Where in the World was Chester A. Arthur Born?

And more importantly, where’d he get that groovy stache?

This is a brief transmission from the road: I am en route to Fairfield, VT, possible birthplace of Chester A. Arthur. (The Virgin Mobile wireless device is an incredible invention.) (Rest assured, my mother is driving.) (Shockingly, she has not found time in her fifty-odd years to visit the Chester A. Arthur birthplace, so why not now?)  (She does not want to be identified by age, which sounds a little bit like Chester.)

As if driving waaaaay the hell up to the northernmost tip of Vermont (Fairfield: population 1,800)  just for a tiny cottage isn’t absurd enough, add to this adventure the fact that Chester A. Arthur very possibly wasn’t even born there. More than any other president, mystery surrounds the circumstances of the 21st president’s birth. I have little time or laptop battery for detail,  but Wikipedia offers highlights:

  • “Most official references list Arthur as having been born in Fairfield in Franklin County, Vermont on October 5, 1829. However, some time in the 1870s Arthur changed it to 1830 to make himself seem a year younger.”
  • “William Arthur initially migrated to Dunham, Lower Canada, where he and his wife at one point owned a farm about 15 miles (24 km) north of the U.S. border. There has long been speculation that the future president was actually born in Canada and that the family moved to Fairfield later.”
  • “Arthur said, ‘I may be president of the United States, but my private life is nobody’s damned business.'” [This is largely unrelated to the birthplace mystery, but it’s a hell of a quote.]

We’ve just passed through Pittsford, home of two Revolutionary War forts, and surroundings are starting to look more and more like the set of The Trouble With Harry. The Arthur Historic Site attracts under 400 visitors a year and is maintained by one older caretaker, according to people at the Calvin Coolidge site. That caretaker does not answer the phone or have any reachable email address. We’re on our own.

Traveling so far north, to a remote village by the Canadian border  in desperate search of a tiny birthplace that may in fact be fraud, holds elements of a deep mystical quest. We might solve the mystery of President Arthur’s birth, or we might end up Canada, or we might find the holy grail. God help us, but I’ll keep you posted.

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