Monday, July 23, 2012

A quiz wiz

I just took the "Presidential Deathplaces" quiz on Mental Floss and scored 8 out of 10. Which is not bad, especially given how complex some of the questions were.

One of the questions isn't really about presidents at all - it was about which college was located in a city where a president died, and I guessed wrong. Ah well. The other was listing how many presidents had died in Washington DC, and I forgot two - one I should have known and one I didn't realize had died there.

As you may have noticed, I kept my mistakes somewhat vague so as not to spoil the quiz for you. Give it a try and tell me how you did!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Itinerary, take one

I've come up with a draft itinerary for the Washington DC trip. Suggestions are very welcome: 


Mount Vernon - George Washington

Arlington National Cemetery - John F. Kennedy and William H. Taft


Washington Monument - yes, I know it's closed, but I still want to check it out from the outside. 

Eisenhower Memorial - this one hasn't been built yet, but it's already a source of controversy. I don't know the full story but I'm going to find it

James Buchanan Memorial - probably the most baffling site on the list, given Buchanan's historical reputation as the worst president of all time.

Theodore Roosevelt Island! It sounds like the site of a reality show, doesn't it?

Historical sites/misc.

The US Capitol - there's a space in the Capitol known as Washington's Tomb; the name pretty well explains what it was built for, though it's not clear if anyone ever asked the guy if he wanted to be buried in the building. Also, the Capitol Visitors Center is home to an item called the Lincoln Catafalque, a platform built to hold Lincoln's casket during his funeral in 1865, and one that's been used in virtually every state funeral since.

White House - two presidents (and three First Ladies) have died there; several others had funeral services in the building, and there are always rumors that a few former commanders in chief are floating around the place in spectral form.

Site of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station, where James A. Garfield was shot in 1881. 

Blair House - often used as guest quarters for presidential visitors, it was also home to President Truman for a time while the White House was undergoing badly needed repairs. It was the site of a failed assassination attempt against Truman as well.

Woodrow Wilson House - where Wilson spent his remaining years and died.

Smithsonian National Museum of AmericanHistory - it has or had an exhibit on the presidency, including (I think) a framed piece containing a lock of hair from each of the first few presidents. Now you're just not gonna see that in a lot of other places.

Ford's Theater and the Petersen House - the sites of Lincoln's shooting and death.

National Portrait Gallery, which has a whole set of presidential portraits.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Cash money

It's Abe... Honest
Photo: Laszlo-photo via Flickr/CC

It might be that one of the greatest memorials to the presidents is one we can carry in our wallets. Out of seven paper bills we use today, five feature former Chief Executives - Washington ($1), Jefferson ($2), Lincoln ($5), Jackson ($20) and Grant ($50). Four more were featured on bills no longer in use: McKinley ($500), Cleveland ($1000), Madison ($5000) and Wilson ($100,000!). Then there's the Lincoln penny, the Jefferson nickel, the FDR dime... I can keep going, but you get the idea.

The long history of presidential currency is why I'd like to, time permitting, visit the Bureau of Engraving and Printing while I'm in DC. Why did each of these fellers end up on a bill or a coin, and why did others get short shrift? The Mint was, at one point, distributing dollar coins of each US president, but the project was considered too expensive and was more or less put to a halt.

I also wonder about this: our relationship with money has changed a whole lot in the last few decades, to the point that some of us can go for extended periods of time without using any cash at all - using instead electronic bill paying, credit and debit cards, and the like, none of which have any presidents on them. I wonder if seeing Abe Lincoln every time we use a five-spot has influenced culture in any way - and if so, I wonder if that changes when we use our debit card instead. You could make the same argument about stamps - there's no Andrew Jackson commemorative email signature, after all.

The BEP, by the way, has the absolute best web address of any part of the government. That is genius.

Monday, July 16, 2012

New video: We made the goal! Now here's another goal

The vote is in

And you have chosen the Illinois/Michigan trip as the next leg of the project. Thanks for your guidance!

That means every contribution on Kickstarter from this point forward goes toward the second trip. Which is very cool.

I'll have more details and info up later today. Thanks again!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Franklin Pierce Dollar

Franklin Pierce Dollar by bcarlson33
Franklin Pierce Dollar, a photo by bcarlson33 on Flickr.
My coworker Steve loaned me this piece from the now-scaled-back presidential dollar series.

The next step

I was really caught off-guard when you wonderful backers made the DC trip goal in 46 hours. Could you tell? I could barely speak, I was so excited. I also started belting out the words to Anne Murray's song "Snowbird" in this sort of screechy voice, for which I apologize.

Anyway, the deal is this: when you set a Kickstarter deadline, that deadline remains even if you make the goal early. Which means we're still fundraising for about 27 or so more days. So let's see if we can make at least one more trip goal! 

