Four full years passed without my visiting any new tombs. We had
gotten all the 'easy' ones and I now worked for a company with only
local and regional (Michigan / Ohio) travel. Lyn was still not over
my behavior at the Coolidge farm or that I had taken a months old
baby on an overnight car trip. So the hobby simmered on a back burner.
But then I changed jobs and my new employer sent me to visit a client
in Richmond, Virginia, first for a two days, then for a full week
follow-up. It struck me that I could pick up all eight presidents
with little strain and little expense if I leveraged this trip by
adding on an extra day. My final plan was to fly into Washington, DC
(actually BWI airport), visit Washington (JFK, Taft, Wilson), and
Mount Vernon (Washington), during the week in Richmond I would pick
up the two there (Monroe and Tyler), then stay over Friday night and
drive out to Monticello and get the neighbors (Jefferson and
Madison). On the way back to BWI, I could pick up any I missed in the
JOHN F KENNEDY -
Arlington National Cemetery
13th in my collection (1st of 8 in trip)
Click to see
I drove directly from the airport to Arlington, parked the car and
made my way directly to JFK's eternal flame. I had visited it as a
twelve year old on a family vacation, and it looked the same as then.
I was impressed by simple elegance of it all. The courtyard behind
the grave site has a direct sightline to the Lincoln Memorial and
onto the Washington Monument's tower. As I stood there, planes flew
by on final approach to National (now "Ronald Reagan")
Airport. When I returned years later with Jesse on a Washington
vacation when he was ten, the grave site had been upgraded to include
Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, too.
WILLIAM TAFT - Arlington
14th in my collection (2nd of 8 in trip)
Click to see
Using the map I had picked up at the visitor center, it was a piece
of cake to walk the quarter mile to see President Taft's grave site.
He was buried in a small nook, up a brick walkway and behind a simple
row of bushes. His grave is marked with a fairly plain pink granite
obelisk. I was proud to learn that President Taft had disdained his
years in the White House and followed it with the job he had actually
wanted and loved for the rest of his life. He was the only president
to go on to later serve on the supreme court, serving as its chief
justice. But unlike Jefferson, Taft's displeasure as the executive
did not prevent his grave marker from proudly listing his time at the
top of two branches of our government.
Incidentally, nearby to Taft is buried Robert Todd Lincoln the son of
Abraham Lincoln that as an adult was present at Appomatax and served
as Secretary of War for President Garfield and Arthur . President
Lincoln is buried with his wife in his hometown of Springfield,
Illinois. (the land of Lincoln).
WOODROW WILSON -
National Cathedral, Washington DC
15th in my collection (3rd of 8 in trip)
Click to see
it was getting late, I raced from Arlington across the Key bridge to
the national cathedral to visit President Wilson. I arrived within 15
minutes of closing, and searched for access to what I assumed was the
basement crypt, as I had seen for the Presidents
Adams in Massachusetts. I found a stairway, but a sign had been
placed in the entryway stating that the basement access had been
closed for the day. So I gave myself credit for being with the man
who helped found the League of Nations and stepped outside to take
pictures of the Cathedral, then headed on to my Richmond meetings. I
returned to the Cathedral on my way back through town at the end of
the week, but arrived after it was closed. Rats! I placed Wilson in
my collection, but with an asterisk, like Roger Maris. Four years
later, I also tried again to visit grave during a Washington business
trip, but again arrived after the Cathedral was closed for the day.
It seemed I might never get my meet WW up close.
eight full years later and with the ten year old Jesse accompanying
me on a vacation, we paid a daytime visit to the National Cathedral
adamant that I would not leave without seeing the actual resting
place for President Wilson. We inquired of the elderly woman greeter
and she casually pointed us to a side aisle and told us to
"follow the signs". The first and second sign pointed us in
the right direction, but once again no Wilson, and no more signs. We
reversed and retraced our steps all the way back to the geriatric
greeter, then retraced again the signs, then back again and finally
ended up lost in a side altar area. In frustration, I paced back and
forth, then finally set down my coffee travel mug to scratch my brow,
and leaned my elbow on a decorative oversized countertop separating
the side aisle and the central pew area. In exasperation I said to
Jesse "Where are they hiding Woodrow Wilson?" As I leaned
my elbow on the waist high room divider I noticed how a floral
decoration inlaid to its top and it drew our attention that this
divider was white marble and 6 foot long and 4 foot by 4 foot. As
Jesse stood puzzled and broke the silence by pointing at the divider
(with wide eyes) and saying "Umm, dad?" I began to discern
that the decorative flower pattern carved into the marble was
actually an extremely frilly script of some kind and that the flower
pattern was magically transforming before my eyes to spell out W . .
. O . . . O . . . D . . . I reverently removed my coffee mug,
wiped the spot with my shirt tail, and sheepishly looked about to
make sure nobody had been watching us.
After we took a couple of pictures of ourselves, and had a great
number of laughs, we received that day the greatest gift of all, a
new family joke. And to this day, anytime I lean my elbow on an
oversized countertop, both Jess and I pull back in mock horror and
shout: "It's Woodrow Wilson!"
