Things came together quickly after my visit to the LBJ ranch. With
the film developed and pictures proudly posted to my
"Presidents" Photo Album, I closely studied my map on
several occasions. I was down to the "Final Five", and all
of them were, more or less, located generally around New York City. I
had never been to New York, and was intimidated by the thought
(saying it was going to be the last place I ever visited, and that
prediction turned out to be true generally)
My new job in Ogden, Utah had zero travel and therefore no travel
benefits like frequent flyer points and coupons. Living in Utah put
us thousands of miles, two full time zones, away from completing the
collection. Finally, we just finished constructing a new home, and
found ourselves beyond penniless, and with no hope for having extra
cash on any horizon.
I had quietly resigned myself that it would be five years to come
before I might take up my hobby again, and I sadly took down my
pushpin map and stored it away from sight. And it would have been,
except for the woman that I love and cherish every day of my life. It
was she that recalled our receiving one "final" free-travel
voucher from my days of flying out of Detroit. It was with Northwest,
that serviced both Salt Lake City and Philadelphia either thru their
hub in Minneapolis or Detroit. The coupon was the last we were to see
for years, and it had been packed away for two years during my
layoff, my relocation, my new job and new home (in case of an out of
town emergency). It was due to expire in 60 days.
It was she, the woman the I love truly an profess my love openly,
that held that coupon aloft one evening, before my eyes, and said
"We were saving it as a companion ticket for a business trip,
but there will be no trips for a few years. Why don't you take it and
go to New York for a week-end and finish your collection."
I must say that such a thought had never crossed my mind, that I was
speechless, needed to sit down upon hearing the offer, was originally
reluctant to incur even the cost of the rental car or cheap motel
charges. But within a week, I had found flights with available free
seats, had applied for vacation days at work, and was set to travel
out on a Friday morning and back on a Monday night. A long week-end
of non-prime travel days. And soon we had film for the camera and
itineraries and a gym bag full of play clothes and I was on my way.
I must have mentioned my forthcoming trip to anyone that would sit
still for it and was amazed by the reactions. From many a "good
for you", from others incomprehension of why I would do such a
thing. I received many testimonials, some seemingly with pride, from
people born in Utah and so satisfied with that sheltered existence as
to brag that they hadn't felt compelled to leave the state's cozy
confines since their return from their forced church mission abroad.
They were so happy to close that horizon, and those opinions planted
the original seed of discontent that resulted in us moving to Florida
just three years in the future.
JAMES BUCHANAN - Lancaster, PA
31st in my collection (1st of 5 in trip)
Click to see
The flight to Philly was long, with a layover, and I was caught off
guard by the slippage of two time zones. I left Salt Lake very early,
and arrived with only an hour of daylight left. I had been to the
Philly airport years before on business, and it is still my least
favorite airport in America (I have been "platinum
medallion" for five years now, so I know of whence I speak). I
got my car, then got caught in rush hour traffic on the Schuylkill
freeway, drove by the King of Prussia mall in the dark, and proceeded
out of town to spend the night in the Lancaster PA Holiday Inn (using
a magazine discount coupon).
The morning was remarkable, and I rose early. The fall air was crisp
and moist (unlike the dry air of our new Utah home). The leaves were
in bountiful color, both in the trees and everywhere on the ground.
They were a delight to see that day, but the best was to close my
eyes and smell autumn everywhere. To this day, I sometimes pull the
pictures I took that day from their album and try to smell the
leaves. What a delightful week-end I had in store.
was hard to find, but driving around the little colonial town was a
delight. I kept my book handy, but still refused to reference it
beyond the name of the cemetery. The little sidestreets with ancient
row houses, the large sidestreets with canopies of autumnal colors,
the ancient school buildings and hilly city parks distracted me from
my goal. I eventually parked at the "visitor center" and
received directions to the cemetery, which was just two blocks away.