But which trip? That's what we need to decide, and quickly. I'm putting it up to another vote - but this vote ends Sunday at midnight. Whichever trip you choose is the next trip on the list, and we'll raise funds for it on Kickstarter this coming week.

Click here to vote, or use the form below - and thanks. 


Friday, July 13, 2012

Wow. Just wow.

Hard to believe that we launched on Kickstarter 46 hours ago and we already hit the goal! That's two fewer hours than Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy used to catch that one guy in their movie! (And that's not even counting the sequel.)

Thank you all so much. In fact, imagine that I just posted "thank you all so much" 300 times in a row; I'm only not doing so to save you reading time. (You're welcome.)

I'll have a fuller update on where we go from here very soon. In the meantime, know that I am thinking of each of you, individually, at every single second of the day. Or I would be, if that was actually possible.

Thanks again,

Thursday, July 12, 2012

That's a vote for Ohio then.

Seen today on Twitter:

Finding the presidential namesakes

photo via Wikicommons

The core of this project, of course, is visiting each of the gravesites of the US presidents, but that's just one kind of memorial - in fact, I'm working on my list of sites to see in Washington (assuming the Kickstarter campaign succeeds) and there are easily twice as many non-gravesites on the list as there are gravesites. Why wouldn't we include the Lincoln Memorial or the Washington Monument in a project like this?

And another idea popped into my head last night listening to this piece about Woody Guthrie, who was born Woodrow Wilson Guthrie in 1912. After all, don't most of us have at least one extended family member who was named in memory of someone else? I thought about this for a while, and then I remembered that I myself was named for a great-great relative.

What's interesting with Guthrie is that he was born in July of 1912; Wilson hadn't yet become president. I guess his parents weren't big Taft or Roosevelt people. Nonetheless, I was trying to think up other notable Americans who are at least partly named for US presidents.

Inventor George Washington Carver comes to mind immediately. Carver was born into slavery, and I vaguely remember that there are many examples of parents in slavery naming their children after presidents, but I'm going to have to look into that in more detail.

Baseball fans will remember Grover Cleveland Alexander, who won an astonishing 373 games despite playing a large part of his career for the Cubs. He was not only named for a president but was played by one - Ronald Reagan starred as "Pete" Alexander in the 1952 film "The Winning Team."

My favorite so far is Chester Arthur Burnett, who music lovers know better as Howlin' Wolf. So when you hear "Smokestack Lightning" or "Moanin' at Midnight" you can think of the contrast between the full-bore power of the Wolf and the slightly dandyish New Yorker for whom he was named. Might we wonder what Chester Alan Arthur might have sounded like singing "Shake For Me"? Yes, we might.

Can you think of any other famous Americans named for a Chief Executive?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

And we're off!

I couldn't believe how excited I got when I clicked the "Launch" button and we went live on Kickstarter. It could have been that I started the day with the same amount of caffeinated coffee I typically drink over a two week period, of course.

But still, we are live and that means you can drop by Kickstarter to help us make our goal and get this DC trip off the ground. As I write this some absolutely wonderful people have already put us nearly a quarter of the way to the goal, in barely 12 hours. Ain't that America, as John Cougar might have said if he hadn't changed his name back to John Mellencamp. The only Cougar in his household now is Meg - nah, I can't go there.

Lastly, I got to talk about the project a little bit with my pal Virginia on the public radio show Word of Mouth. You can listen to our conversation on the show's website.

Thanks for making Kickstarter Day One such a big hit!

- Brady

Friday, July 6, 2012

Barack Obama

Still alive

George W Bush

Still alive

Bill Clinton

Still alive

George HW Bush

Still alive

Ronald Reagan

Ronald W. Reagan
photo by Jeff Sents, via Flickr/Creative Commons

Buried: Simi Valley, California
Died: June 5, 2004

Californian Ronald Reagan is so frequently mentioned in modern politics you’d hardly know he’d been out of the spotlight for twenty years and dead for eight. He’s like the Tupac of dead presidents.

Jimmy Carter

Still alive

Gerald Ford


Buried: Grand Rapids, Michigan
Died: December 26, 2006

See him: As a president who was known for his openness and candor, it should be no surprise that Gerald Ford's gravesite is out front next to the Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids. Walk along the front of the building and you'll find it- but do stop in the museum itself for some cool historical artifacts (Ford's Oval Office chair and his college football helmet, among others) and some truly wacky items (a spare San Diego Chicken head?!?).

See also: The Fords built a house in Alexandria when Jerry's congressional career started to take off; they stayed in the house through his time as Vice President and for his first ten days as president. It's a private residence, so you can only look at it from the street, but the Gerald R. Ford House is a National Historic Site, probably because it's the only house where a sitting president of the United States walked out in his pajamas to get the morning paper.

