Dave's Presidential Graves
Travel Stories Listed by Trip

The Trip Across America
Family Relocation Trip
 Michigan to Utah

This was going to be the last chance for us to pick up the presidents in the Midwest, so it was now or never. To drive across I-80 would be boring, since we had driven it several times when living in Denver (before starting the hobby), and I had just driven it myself in October. Also, the February weather might be spotty, so taking a more southern route might be more practical.

I figured that we could pick up six presidents on this trip with only a small backtrack. From Detroit, we would head south, then EAST to Cleveland (to revisit Garfield as a family), then head south to Canton for McKinley. We would continue south through West Virginia, then head west to Greeneville, TN for Andrew Johnson. Heading west into Nashville would net us Andy Jackson and James Polk. Crossing to St Louis, we would use I-70 for our trip west, stopping in Independence, MO for Truman and Abilene, KS for Eisenhower.

20th President
23rd in my collection (1st of 7 in trip)

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We left for Salt Lake City from Detroit in the evening, and I suspected that we had car trouble because the heater failed to work and the back windows would not defrost. Passing a bank sign in suburban Cleveland, the temperature read five degrees below zero (oh!). The morning was spectacular, with blue skies and sunshine. We visited Garfield, a second time for me, this time with a camera, once again in winter, and again the building interior was locked up tight.Tiny Dave in front of James Garfields tomb: Cleveland Ohio Garfield's remains reside in a large memorial building (see my red sweatshirt for scale).  I have seen pictures and its interior is quite elaborate with a unique (among the presidents) burial display. President and Mrs Garfield's uninterred coffins simply lie upon pedistals on display within the building. Sadly, my two wintertime visits have denied me access to the inside, so I have never actually seen them. We also stopped by Garfield's house and museum (but did not go in). Garfield was assassinated in office, and his resting place is slightly more elaborate than average. Buried in the same cemetery, a short distance away, are many of Cleveland's rich and famous, the most famous of which is John D Rockefeller. Years later I read his autobiography, and learned of his Cleveland roots (hard to imagine Cleveland as the original "Oil City".

Finally, we then toured the nearby "Kirtland Temple", a Mormon settlement of Joseph Smith that preceded the one in Nauvoo, IL (which itself preceded the one for Brigham Young in Salt Lake City). The Kirtland Temple, oddly enough, is owned by the sister-sect of the more famous Utah Mormons, the RLDS (reformed latter day saints). Kirtland was also famous for a grisly murder that occurred a decade or so previous, at the hands of a renegade temple guide and delusional religious zealot. When researching my new Utah neighbors, I could not pass up a book called "The Mormon Murders".

25th President
24th in my collection (2nd of 7 in trip)

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We drove south from Cleveland, and stopped by to visit President McKinley in Canton. He is interred in a free standing building circular and domed. From a distance, I originally took it to be a small observatory or planetarium. It was located on a very high hill, with a mile or so of stairs leading up to its entrance. On this dead winters day, it too was locked up tight. I smiled to see the toboggan tracks down the snowy hillsides surrounding the tomb. I debated whether or not McKinley would be pleased. McKinley was also assassinated during his term, making the remarkable coincidence of Ohio being rich with Presidents (five) but only Hayes surviving into retirement. Harding and Harrison died of natural causes, while Garfield and McKinley met theirs from violence.

Dave and Jesse at Tomb of William McKinley, Canton Ohio

17th President
25th in my collection (3rd of 7 in trip)

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Gave of Andrew Johnson: Greenville TennesseeWe proceeded south, out of Ohio and down through West Virginia. We passed through the "toe" of Virginia, and into the eastern edge of Tennessee. This would be our farthest point out of the way for our Detroit to Salt Lake City trip. This part of the country must be beautiful in many seasons, but in deep February it was cold and overcast, and covered in half-melted dirty snow with mud peeping through, although the many stands of pine trees were beautiful in any season or condition.

It was easy to find Greenville, and Andrew Johnson's home, museum, and grave. Johnson is an interesting character, ascending into office after Lincoln's assassination. He had been a simple man, chosen to provide the ticket a token southerner, and many feel he mismanaged the critical period immediately following the cessation of the civil war hostilities. He was, at the time of our visit, the only president to be impeached, (since Nixon resigned before being served papers), and I was delighted years later to see the newsreels of the park service tour guides adjusting those Greenville displays (using black electrical tape) during Clinton's congressional escapade. The museum is in his old office, and his home is nearby. His grave site was a granite obelisk in a nearby cemetery. A wrought iron fence helped to make it a small traffic roundabout and the bleak weather, very overcast and drizzling rain, made for an unmemorable day.

