like you figured, right?

The Fords built the house on Crown View Drive in the 1950's, after Jerry won a second term in Congress and realized he might not be moving back to Michigan for a while. There was plenty of room for a growing family - four bedrooms, a fireplace, a garage - and a good-sized yard, complete with a swingset and a pool. Not too far away from downtown, maybe a mile or so from the train - a pretty good setup for any family, really. "It was very normal, very middle American," son Jack Ford remembered. "You’d jump on your bike and go riding down the street, and your parents didn’t worry about you.”

Then, in 1973, something fairly important happened: Congressman Ford became Vice President Ford. By then lawmakers had made the Naval Observatory the official veep house, but work crews were still doing renovations, so the Fords stayed on Crown View, albeit with thick bulletproof glass added to the master bedroom window, a Secret Service command post in the garage and steel reinforcing bars in the driveway, so the concrete wouldn't buckle when the vice president's armored limo pulled in. Also: the basement was off-limits; all the old paint cans and Christmas decorations stuck behind security equipment.

And then, August 8, 1974: President Nixon announced he was resigning, which meant Alexandria's first citizen was about to become the nation's first citizen. The next morning the press converged on Crown View to get a glimpse of the new president's morning routine and maybe even get a statement. They got neither, though the nearby Abbruzzese family did let reporters use their phone while they waited. (The reporters later gave the Abbruzzeses a sign for the garage, stating “First press room of President Gerald R. Ford, August 8, 1974.”)

The Fords stayed home for the first ten days of Jerry's presidency. Ostensibly this was so the White House staff could prepare the living quarters for the Ford family, but in a way it reinforced President Ford's steady, no-drama tone as he tried to steer the country out of Watergate and back to normalcy. It's hard to see an "imperial presidency," after all, when you see the president stepping out in his pajamas to grab the morning paper.

Calm, yes, but maybe not quite normal: son Steve Ford said his mother, Betty, noted the following early in her tenure as First Lady: "Jerry, something's wrong here. You just became president of the United States and I'm still cooking." You'd think the president would have come back with some kind of witty sitcom-style one-liner but that doesn't appear to be the case.

The Fords did move to the White House, and though they said they intended to return to Alexandria at the end of Jerry's presidency, they actually moved to California instead, and the house on Crown View became a rental property. And you know how those get.

"It was super cool," onetime resident Brewster Thackeray told the Washington Post. And while Mr. Thackeray was impressed by the sense of history in the house, so, too, was he intrigued by the prospects of turning the president's refrigerator into a "kegorator" and holding toga parties around the presidential pool.

The neighborhood seems to have settled back down - and I attribute that to the fact that former Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey moved next door - so much so that you'd never guess there was anything noteworthy about the house, except for the National Historic Landmark plaque just to the right of the front door. Which is far as you can get - it's a private residence, so don't drop by in a toga and ask "so when does the pool party start?"

Jerry's house

This is what the "Lincoln" movie should've been about

From a Chicago Tribune list of little-known Lincoln facts:

Lincoln declined the King of Siam's offer to supply elephants to the U.S. government, writing in 1862 that his country "does not reach a latitude so low as to favor the multiplication of the elephant."

I appreciate the great struggle to rid the country of slavery as much as anyone, but that story is somewhat well-worn ground. Wouldn't it have been even more interesting to see Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis take on the tale of Lincoln and the elephants? The hours he stayed up late, pondering how to reply to the King's offer? The difficulties with his troublesome Cabinet members, including Seward, who told anyone who would listen how much he would love to have an elephant with him at the White House - when he was president? How General McClellan plotted against the elephants, spreading rumors that they actually did forget and how dangerous that would be during wartime? And how, when the elephants arrived by accident despite Lincoln's letter, Grant and Sherman made them the heart of the Union advance - and tramped through Atlanta on Christmas Day 1864?

Ok, not all of the above is accurate, but it would make for a terrific movie. I've even uncovered the famous Matthew Brady image of the President with a friend called Peanuts:

Friday, November 16, 2012

US Presidents in Video Games: The Top Five Moments

Never has a bond been more unbreakable than the one between video games and presidents. President Ronnie in Bad Dudes (as shown above). President Solidus Snake in Metal Gear Solid 2. Resident Evil games had a zombie as president once, and in a game called Destroy All Humans! the brain of the very corrupt (and very assassinated) fictional president was placed into a giant cyborg body. "Behold!" says one character. "The RoboPrez!" He was a big hit with robot voters, but with few others, and that was a problem because robots can't vote. Yet. 

The real, historical American commanders in chief are in video games as well, though not usually as robots, and for the record there is absolutely no truth to the rumor that William Howard Taft was the original star of Pac-Man. But that might have made more sense than some of the presidential video game appearances we now present to you: 

5. Bill Clinton Believes He Can Fly

The above image is NOT a Photoshop, it's proof that Scottie Pippen wasn't the only big basketball talent to come out of Arkansas... here's the man from Hope showing some serious vertical. Hillary Clinton appears to have some mad court skillz of her own; no doubt some of those Texts from Hillary went out to the NBA stars of today. 


4. Thank You Thomas Jefferson, But Our Independence Is In Another Castle!

In Mario's Time Machine, everyone's favorite mushroom-powered plumber goes all Peabody and Sherman on the space-time continuum, righting all sorts of historical wrongs, including a missing copy of the Declaration of Independence. Fortunately he's able to get the fresh document to his "good friend" Thomas Jefferson, who predicts Mario's face may someday "appear carved on a mountain." With Mario as the star this scene is adorable, though part of me thinks it would have been hilarious with Donkey Kong. Or Rupaul. 

3. The torch has been passed to a new generation of interactive CD-ROM 

Most of us remember the extremely controversial game JFK: Reloaded, an "educational" game in which you stand at the window of the Texas Book Depository with a rifle and "learn" about shooting the president. But does anyone but me remember the CD-ROM game Reelect JFK? (Seriously, if you're out there, get in touch.) As you can guess from the title, the game's premise is that President Kennedy survives Dallas, returns to Washington and runs for a second term, as controlled by you the player. He also tries to investigate the assassination attempt himself, by sneaking away from the White House under the guise of "reporter Kevin Bruderman." This convinces me that pretty much every president has snuck around as a "reporter" to dig up dirt on himself. In fact, in researching this game I found this very suspicious 1970 file photo of UPI Washington correspondent "Mick Dixon":

But the murder mystery is just one piece of Reelect JFK - there's the campaign, there's governing... heck, the man has a pretty long - and awesome - to-do list. 

