Dave's Presidential Graves
Travel Stories Listed by Trip

OCTOBER 1986
New England Color Tour
Buffalo / Boston / Montreal
Family Vacation

We had taken a trip during July 1986 from Detroit north to the upper peninsula, across to Duluth-Superior, down to Minneapolis, then east to Milwaukee, Chicago, then home to Detroit. On this trip we attended games for the Twins, Brewers, and White Sox (old Comisky Park - what a dump!). We had wanted a fall color trip to New England, and decided to visit Cooperstown for the Baseball hall of fame, and see the Red Sox and Expos finish out their season. The president grave site map showed that this circle could also easily pick up seven presidents by stopping in Buffalo (Fillmore), Albany area (Arthur, VanBuren), Boston (Adams & Adams), then Concord, NH (Pierce) and Plymouth, VT (Coolidge). All the while enjoying fall foliage, tart cider and plenty of fresh air.

MILLARD FILLMORE - Buffalo, NY
13th President
3rd in my collection (1st of 7 in trip)


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We kicked off our Boston/Montreal trip by leaving home in suburban Detroit before dawn. I always under estimate how close Detroit is to Toronto & Niagara Falls, so we again arrived around breakfast time. We worked our way into Buffalo, and headed for Forest Lawn Cemetery using the map. Although we owned the "President's Grave site" book, I was still trying to find them on my own, considering viewing the book to be "ruining the experience". I eventually took a more liberal attitude about using the guide.

The Buffalo cemetery is at the end of a long street full of stately homes or mansions. Unfortunately, the age of wealth was long passed, and the mansions had all been turned into public facilities like the Red Cross headquarters or offices for coordinating public programs.

Lyn at Millard Fillmore's Grave: Hollywood Cemetery, Buffalo New YorkThe cemetery was amazing, but President Fillmore's grave site was mundane. Compared to the opulent Harding's and the serene Hayes', Fillmore's was not much more than a cemetery plot. A pink marble obelisk was surrounded by a wrought iron fence and identified the occupant as a former US President. The local VFW kept a small floral arrangement fresh near the gate.

But the rest of the cemetery was spectacular! Obviously, Buffalo had once been a place of great wealth, with opulent tombs and headstones peppered throughout. We were struck by the headstone of a former mayor, a huge black marble cube, at least 10 feet tall, perched on a corner, and with the man's image carved into its face. The firefighters that had died in the line of duty were buried in a semicircle and surrounded a 10 plus foot tall statue of a firefighter. Finally, one wealthy family, grieved at the loss of their adult son, had a tombstone that was a circular room, wrapped in marble columns, surrounding life-sized marble statues of their son's deathbed scene. Honest. It was incredible.

Years later I would return to the cemetery during a business trip to Buffalo, not for President Fillmore, but for the rest of the spectacular marble menagerie.

CHESTER ARTHUR - Albany, New York
21st President
4th in my collection (2nd of 7 in trip)


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After the Cooperstown hall-of-fame and enjoying the spectacular finger lakes region of New York state, we pressed onto Albany looking for Chester Arthur. We managed to arrive during rush hour, got lost several times, and ended up in some pretty seedy neighborhoods. Poor Lyn did not have a family history of taking adventurous car vacations, so she was unnerved a little by the adventure.

Dave at Chester Arthur's grave: Albany New YorkPresident Arthur was in the Albany Rural Cemetery, which was no longer Rural, but certainly just a typical cemetery setting amid acres of other headstones. However, his crypt was black marble and very memorable for us to this day. We were still new at cemetery 'hunting', and finding President Arthur's massive bier was very unsettling. We were still full of adrenalin from the drive, the rush our traffic, getting lost, and racing both sunset and closing time, rushing about the cemetery, pushing the speed limit, maybe being slightly less reverential than appropriate. In that state, it was a shock to be confronted by a huge raised black marble box, ten foot by six foot by four foot where one might easily imagine the presence of the late president's coffin inside! The black marble crypt was made more bizarre by the presence of a life size statue of a winged angel, ten feet to the wingtips, originally copper but now weathered and stained spooky green with age, standing beside the raised coffin with a mournful look on her face and her hand gently laid across its top.

We would learn years later that the president had been buried simply, next to his wife in a family plot, and that the decorative sarcophagus (they lie underneath) was added much later to memorialize them. But on that day I could not help but pose myself for a picture, mirroring the winged protector of our fallen president, once I got over the initial surprise.  This new hobby was becoming a lot of fun.

