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.


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.”


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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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.

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