“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 »

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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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“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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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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