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Posts Tagged ‘Presidential Sites’

Unknown-1It’s pouring rain when we visit this site – so torrential that when we cross streets our shoes are submerged in running water and our feet and all the rest of us are soaked.   But it’s a very interesting and worthwhile stop.

images-1We didn’t know a lot about President Andrew Johnson before we came here. We talk to an amazing Ranger, manning the museum, who engages us in a lot of political and philosophical discussions about the issues surrounding Johnson.  Reconstruction, states’ rights, strict Constitutional interpretation, impeachment, etc.  How this man, who was raised as a tailor, with little education, rose to be Abraham Lincoln’s chosen successor.  His tailor’s shop is enclosed in the musem.  We also tour his house, with another park ranger – the family held onto so many belongings.  We see rooms as they were when he retired  here after his presidency.

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We have these days in the RV life where we drive lots of miles,  and then stay in a kind of crummy  campground. Not that people aren’t nice – it’s just that there isn’t a beautiful, or even particularly pleasant view, let alone a feeling of privacy. Just makes the next one that is special more appreciated.  So, we have one of those days and move on!

McKinley Library, Niles, OH

Next stop is Niles, Ohio, birthplace of President McKinley. Not a lot to see, but a small exhibit in a lovely library.  We walk to the birthplace home down the street, which is closed.  But, it’s always nice to visit a past president on the night of a presidential election debate. We watch the debate at a KOA, with pizza delivery! We had a fire too. And a totally terrifying moment for me.  I’m sitting alone by the fire, in the dark. I hear a rustling in the nearby valley – and something, I have no idea what – rushes up the hill towards me and the fire.  It hits my leg and goes in back of my chair.  It bumps up against the back of my chair, higher and higher.   I’m picturing a skunk, a racoon, something rabid?   I call out to Dick, but in a low voice.  I don’t scream, I think whatever it is might jump up in back of me and bite if I make any loud noise. Dick finally comes out of with a flashlight.  And we see a cat. A rather small grey cat.  And this cat continues to terrorize us at our campsite, bumping and shoving, jumping up onto our laps with his little, sharp claws digging into our flesh, our chairs.  We put out a little plate of hot dog pieces and he/she eats it up but still wants to butt us and knock us over, get on our laps and chairs.  The sad thing is that all having a cat around the campfire did for me, was make me miss Taylor all the more.

McKinley Monument, Canton OH

The next day we drive to Canton and the McKinley Monument, where McKinley and his family are interred, and the McKinley Presidential Library and Museum. It’s a wonderful museum, with a McKinley Gallery – I’m amazed at how little I know about this assassinated U.S.President – a Street of Shops, recreating the late 1800’s, and a lot of interesting Stark county history, from canal building and the civil war to a Timken bearing (as in ball bearing) ride – kind of like a mini Tilt-a-Whirl that I actually get Dick to operate with me! We enjoy the museum for several hours, including a delicious lunch break at the nearby Kennedy barbecue restaurant.  Then, we head back to the same campsite for another fire and another visit from our intrepid feline friend.

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Lunch at Mrs. Coolidge’s Family Home, Wilder House

He was born here.  As VP, he was sworn in as President of the United States here , (in the middle of the night, by his father, a notary public, when President Harding died) he had his summer White House here, above the general store, he attended church here – all of these places still exist in one of the most beautiful settings, and amazingly preserved “presidential sites” we’ve ever seen. True to form, we start with lunch, in his wife’s family home.  The cheese in my grilled Vermont cheddar sandwich was made,  a few feet up the road at the family- owned cheese Factory , recently brought up to our current factory standards, where you can both tour it as a museum and see cheese being made. In addition to all of the amazingly preserved village, there’s an excellent small museum. I enjoyed stepping up to a podium, and asking a virtual Calvin Coolidge about all kinds of things. Dick shied away, thinking he had to make up his own questions.  There was a teleprompter!  For visitors to the museum, though, not President Coolidge.  Times change, in so many ways.

Calvin Coolidge was born in this bed, in this room

Coolidge Home – across street from birthplace, where he lived as a boy, and was sworn in as President of the United States

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Franklin Pierce Homestead

We had a fabulous tour guide, with a great sense of humor and wonderful, historical anecdotes.  We learn that this place was built by Franklin’s father, as both a Tavern and an Inn, and a home for the Pierce family.  Young Franklin evidently grew up with a lot of drinking, wild behavior, and lots of  discussions, political and otherwise, with many interesting literary and political figures of the times.  We started in the middle of her tour, and ended up with another docent, who was also very knowledgable, answering our questions about a few of the more political aspects of Pierce’s presidency.  NOT the way to do it, if you want continuity, though. We go back to our campsite and discuss it all, over a campfire.

