Saturday, June 14, 2014

Who's Buried in Grant's Tomb: A Tour of Presidential Gravesites

Who's Buried in Grant's Tomb: A Tour of Presidential Gravesites
written by Brian Lamb and the staff of C-SPAN
2010 (Public Affairs)
Source: I bought it!

No, a pilgrimage to a president's grave is instead a way to pay quiet tribute to all of our glorious past, to thank the militiamen who lost their lives at Bunker Hill, to honor the oratory of Patrick Henry, to salute the valor of the men who died at Iwo Jima and Midway and a hundred other flyspeck islands in the Pacific. All presidents-no matter how well they performed in office-are revered by most Americans simply because they represent our grandest           political traditions. - Douglas Brinkley (Afterword of the book)

I have an affinity for graveyards. Yes, that may make me a weirdlo but I don't care. The school where I teach is next door to one. I once bought a house a few yards from a state veterans' cemetery. So naturally I enjoyed this offering from the C-SPAN crew and friends. Brian Lamb, the face of C-SPAN, visited every presidential grave site and gives you a mix of history and travel guide for each president. You get a brief overview of the president's tenure followed by an account of his last days of life. Then, there is a list of directions showing you how to get to the grave site. Ending each section is a brief essay by Richard Norton Smith who is wickedly funny, incisive, and poignant in equal parts. What you learn is that some of these men may not be exactly who you thought they were. Calvin Coolidge has been painted as the poster boy for stoicism. He wasn't "Silent Cal" by accident. But what you may not know is that he harbored great sorrow as he lost his namesake son early in his presidency. You also learn that many animosities disappear when a president dies. Grover Cleveland, upon the death of Rutherford B. Hayes, makes a long train trip to attend Hayes's funeral. This in spite of the election of 1876 which was extremely partisan. George McGovern, asked by a rude reporter why he was attending the funeral of Richard Nixon's wife Pat, responded that you can't keep campaigning forever. Of course, for every George McGovern, there was an Andrew Jackson who delighted in the death of William Henry Harrison.

If you are interested in the lives of the presidents, pick up a copy of Who's Buried in Grant's Tomb. Below is a photograph that I took on a recent visit to Jefferson's grave site on the grounds of Monticello. Notice what he doesn't mention on his gravestone.

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