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.

I was on my own for most of this trip (my brother had driven south with me, but spent the five nights with friends in DC and then Maryland),  and the experience of being alone in a strange place in 107-degree weather—trekking deep into the heart of the Plantation South, seeking antebellum estates and historic markers in the rural Virginian wilderness—eventually took its toll.

My Flipcam was my travel companion. Below, brief scenes from an afternoon spent wandering, sweltering and lost, through the unincorporated communities of Barboursville and Shadwell. I was desperately seeking highway-side markers proclaiming the birthplaces of Zachary Taylor and Thomas Jefferson. What I found along the way was arguably even cooler: the Barboursville Ruins, burnt remains of the house Thomas Jefferson designed for his friend (and Virginian governor) James Barbour. The ruins lie deep into the property, past acres of modern vineyards. There, secluded and alone beside the fiery remains of a magnificent nineteenth-century mansion, I was the only person alive for miles on end. All was silent, except the buzz of the heat scorching through my ears (and Outkast’s Aquemini on my Volvo stereo).

A friendly music shop employee shows me what’s what on the mean haunted streets of Staunton, VA, birthplace of Woodrow Wilson.

I met Jim, a rambling local man, by the stone obelisk marking James Monroe’s birthplace in Westmoreland County. Jim hadn’t come to see the birthplace. He had just come to the woods to drop off some pesky squirrels he caught on his lawn. But when he spotted the historic marker, he became intrigued and began sharing with me some of his experiences in the area.

That night I arrive at my lodgings, at North Bend Plantation. Ridgely gives me the grand tour.

Nearby, I meet this pair of plantation travelers somewhere on Berkeley Plantation, birthplace of William Henry Harrison and self-proclaimed “most historic James River Plantation in Virginia”:

Later (after the adventures in Barboursville), I literally stumble into an outdoor Arcade Fire show in Charlottesville. What?

Matt drove most of the way back home. We entertained ourselves.

* * * *

This month marks my return to the American south. Beyond Virginia, this time: to North Carolina (James K. Polk, Andrew Johnson), South Carolina (Andrew Jackson), Georgia (Jimmy Carter), and—actually, where the hell was Andrew Jackson born? I’ll let you know when I find out.

So I mailed off a letter to President Clinton a few weeks ago, thinking I might make it to his Arkansas birthplace on this leg of my project. (I won’t. It’s one of just five or six sites I won’t see this summer, due to limited time, funds, and general practicality. Who the hell knew Arkansas was 1,380 miles away? Nobody told me.)

Ironically, the letter didn’t have to travel far. Clinton lives right here in Chappaqua today; I’ve met him and his dog once or twice right on Main Street. His birthplace may be 22 hours away by car, but his current home is barely five minutes.

He declined my request for an interview, or ignored it, I guess. It’s just as well. If he’d said yes, I’d have to figure out a way to see his birthplace after all. But he did send a gracious, personal reply, for which I’m at least moderately grateful, and you can scope that out below.

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