And he accomplishes it all eating nothing but chowder. My day pales in comparison, frankly.

2. Ask not what your zombies can do for you 

One item that's not on the Reelect JFK to-do list: mow down zombies who have infiltrated the Pentagon. You will find that, however, in the game Call of Duty: Black Ops. And this time, President Kennedy has company: Defense Secretary Robert McNamara is there, as you might expect, but so is Richard Nixon... and Fidel Castro. 

I guess if hearing John F. Kennedy tell Richard Nixon "lock and load" was on your to-do list, well, you can check that one off now.

1. "Here to help." 

I'm operating on the barest of details for this last entry, but apparently there was a game called Conduit 2, and at the end of the game the lead whoever defeats somebody and then a lot of lasers go off and a woman talks and then when things look bleak for whatever reason Abraham Lincoln and George Washington show up in robo-space suits and guns, saying they're "here to help." 

Again, I'm completely unfamiliar with the game. I don't know where "here" is, or who it is they're there to help, or what help even means. All I know is that if Abe Lincoln showed up at my space station or whatever and offered help, I'd probably take it. Actually I'd probably wet myself out of confusion, but then I'd say yes. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

"We're facing a ninja-related crisis of national security."

The buzz around Lincoln is huge; no doubt Daniel Day-Lewis is making room for an Academy Award on his Ikea LERBERG shelf unit. But it's not the first time someone's portrayed a president in the movies - in fact, good as his performance was, it may not even be the best of all time. Who could forget Anthony Hopkins' stirring turn at John Quincy Adams in Amistad, or Anthony Hopkins' dark and awkward performance in the title role of Nixon? At one point I was sure Anthony Hopkins was attempting to play every president, and was greatly looking forward to his interpretation of the wild-eyed president from Buffalo in Rockin' the Fillmore.

I'll delve more deeply into this world of presidents in film in the coming weeks. Here's a good starting point: one, Bob Mondello's piece for NPR about Lincoln's Screen Legacy, tracing the history of Celluloid Abe from Henry Fonda and Ralph Ince to the Spielberg-and-Vampire-Hunter era we're in now.

I'm also going to look into another area presidents end up on occasion: video games. The best one, hands down, is the game Bad Dudes, where two, well, bad dudes go on a secret mission because "the president has been kidnapped by ninjas." And there's a movie adaptation! Well, sort of.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Making Media

I got to talk about this project today with my pals at New Hampshire Media Makers in Newmarket, including the talented video man about town Dan Freund of ShortStream.TV, who's rocking a pretty sweet mustache this month. He's like the Jay Cutler of Movember, except without all the interceptions (hiyo!). Anyway, check out our witty repartee in Dan's video:

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Ulysses S Grant Memorial

Ulysses S Grant Memorial

If you're starting your tour of the National Mall at the US Capitol, your first stop as you head west is likely to be the US Grant Memorial. It's probably good to get it out of the way early, cause it's pretty strong stuff. 

Sure, it's majestic in places - General Grant looks calm and determined atop his horse, Cincinnatus - he's facing west, toward the Lincoln Memorial - but below him is Civil War chaos. Here's how the Washington Post described it: "mud, exhaustion, horrible suspense, screaming plunging horses, broken reins, swollen veins, all of this in bronze." I suppose it would make no sense to show Grant's leadership without also showing the men he led, but I didn't expect to see horses' tongues flailing wildly and terrified men in their death throes. To paraphrase Grant's friend William Tecumseh Sherman, war statues are hell too. 

So are building them - the project was commissioned in 1902, and sculptor Henry Merwyn Shrady spent the next two decades (and a quarter of a million dollars - a record at the time) laboring over the memorial, going so far as to dissect horse remains to get the equine anatomy right. While 20 years is a long time to work on one piece, and the extra horse studies paid off in unprecedented horse tongue sculpture realism, Shrady might have been better served by a break now and then - he died just before the memorial was dedicated, on April 27, 1922 - General Grant's 100th birthday.

Today the Grant piece has another function: staging ground for tourist photos. Stand atop the memorial facing west and you're in perfect position to have someone take your photo with the Capitol as a backdrop; face east and you'll have a reflecting pool and the Washington Monument behind you. A saw an older woman make her adult son, his wife and their daughter not only pose but dance for her camera in front of the US Capitol. Also worth noting: the grandma here had a bunch of feathers in her hair, like Phyllis Diller's feathered hat, only without the hat. It may not have been civil war, but it sure was painful.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Escape From Theodore Roosevelt Island

Welcome to Theodore Roosevelt Island

I should have known there would be more than meets the eye to my trip to Theodore Roosevelt Island. It's set just northwest of the National Mall, not far from Arlington Cemetery, but somehow manages to make you feel far, far away. I first set out to find the island on a Monday, though my smartphone's GPS navigation actually steered me away from the place, as if to say, you must not go there, I will save you from yourself! The clouds darkened, rain threatened, I nearly ended up trying to cross the nearby George Washington Highway by walking through a patch of what looked like poison ivy.

I should have known because TR's own history suggests there's more to the man than meets the eye. In 1912, just weeks before the presidential election, a man called John Schrank dreamed the ghost of William McKinley rose from his grave and pointed to a Roosevelt-like figure dressed in monk's robes. "This is my murderer," Ghost-kinley said. "Avenge my death." Schrank tried - he took a shot at TR in Milwaukee, though Roosevelt more or less shrugged the shot off like an alpha male would - he insisted on giving his campaign speech "if it's the last thing on earth I do." Ninety minutes later, he finally went to the hospital. So did Schrank - in his case, it was the state mental hospital in Oshkosh. They said he was crazy... or was it some malevolent force at work?

