Dave's Presidential Graves
Travel Stories Listed by Trip

The Final Five
Dave's NYC Circle Tour

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.

15th President
31st in my collection (1st of 5 in trip)

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Photo Album

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.

The cemetery is in genearl disrepairBuchanan 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.

Grave of James Buchanan: Lancaster PennsylvaniaI 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.

32nd President
32nd in my collection (2nd of 5 in trip)

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Photo Album

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.

Grave of Franklin Roosevelt: Hyde Park New YorkBut 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 - "Grant's Tomb"
18th President
33rd in my collection (3rd of 5 in trip)

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Photo Album

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!

Grant's Tomb: New York CityI 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
26th President
34th in my collection (4th of 5 in trip)

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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.

Sagamore Hill: Home of Teddy RooseveltI 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 of Teddy Roosevelt: Oyster Bay New YorkHis 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.

22nd & 24th President
35th & 36th in my collection (5th of 5 in trip)

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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 be different.

Grave of Grover Cleveland: Princeton New JerseyI 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.

37th President
37th in my collection

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Photo Album

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.

Gravesite and Home of Richard NixonNixon 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.

Copyright, 2000, all rights reserved

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October 1993

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Original Web Upload: February 2000
Last Update on: January 3, 2002