Did you ever have an idea that seemed so thoroughly off-the-wall, so completely silly, and so unbelievably wacky that you just naturally assumed that no one else would ever have such an idea? Iíve had this happen to me on a few occasions and, in every case, Iíve discovered that there are actually other people out there having the same crazy ideas Iím having. Nowhere has this been truer than in the area of Dead Presidents, so I would now like to welcome you to the world of Dead Presidents and the Men Who Love Them.
I was barely out of kindergarten when I first developed an interest in the presidents of the United States. I used to astonish grownups by reciting their names in order, with the apparent ease of a kid reeling off his ABCs. Iím not exactly sure of the origin of my interest, but I literally do not remember a time when I was not fascinated by the presidents of the United States.
Appropriately, the first president-related site I visited was Mount Vernon, George Washingtonís home. This trip happened sometime in the mid-1970s and, unfortunately, I donít believe there is any photographic record of it. However, after that visit, I began to get excited about the possibility of trips to other presidential homes and graves. From that first visit to Mount Vernon through about 1990, I had racked up Washington, Jefferson, Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy. In addition, I had visited James Monroeís law office in Fredericksburg, Virginia and the Jimmy Carter Library in Atlanta. An impressive list, but I wanted more. It was at this time that I conceived the Dead Presidents Tour.
The premise was that I would take a few weeks off to drive around the country, barnstorming gravesites from New Hampshire (Franklin Pierce) to Texas (Lyndon Johnson). I mapped out a route, which looked like an enormous circle with a few tangents (the route would now be an even bigger circle, since Nixon was buried in California in 1994). I didnít consider a tour of gravesites around the U.S. to be morbid at all; in fact, it seemed to me that nothing brought history quite to life to me than a walk through an historic cemetery. And besides, who knows what adventures I might have along the way?
The Dead Presidents Tour never got beyond the planning stage, but every now and then Iíd return to the concept. One day a few years ago, I idly did an internet search on the words, "dead presidents," and discovered Manus Hand. Manus is a guy about my age who also grew up interested in presidential history and at some point he also decided to begin a pilgrimage to presidential gravesites. During several trips in the 1990s, Manus visited all but three of the final resting places (he hasnít hit Nixon, Lyndon Johnson and Millard Fillmore yet, but Iím sure he will). Manusí website (http://starship.python.net/crew/manus/Presidents) features photos of him standing at each one of the presidential monuments. In addition, he has begun writing informative and often humorous stories about his adventures traveling to the graves.
Manusí Dead Presidents page has earned numerous web-related awards including the dubious distinction as one of the "most useless" WWW sites, but it is actually an amazing repository of all things presidential. In addition to Manusí own photos and stories, he has provided links to original obituaries, biographies and other information. Itís a great website and anyone with an interest in American history should check it out.
A link on Manusí Millard Fillmore page led to Bart Barkerís page (http://www.ntplx.net/~bbarker/deadprez/). Bart is a fellow writer who has set out to visit all the presidential gravesites and has even expanded his itinerary to include vice-presidential resting places. For Bart, visiting Dead Presidents is grist for the writing mill, although he says heís actually now more inspired visiting the graves of his own ancestors than he is visiting the DPs. Bartís page includes links to White House biographies and to Manusí pages. His stories are fun and the photography is great, even if most of the pictures were taken with disposable cameras. Not having made any of my pilgrimages in the wintertime, I had no idea how beautiful a cemetery could be during a snowstorm (see Bartís Millard Fillmore page).
As if finding two websites devoted to presidential gravesites wasnít enough, Duran Duran led me to a great book, Whoís Buried In Grantís Tomb? A Guide to Presidential Gravesites.
Yes, I said Duran Duran, creators of "Girls On Film" and other fun pop hits of the Ď80s and Ď90s. It happened like this. Amazon.com sent me an email telling me they noticed I had ordered the latest Eurythmics album from them. Since many Eurythmics fans also bought Duran Duran CDs, Amazon.com said, maybe I would like to check out the new Duran Duran CD, Pop Trash Movie? I checked out the link Amazon.com thoughtfully provided, which led me to links to previous Duran Duran CDs. Each link features reviews of the CDs, written by Amazon.com customers. One customer review was particularly well written so I clicked on the authorís name to find out what else he had reviewed.
Turns out the Duran Duran reviewer is a Dead Presdents fan also, and had reviewed Whoís Buried In Grantís Tomb? A Guide to Presidential Gravesites, which was written by Brian Lamb and the C-Span staff. C-Span, the cable network devoted to all manner of public affairs, had done a biography series on the presidents and had sent Lamb out to visit all the gravesites over an 18-month period beginning in 1995. The result is Whoís BuriedÖ which includes stories of the last years, deaths and burials of the presidents, along with Lambís blackíníwhite and color photos of the graves. Again, far from being morbid, Whoís BuriedÖ is a fascinating slice of American history. It even includes a foreword and afterword by two other gravesite seekers, historians Richard Norton Smith and Douglas Brinkley.
So obviously, Iím not alone in this quest. As for me, Iíve added a few more gravesites to my list over the past few years. I visited Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis with my friend (and Indy resident) Eric in June 1999. Just a few weeks back, I dragged Donna and Jimmy up to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to pay our respects to James Buchanan, our 15th Chief Executive. Donna, as you may have noticed from last weekís installment of The Dichotomy of the Dog, has been most tolerant of my little hobby. Each gravesite journey has been a story in itself. Iíll occasionally tell you these stories, beginning with Searching for Buchanan, which will pop up on this website next week.
(Please feel free to email to others who may be interested or to print hard copy for them but remember: The Dichotomy of the Dog is copyright 2000 by Rich Wilhelm. If you plan on making a bazillion dollars from this piece of writing,
please let me know so I can sue you or something.)