I should have known because of TR's closest brush with mortality, his expedition to the then-uncharted Rio da Duvida - the River of Doubt - in Brazil. All nineteen men on the trip caught malaria; one man drowned; another went crazy and killed a colleague, and was left behind in the jungle to fend for himself. The indigenous people were watching, following, ready to defend themselves if the crew did anything hostile. TR caught a nasty infection in his leg, spiked a 104 fever and became delirious to the point that he repeated lines from Coleridge's poem "Kubla Khan." Later Roosevelt urged the men to leave him behind and save themselves. They didn't, and he lived on, but was never the same.

Come to think of it, each of my Washington friends who talked about how “Teddy Roosevelt island is totally awesome” seemed to be in a trance – a little Stepford Wives-style, in fact – when they talked about it. Their eyes glazed over, and they lost any inflection in their voices, as if they weren't fully in control of themselves when they talked about it.

Yes, I should have known. 

Still, I decided to go back a few days after my initial attempt – I had better weather and better directions, so I thought maybe I'd have better luck. I crossed the highway and made my way down the stairs and pathways that lead to the Island.

The bridge to Theodore Roosevelt Island

That's where I first started hearing them – the whispers. At first I thought it was just the river, but the river wasn't moving. And it wasn't other visitors, either – there was only one other person on the long bridge to the island, and he wasn't whispering. No, he was cackling – the kind of bone-chilling, high-pitched laugh that comes from a man who broke down long ago. “Yes,” he taunted as I walked past. “Yes, go! Go on! Yes!” I hurried on. When I reached the end of the bridge, he was gone. Vanished, I supposed.

No water

The whispers got louder as I approached the information kiosk – the one that informed me that “The Theodore Roosevelt Memorial will be undergoing extensive rehabilitation... for the duration of rehabilitation work water service to the island will be cut off.” Those last two words - “cut off” - seemed to refer to a lot more than water.

Downed tree

Even as I pressed on, determined to put myself to the test – as Roosevelt himself would have done – my doubts grew, especially when I came across a giant tree that had fallen right on the path. Even the trees, it seemed, feared what might happen if I carried forward. The foliage was dense – not even sunlight could pass through. Every sound echoed back at me as if it was trying to bypass my ears and go straight into my heart. On a sunny, warm day, I felt the coldest wind imaginable. And the whispers grew louder still.

On Theodore Roosevelt Island

Then I saw it: a labyrinth of concrete and steel – made of human material but... it was almost as if it had risen out of the ground. As if it had been grown and not built. The fountains, as promised, were not in use, leaving a silence more terrifying than the whispers at their loudest. Giant pillars of stone, proclaiming the need for bravery and nature and a call to greatness, none of which I was feeling anymore. All I could feel, in fact, was my knees starting to shake. 
I took a few steps into the space, sure that each one would be my last. I had unwittingly closed my eyes, too fearful to look further. But something told me I would have to look. And I did.

It was him.

Theodore Roosevelt statue

Teddy Roosevelt himself, or, at least, his towering statue. And this was not the ailing post-president weakened by the River of Doubt and the gunshot in Milwaukee – this was the man in his prime, the man who extolled, and exemplified, “the strenuous life.” Though inexplicably wearing a suit in the wilds of nature, he looked completely in his element – his right hand raised with authority, his face a mask of manic zeal. He looked as if he could work his will over me or anything else on the island. 
Theodore Roosevelt statue

His eyes were what stopped me in my tracks. Even in statue form they seemed full of fire and vigor. Once, as a third grader, I decided to lead my school friends in a trudge through the school's baseball field on a February day that was somehow muddy and frozen at the same time. After a few steps my navy blue moon boots bonded with that sticky cold mud and my grade school legs could not pull free. The bell rang. My friends left me, lured by the lateness of the hour and the importance of trying to get a good spot in line. I struggled again, to no avail. Someone must've pointed me out to the other kids, because they all began watching... at which point I fell into the mud, surrounded by the laughter of third, fourth, fifth and sixth graders, every kid I knew. Laughing. In the face of this giant bronze Roosevelt, I was that child again – frozen in place. Powerless.

Theodore Roosevelt's statue did not laugh, however. Instead, it spoke softly – or at least I thought it did. You, it told me, like so many before you, are now mine... I have a special expedition planned for you... we'll leave at once! 
I realized it was now or never – that if I didn't find a way to move now, I would soon become one of those voices whispering “No! No!” as unsuspecting visitors crossed that long bridge onto the island. I thought of Woodrow Wilson and how he managed to defeat TR, wrenched myself from the statue's gaze and ran, ran for what felt like days, ran until I was back on the bridge and then back in the sunlight, back in Washington. Tired beyond belief, I stumbled back to the Rosslyn Metro Station and fortified myself at the nearby ice cream shop. I felt I had learned an important lesson – that being brave in the face of impending doom was for other people. I would simply allow myself to panic – or, better yet, avoid any kind of panic-inducing trouble in the future.

And that I did – though I did hear the whispers again late one night at my house in New Hampshire. It turns out that I was just really dehydrated that day on Theodore Roosevelt Island – had I brought a water bottle there would have been no whispers, no cold wind, no malevolence in the statue's eyes, no need to run away. With a little more water in the tank I would have had a perfectly lovely afternoon on one of the nicest outdoor spots in the greater DC area.

There was one lingering mystery, though: the cackling man on the bridge, yelling “Yes, go! Go on! Yes!” That couldn't be explained by me being thirsty. Later I remembered a crucial detail that solved the mystery: he was looking at his smartphone, watching clips of baseball's Washington Nationals, who were then on their way to the playoffs for the first time. One of the big attractions at Nationals games is the race between the presidential mascots – a race that, until that fall, the Teddy Roosevelt mascot had never won. 
So maybe there was something going on at the Island...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Madison Building, Library of Congress

Madison Statue

The Library of Congress has three main buildings, each named after Founding Fathers. If you've been to one, it's probably the Thomas Jefferson Building, as that's the one where they give tours and have a Magna Carta and all that. The Madison Building is for research, not tourists - the guard politely but firmly made this point when I dropped by. "I'm just here to find a statue of President Madison, actually," I said, and he pointed to a corridor to the left of the doors. "Over there," he said, and I turned my camera's zoom lens to the "way the heck down there" setting so I could grab a photo.

