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.

Read the rest of this entry »


Scenes from the Lincoln Tomb Flag-Lowering Ceremony

“To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything.” —A. Lincoln upon leaving Springfield for the presidency, Feb. 11, 1861

Hello from the great state of Illinois. It’s beautiful here, but really quite hot, and why are all the cities named after Sufjan songs?

I’m writing from the President Abraham Lincoln Hotel in Springfield, IL. I’ve taken a 24-hour break from birthplaces to see the Land of Lincoln, where the sixteenth president spent the bulk of his adult life; where he uttered a brief, moving farewell upon departing for the presidency on February 11, 1861; and where, today, his remains rest in a concrete vault ten feet below the burial chamber of the Lincoln Tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery.

The coffin traveled over 1,500 miles by railroad car from Washington D.C. Stop schedules for the train had been published in newspapers nationwide, so mourners all over could arrive and pay timely respects. A nationwide mourning campaign, the sort of nationwide outpouring of bottomless sorrow that, internet or no internet, the twenty-first century has never known.

Read the rest of this entry »

Point Pleasant, OH: Pop. 76

“Some folks say it’s haunted. If there are ghosts here, they’re friendly because they don’t hurt anyone.”

Twenty-five miles east of Cincinnati, in Point Pleasant, an unincorporated community of 76 at the mouth of the Big South Forth of the Cumberland River, lies a tiny, 194-year-old cottage that once toured the country, and Ohio State fairgrounds, on a railroad flatcar.

There’s something humbling about these abandoned surroundings that more closely resemble a movie set. There’s a bitterly vandalized general store demanding “CASH ONLY FOR FISHING LICENSE AND HUNTING LICENSE PERMITS.” A historical cannon and Grant Memorial Bridge. A small baptist church imploring us to “GOD BLESS AMERICA AND OUR MILITARY AMEN.” A strip of trailers whose inhabitants quietly eye me and Rachel like the intruders we are.

Read the rest of this entry »

How I Spent My Fourth Of July

I spent my Fourth of July parading, silent and solemn, through the street (there is no plural) of Plymouth Notch, Vermont—birthplace of Calvin Coolidge, birthplace of this project. We began by the village green. We arrived at the grave. There I paid respects—and wished the late Vermonter a happy and healthy 139th. Coolidge, ever silent, said nothing in return.

I spent my Fourth of July traversing 160 miles of dotted white line. I followed I-91 south from central Vermont to New Haven, Connecticut: from the president who spoke too little (who remains still among the most articulate conservatives in presidential history) to he who talked too much (who ranks easily as the least articulate conservative in presidential history). I stopped at the Vermont Country Store for free samples, at Starbucks for free Wi-Fi, free outlet access, free restrooms. I paid for gas.

I spent my Fourth of July lurking sketchily outside an inner-city hospital complex, backpack and camera in tow, doctors swarming by like ants to bread. I must have appeared on some security camera, suspicious and lost. By some miracle of God, I was not detained.

Read the rest of this entry »

Remembering the Unremembered, Part One: The Trouble With Arthur

or, “What Would Donald Trump Say?”

This is it. Fairfield, Vermont—a tiny Vermont farm town by the Canadian border, where cows seem to outnumber people four times over and Chester A. Arthur may have been born on October 5, 1829, or sometime in 1830, or perhaps not here at all. If you’re not yet confused, you’re not paying attention.

Read the rest of this entry »

Silent Cal, Silent Notch

“Vermont is a state I love. I could not look upon the peaks of Ascutney, Killington, Mansfield and Equinox without being moved in a way that no other scene could move me.” —Calvin Coolidge, Address at Bennington

“There’s kind of a sense of calmness. Of self-being. I don’t really know how to explain it. It’s a different way of living.” —Nancy Yale, tour guide and restaurant owner, President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site

Read the rest of this entry »

“If it wasn’t for Bed & Breakfast people, I wouldn’t know much of anything.”

or, “Zachary’s Psychedelic Breakfast, Part 1”

As promised, an interview with Ridgely, the 74-year-old wife of George Forbes Copland II with whom I stayed at North Bend Plantation in Charles City, VA. “It’s just like the good lord sends all these people that we’d never have the opportunity to meet,” she tells me about her experience operating a Bed & Breakfast on the plantation once owned by her husband’s ancestors, family of founding father Benjamin Harrison and President William Henry Harrison. “We’ve met people from all over the world.”

Above, Ridgely speaks in great detail about the plantation’s history (“in 1864 there were 30,000 Union troops here,” nbd), her family connection to Edmund Ruffin (I guess we’re kin too, now that we’ve sorta shared a bed), her husband’s staggering English lineage (“George’s ancestors are in the Book of the Dead in England. . . . He’s kin to Charlemagne and the First Lord of Windsor in England”), and her own family history (“there were two people that were knighted, which is kinda fun”).

Read the rest of this entry »