MARTIN VAN BUREN - Kinderhook, New York
8th President
5th in my collection (3rd of 7 in trip)


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Martin Van Buren was Andrew Jackson's Vice President and, until George Bush succeeded Ronald Reagan, the last sitting VP to suceed his president through election to the oval office. (many VP's, of course, had to ascend due to the presidential death or resignation). We found his homestead, which was nicely restored and took a tour led by a "smokey bear" clad national park service man. We received directions to President VanBuren burial site, a couple miles away, on the outskirts of the small town, in a small and secluded cemetery. His marble obelisk was simple and the surrounding wooded areas were very pretty in late October.

 

Lyn at Martin Van Buren's Grave: Kinderhook New York

JOHN ADAMS - Quincy, MA
2nd President
6th in my collection (4th of 7 in trip)


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JOHN QUINCY ADAMS - Quincy, MA
6th President
7th in my collection (5th of 7 in trip)

We drove into Boston by car and, lacking back then the driving experience I now have, was unnerved by the heavy traffic, small turning roads, and roundabouts. We visited the minuteman park at Lexington and Concord, walked a bit of the "freedom trail" in downtown, visited the Bunker Hill monument and Old Ironsides parked in the harbor. Lyn loves to tell the story of climbing the circular staircase in the Bunker Hill monument, still weakened by what we thought was a mild flu and daily morning carsickness, only to discover two weeks after arriving home from our trip that we were pregnant with Jesse. I wanted to credit Jesse with having visited these graves but Lyn has always objected.

The Adam's are buried together, along with their wives (the famous Abigail Adams of "remember the ladies" fame), in a dug out crypt in the ancient basement of the colonial church in downtown Quincy Massachusetts. We attended a small church tour with a busload of old farts (is it required that they travel in packs?) and were told interesting anecdotes about who had preached there, and in which pews certain famous people used to sit. Well, I mean to say that our tour guide was energetic, a good storyteller, and HE was certainly interested in his anecdotes.

It was time to proceed to the basement, which 80% of the seniors decided to skip, and peer through the wrought iron gate in front of the rough hewn concrete and plaster room in which the four marble above ground casket racks lay. I was to learn eventually that 80%+ of our presidents are buried this way, which creepiness I am now acclimated to. Our amiable tour guide started to enthrall us with dead president facts and anecdotes, a territory which I had recently studied to expertise, so I stood him toe to toe.

Him: The Adamses are one of only three presidents buried within a church.
Me: Woodrow Wilson is in the National Cathedral.
Him: But Eisenhower gets a mention, as he is buried within a chapel on his family farm.
Me: That would be in Abilene, Kansas.
Him: One of only three (at that time) presidents buried west of the Mississippi River.
Me: The others, of course, being Truman and LBJ (Nixon and Reagan were still quite alive at the time).
Him: These are one of only three sets of presidents buried together.
Me: The other, of course, being Tyler and Madison in Richmond.
Him: Ah, but you forgot JFK and Taft in Arlington Cemetery.
Me: Well, they are not technically "together".
Indeed, this hobby was already beginning to be fun.

In the Crypt with Father and Son Presidents: Quincy MassachussettesAs we stood in the hallway, he complimented my knowledge and asked how I had acquired it. I told him about my new hobby and where I had been and about our trip. He was the first (of several) to say, "Hey, I got the key. Wanna go into the crypt and take some pictures?" NO amount of "that's alright" would be enough for him, and I was eventually goaded into stepping aside for him to unlock and swing the gate out, then meekly following him into the cold, dank, dark, and cramped crypt. Sheesh. It was like Fred Flintstone's living room, stone walls with rounded hand-made openings and corners. And it was VERY VERY dank.

"Here", he says, "stand over here and take a picture of the coffins from this side." Then he says, "Give me your camera and I'll take your picture with the presidents". Anyway, I took a couple of quick pictures, and was still new enough at this hobby that this type of invitation was major creepy to me. But if it were today, I'd have had him shot an entire roll and we would've ended up standing on the biers and toasting the founding fathers and singing colonial sea shanties together. But back then, I just thanked him quickly and we ducked out and nervously headed for the car. (We were so young).

FRANKLIN PIERCE - Concord, NH
14th President
8th in my collection (6th of 7 in trip)


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After seeing the Red Sox, and driving up to Salem and Marblehead and the like, we headed for New Hampshire and Franklin Pierce. President Pierce is held in pretty low regard these days, with many historians suggesting that he spent his term intoxicated and achieved next to nothing. His only claim to fame, from the experts in these matters, is that he managed to NOT cause the civil war (see James Buchanan).