That's really all there is to do at this building, at least for tourists. The Jefferson Building not only has the tourist facilities, it has a bunch of statues of nude mermaids and stuff on the outside, and even the diminutive and reserved Mr. Madison would admit that he's no match for something like that.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson memorial. #BCinDC

Longtime fans of The Simpsons will remember a joke in an early episode where Lisa, having caught a congressman taking bribes, runs to the Lincoln Memorial for advice, only to be drowned out by all the other people asking Abe for help. She flees to the Jefferson Memorial, on the Tidal Basin, but Jefferson's statue is in no mood: "I know your problem: the Lincoln Memorial was too crowded," he says with a huff. "I don't blame them. I didn't do anything important. Just the Declaration of Independence, the Louisiana Purchase..." Lisa wanders off and the statue changes its tune. "WAIT!" it shouts. "Don't go!... I get so lonely..."

Almost everyone I talked to about my trip to DC made reference to that scene - even my wife, who wasn't a Simpsons diehard back in the show's heyday.  But you have to admit, it's kind of true - while the Great Emancipator has the best seat on the whole National Mall, Jefferson is off to the side - it takes a little extra effort to see him. When I dropped by on an overcast but otherwise comfortable September evening, the only visitors were me and about 30 tourists from Japan. I can't say I heard them reenacting that Simpsons scene in Japanese, but since I don't speak Japanese, I can't say I didn't, either.


Cartoon references aside, the Jefferson statue is quite large and impressive, especially in that the surrounding rotunda is ringed by stirring quotes from the Declaration of Independence and other works. Just below the dome you'll find this quote: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man" - stirring words, but also easy to take out of context if a photographer decides to crop his photos for that ridiculous and nefarious purpose:

Jefferson out of context, #3

Which probably means I can expect a harsh word or two from the Jefferson statue next time I'm in the area.

Monday, November 5, 2012

James Buchanan Memorial


This is one I still can't figure out. Washington DC has the towering Washington Monument, the majestic Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson on the Tidal Basin... but those guys are all generally thought of as good, even great, presidents. "Buchanan was a great president too," said absolutely no one - in fact, historians almost always rank him as the absolute worst president of all time. So why does he have a memorial?

And that answer is, I really don't know yet, though I hope someday to find out. I do know this: the Memorial, inexplicable as it is, happens to be quite nice. The impeccably-dressed president sits admiring the Constitution, or, possibly, glumly ponders his historical reputation. A side panel hails Old Buck as "The incorruptible statesman whose walk was upon the mountain ranges of the law." In old school Roman style, all the U's are actually V's, so "Bvchanan" is actually walked on the "movntain range." But the man has enough problems without us bringing up spelling. 

Even nicer than the memorial: its setting, Meridian Hill Park (also called Malcolm X Park). It's not near the Mall or even a subway stop, but a beautiful park with waterfall features, trees, He may be ranked last as a president, but his memorial isn't.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Franklin Pierce Statue in Concord, NH

Pierce's statue

Concord is my hometown. It was also the hometown of Franklin Pierce, the only president to hail from New Hampshire. It is also the state capital. Putting a statue of New Hampshire's only president in the capital city, not to mention the city where that president lived - a no brainer, right? And yet the state went out of its way to avoid putting up a Pierce statue for decades.

Why did New Hampshire hold off on recognizing its ultimate "local boy makes good" moment all that time? Pierce's largely unsuccessful presidency and its role in the lead-up to the Civil War, mostly - it's a long story, which you can find in the article "Franklin Pierce: The 'Buy Local' President." But if you're just looking for the statue, head to the statehouse on Main Street and you'll find him. Do note, however, that while the state did finally honor Pierce with a statue, they made sure it was technically on city - not state - ground, as if to say, he's mostly yours, Concord. 

The Petersen House

The House Where Lincoln Died

Doctors who examined President Lincoln at Ford's Theater quickly realized he was mortally wounded, so they decided he should at least die somewhere more comfortable than the bloodstained floor of a theater box. Hence the move across the street to the townhouse of tailor George Petersen; think of it a bit like improvised hospice for the dying president.

Like at Ford's Theater itself, there isn't a wide variety of things to see, but what you do see is pretty momentous: first, the front parlor, where War Secretary Edwin Stanton started the massive manhunt for John Wilkes Booth, and where Mrs. Lincoln, Vice President Johnson and numerous Cabinet members arrived to pay their respects. Behind that (and behind a large clear pane) is the room - and the bed where Lincoln died.

The bed of tragedy

There was a famous drawing at the time showing pretty much the whole of official Washington hovering around Abe's deathbed - don't believe it. Even with the wall between the bedroom and the parlor removed for better viewing, it's a small space. Unless every member of Lincoln's Cabinet was the size of an Oompa-Loompa, they would have had to take turns in there.

The bed is more or less the end of the tour, but if you take the elevator upstairs you'll walk through a little museum about the aftermath of Lincoln's death, including the hunt for Booth, the White House funeral and the train procession back to Illinois. As I have become officially obsessed with the Lincoln catafalque during the course of this project, I was especially excited to see pieces of the catafalque's original fringe. Does that make me fringe to admit that, do you think?

Finally, there's a walk through Lincoln in popular culture, which includes movies, monuments, and an enormous stack of Lincoln books that stretches from the top floor down to the main level gift shop. Best item here, of course, is a super-size piece of the Marvel comic where Lincoln teams up with Spider-Man and Captain America!

Abe hulks up

Sorry, but not even Daniel Day-Lewis can match that.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ike is a Highway: The Eisenhower Statue in Alexandria, Va

Ike and the highway

The massive Eisenhower Memorial planned for the National Mall area is still in the planning (and vociferous protesting) stage, so if you want to like Ike while in the DC area, take the Metro Yellow Line down to King Street station and walk a half mile or so through Alexandria to Eisenhower Circle, built to officially mark the start of the Eisenhower national expressway system.