Richard Nixon

Buried: Yorba Linda, California Died: April 22, 1994

Lyndon Johnson

Buried: Johnson City, Texas Died: January 22, 1973

John F Kennedy

John F. Kennedy gravesite
Buried: Washington, DC
Died: November 22, 1963

See him: President Kennedy was famously laid to rest in Arlington Cemetery, on a hill beneath Arlington House. His brother, Robert Kennedy is buried elsewhere on the hill. You will have no trouble finding the grave from the main gate at Arlington; there are signs everywhere, or if you can't find signs, just follow the crowd.

Note: there are signs just outside the gravesite that say "Silence and Respect," and most people do at least keep talking to a whisper.

Dwight Eisenhower

Buried: Abilene, Kansas Died: March 28, 1969

Harry Truman

Buried: Independence, Missouri Died: December 26, 1972

Franklin Roosevelt

Buried: Hyde Park, New York
Died: April 12, 1945

Herbert Hoover

Buried: West Branch, Iowa Died: October 20, 1964

Calvin Coolidge

Buried: Plymouth, Vermont
Died: January 3, 1933

Warren Harding

Buried: Marion, Ohio
Died: August 3, 1923

Woodrow Wilson

Mr Wilson at the cathedral. #BCinDC

Buried: Washington National Cathedral, Washington, DC
Died: February 3, 1924

See him: He kept us out of war, and then when he got us into "the war to end all wars," he dreamed up the League of Nations to try to prevent wars. After a record like that, it's hard to believe that Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States, is outshone on a daily basis by a gargoyle of Darth Vader, but it's true - my visit to National Cathedral had a lot of gargoyle hunters checking out the Dark Lord of the Sith on the back side of the West Tower, and a few people stopping inside to say, "so that's Woodrow Wilson in there. Huh."

President Wilson's final resting place is on the side of the main space inside the Cathedral; go down the long corridor on the right hand side and you'll find him about halfway down. Visitors are welcome to wander around even if there's a church service going on, just keep your voice and camera down.

Also see: Woodrow Wilson House in Washington, where he and Mrs. Wilson lived after leaving the White House.

William Taft

William H. Taft gravesite

Buried: Washington, DC
Died: March 8, 1930

See him: President Taft is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. So is John F. Kennedy, and unfortunately for Mr. Taft his younger, more handsome predecessor gets all the attention (and directional signage) even though he didn't have an awesome mustache like WHT did. Nonetheless, you can find the 27th president's grave most easily after walking through the very impressive Women in Military Service for America Memorial; there are signs on the road that will lead you to the grave.

Theodore Roosevelt

Buried: Oyster Bay, New York
Died: January 6, 1919

See also: Theodore Roosevelt Island, in the DC area. It's got hiking trails that TR himself would have loved. It's also the only memorial to a president that you could make into a scary movie: "Escape from Theodore Roosevelt Island." 

William McKinley

Buried: Canton, Ohio
Died: September 14, 1901

Benjamin Harrison

Buried: Indianapolis, Indiana
Died: March 13, 1901

Grover Cleveland

Buried: Princeton, New Jersey
Died: June 24, 1908

Chester Arthur

Buried: Albany, New York
Died: November 18, 1886

James Garfield

Buried: Cleveland, Ohio
Died: September 19, 1881

Rutherford B Hayes

Buried: Fremont, Ohio
Died: January 17, 1893

Ulysses S Grant

Buried: New York, New York
Died: July 23, 1885

See also: The Ulysses S Grant Memorial on the National Mall, just west of the US Capitol grounds. Strong stuff - few other presidential memorials portray soldiers and horses in violent death throes. War statues are hell too.

Andrew Johnson

Buried: Greeneville, Tennessee
Died: July 31, 1875

Abraham Lincoln

Mr. Lincoln in Springfield. Gravesite #7 for my project.

Buried: Springfield, Illinois
Died: April 15, 1865

See him: Illinois lives up to its motto as the Land of Lincoln, and Springfield lives up to its role as capital. Oak Ridge Cemetery is about a mile or so out of the heavily Lincolned downtown; drive up to the cemetery and you'll spot the gigantic monument with no trouble. Lincoln's body has been moved more times than a journeyman infielder through the National League, and it's been the target of graverobbing attempts as well, so what looks like the tomb is actually above the tomb; the man is actually 10-12 feet below and he's covered in concrete, so don't get any untoward ideas. Mrs. Lincoln and three of the four boys are entombed in the opposite wall (Robert Lincoln, in case you're wondering, is in Arlington Cemetery, having been Secretary of War and all.) The tomb also features a nice collection of Lincoln statuary - most of them are reproductions of famous pieces, but a few are original.