Historians hold Buchanan in incredibly low regard, and his lack of
action during his term directly preceding Lincoln's is often times
cited as the root cause of the civil war. Had Buchanan been a man of
vision or a man of action, he would be considered one of our greatest
leaders and we'd all be saying "Abraham Who???", but that
is not how things turned out.
had read in a paper a few years previously that Buchanan's grave in
Lancaster had fallen into disrepair. A distant relative of the
president had been on NPR, bemoaning the state of the gravesite and
leading an effort to get it repaired. Boy, was that ever needed.
The cemetery was old, (and seemingly no longer in use?). President
Buchanan rested in an above ground white marble vault, with some
slight decoration. But around him was an embarrassment. All the
graves within that section had been vandalized or weathered. All the
stones were broken, lying haphazardly about the ground. Vaults and
marble grave covers had been cracked and moved randomly. Some vaults
were broken open, like eggshells, showing empty dirt within their
lids. That section of cemetery was the worst I had ever seen that was
not lying within the confines of an airport runway expansion or an
abandoned slum. I took my pictures and made my way.
Years later I would return, on a business trip by myself, and later
on a combined business trip family vacation with my wife and son. We
took more pictures, and the area was ever so slightly improved. It
was still a shambles a decade after I left that day.
FRANKLIN D ROOSEVELT - Hyde Park, NY
32nd in my collection (2nd of 5 in trip)
Click to see
Saturday was my long drive for the trip. I left Buchanan's grave in
Lancaster, PA just before 10am, and would not see FDR until sunset. I
had a hotel reservation at a Days Inn in distant Poughkeepsie NY. To
get there, I would spend an autumn Saturday driving through the
prettiest part of our country. To this day, when I tell people that I
travel for a living and have visited one-third of the lower 48
states, I stop and say that the Hudson River Valley, the
"Delaware Gap" in Pennsylvania, from the Poconos through
West Point is without a doubt the most beautiful American geography.
And I just said it again here.
that day I didn't know, so I spent hour after hour driving and
feasting my eyes and saying "oh my" and thinking it could
surely get no prettier only to repeat the cycle. I arrived at Hyde
Park near sunset, without a moment to spare and later settled in
Poughkeepsie in the dark, after 9pm and had a simple dinner at a
Dennys and was off to bed. Years later, on that same family vacation
we visited the same areas, retraced my steps and found my old hotels.
The pictures we took that day were the first we scanned in and the
one placed front and center on our web page. Except for the long cold
blustery winter weather, I would surely live in the Hudson river valley.
When I arrived at Hyde Park, I was offered a ticket to visit the FDR
home and museum, but headed directly to the gravesite. Franklin and
Eleanor are buried above ground in side-by-side white marble vaults.
The vaults are within the "rose garden", a place of
particular beauty and pleasant personal memories for the President
and First lady. The garden itself is surrounded by a very tall hedge
of pungent evergreens, making the setting a thing of beauty and a
place for mediation. And the crisp fall air was full of autumn aromas
and a complete delight.
With a half-hour until closing, I walked about the small museum, and
enjoyed learning about FDR's career before his white house years and
about his time running the country first during the depression and
then during World War II. All and all a very interesting for 30 minutes.
From there it was my simple dinner, then to bed. New York City (fear
and trepidation) loomed in the morning.
ULYSSES S GRANT - New York City -
33rd in my collection (3rd of 5 in trip)
Click to see
As I went to bed, I turned on the TV and HBO presented a comedy about
a band of mental patients that accidentally escape their institution
to wander the streets of New York City. Every comic book personality
was presented from drug pusher, street vendor, and beat cop. It was
not what I needed.
I awoke early, before 5am, and with it still dark outside, showered
and packed my gym bag and watched the sky turn orange from the drive
thru line at McDonalds. I drove down alongside the majestic Hudson
river, eventually arriving in Englewood Cliffs New Jersey around 8
am. A rest stop was open, and I pulled off to take some pictures of
the city skyline bathed in morning's orange glow. I had no idea at
that time of the New York geography, only the stupid things I had
picked up watching TV.