Technically the general is overseeing a traffic circle, and a somewhat quiet one at that - the busy roads are to the west and northwest, at least from what I saw on a Wednesday night rush hour. That may explain why Alexandria is apparently considering moving the statue as part of a broader redevelopment of the area. For now, here's what the general sees as he looks out at the roads:

Ike and the highway

Maybe the city will do with this statue what one critic of the Eisenhower Memorial suggested be done with that design: "it should be completed and installed along the 38th parallel to insure that North Korea never ventures within eyesight." Ok, probably won't happen, but hey, people are still talking.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Washington National Cathedral

Washington National Cathedral

It's an essential stop for those of us who visit presidential gravesites -Woodrow Wilson is entombed therein - and is becoming an essential stop for the departing presidents themselves. Presidents Reagan and Ford both had funeral services here, and that tradition is likely to continue going forward.

That's what the Cathedral was built for, in fact - Pierre L'Enfant put in his plans for the Federal City room for "a great church for national purposes."  True, construction didn't get going until 1907, but then building a cathedral this size isn't done in an afternoon. (Rumors that a worker yelled out "L'Enfant, we are here!" at the groundbreaking ceremony cannot be confirmed.) The Cathedral was officially complete in 1990.

Mr Wilson at the cathedral. #BCinDC

President Wilson is in the main hall, along with some immense and amazing stained glass windows, statues of Washington and Lincoln, and real live church services. It feels more than a little weird to be stumbling around gawking at the Space Window (a stained glass piece with a sliver of moon rock at its center) while the congregation is worshiping and giving thanks and praise and such, but they're generally unfazed by the tourists, who are asked only to be respectful and not chatter loudly or take a lot of photos.

Vader is here.

The real fun starts outside, though, with the gargoyles. Each one is unique and each one has a story behind its design and installation. Some were thank you gifts to individuals who donated money during Cathedral construction; they represent the donors' professions, or children, or home state (one gargoyle holds the St. Louis Arch over its head because the donor was from Missouri. Or maybe it was Missouri itself that made the donation? Either way, you get the idea). Others show a great sense of humor - one of the gargoyles is shaped like a camera, and the guide on our Gargoyle Tour told us that particular gargoyle points toward the former location of the Soviet Embassy.  (The guide added that on at least one occasion, several highly Soviet-looking fellers were spotted outside the Cathedral, pointing up at this gargoyle and clearly trying to determine whether it was an actual camera or not.)

And then there's Vader. Installed in the 80's after a "design the gargoyle contest" entrant pointed out that gargoyles are supposed to be evil and scary and that the Dark Lord of the Sith fit those conditions well, the Vader gargoyle is the cathedral's big tourist draw, despite being very difficult to see and despite not technically being a gargoyle (no drainage system, you see). Vader is on the back side (the Dark Side, har) of the West tower; you'll need a strong pair of binoculars to see him, cause he's way the heck up there. I found him with the Force, and with the zoom lens on my camera.

The Cathedral was, aside from the Washington Monument, the most high-profile DC spot affected by the earthquake of 2011. Repair work is ongoing but (surprise) slow and expensive - we're talking tens of millions of dollars. I guess that's why I did most of my tourist shopping in their gift shop, which is temporarily in the basement crypt (the outbuilding that usually serves as the gift shop had a crane fall on it - ouch). You'll find religious items, gargoyle-themed souvenirs, books of all kinds, even fudge, on shelves just below the final resting places of Cabinet secretaries and war heroes.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

This guy saw Abe Lincoln get shot

Presidential box

PWLIS backer Tom B. pointed me toward this genuinely mind-bending video of a Mr. Samuel J. Seymour, who in 1956 appeared on the TV show "I've Got a Secret." His secret? He was at Ford's Theater on April 14, 1865 - yes, that night.

The funniest part, which Seymour also wrote about in the article they mention, is how as a five year old, he thought the crowd was upset because Booth had fallen from the president's box and hurt himself.  At age 96, he also noted this: "I sometimes relive the horror of Lincoln's assassination, dozing in my rocker as an old codger like me is bound to do." Ha!

Friday, October 19, 2012

"Brady Carlson is a man with a presidential fixation."

WAMU's Metro Connection did a really fun piece about my little project today. I met up with reporter Jacob Fenston at Arlington and together we visited the Kennedy and Taft gravesites, but then he went back and reported on the Washington and Wilson sites as well. And he's a good writer and photographer, so if he decides to pursue the other presidents too, well, then I'm in big trouble!

It's definitely worth a listen, if only to hear me described as I truly am - "in the state of 'breathless hyper-giddiness of a tween at a Justin Bieber concert.'"

Monday, October 15, 2012

The answer is NOT "Lee Harvey Oswald"

The question is "Who shot Abraham Lincoln?"

And it is probably good news that in a recent poll, 75% of Americans correctly answered "John Wilkes Booth." But for whatever reasons, a full 7% of those polled said it was Oswald who, despite having been born in 1939, was the man who shot Honest Abe in 1865.

Hey, we're none of us perfect, right? At least they were a little closer to the mark than the 1% of respondents who said Lincoln's assassin was composer/conductor Michael Tilson Thomas.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Get ready for the next Kickstarter!

Here's the new video with a fresh round of trips. Hoping to launch on Thursday - stay tuned!

Friday, October 12, 2012

George Washington: First in war, first in resting in peace

Washington's Tomb

"Within this enclosure," says the sign on the top of the tomb, "Rest the remains of Genl GEORGE WASHINGTON."

That enclosure, and those remains, are five feet from where I'm standing, on the grounds of Virginia's Mount Vernon. I have been fascinated by the presidents of the United States for pretty much my entire life, so being this close to the first president, the one by which every president is measured, I should probably be in a state of rapturous, patriotic awe; in truth, I'm probably closer to the breathless hyper-giddiness of a tween at a Justin Bieber concert. "OMG GEORGE" my brain thinks, over and over.

