Dave's Presidential Graves
Travel Stories Listed by Trip

JULY 1991
Washington DC / Richmond
Dave's Circle Tour

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 DC area.

JOHN F KENNEDY - Arlington National Cemetery
35th President
13th in my collection (1st of 8 in trip)


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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.

JFK's Eternal Flame: Arlington Cemetery

WILLIAM TAFT - Arlington National Cemetery
27th President
14th in my collection (2nd of 8 in trip)


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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).

Gravesite of William Howard Taft: Arlington Cemetery

WOODROW WILSON - National Cathedral, Washington DC
28th President
15th in my collection (3rd of 8 in trip)


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I said "close enough": the National Cathedral, Washington DCAlthough 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.

Jesse noticed it was Woodrow Wilson in the National Cathedra, Washington DCFinally, 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
5th President
15th in my collection (4th of 8 in trip)


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JOHN TYLER - Richmond, VA - Hollywood Cemetery
10th President
15th in my collection (5th of 8 in trip)


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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.

President Tyler (Obelisk) and Monroe (Wrought Iron) in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond VirginiaThe 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 in comparison.

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 - Charlottesville, VA
3rd President
18th in my collection (6th of 8 in trip)


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JAMES MADISON - Montepelier - Orange, VA
4th President
19th in my collection (7th of 8 in trip)


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Jeffersons Home Monticello: July 1991Thomas Jefferson's Obelisk lists his acheivments: Monticello, Charlottesville VirginiaThomas 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.

Small Cemetery with Madison's Grave: Near Orange, VAGrave for President Madison: Orange, VAMadison's 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
1st President
20th in my collection (8th of 8 in trip)


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Washington's famous home: Mt VernonI 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.

Gravesite of George Washinton: Around back at Mt Vernon VirginiaOn 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


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July 1987

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Original Web Upload: February 2000
Last Update on: August 14, 2005