Also see: Geez, where to start? If you're already in Springfield, start with their multitude of Lincolnalia, including the Lincoln Home and the Lincoln Presidential Museum. Small towns in Illinois have made a point of emphasizing their connections to the man, no matter how small - Dixon features a statue of Lincoln in military uniform because he was stationed there during the Black Hawk War, and the town of Lincoln has several statues and historical markers telling the story of how he approved of the town being named in his honor, and a statue of a watermelon because he "christened" the town by eating the melon, or something.

Outside Illinois? Well, the Lincoln Memorial in Washington is a must; it's the final stop along the National Mall, and it's a stirring tribute, even if it's almost always filled to the brim with people. Assassination buffs will want to pay a visit to Ford's Theater and The Petersen House (aka the House Where Lincoln Died) - again, the history there is worth braving the crowds. Beyond that... LIncoln, Nebraska? The alleged Lincoln birth cabin in Hodginville, Kentucky? The list goes on and on. Essentially if you're standing in the United States there is something related to Abraham Lincoln near you. And if there isn't one, well, that's a tourist-related business opportunity just sitting there in front of you, now, isn't it?

James Buchanan

James Buchanan Grave / The Peace Hat
photo by Tony Fischer Photography via Flickr/Creative Commons
Buried: Lancaster, Pennsylvania Died: June 1, 1869

Every few years somebody does a survey where prominent presidential historians rank the nation’s chief executives. James Buchanan almost always comes in dead last, and for years I thought it was for doing nothing while the country moved toward civil war. Turns out it was his predecessor, Franklin Pierce, who did nothing - Buchanan actually did plenty, all of it exactly wrong. “Posterity will do me justice” indeed, although posterity has at least (barely) remembered him.

See also: The lovely, albeit inexplicable, James Buchanan Memorial in Washington. Old Buck may be ranked last among presidents, but this spot is not ranked last among memorials.

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce Gravesite
Died: October 8, 1869  

Buried: Old North Cemetery, Concord, New Hampshire

Learn more: read our article Franklin Pierce, the "Buy Local" President. A number of presidents are considered failures; Franklin Pierce is one of them. But he had a pretty good excuse: everyone in his life was dying around him, including his sole remaining child and his own vice president, and his understandably inconsolable wife allegedly started holding seances. Pierce himself nearly bought the farm before taking office, which would have dumped a constitutional crisis on top of a family tragedy. We’ll explore all this, plus why his native state decided to hold off on giving him a statue for nearly half a century after his death.

See him: Old North Cemetery is on the north side of Concord, near an elementary school and a residential neighborhood. There are a few signs pointing out the cemetery, but few that show Pierce's exactly location. He's about halfway in, toward the northern end. Keep your eyes peeled and you'll eventually find him.

Also see: The Pierce statue in front of the State House in Concord; Frank wears a snappy cape. Then drop by the Pierce Manse for a look at some Pierce-abilia, and drive to the town of Hillsborough to see the Pierce Homestead. The Manse, by the way, was Frank's house; the Homestead was his dad's pad, and the house where the future president was born.

Millard Fillmore

Buried: Buffalo, New York
Died: March 8, 1874

Zachary Taylor

Buried: Louisville, Kentucky
Died: July 9, 1850

James K Polk

Buried: Nashville, Tennessee
Died: June 15, 1849

John Tyler

And Tyler Too
Buried: Richmond, Virginia
Died: January 18, 1862

The 10th US president was part of an effort to negotiate a way out of the secession crisis, but when that failed Tyler sided with Virginia and ended up being elected to the Confederate Congress. He died before he could serve, which means he technically died a traitor to the country he once led. As a result, the Lincoln Administration issued no acknowledgements of his passing - in effect saying "you're dead to us." Which he was. 

William Henry Harrison

Buried: North Bend, Ohio
Died: April 4, 1841

Martin Van Buren

Buried: Kinderhook, New York
Died: July 24, 1862

Andrew Jackson

Buried: Nashville, Tennessee
Died: June 8, 1845

John Quincy Adams

Buried: Quincy, Massachusetts
Died: February 23, 1848

James Monroe

The burial plot of good feelings
Buried: Richmond, Virginia
Died:  July 4, 1831

James Madison

Madison's very plain gravestone
Buried: Orange, Virginia
Died: June 28, 1836

Thomas Jefferson

Buried: Charlottesville, Virginia
Died: July 4, 1826

See Also: The Jefferson Memorial in Washington, of course. And no, the statue there will not pick on you as it did on "The Simpsons." 

John Adams

Buried: Quincy, Massachusetts
Died: July 4, 1826

George Washington

Washington's sarcophagus and wreath
Buried: Mount Vernon, Virginia
Died: December 14, 1799

See him: Washington's Mount Vernon estate is now a historical park open to the admission-paying public. The tomb is along a short, well-marked path beyond the main house. I recommend dropping by for one of the two daily wreath ceremonies; it's a nice way to pay one's respects, plus it's one of the few moments in which they open the gate and one can get an unobstructed view and photo of the tomb.