I probably should have dressed better. Most of the twenty of so people gathered around the tomb are on the nice side of casual. I am on the border between "casual" and "derelict" - my shorts are in good shape, but my hat is a size too small and in between the holes in my t-shirt there are splotches of paint from a long ago home improvement project. I have allegedly shaved. My face is bright red from sunburn. They should have stopped me at the entrance and pretended that there was a dress code. But I'm much too excited about being here to care. 

For fifteen dollars a head, visitors to Mount Vernon (or, technically, "George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate, Museum & Gardens") can spend the day any number of ways - the big draw is the house tour, where one can see Washington's study, the dining room where Charles Thomson informed the general he had been elected president, and the bed where he died. There are historical reenactors in the greenhouse talking about life on the plantation, a wharf, livestock, and more. I keep coming back to the tomb - at least for this project, though it's good to know that I can always return if I feel like writing a book about "World Leaders and Their Cows" sometime in the future.

Wreath ceremony

There's a docent outside the tomb answering questions from tourists. (Her catchphrase: "General Washington is in the sarcophagus on the right; Mrs. Washington is on the left.") Her shift ends at 2, and another staffer comes on to start the wreath laying ceremony. As she unlocks the tomb's large iron gate, she points out that the ceremony in which we're about to take part has been host to presidents and queens and dignitaries. She gives a sort of eulogy, explaining that we lay the wreath because Washington spent much of his adult life leaving home to answer the call to public service, from the Revolutionary War to the constitutional convention to the presidency. "In total," she says, "twenty one years." She says this last phrase very slowly so it sinks in, cause that's a long time. "Twenty. One. Years." I have not been anything for twenty-one years, except a poor dresser.

She points to a thin green tripod stand, which holds a smallish, unadorned wreath. She asks for volunteers to place the wreath next to the Washingtons. "Do we have any veterans or active members of the military with us today?" she asks. I briefly consider answering yes but give the idea up immediately, figuring that if George Washington has eerie afterlife powers I don't want to be caught lying in front of his tomb. Two veterans raise their hands, a fortysomething guy with greying hair and a blue polo shirt, and a woman maybe a few years younger than me, wearing a long sleeved khaki top, a red headband atop her short hair and bright pink nail polish on her fingers.

The docent turns back to the crowd to ask for one more volunteer, to read George Washington's prayer. The docent looks way past my outstretched hand and chooses a long-haired girl in her early teens, who reads from the prayer as the veterans walk the wreath into the tomb:

I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection, that he would incline the hearts of the Citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to Government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow Citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the Field, and finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that Charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation. 

We wrap up with the Pledge of Allegiance, and the docent invites us to take pictures of the tomb before she closes the gate back up. I walk back toward the main entrance next to the woman who helped lay the wreath. She's got three kids with her. The oldest, at maybe 8 or 9 years, is unimpressed that his mom laid a wreath at the tomb of George Washington. "Can we get lunch now?" he asks. 

This ceremony plays out at Mount Vernon twice a day, every day of the year (the wreath ceremony, I mean - hopefully most kids get lunch beforehand). And it's just one of about a zillion honors paid to the man for whom our capital city is named - I'd planned on seeing plenty of statues, memorials and monuments in Washington, but there were easily as many that I didn't know about and just happened upon while walking around. Washington is everywhere in Washington. One can't help but be impressed at how the country has honored the guy. Well, at least until one hears how the country stumbled its way toward those memorials and monuments. Then one will find it hard to believe any of these monuments are there at all.

Washington Circle

Keep in mind that as the first president under the US Constitution, everything George Washington did set a precedent, from when to use powers like vetoes and executive orders, to how many four-year terms to serve, to the appropriateness of "all you can eat ribs night" for a state dinner. Washington's death was no exception; it set a standard for how the country would treat its late chiefs of state. The president knew this, of course, partly because he was so fully aware of the gravity of his situation, but also because the country had already tried to start up the memorializing while Washington was still alive. The Continental Congress was unable to agree on virtually anything - that's why it was abolished in favor of the current system - but on August 7, 1783, they did manage to agree that George Washington, hero of the Revolution, was the man and deserved some props. "An equestrian statue of General Washington [shall] be erected at the place where the residence of Congress shall be established.... the General to be represented in Roman dress, holding a truncheon in his right hand, and his head encircled with a laurel wreath." There was a Revolutionary War parallel here: patriots in New York had pulled down an equestrian statue of King George III after the passage of the Declaration of Independence, so the symbolism of this idea wasn't lost on anyone.

Washington kept pushing these memorial ideas away, trying to make sure there was enough of a country in which to build all these statues everyone was proposing. While alive, he usually succeeded, though not always -  the country decided in 1791 to name its capital city after him, before his first term as president was even done - and when he died in late 1799, that was the end of any reasonable effort to keep the memorials in proportion. This despite Washington stating in his will that "it is my express desire that my Corpse may be Interred in a private manner, without parade, or funeral Oration." The House and Senate immediately adjourned out of respect; Senate President pro tempore Samuel Livermore wrote to President Adams, "Permit us, sir, to mingle our tears with yours. On this occasion it is manly to weep." Manly tears flowed across the country, in mock funerals and speeches and church services. It's said there were shortages of black cloth in some parts of the country for months afterwards. Good thing Johnny Cash hadn't been born yet.

The apotheosis of George Washington

America quickly went beyond mourning a man and began creating a legend. "Washington," Ron Chernow writes in his epic biography Washington, A Life, "was converted into an exemplar of moral values, the person chosen to tutor posterity in patriotism, even a civic deity." Stand in the Capitol Rotunda and look up at the center of the dome; you'll see The Apotheosis of Washington, in which angels welcome the general into heaven and elevate him to godlike status. This print was a huge hit shortly after Washington's death, as was The Life of Washington, in which author Parson Weems invents the story of honest young George chopping down the cherry tree and confessing the deed to his father. It sold tons of copies, even when reprinted under the less flattering title Washington: America's First Eco-Terrorist. (Just kidding.)

