Two President’s Homes … for the Price of One

My very-accomodating hosts also made sure I got to the President George W. Bush childhood home. Of course, that meant the house was also the home of the elder Bush. The house could not have been more opposite from the beautiful Kennebunkport house that sits above the rocky point that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean.

In contrast, the Midland house was a small, ranch-style home on a residential street neatly tucked next to other similar homes. The Bush family lived here from 1951 – 1955. And for some strange reason, I did not get a good picture of the outside of the home – so will see if I can “borrow” one. (So in in the interest of fair picture taking – I DID NOT take this picture.)

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Of course this house isn’t THAT old, at least compared to somewhere like Mount Vernon, but the tour guide seemed to want to make it historically old. She would hold up an object and say, “Do you know what this is?” like it was something out of the dark ages – when actually it would be something even the kids have in their houses. Besides the presidential significance, the house is thought to be one of the first houses from the fifties set aside for historical purposes.

I so appreciate Kevin and Jenifer for giving me a Bush tour of Midland.

Zachary Taylor

I’ve been through Louisville a lot on the way to other places. In fact, I was through Louisville just a few weeks ago – and I knew there was a president’s house there, one of the few I haven’t seen. The difference about Zachary Taylor’s house, however, is you can’t actually go inside because people live there and I guess they don’t (understandably) want tourists wandering through their kitchen or bedroom.

But it was there and since Roger and I were both in Louisville – we decided we would drive by so we could say we saw it – so that’s what we did.

Beautiful house  – but didn’t find too much more about it than you can find out by looking at this picture.

Still – another president’s house crossed off the list.DSC02960

PRESIDENT #32 – FDR

Besides his home in Hyde Park, Roosevelt had a place where he liked to go for relaxation – The Little White House in Warm Springs Georgia.

In 1921, FDR became ill with polio. One of the remedies for the pain he experienced was dipping in the pools in Warm Springs  – an area where many people (especially those with yellow fever) came for the healing waters. He particularly enjoyed a resort whose natural spring was a consistent 88 degrees. However, the resort itself was a mess.

FDR solved that by buying the resort and the surrounding 1700 acre farm.

A few years later, Roosevelt became president and built a small (six room) house on the property and called it The Little White House. Not only could he go there to relax, but also to take a warm dip into the spring.  Later he added servants’ quarters and a guesthouse.

Roosevelt made the trip to The Little White House 16 times while president – each time staying two or three weeks.

The house is inviting – jutting out into the woods with a deck that makes you feel as if you’re in a treehouse.

Roosevelt died while vacationing at his Georgia home.

FDR was having his portrait painted at the time of his death - it is hanging on the wall unfinished.

———–

Here’s what I wrote the day we were there.

We headed south to Georgia, went about halfway down the state and then veered off to Warm Springs to see where Franklin Roosevelt went for the healing waters of the natural springs to ease the pain from his polio. The sun was actually out (lots of rain) as we walked through the small museum and saw the place where the pools were located.

Afterwards we were asking the lady behind the desk about directions to the house As she was talking, she pulled out a picture of a little girl. She explained to us that there was a rather well-known picture of Franklin Roosevelt sitting with several children who had polio. The picture was taken at a Thanksgiving dinner and one little girl is receiving a drum stick from the President.  The lady we were talking to was the grown-up little girl, the only person still alive from the FDR picture. We chatted about my interest in Presidents and First Ladies and she said she was doing a Roosevelt Scrapbook for the Roosevelt Library and if I wanted to send her my picture, she would put it in the book. So I will, but who knows?

So we headed for the house.  So much for the sun. By the time we reached the house, it was raining again.

Lots of classes of kids wandering around. We walked through a small museum. (State flags lined the walk up to the museum.)

Then we went to the house itself. The house was cozy, small, but pretty. We both liked it a lot. Lots of model ships(one of Franklin’s loves) were displayed on the mantles . The desk off the back of the house looked over the woods – a sentry stood in the woods when FDR was there.

PRESIDENT #29 – WARREN G. HARDING

1. Warren had a cane collection – he displayed it in the foyer next to where he and Florence were married.

2. He was the only president elected on his birthday.

3. The Hardings had the lst indoor plumbing in town.

4. Florence’s parents raised her son (from her first marriage) with the stipulation that she would have no say in how he was raised.

5. The Hardings had no children of their own.

6. As an adult, the son moved to Colorado and tried running a newspaper and then went on to farming. He died young from the effects of alcoholism.

7. A grandson (or great grandson) still lives in town, but refuses of to visit the house.

PRESIDENT #29 – WARREN G. HARDING

As a young man Warren Harding and two friends bought the Marion Star (Ohio) for $300 and went into the newspaper business. He was a good- looking man. In fact, someone told him that he’d make a dandy-looking president.

But Warren was happy with his life. During the day he’d run the newspaper and at night, he’d play poker.

