“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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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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Somewhere Over the Reagan Rainbow, Part I: “There Goes Ronald Reagan’s Body”

“They were in town interviewing people, and the whole week after he died, they had so much equipment in the birthplace that you had to walk around cords and big lights and everything. . . . And there were all kinds of people outside, inside, everywhere, because—and you had all kinds of radio stations, TVs, everything was here! It was very, very interesting, and it was kind of exciting to see so many people here, because usually we don’t have that many people in town.”

"The Reagan Rainbow" — November, 1980, Tampico, IL

These words are spoken to me from inside the Dutch Diner, so named after the fortieth president who was born just over a century ago, and less than fifty yards away, in Tampico, IL. “He looks like a fat little Dutchman,” said the future president’s father when he was born (or so says Reagan). “But who knows, he might grow up to be president someday.”

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Herbert’s Own Private Iowa, Part Two: “Of Quakerism, Of Peace, Of Helping Each Other”

“I’m the only person of distinction who has ever had a depression named for him.” —Herbert Hoover

During my visit to Iowa, I had the pleasure of speaking at length with my host, Kathy—from whom I learned about West Branch, Hooverfest, and, most of all, the startling number of things that go unmentioned about Hoover’s life and career. Kathy, a librarian, avid gardener, and proud mother of four, had more to say on the topic than just about anyone I spoke to at the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site or Presidential Library and Museum. Plus, she’s living proof that not everyone you meet on the internet wants to chop off your limbs and store them in a basement freezer.

Never mind. Here’s that interview in full.

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Herbert’s Own Private Iowa, Part One: “I Carry The Brand”

or, “Adventures and Great Undertakings in West Branch, IA”

Photo by Rachel Pincus

We tumble through the Iowa border at half past two, Rachel and I, blasting Led Zeppelin IV out of tinny Macbook speakers in sweltering 99-degree heat. Oceans of cornfields swell up on either side. “Fields of Opportunities,” according to the goofy Iowa welcome sign. “The shorter crops are beans, actually,” my Iowan host Kathy later corrects. “When we have guests, we often point out the sites in West Branch: corn, corn, beans, corn, beans, beans, corn . . .”

To us, the Great Unknown. Iowa marks the westernmost reach of our Great Midwestern Odyssey, and that feels somehow momentous, like we’re the early settlers of the twenty-ninth state—before we circle back and start cruising east.

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