Chernow suggests the over-the-top memorializing helped Americans cope with their fears that national unity, and maybe the country itself, might start to crumble without Washington there. It's like that close friend you had in high school that turns weird as an adult, so your entire present-day relationship amounts to remembering high school. I am clearly reaching for a metaphor. My point is, America was determined to honor the crap out of George Washington. But as I am often reminded every time I attempt a simple recipe and end up with thick black smoke and broken appliances, determination does not equal skill. It took a lot of time, money and mistakes before America got its memorials to Washington together.

Heck, they couldn't even get the tomb together at first. George Washington had left specific instructions about this in his will:

The family Vault at Mount Vernon requiring repairs, and being improperly situated besides, I desire that a new one of Brick, and upon a larger Scale, may be built at the foot of what is commonly called the Vineyard Inclosure, on the ground which is marked out. In which my remains, with those of my deceased relatives (now in the old Vault) and such others of my family as may chuse to be entombed there, may be deposited. 
The man wasn't kidding. The old tomb, which has a sweet view of the Potomac, is arguably in a superior location than the "Vineyard Inclosure,"but it definitely looks a bit cramped for 30 or so coffins. The real meaning of "improperly situated," though, is that it was very prone to flooding.

Old Tomb

Given all this urgency about floods, you can see why... nothing happened. The new tomb became Mount Vernon's version of that rec room every homeowner vows to add to the basement and never does. "I swear I'm gonna build it when the weather cools off!" said Mount Vernon's new owner, Bushrod Washington.

Ok, the real story is slightly more complicated. Bushrod had a lot on his plate, from executing uncle George's painfully detailed will, to his day job as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, to the large amounts of time it takes simply having a name like Bushrod. Add in that Mount Vernon was expensive to maintain and not very profitable, and it becomes a bit less surprising why there was still no tomb when Bushrod died in 1829. The property then passed to his nephew John, who had fewer name-related encumbrances on his time, as well as a very good reason to build the tomb: a disgruntled former worker broke into the old tomb intending to steal George Washington skull. The worker was apprehended, having taken Bushrod's skull by mistake, but the point was made. John Washington built the tomb, and the disgruntled ex-worker was unable to star in the jailhouse production of Hamlet: "Alas, poor Bushrod."

Washington's Tomb

The tomb was ready in 1831, more than three decades after Washington died - but by then, George's coffin was showing signs of wear, possibly from the general turning over in his grave because it took so long to build the damn tomb. Friends realized he would need a more permanent home, and so architect William Strickland designed a new sarcophagus, which artisan John Struthers carved out of marble. It was strong, sturdy and beautiful. It was also too too big to fit through the doorway to the crypt. Masons had to add on a whole new front section to house it. And when they did, Strickland, Struthers and some relatives had to get Washington's body in there:
When the new sarcophagus arrived the coffin of the chief was brought forth. When the vault was opened Mr. Strickland was accompanied by Major Lewis... Washington's decayed wooden case was removed and the leaden lid was perceived to be sunken and fractured, In the bottom of the wooden case was found the silver shield that had been on the top of the leaden coffin when Washington was first entombed. At the request of Major Lewis the fractured part of the lid was turned over on the lower part, exposing to view a head and breast of large dimensions, which appeared by the dim light of the candles to have suffered but little from the effects of time.
 This time the head and breast of large dimensions was not Bushrod. They were staring at George Washington. 
The eye-sockets were large and deep, and the breadth across the temples, together with the forehead, appeared of unusual size. There was no appearance of grave-clothes; the chest was broad, the color was dark and had the appearance of dried flesh and skin adhering closely to the bones. We saw no hair, nor was there any offensive odor from the body; but we observed, when the coffin had been removed to the outside of the vault the dripping down of a yellow liquid, which stained the marble of the sarcophagus. A hand was laid upon the head and instantly removed; the leaden lid was restored to its place; the body was carried by six men, was carried and laid in the marble coffin, and the ponderous cover being put on and set in cement, it was sealed on the 7th day of October 1837.
I love the phrasing here: "a hand was laid upon the head." Whose hand? Certainly not any of our hands, just a hand that was hanging around! And while Strickland says he "saw no hair," somebody sure as heck did, because somebody paid seventeen thousand bucks for a lock of George Washington's hair that was taken in 1837. Nonetheless, the crew, having sealed the sarcophagus for all times, went back to the Mount Vernon mansion to have cake. George Washington had become the first president to be exhumed, patted on the head by a random guy, then reinterred. 

George Washington's toga party

While all this coffin-shuffling was going on, Congress decided it was high time for a stirring tribute to the hero of Valley Forge, one that recognized him as a giant among the early men of the republic. In 1832, marking 100 years since Washington's birth, lawmakers commissioned a statue of Washington from sculptor Horatio Greenough, offering twenty thousand dollars for the work.

Greenough knew he'd just gotten the job of a lifetime, and "determined to spare neither time nor expense to make his work worthy of the country and himself." Early America saw itself as the heir to Greek democracy and the Roman republic; Greenough, working and living in Italy, was happy to run with that comparison, and used the statue of Zeus at Olympia as the basis for his Washington at, uh, Washington. Zeus was one of the Seven Wonders of the World, so what better model to use?

Just as Zeus sat on a throne, Washington is seated; his chair features Native Americans and Columbus - meant to place the general between the New World and the old. He wears Roman-style clothes, shirtless and in sandals. In his left hand he holds a sheathed sword; the handle points away from him, because he handed back the reins of power to civilian authority at the end of the Revolutionary War, as Cincinnatus did in ancient times. His raised right hand points toward heaven. He is literally larger than life - and if that wasn't symbolism enough, the work also includes depictions of Apollo, god of the sun, and Hercules (in infant form, but still). The artist's inscription is in Latin.

Greenough must have been pretty excited when Washington was placed in the Capitol Rotunda in 1842... at least until people started seeing Washington at the Capitol Rotunda. Suffice to say the classical imagery did not go over as intended - instead of seeing a timeless Washington as heir to the ancients, visitors saw the beloved Father of their Country in a toga, trying to stab himself. “It is a ridiculous affair, and instead of demanding admiration, excites only laughter," said one visitor.
Charles Bulfinch, architect of the Capitol, wrote "I fear that this statue will give the idea of Washington's entering or leaving a bath." Yet another visitor laughed "you can see his nipples!" Ok, I made that last one up. A hipster friend of Greenough's clicked his tongue at the unappreciative DC rabble: “This magnificent production of genius does not seem to be appreciated at its full value in this metropolis.”