JAMES MONROE - Richmond, VA - Hollywood Cemetery
15th in my collection (4th of 8 in trip)
Click to see
JOHN TYLER - Richmond, VA - Hollywood Cemetery
15th in my collection (5th of 8 in trip)
Click to see
Richmond is the state capitol for Virginia, and served as the
national capitol for the Confederate States during the civil war.
During my first couple days in Richmond, I was stuck in meetings. One
night I finally was able to get out and see the famous "Monument
Avenue". Major intersections are the setting for tremendous
statues of Virginia heroes, including the confederate generals of
Lee, Jackson, and Stuart and confederate president Jefferson Davis.
Years later, a final statue would be erected honoring the tennis
great Arthur Ashe, signifying a tremendous cultural change for the
city of Richmond.
Finally on the fourth night, I was able to break a little early, and
find my way to the famous "Hollywood Cemetery". The access
to the cemetery is memorable, due to it once again being in a very
seedy part of town. Once again, I revisited the area years later
(with Lyn & Jesse), and was gladdened to see much revitalization
had taken place.
cemetery is the final resting place for many famous people, but my
quest brought me to "President's Hill", where James Monroe
(of Monroe Doctrine fame), and John Tyler (of Tippecanoe and Tyler,
too) are laid to rest not 10 yards from each other. Monroe is
entombed in an elaborate wrought iron repository, something I had not
seen before or since (and I get around to a lot of cemeteries). The
inscription, and the brochure provided at the entrance mentioned that
he was first buried in New York City and transported to his home
state and Hollywood cemetery on the century anniversary of his birth
(coincidentally immediately prior to the civil war). Tyler's burial
marker was more traditional, a tall obelisk with some general
information engraved. It included however, a likeness of the
president's face looming over and staring down at you, and I cannot
decide if this is touching or just plain weird.
To my surprise, "another president" is also buried here.
Jefferson Davis, the only president of the Confederate States of
America is also buried at Hollywood. However, his burial place
encompasses a small field, with a curved low wall in a semi-circle,
forming an implied amphitheater that might easily sit several
hundred. On the outer edges are statues of angels in flight. Directly
near the grave is a full, life size statue of Davis, leaning on a
podium as if involved in giving a speech. Quite memorable, especially
On our later trip, we learned of and visited the grave of J.E.B.
Stuart, also interred at Hollywood. On that particular trip, we also
visited Lee's and Jackson's graves in distant Lexington, VA.
THOMAS JEFFERSON - Montecello -
18th in my collection (6th of 8 in trip)
Click to see
JAMES MADISON - Montepelier - Orange, VA
19th in my collection (7th of 8 in trip)
Click to see
Jefferson and James Madison were good friends, confidants, and
neighbors to boot. Monticello is quite famous and a marvelous place
to visit. Madison's Montepelier is about 15 miles away. I learned
that the two would often travel together on horseback to Washington
when government would go into session. It would take them several
days to cover the distance I covered in a couple of hours.
Monticello is well kept up, with marvelous displays of various
Jefferson artifacts. The house had fallen into disrepair over a
century ago, but is now preserved as a national treasure. Jefferson
is buried in a small family plot off to one side of the home. A
wrought iron gate surrounds the family grave site, with centuries of
ancestors and descendants laid to rest. Jefferson's grave is marked,
quite tastefully, with a marble obelisk listing his lifetime of
achievements. By now every American schoolchild must be aware that he
chose the items on the list of his accomplishments to include
authoring and signing the Virginia and United States constitutions,
and founding and being first president of the University of Virginia.
Somehow Jefferson failed to mention serving eight years as President
of the United States.
home, Montepelier, has also been maintained with informative
placards and period furnishings. He is buried a short distance away
with his wife Dolley Madison (of snack cake fame). The small burial
plot is a hundred or so yards off of a country lane, with directions
provided from the house. The small cemetery has a low brick wall
surrounding it, and Madison's grave is
marked with a simple gray granite obelisk identifying him and his accomplishments.
GEORGE WASHINGTON - Mt Vernon, VA
20th in my collection (8th of 8 in trip)
Click to see
was surprised to learn that George and Martha Washington are buried
right on the grounds of Mount Vernon, their famous plantation estate
on the banks of the Potomac, not 20 miles from Washington DC's
National (now Ronald Reagan) airport. Like any schoolkid, I had seen
pictures of the famous house dozens of times and could probably have
sketched its general appearance from memory. What I was not prepared
for was how the tremendous front porch opens directly onto a knoll
that rolls down to the bank of the Potomac. The view was tremendous,
and I wondered how often George and Martha sat out on the front porch
watching boats pass by.
this particular Saturday, busloads of schoolkids had formed long
lines to visit inside the house. I therefore limited myself to
walking about the grounds, visiting the gift shop, and taking in the
spectacular river view. On that day, two reenactors (one Washington,
one Jefferson) were mock debating colonial political issues.
I followed the well marked path back around to a hillside that served
as George and Martha's tomb. It had been built with a red brick
entryway and wrought iron gate, I took a couple of pictures,
including through the gate at the (once again) above ground six foot
by four foot by four foot marble cases.
From Mt Vernon it was back to the National Cathedral (once again, too
late) and the airport to return home to Detroit. Quite a haul. Eight
presidents in eight days.
Copyright, 2000, all rights reserved