“A Little Nook in the Corner of Vermont”: Scenes from Coolidge’s Birthday

Last month, I returned to Plymouth, VT, for the annual President Calvin Coolidge Birthday Parade, where a year ago I gawked at President Coolidge’s surviving descendants and befriended Lloyd Goodrow, a presidential hobbyist, member of the Vermont National Guard, and college classmate of my father’s. This time, the visit wasn’t a stop along the route of a zigzagging presidential journey through New England. It was a day trip for an article about the annual event, which will appear in an upcoming issue of Vermont Magazine.

While there, I managed to reconnect with Lloyd and interview him more formally about his experiences in Plymouth and beyond. What follows is an excerpt from that interview—plus a few photos from the parade itself. Read the rest of this entry »


High Plains Drifter, Part One: “You Feel Like You Should Kneel”

The first entry in a series of stories detailing my experiences and encounters in Plains, GA, birthplace and current residence of one James Earl Carter, Jr. To be followed up when I have access to wifi, electrical outlets, and maybe even both at the same time—a rare occurrence since Hurricane Irate.

First things first, Plains (pop. 637) is not convenient. Not a convenient place to live, not a convenient place to visit, certainly not a convenient place from which to run your presidential campaign. Three hours south of Atlanta, two and a half east of Montgomery, Al, two and a half north of Talahassee, with peanut farms extending as far as you can see in every direction

What I am saying is this: you are going to be traveling for a while.

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Laughing and Crying for Millard: An Interview with Bill Vernon

I apologize for the lack of updates on this blog as of late. I’ve been stranded since Saturday, without power or internet or any way to leave my parents’ driveway, thanks to Hurricane Irene—which has also put a damper on my plans to visit Millard Fillmore’s birthplace (upstate New York, near Ithaca) before heading back to Wes. Oh, well. Plus, my cousin had a wedding. It was grand.

Since I won’t be seeing Millard Fillmore’s birthplace this week, Bill Vernon’s recollections of the site (and much more) will have to do.

Bill Vernon is an attorney, a 1973 Wesleyan graduate, and a lifetime presidential home hobbyist. He contacted me in mid-July after reading about my project in the Boston Globe.

That was the week I “became famous”—by which I mean, that was the week the AP decided to pick up the story about my project that appeared in the Wesleyan Connection, which popped up on Wesleyan’s homepage for an awkwardly long time. It was all rather surreal, especially considering I was too busy traveling through Kentucky and Indiana to really notice. That was also the week I conducted an interview on air with the Leslie Marshall Show from the parking lot of the Dixie Pan Restaurant in Nortonville, KY.

I may not do much with my life, but I do hope to die the only person ever to conduct an interview with a nationally syndicated radio show from the parking lot of the Dixie Pan Restaurant in Nortonville, KY.

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“Lord Only Knows”: The Many Birthplaces of Andrew Jackson

Four birthplace markers. Two states. One president.

"The seventh president of the United States was born a few miles southwest of this spot," declares a roadside historical marker in the main center of Waxhaw, NC. Appropriately, "a few miles southwest of this spot" could fall in either state. The marker offers no further clues.

What we know is simple. Andrew Jackson was born somewhere in the Waxhaws region backcountry of North and South Carolina, straddling the nebulous border between the two states, on March 15, 1767. But on which side of the border he was born—or whether there even existed a clearly defined border line—remains in question today.

The family’s definitive residence during the president’s boyhood (and until the outbreak of the Revolutionary War) was Lancaster, South Carolina, at his uncle James Crawford’s plantation. But at the time of his birth, Jackson’s mother was returning from a trip to bury her husband, Andrew Hutchinson Jackson, in North Carolina. She may have made it back to Crawford’s plantation before giving birth. She may have gone into labor  at another sister’s residence, the McCamie Farm, barely a mile from the border line in North Carolina. Jackson himself claimed in letters that he was born in South Carolina, even approving an 1825 map that pinpointed his birthplace in the Palmetto State. But could he even have known? The land then was so remote that the borders hadn’t even been surveyed yet.

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Presidential Tombstone Blues

I've seen a fairly ridiculous number of William Henry Harrison-related sites, considering he was only president for 31 days. Pictured here is his tomb in the tiny Ohio village of North Bend. Photo by Rachel Pincus.

I’ve been engrossed in this project for well over two months now. Which, by extension, means I’ve been grudgingly excitedly telling others about this project for well over two months. The best reaction I’ve received came from an 83-year-old man last month, the father of my Cleveland host. “Tell him what you’re doing in Ohio!” Laura ordered. So I did. He stared at me over his coffee. Then he scowled.

“Why?”

I mumbled something vaguely coherent, presidential birthplaces interesting blah blah insight into presidents’ backgrounds blah roadtrip blah blah school history.

“You’re focusing on the footnotes.”

“Right.”

Still, there are some questions I can’t escape. If this blog had an FAQs page, it’d look something like this:

“Are you gonna go to Hawaii?” (No.) “So when are you going to Kenya?” (No.)  Have you read Assassination Vacation? You should!” (No.) “But Lincoln was born in Illinois, right?” (No.) “Are you gonna visit presidential tombs next?” (Hrmmmph.)

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Sweet Virginia & The Flipcam Archives

Zachary Taylor's birthplace in Barboursville, VA, and his boyhood home in Louisville, KY, are each private residences today. I have loitered nervously with a camera outside of both. When George W. Bush's presidential library opens, Zachary Taylor will become the only former US president who has no historic site presently open to the public.

This post has no insight to offer towards birthplaces, presidential history and historic sites, preservation, American heritage, U.S. geography, or any of the other topical concerns around which this project ostensibly revolves. It is simply a collection of inane video footage from my trip to Virginia (has it really been two months?), found while cleaning out my trusted Flipcam.

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Somewhere Over the Reagan Rainbow, Part II: She Came In Through the Reagan Window

“No, he was actually born here. This is where the story started.”

Ms. Johnson explains Reagan's birthplace artifacts to curious visitors. Photo by Rachel Pincus.

A second installment on Reagan’s birthplace in Tampico, IL. Below is a conversation with Joan Johnson, birthplace volunteer and president of the Tampico Historical Society.

Also, everything you ever wanted to know about the Reagan Rainbow but were too afraid to ask. Read on.

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