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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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.

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“History Through Memory”: JFK’s Brookline

GOD, LOVE, HOPE, PEACE, STRENCHT AND JOY

“On opposite sides of the nation stand two houses,” reported the New York Times on August 15, 1960, “one of which will become an American shrine as the birthplace of the man elected President on Nov. 8, 1960.” Today, both are national presidential historic sites. One, an American shrine indeed (and how tragically little we knew then), and the other—well, I haven’t made it to Yorba Linda quite yet.

This is JFK’s house—the beloved and tragic 35th president was born here, at 83 Beals Street, on May 29, 1917—but it may as well be yours or mine. What I am saying is, it is normal.

What I am saying is, JFK was born here?

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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

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You Can Take the Cabin Out of Kentucky…

I expected to find only four presidential birthplaces on my trip to the Boston area this past weekend. Especially considering, you know, only four U.S. presidents were born in Massachusetts (Adams, Adams, Kennedy, and Bush—strangely, all from notable presidential families). Conveniently, two of those four birthplaces (the Adams) are next door to each other at the Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, MA, and a third (the house where George Herbert Walker Franklin Milhous Danforth “Dan” Bush was born in 1924) is literally a few miles up Adams Street, in Milton. And that’s where we found the fifth (fourth-and-a-half?) presidential birthplace in historic Norfolk County.

Surprise: Straight outta Hodgenville, it’s the one-room log cabin where Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809.

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“A Contract Has Been Let”: Darren Boch Speaks

As promised, I have unearthed more grisly details regarding the scandalous heavily tweeted closing of Teddy Roosevelt’s birthplace for fire safety repairs: I got in touch with Darren Boch.

Things to know about Darren Boch:

  • Darren Boch is presently Public Affairs Officer of National Parks of New York Harbor.
  • Darren Boch knows what’s up with TR’s birthplace, according to this NPS media advisory.
  • Darren Boch has a sweet name.
  • Darren Boch possibly has a sweet mullet, or possibly does not have a sweet mullet, depending on whether or not the first Google Image result for “Darren Boch” is, in fact, Darren Boch.

Turns out the site will not be reopened until some exhibits are also replaced.  (Your guess is as good as mine.) Here’s my action-packed interview with Darren Boch:

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