Campsite 22, Mile Away Camp

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George W. Bush Childhood Home

The Bush home is an ordinary little house in an ordinary small-town neighborhood in Midland, TX, so it’s remarkable that it was home to two future Presidents, two Governors and a First Lady.  We’re given a private tour , since there’s no one else here at the moment, a school bus having, thankfully, pulled out a few minutes before. It’s like walking into the 50’s and our own childhoods. So many familiar things, especially in young George’s bedroom – Dick kept exclaiming, “I had this!  I had one of those!”    The Bush family had their share of happiness and sorrow in this house, the birth of Jeb, followed by the death of little Robin from leukemia, and then the birth of their fourth child, Neil.  I have such renewed respect and admiration for Barbara Bush.  Her life can’t have been easy but she seemed to persevere with so much courage, grace and humor.

Barbara Bush's Kitchen in Midland

 

 

George Bush Boyhood Bedroom

We spend the night in Monahans Sandhills State Park, surrounded by an unusual and rather surreal landscape. See our silhouette, below.

Campsite at Monahans Sandhills State Park

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We spend the next 3 days learning about two Texas boys who grew up to be President of the United States – one a Democrat, the other a Republican.  It’s hard to evaluate the different presidential libraries we’ve visited without any political judgements or bias, but once you accept the obvious fact that the president and his presidency are going to be portrayed in the best possible light –  this is their personal Great Pyramid – it’s easier to just concentrate on how informative, accessible, entertaining or memorable the whole experience is.

Portion of the Berlin Wall

Our first stop is at Texas A&M University in College Station, home of the George Bush (senior) Presidential Library and Museum.  We find it easy to spend an entire afternoon.  The collection is extensive, and the theming of the exhibit sections (I admit to a bias towards chronological) is pretty exciting and interactive – visitors of all ages seem kind of anxious to turn the next corner and see what’s waiting there.  There’s a restored 1944 Avenger airplane overhead, like the one he flew as a Navy pilot, in the WWII area, a vintage Studebaker for the family move to TX, a re-creation of a portion of the U.N., the Oval Office, the Press Room, a Camp David office furnished with original memorabilia, the Gulf War Situation Room (you can sit around the table and

Situation Room

interact in decision-making) and lots more, in addition to all the text, video and other more standard exhibits.  I feel that I experienced a lot of Bush’s life by the time I left and had a much clearer idea of the issues during his presidency, which is all I really want or expect from a presidential library.

I should mention for our memory log/jog – and anybody else who might be reading, that we had an absolutely fabulous meal at Fish Daddy’s Grill that night.  Incredibly delicious fried shrimp  and Key Lime pie. Eat there, if you’re ever in the area!

After spending the night in an RV park we’d rather forget, we head to Austin, and the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum.  We had plans to see the Texas State Capitol, but our finicky refrigerator (we call her worse names, when we’re trying to level) doesn’t like the slanty streets in downtown Austin – and we also realize, unhip and late, that we’re competing for space with SXSW.

So we head to what we’re thinking, in this cultural milieu,  will be the stodgy, safe place –  the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum.  But normal parking and entrances are blocked – even here, they’re getting ready for a concert.  We ignore some admonitions that it’s not possible to get to the museum, and find another way to the museum entrance.   Only to find that the most interesting first-floor section is closed for renovation. We watch the obligatory and always interesting introductory films, and then tour the 2nd floor, but basically feel that we missed the heart and soul of the museum.  But we hope to make up for that, on the following day, when we’re going to visit Johnson’s boyhood home and the LBJ Ranch, alias the Texas White House.

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Springwood Estate - Roosevelt Home in Hyde Park

 

FDR was born in this house, and he’s buried here in the Rose Garden.  Most everyone knows a fair amount about all that happened in between.  It’s the third Roosevelt home we’ve toured since we got the Navion almost two years ago (search “FDR’s Little White House, Georgia” and “Campobello Island, NewBrunswick”) and each place adds some more pieces to the puzzle.  This stop was a trifecta since the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library  and Museum (first presidential library in America – and the only one actually used by a sitting president) are also on the grounds, and Eleanor Roosevelt’s cottage, Val-Kill, is close by.

I always find something new about FDR’s character to admire, new examples of strength, resiliency, or good humor – and something additional to make me want to shake him. Really, could the man not live or go anywhere without his mother?   Touring the family home, imagining Eleanor starting married life here in her mother-in-law’s house, having to spend so much time here throughout the years, always in Sara’s debt, always under her control, with a husband whose loyalties seem always sadly misplaced – well, it made me want to whoop for joy when we got to tour Val-Kill,  Elanor’s sanctuary cottage and after Franklin’s death, her permanent home.

Eleanor really came to life there, through the eyes of our tour guide, who had actually known her, and had dined at Val-Kill with her husband many times while he was researching the history of a group of disadvantaged boys that Eleanor used to invite there.  What a generous, kind and courageous woman she was – in addition to making such a difference in the course of our history.