Dave at the grave of Franklin Pierce: Concord New HampshireRefusing to peek at our book, we instead drove around downtown Concord, hoping to see a "this way to Franklin Pierce" sign or maybe some kind of monument or "Franklin-land" or something. Alas, no such notoriety. We drove by the main library, and I idled the car and stepped inside and up to the main desk. I spoke with a very nice librarian, confirmed that President Pierce did indeed rest nearby and received verbal directions to the small cemetery very near the central part of downtown.

Obviously, if this cemetery was ever outside the city limits, Concord must have had a population under 200 citizens. President Pierce is laid to rest in a medium sized city cemetery, underground (for once) with a very traditional if somewhat decorative white marble headstone. No copper angels or fire breathing gargoyles. No crypts or biers or headless horsemen here in Concord. Just a nice little standing headstone over a nice little grave in a nice little city block sized cemetery. After a minute or two of peaceful contemplation, I started to feel a little sorry for the guy.

CALVIN COOLIDGE - Plymouth, VT
30th President
9th in my collection (7th of 7 in trip)


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We left Concord and drove across the boarder to Vermont, following a roadmap to the rather small hamlet of Plymouth. We were enjoying spectacular fall scenery, with bridges spanning rivers with both banks covered in breathtaking fall colors. But, unfortunately, we were also running late.

It was getting after 4pm, then 4:30, so with some agitation I began to drive faster and faster down those suddenly frustrating winding country lanes. We passed thru one after another towns with one streetlight, each time red and long. Our tempers started flaring, as my pulse and respiration increased, feeling my eyes opening in adrenaline, driving determination a little more with each passing minute.

I still refused to open the book, considering it cheating somehow, and began to make different plans for each of the various what-if scenarios. Then we passed a sign, PRIOR to entering Plymouth proper. "President Coolidge Home and Museum next Right" told us we had arrived, with just enough fall sunlight to hurry up and take a picture or two.

With screeching wheels, I sped into the gravel parking lot, hearing the small white stones fly out from my spinning tires. I slammed on the brakes with my car at a diagonal in the clearly marked "no parking" zone directly in front of the main entrance doors. As per our plan, I kicked open my door (just like in the movies), left it open and ran headlong into the sedate New England reception center, vigorously opened the door and nearly ran inside to a elderly woman seated at a small reception desk. I will always carry in my visual memory, the burned in image of surprise, eyes wide under cat's eye glasses and silver hair, mouth agape over turkey neck skin. As I paused for just a moment, panting wildly and feeling flushed from the run, she prepared herself mentally to hear about the school bus accident just outside of town.

ME (panting and in a voice slightly louder than appropriate): Is this where I will find President Coolidge?
Her: Oh! Yes....this is a small museum of his artifacts and his boyhood home is included in the ticket.
ME: (nearly shouting) NOT HIS HOME! WHERE IS HIS GRAVE????
Her: (guardedly, clutching one fist to her chest). About a mile from here.
ME: (louder) WHERE IS HE BURIED? WILL I NEED A TICKET TO VISIT THE GRAVE???
Her: (with great concern on her face) Well, um, ... you need to turn....etc etc.

Weeks later, this story was considered hilarious, but at the time It was just a little crises to be handled.

I returned slowly to the idling car still askew in the parking lot, and entered through the still open driver side door. Explained calmly to Lyn where the family grave site was located. We calmly drove over, less than a mile away, and took some pictures in a truly spectacular autumn evening.

The long and narrow cemetery for Calvin Coolige: Plymouth VermontThe grave site itself was very depressing, as it was located directly abutting a rural highway, essentially built on the culvert. It was very small, and primarily contained the remains of only one or two families, including the President and his immediate family. It was strangely laid out like a proverbial "spaghetti farm". One coffin wide and 50 yards or so long. There were two or three terraces, and a fence along the highway so no wayward Chevy might accidentally take out President Coolidge's headstone.

The stone itself was a thin marble slab, like a tableau, but over FIVE FEET TALL. His direct relatives stones were three or four feet tall, and the remainder of the nearby headstones were the more traditional two or so feet tall. President Coolidge's headstone had a curved top ridge, and centered above his name, in the semicircle between his name and the stone top was carved into the marble an actual rendition of the presidential seal, right down to the olive branches and stars. Very nice.

After taking our graveside pictures, we returned calmly to the museum and farmhouse and tried to act normally, slowly enjoying the rather sparse entertainment value of the details of President Coolidge's life. The highlight, of course, was the actual wall phone where he learned of President Harding's death (while home on vacation, of course), and the ACTUAL BIBLE that his father used to administer the oath of office. It takes your breath away.

From there it was onto Montreal (no Presidents in Canada) then home to have our baby. (Click here to read the story of Jesse's Birth).

Copyright, 2000, all rights reserved


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April 1986

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Original Web Upload: February 2000
Last Update on: May 18, 2006