Thursday, February 19, 2009

For Four Dead Presidents

(Author's Note: The following article was originally posted three years ago, as you can see by reading the date above. Thus the reference below to Lincoln's 200th birthday is a little outdated.  This is being revived as part of Taphophile Tragics.)

This being President's Week, and with me being a well-known habitué of graveyards, I thought it would be the perfect time to, ahem, dig up a selection of photographs featuring the final resting places of some of our former leaders.
Or at least the four I've been to.

With all of the celebrations for Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday last week, I think it'd be interesting to see how he spends his time these days. First, from a May, 2007 drive along Route 66, are two shots from Lincoln's tomb at the Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois.

The giant hunk of marble above may look like a sarcophagus, but it's merely a marker to cover a ten-foot deep crypt which holds what must be a very well-preserved body, as Lincoln was reportedly the poster child for the then-new art of embalming. After all, it was a long, hot train ride from Washington D. C. to Springfield, Illinois back in 1865, and millions of mourning Americans wanted a final (or more likely, first) glimpse of their fallen leader. So like a 21st century baseball player, Abe was juiced up at regular intervals along the ride home, and it's not unlikely that he'd be recognizable today.

Up there on the right is the 117-foot tall granite obelisk rising above the tomb.

(Lincoln was buried so deep, and with that huge marker on top, because of various plots to kidnap the body, one of which was attempted before this tomb was completed, when the remains were still in the cemetery's receiving vault.) 

September 1985

Grant's Tomb, on the upper west side of Manhattan, has absolutely no one buried in it. What it does have is
Ulysses S. Grant and his wife Julia entombed within, their caskets in a well below the floor but above the ground, both housed within a domed Greek Revival temple with this simple entableture above the entrance. I used this picture for my holiday card in 1987.

Young's Memorial Cemetery, Oyster Bay, NY

Theodore Roosevelt and his second wife, Edith, rest beneath a canopy of trees not far from Sagamore Hill
in Oyster Bay, Long Island. A set of stone steps lead up a hill to the ivy-covered private plot, the stone with its columns and bas-relief presidential seal behind a tall, wrought-iron fence.

This image is a VanGoghlaroid from May of 1998.

February 2009

Finally, with this picture we pay a visit to the Coolidge family, on a hillside of their own in Plymouth Notch, Vermont. Silent Cal (or, more appropriately today, Ever-Silent Cal) has the presidential seal atop his stone, which is the second from the right. Left of that is his wife, Grace, while their sons flank them: John on the left and Calvin, Jr. on the right. Grace's matching headstone is adorned with a simple wreath, while Cal Jr.'s smaller one (he died at 16, and was the first burial in the family plot in 1924) and brother John's have wreaths with ribbons.  

Coolidge became the 30th president upon the death of Warren G. Harding, and was sworn in by his father at a quarter to three in the morning in the parlor of the nearby family home. In addition to being the only president to be born on the fourth of July, he is also the only president sworn in by a notary public.

Something curious I learned about the names of these Coolidge men. President Coolidge was named after his father, so his full name was John Calvin Coolidge, Jr. (although he never used the Junior.)  Yet he gave his first son the simple name John Coolidge, then two years later named his second son Calvin Coolidge, Jr.


hamilton said...

It is interesting how the headstones became more and more humble as the century wore on.

Gene said...

Great taphophile post for Presidents Day!

tapirgal said...

Nice theme and informative.

Lee Spangler said...

Lincoln was already no longer recognizable after a while on the train ride to Springfield and nor were photographs of the body allowed to be taken.

Sondra said...

very interesting....I visited Grants Tomb when I lived in NYC, but Never stopped in DC to see Lincolns memorial...weird that Coolidge gave his second born the name JR when he was the JR? strange! Yeah I bet Lincoln looked like a walk in on Walking Dead by then...

Ann said...

Didn't know any of that about Lincoln. Had never heard of VanGoghlaroid either. They are quite beautiful

Gemma Wiseman said...

Interesting how the presidents are remembered in quite different ways! There seems to be a family intimacy in the final one so unlike the Lincoln memorial!

biebkriebels said...

A great tribute to your presidents.

The Paw Relations said...

Such beautiful resenting places and monuments.

Herding Cats

Julie said...

I have been reading a bit today about 'Presidents' Day'. To my ear it sounds so cold and lacking in emotion.

I do, however, like your trawl through the presidential resting places you have visited. And your clear delineation between burial and entombment!

It seems to me that the simpler the memorial is in inverse relation to the ego of the man. Peter showed a photo of the JFK memorial, which is simple for a man with a massive ego. And yet, from what I have read, Lincoln was a simple chap.

Thanks for this meander, Neil. As always, I love to hear you buzzing in my ear.

Neil J Murphy said...

It used to be that February had holidays for both Abraham Lincoln's birthday (Feb 12) and George Washington's birthday (Feb 22). When it was decided to give Martin Luther King, Jr. a holiday (in January) as well, the powers that be were reluctant, claim there were too many federal holidays as it were. So in order to cap the number of holidays, and honor King at the same time, Lincoln and Washington's days were combined into one, with the hope that calling it 'President's Day' would honor all US presidents.

What it really did was to give car dealers and department stores an entire week to annoy us with advertising.

Kathy said...

Such an interesting post. Thanks for the info!