I crossed the George Washington bridge and missed my turn, ended up
on city streets that scared the bejeepers out of me. At 8am, all the
menacing people were passed out asleep on benches and doorways and on
piles of scrap cardboard. The drug merchants were closed for
restocking, but every inch of building was covered, first in
lock-tite cages and then in graffiti.
Soon I found my way to Riverside drive, along Manhattan's west coast,
looking across the Hudson now to New Jersey, then quickly found
Riverside Park, then quicker yet Grant. The city was just waking up,
and the curbsides were full of parked cars for the people escorting
each other to the several churches that abut the park near the tomb.
The bells were pealing that start of services, and the leaves were
blowing in the breeze, and the Sunday morning parking was FREE!
took several pictures from outside the tomb, then pleasantly learned
that it was open to go in. A national park service (smokey bear)
provided me with a brochure and a brief synopsis. I fell into the
trap of all lonely single travelers and told him compulsively of my
hobby, my trip, my fears, and my excitement at finally being in
"Grant's Tomb" as he feigned interest. President and Mrs
Grant are interred in rectangular marble storage bins, a deep brown
or rose colored marble, located in the lower level of the central
circular domed room. A circular balcony overlooked the opening and my
pictures from above were more than enough for me to not require
proceeding down to the lower level.
Within another 10 minutes I was on my way, enjoying the fall air and
taking a "once around Manhattan" car drive. I passed by
Times Square, the Empire State building, Madison Square Garden, the
World Trade Center, Wall Street, the Statue of Liberty and the
Brooklyn Bridge. Central Park, the shops on fifth avenue, the PanAm
(now MetLife) building were all a joy that day. However, minute by
minute cars were piling into the city that Sunday morning and the
streets slowly changed form empty, to scattered, to normal traffic,
to heavy, to completely frustrating jams. Yet it was only 11am and I
could take no more! I had to wonder how heavy traffic was during an
actual rush hour instead of a quiet Sunday morning.
TEDDY ROOSEVELT - Oyster Bay, Long Island, NY
34th in my collection (4th of 5 in trip)
Click to see
I drove over the Brooklyn Bridge and headed east. My nearly empty
outbound freeway adjoined a three lane inbound freeway that was
bumper to bumper, three lanes across, for its entire length from
Manhattan Island for over 10 miles! All of those cars were going into
the city. I was very glad I left. It was a delight to read green and
white direction signs highlighting the exists for both LaGuardia and
JFK airport. I was done with New York City for that day, but would
leverage my experience the way that I like to do everything. Like a
nervous cat, first just jump in and jump out, later spend a single
day carefully experimenting, later again a full day, still a later
visit, then a two day visit. It would be seven years before our first
actual family vacation trip to the city,
and by then I would be totally confident.
got lost on the way to Oyster Bay, taken aback by the small curvy
roads and heavy Sunday traffic. I eventually found his boyhood home,
now a national park site. His house, Sagamore Hill, included pictures
and stories of his childhood and times at Sagamore Hill, about his
father and his children. Of course, highlights of his presidential
terms, his candidacy, his military exploits were to be found and
enjoyed. All in all a nice experience.
grave is nearby, in a small local cemetery His simple headstone
included an engraving of the presidential seal, something I consider
a classy and elegant touch. His grave was noteworthy from his
neighbors only because it was cordoned off by a low black wrought
iron fence. The cemetery was on a beautiful hillside, near Long
Island sound, and it was mid October so the canopy of trees was in
full bloom and scented the air. It was spectacular in its naturally
pristine and peaceful setting, and it was very hard not to be moved.
But for me it was time to find a place to spend the night. I drove
around Long Island and, in my travel naivety, could not decide on a
motel, then chose one that was too expensive and quite run down. I
was so young. My plan was to turn in early, then be over the
Verrazano Bridge to New Jersey before morning rush hour traffic. Only
one president was left, Grover Cleveland, and my busy day tomorrow
would take me to Princeton, then back to the Philadelphia airport and
end with me winging my way west back home to Utah.