Hearing this, Congress decided the Rotunda was too good for a "marble absurdity" and moved the statue outside to the Capitol Grounds, where visitors in off-peak months joked the shirtless president was reaching for his clothes. It was moved again to the Patent Office and then was finally donated in 1908 to the Smithsonian. No statue has dared to show presidential nipple since.

A monumental color shift

Say what you want about George Washington's toga party, at least Horatio Greenough got his work done. Toga George had come, been mocked, and moved outside before the people in charge of the Washington Monument even got started. By this point, the old Washington on horseback statue idea had taken a back seat; instead, then-Congressman and future Supreme Court legend John Marshall pushed for George's remains to be buried in the US Capitol. Marshall even managed to get Martha Washington's approval, though as yeses go, it was a pretty passive-aggressive one:
"Taught by that great example which I have so long had before me never to oppose my private wishes to the public will, I must consent to the will of Congress... in doing this, I need not, I cannot say what a sacrifice of individual feeling I make to a sense of public duty."
Go ahead, take my husband's body away from me, she said, and the Congress was like, sure! The Capitol Crypt was to be built just under the Rotunda, with a hole in the ceiling so people could peer down and see the general. The usual political and funding delays slowed construction down, as did the British invading Washington DC and burning everything and forcing the builders to start over. Priority went to rebuilding the legislative chambers, so it wasn't until 1827 that the Rotunda and Crypt were finished. By then, Martha Washington had died; when officials dropped by Mount Vernon a few years later to pick up the body, John Washington essentially asked them "did any of you ever bother to look at the will?" By then, the country was having reservations about the Crypt idea anyway; at the time there was no guarantee that the Federal City would always be the seat of government, and with slavery becoming an increasingly nasty national debate, there was a concern that if the capital should move North or South, and if eventually there should be civil war, Washington might someday lie outside the country he founded. With no body and no enthusiasm left, the dejected builders plugged the rather drafty hole between the Rotunda and the increasingly inaccurately named Crypt, which is today used by Capitol tour guides to corral their groups.

The Crypt

John Marshall quickly regrouped, though; he and members of the new Washington National Monument Society (which also included former president James Madison) returned to the idea of a public monument. Here's how quickly they moved, though: the society formed in 1833. It wasn't until three years later that they put out requests for designs - they waited to open up the contest until they had about $28,000 on hand, and they set a maximum contribution of a dollar, so yeah, three years. They chose a design by architect Robert Mills, calling for an Egyptian-style obelisk surrounded by an oversize statue of Washington on a chariot leading a team of Arabian horses. The base of the proposed Washington Monument would be a circular Greek temple, not too different from today's Jefferson Memorial. The team of horses would be "driven by Winged Victory." (If you thought Toga George went over badly, imagine how the public would have reacted to Ben Hur George.)

Disputes between Congress and the Society went on for several more years, which meant the cornerstone wasn't laid until Independence Day 1848. By the way, the cart carrying the six-ton-plus cornerstone got stuck in a mud patch near the National Mall - forty workers at the Navy Yard had to pull the stone out to get it to the site. It set a maddening pattern for the rest of the project: even when it moved forward, it still got stuck.

Architect Mills had designed what was then the tallest structure in the world; he needed more marble
than the railroad could feasibly deliver. And the project frequently ran out of money. The society staged a fundraiser on July 4th, 1850, with a guest of honor: President Zachary Taylor... who was worn down by the extreme heat and died less than a week later. In honoring one dead president, the monument helped to create another.

And by 1854 funding had completely dried up; the builders simply stopped where they were, about 152 feet up. The long "stump era" of the Washington Monument had begun, and man, did it suck. Architect Robert Mills died in 1855, around the time that an anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic group nicknamed the Know-Nothings (named so because they refused to answer questions, but seriously not a wise name choice for a group trying to win votes) managed to muscle their way into the leadership of the monument society. They were cheesed off because the pope had sent a stone for the monument, which they probably smashed to bits and dumped in the river. Also destroyed: most of the society's documents. They did add about 21 feet of stone to the tower, but the work was shoddy and had to be removed. By the time the Know-Nothings relinquished power, the Civil War was about to begin. Yes, the country fell apart before the Washington Monument could come together.

Onward to the Mall

You're starting to think this story is never going to end, aren't you? There was, at last, light at the end of the tunnel on Independence Day 1876 - the American centennial. Lawmakers started to realize that almost everyone who was alive at the start of this project was now dead, and they finally put forward long-awaited funds and put the US Army Corps of Engineers in charge of construction. Sure, cost concerns meant all the adornments were scrapped - no Washington on a chariot, no team of horses - and the color difference between old and new marble was (and still is) highly visible, but by God it was done. The Washington Monument was finished in 1885, dedicated by the muttonchops of Chester Arthur that year, and opened to the public in 1888.

At which point it started suffering periodic damage, requiring closings, repairs, delays and yet more money. As of this writing the monument is closed to the public and awaiting at least a year of repairs thanks to the earthquake of 2011. The public is using this downtime to take pictures of themselves near the monument that eighth grade boys would find funny (but not anyone's boss, so don't click on the link at work).

All of this memorializing is, as far as I'm concerned, a metaphor for the start of the country itself. It took a lot of false starts, a lot of mistakes, a lot of time and money and effort and arguing to build the memorials, but eventually we got to a point that, barring any further earthquakes, we can look with pride at what's been built. I like to think that's generally the same arc we're on as a country. The ride has been nothing but bumpy, and every so often we require repairs, but we mostly figure it out in the end.

That said, you will note that while George Washington died just a few years after his presidency ended, his successor, John Adams, managed to live on for more than two decades after leaving the office. He was undoubtedly trying to spare Americans the agony of trying to build more memorials.



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