ANDREW JACKSON - Nashville, TN - The Hermitage
7th President
26th in my collection (4th of 7 in trip)

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Grave of Andrew Jackson at his home The Hermitage: Nashville TennesseeWe headed west (finally) and took in the length of the state of Tennessee in a drizzly February rainstorm. The next day was majestic, with the rain and clouds cleared up and again beautiful blue skies. Jackson lived outside of Nashville, I am sure in the countryside in his day, now the area between Opryland and the airport. His residence, "The Hermitage", was named after a popular fad of his day, invoking supposed good luck associated with "Hermits", woodland people that might reside on your property. The estate was well kept, and we took a brief tour. The grounds were well maintained, and a refreshing walk let us take it in. President Jackson is buried in a family cemetery on the property, with a sprinkling of his descendants. His actual grave site is a small marble structure, with several columns set in a circle and supporting a domed roof. It is small (I would rather say tastefully done), classy without being ostentatious. Next door is "Tulip Grove", a home built by Jackson for his secretary and political heir. Unfortunately, a raised highway now bisects the two properties.

JAMES POLK - Nashville, TN - Statehouse Grounds
11th President
27th in my collection (5th of 7 in trip)

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President Polk is a president often overlooked by historians these days. He is buried in a small mausoleum on the actual lawn of the Tennessee State capitol building. The capitol building is on a small hill with nice vistas of the city in all directions. The lawn on one side is adorned with a giant statue (at least twice life size) of Jackson, riding on horseback. Polk is buried around the corner, on the far side lawn, in a simple white marble freestanding structure adorned with small columns and his name engraved on the doorjamb. Not a place I would pick to spend eternity and certainly being overshadowed by famous predecessor. The city view must have been 360-degrees before all the tall buildings were built.

Grave of James Polk at the Tennessee State Capitol: Nashville Tennessee

HARRY TRUMAN - Independence, MO
33rd President
28th in my collection (6th of 7 in trip)

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Grave of Harry Truman: Independece MissouriWe continued our drive to Salt Lake City by crossing through Kentucky, and the southern tip of Illinois. We visited the arch in St Louis, and made our way west across Missouri. In suburban Kansas City, we found President Truman's home, library, and grave. Truman was truly a "hometown boy does good" story, and his library is a square and modern building set on a plot of land once used as a city park. The museum displays highlighted his life and were enjoyable. The library itself has a square courtyard, outside but inside, open during business hours and protected from vandals. President and Mrs Truman are buried traditionally, with marble slabs over their graves. We were met by a perpetual flame, a mirror of JFK's in Arlington, and the local VFW kept fresh flowers present, even in darkest February.

Interestingly, located also in Independence Missouri is the world headquarters of the RLDS sect. They have built an unusual building (shaped like a 10 story tall Conch shell) on the original "chosen ground" set aside by Joseph Smith. The land in Independence, along with the Kirtland temple, stayed in the possession of the RLDS (these days a fairly small organization) when Brigham Young split off with his splinter group that, through clever and aggressive marketing, is now a gigantic world-wide presence and single mindedly pursuing world-wide domination (oops, I mean "spiritual conversion").

On a later vacation, we again visited the Truman Libarary (in warm May). Unfortunately, we visited during a major renovation of the courtyard, which will eventually be remarkable. However, our second attempt to pay our respects was accompanied by the sound of front loaders and cement saws. Oh well.

34th President
29th in my collection (7th of 7 in trip)

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We scurried out of Kansas City because a February snow sqall was blowing at us from the Kansas plains. It was still forming, and we could skirt under it and continue west unhindered, so we took off quickly. We spent the night in Topeka, and the morning news showed how several inches of snow had socked in the Kansas City area, and we would have easily lost two days progress on our trip.

Inside the mediation chapel burial site of Dwight Eisenhower: Abeline KansasOur last president for this trip was in Abilene, a very small town located near I-70, but otherwise, by eastern urban standards, in the middle of nowhere. Eisenhower grew up here and his childhood home and the surrounding land served once again as a living muesum to a famous American. Of course he and Mamie had lived elsewhere for many years, most famously as retirees on a "farm" outside of Gettysburg, PA, but returned to Abilene in death. The grounds have a spectacular (twice life size) statue of the president, dressed in his World War II military uniform and surrounded by a low wall etched with famous speeches, and bedecked with flagpoles unfortunately bare in February.

A small "chapel" was built on the grounds, and houses the actual grave site. Stepping inside, you are overcome by the climate control (warm, in February), dim relaxed lighting, and the sound of a small bubbling fountain to encourage a relaxed and contemplative environment. Of course, the walls were also etched with famous quotes from the president. We took pictures, and the "presidential" portion of our second trip west was over.

We proceed onto Denver, Cheyenne, and eventually Ogden, Utah. I had now visited and photographed all but six presidents. LBJ, in Johnson City in central Texas would prove to be a challenge. But the other five were all within 100 miles of NYC. FDR (Hyde Park), Teddy Roosevelt (Long Island), Grant (Grant's Tomb), Buchanan (Lancaster, PA) and Grover Cleveland (Princeton, NJ). At the time, Nixon was still alive, along with Bush, Reagan, Carter, and Ford. I put the pictures in my photo album, and set the hobby aside. My new job in Utah would be devoid of travel, so it seemed that it might be years or decades before I would finish my collection.

Copyright, 2000, all rights reserved

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Original Web Upload: February 2000
Last Update on: June 17, 2008