GROVER CLEVELAND - Princeton, NJ
22nd & 24th President
35th & 36th in my collection (5th of 5 in trip)
Click to see
I woke up very early, and was packed and on my way in a matter of
minutes. Long Island, Queens, the area around JFK airport were in
very poor condition at that time (November 1993). I have returned
recently, and they are vastly improved, but still could be a shock to
someone raised in a sheltered suburbia. It was a hoot to see road
signs directing to JFK airport and Coney Island. I looked over my
shoulder to see the Statue of Liberty from the Verrazano Bridge. I
drove across Staten Island, all places I had read about or heard of.
As I crossed into New Jersey, I skipped the turnpike and followed
Route 1, enjoying the stores and small cities, amazed to my self that
it looked for all the world like various areas around the Detroit
area where I grew up. Somehow "New Jersey" was supposed to
arrived in Princeton, and was taken aback by the sheer beauty of the
small college town in the middle of a spectacular autumn. I parked on
the street and had a breakfast sandwich and cup of coffee in a small
storefront restaurant. It was barely 8:30 and I had been up since
6am. I also bought some Princeton postcards and a T-Shirt for Jesse.
Somehow, it was disconcerting to think that within the hour, my hobby
would be complete.
Finding President Cleveland was fairly easy, as he is buried in the
Cemetery, just a few blocks from campus. A small guide map was left
in a small self-serve mailbox, and I quickly made my way to his
grave. A grounds crew was mowing the lawn, the last mowing before
winter, and pulverizing the blanket of leaves. Their presence and
noise was aggravating, but the smell of autumn was delightful to my senses.
President Cleveland's grave was a simple marble block, topped with
what seems to be a pineapple (religious significance? Was he
Hawaiian?). I had my pictures, then had to stop to catch my breath. I
toured a little more of the cemetery, and found Mr Tulane, who's
University near New Orleans bears his name. Also, Aaron Burr, winner
of the famous duel with Alexander Hamilton, is buried within the
"President's Plot" near his father, once a president of
Princeton University. Princeton's most famous president, however, is
not buried here. Woodrow Wilson is interred in the National Cathedral
in Washington, DC.
Within a few minutes, I was on my way out of town, stopping in
Trenton and Philadelphia, visiting the Liberty Bell and Independence
Hall. Then to the airport and before nightfall winging my way back to
Utah, my collection finished. WIthin a week, the pictures were
printed and installed in my photo album, and I was soon pondering
what to choose as my next hobby.
RICHARD NIXON - Yorba Linda, CA
37th in my collection
Click to see
Of course, this is a hobby that is never really finished. Before a
year elapsed on my visit to Princeton, in August 1994, President
Nixon passed away. A year after that, I had taken a new job, moved to
Florida, and was traveling 100% on business.
is buried on the property of his boyhood home, now converted to a
Presidential Library and Museum, in Yorba Linda, California in the
near western suburbs of Los Angeles. I had an engagement in Irvine,
and traded with the client, starting early to call it a day at 4
o'clock one afternoon. I jumped from the office, ran to my car and
fought rush hour traffic for 30 minutes to his home. I was quickly
parked, and paid up, and strolling about the grounds. I cut a
bee-line to the gravesite, and paid my respects and took a couple of
pictures. The site included a nice period presentation of his small
childhood home with many anecdotal stories about his childhood. His
museum had many interesting dioramas about his early career, his
various campaigns, and his presidency. All standard stuff by
Presidential museum standards. However one section presented a
bizarre and surreal display of life size paper mache statues of
various world leader figures from Nixon's time in office. They were
to scale, and presented as they were most famous, so you might walk
around the 6 plus foot Charles de Gaulle in full French military
uniform or the short and portly Chairman Mao in his famous jacket.
That was bizarre, and the gallery was closing, and I was able to once
again wrap a red ribbon around my collection.
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