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
3rd in my collection (1st of 7 in trip)
Click to see
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.
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
4th in my collection (2nd of 7 in trip)
Click to see
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.
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
5th in my collection (3rd of 7 in trip)
Click to see
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.
JOHN ADAMS - Quincy, MA
6th in my collection (4th of 7 in trip)
Click to see
JOHN QUINCY ADAMS - Quincy, MA
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
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.
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
8th in my collection (6th of 7 in trip)
Click to see
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
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
9th in my collection (7th of 7 in trip)
Click to see
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
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
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
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