The Presidential Library and Museum kept us busy for the rest of the day.  As soon as visiting hours were over, we headed back to “Shadows on the Hudson”, the riverfront restaurant in Poughkeepsie where we’d had my birthday dinner the night before on the way back to the campground.  I did a complete repeat – sirloin with cabernet demi-glace and roasted garlic aioli, mashed potatoes,etc. but this time  they brought me a huge piece of chocolate birthday cake with a candle.  That’s definitely more of a surprise when it’s not your birthday.

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Lindenwald - Home of President Martin Van Buren

 

 

Olana, Home of Frederic Church

 

I shouldn’t have labelled them, but I’ll bet you could guess. (BTW, I always use only pictures I’ve personally taken, except for the above of Lindenwald.  I didn’t bring the camera along, and really wanted to compare images of both.  Yay Flickr and people who share.)

Both of their lives left me feeling a little melancholy,  at the end of the day. Which is strange considering what they achieved – one became President of the United States, helped organize the Democratic Party (funny, how much it sounds like the Republican Party of today) –  the other became one of the most important, successful landscape artists in America.  Lindenwald, an existing home, grew and changed to accomodate grown children and grandchildren after Van Buren, a one-term president, long-widowed,  retired there after his second, unsuccessful presidential run.  Olana was built, by Church, on a spectacular site overlooking the Hudson River, a Persian work of art, inspired by his trips to the Middle East. But ultimately, his reign ended too, his painting style fell out of favor, his ability to paint at all was crippled by arthritis, and in his final years, he poured most of his artistic energies into creating and developing different aspects of the house and grounds.

I don’t know which one lived a happier life or more productive life.  I do know which view I covet most.

 

Church's Landscape

 

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt summered on the island as a boy, then enjoyed  this 34 room cottage retreat here with his own young family.  It was a wedding gift to Franklin and Eleanor, with the additional  bonus of not needing to be returned or exchanged because of any duplication from the bridal registry.  It’s still furnished much as they left it after he came down with polio while vacationing here in 1921.

The Roosevelt Cottage, Campobello Island

The Roosevelt Cottage, Campobello Island

East Quoddy Head Lighthouse, Campobello Island, New Brunswick

East Quoddy Head Lighthouse, Campobello Island, New Brunswick

We’re staying in the Herring Cove Provincial Park – our first Canadian park.  Campobello Island is interesting in lots of ways – you have to pass through customs on the way here, and then on the way back.  We talked to some locals, while watching whales, looking out on East Quoddy Light, and they told us some pretty funny stories of things being confiscated, lots of it foodstuff they seem to think the border agents use for dinner.  We’re not worried, we’re legal – and there are always grocery stores.  But, if they try to take Taylor, or his food – forget it.

We took some beautiful hikes in the Roosevelt Campobello International Park.  It was nice to think of him here, while he was still vigorous,  sailing, hiking, playing with his children.

Campobello Island

Campobello Island

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Rutherford B. Hayes home - Fremont OH

Rutherford B. Hayes home - Fremont OH

 

 

“He serves his party best who serves his country best.”  I can now attribute that line to the 19th President of the United States.  I also feel like I might be able to pick him out of a biographical line-up of Presidents after visiting his home and and presidential library and museum today. Before today, not so much…which is a shame because I found much to admire. 

He seemed to embody honor – saying that he would rather die in the Civil War, then live through it or after it, and not have done the right thing.   He was an advocate (as was his Republican party) for the voting rights of African Americans, and was an advocate for the vote for women. He was elected to Congress while he was still serving in the Civil War, even though he refused to campaign, or take the seat he won until the Union had won the war.

Hayes was the first President to travel to the West Coast of the United States during his term in office.  I found that astounding – and we think we have Beltway insiders. 

On a personal level, he adored his wife and his children. When you tour the home, you see the evidence –  the paintings he commissioned, the stories told of Christmas trees in the parents bedroom and presents being opened there, so that the children who had died as infants, and whose portraits hung on those walls, could be part of the family celebration.  The tower/turret room he built for his wife to look out at the birds and nature on their beautiful property, and where after her death, he spent many hours to be closer to her “soul”.

 

Lucy's turret room - Rutherford B. Hayes home

Lucy's turret room - Rutherford B. Hayes home

 

 

 As an interesting related sidenote,  Lucy Hayes commissioned the most unusual set of china for the White House ever – all different scenes of nature and animals, including buffalo being skinned bloodily, along with other interesting wildlife scenes.  It was scandalous at the time (how could she!  an important White House guest could discover the picture of a frog at the bottom of his soup bowl!)  but now considered the most  distinctly “American” of all White House china and treasured.

 

 

It’s a beautiful, historic home – filled with their possessions and  furnishings, and it’s set in a lovely, large, tree-filled park (Spiegal Grove) where the President and his wife are laid to rest, with other family members.  The Museum and Library are interesting also, we were glad we got the combined ticket. 

Guess who started the “Easter Egg Roll” on the White House lawn…

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