Florence DeWolfe, a divorcee, met Warren and actively pursued him until he agreed to marry her. For many years she worked with him on the paper and many credit her with making the paper an eventual success. Most people considered Florence the real boss and Warren simply the one out front.

But wait a minute, let’s look at Florence for a couple paragraphs.

When Florence was 19, she became pregnant and supposedly eloped with the neighbor boy – however, no official marriage license has ever been found so there’s a question whether they were really married. After splitting with the neighbor, she gave piano lessons to raise her son – until she met Warren and convinced him to marry her.

Although, Warren was already a Mason, an Elk, a Rotarian and a member of the Chamber of Commerce and people liked him, Florence wanted him to be even more important. She went to work. She decided Warren should publish his paper daily instead of weekly. She forced him to become a public speaker and soon he was speaking around the area. Even though he thought he was a good speaker, he really wasn’t and often tripped over or mispronounced words. He liked alliteration and in one speech made the statement: “Progression is not proclamation nor palaver. It is not pretense nor play on prejudice. It is not personal pronouns nor perennial pronouncement. It is not the perturbutation of a people passion-wrought nor a promise proposed.”

The author H.L. Mencken said in response to Harding’s speeches that his style was “rumble and bumble, flap and doodle, balder and dash.”  Someone else said, “His speeches leave the impression of an army of pompous phrases moving over the landscape in search of an idea.”  Still, he was tall and he was handsome and people liked to be around him. He entered politics and soon was elected into the state senate, then as LT. governor of Ohio and from there to the U.S. Senate.

Members of the National Republican party noticed him and decide that he could be chairman of the National Convention with the sole purpose of keeping Teddy Roosevelt from being nominated. It didn’t work.

Four years later his friends sitting in a “smoke-filled” room decided that Harding should be president himself and manipulated him into being nominated. He won on the tenth ballot. When asked if there was anything embarrassing in his past, he said “no,” but later, after he was nominated, it was discovered that he had been having  an affair with a wife of one of his best friends, Carrie Phillips. The two families had often traveled together and socialized.  (Carrie is a whole other story.)  When the affair was discovered, Florence was understandably irate, but this wasn’t the first time she had discovered her husband cheating.

Meanwhile, Florence took over the campaign. Having worked on her husband’s newspaper, she understood how reporters work and she got him lots of publicity. Also, because of Hardings looks – he got the ladies’ vote. In fact, this election was the first time ladies COULD vote. His theme was to get America back to the time where people gathered on front porches and talked with neighbors and he had an addition built onto his own porch in Marion where he gave many campaign speeches. Over 600,000 people came to hear him speak from his porch – including Mary Pickford, the first of celebrity endorsements. The campaign was also the first with radio coverage.

Harding’s presidency is mostly known for it’s scandals. Problem was, all those poker-playing friends from Ohio came along with him to Washington D.C.. Though  prohibition was in effect, Harding spent his nights having poker parties upstairs in the White House. The alcohol flowed.  Even he admitted that being a president took more than good looks. Although he started with some goals in mind, things quickly began falling apart. Not only were their political scandals but another mistress showed up – Nan Britton. According to a book Nan wrote, she and Harding had a child. In the course of his presidency his black hair turned white. The world was too much with him.

In 1923, he and Florence headed west on a speaking tour and while in San Francisco, he died.

Some say it was a stroke.

Some say it was a heart attack.

Some say his enemies had poisoned him.

Some say that Florence had had too much of his unfaithfulness, and she poisoned him. She did refuse to allow an autopsy and immediately burned all his papers.

So I guess we’ll never know.

PRESIDENT #29 – WARREN G. HARDING

Oh, wow, now this is a president with a story – but not necessarily a good one.

Most people who list presidents in order of effectiveness, put him at the bottom.

Maybe because his presidency was filled with scandals like Tea Pot Dome.

Or maybe because he did things like lose the White House china in a poker game.

Maybe a little bit of both.

The difference between Harding and a president you might think is even worse – Harding didn’t really do anything. According to our tour guide, the highlight of his presidency was dedicating a statue of Simon Bolivar in Central Park.

I’ll tell you more about him in the next couple days.

PRESIDENT #28 – WOODROW WILSON

We visited Woodrow Wilson’s house in Staunton, Virginia on our last just-the-four-of-us vacation, the one where Jeff was in charge of the video camera, so once again, I don’t have a lot of photos to scan. (Staunton, Virginia is also the home of the Statler Brothers, just in case you were wondering … and just down the road from where the memorial is to Ken’s great grandfather – but that’s a whole other subject.)

Actually this beautiful home (again, on video rather than an actual photo) was the manse for the First Presbyterian Church of Staunton. Woodrow’s father was pastor of the church at the time of Woodrow’s birth. Some said Pastor Wilson was the best preacher Virginia had ever had. But then he was called to Georgia and that’s where Woodrow grew up. In fact, Pastor Wilson was a chaplain in the Confederate army.  Fast forward several  years – Woodrow began college, thinking that he, too, would become a Presbyterian minister. Because of poor health he needed to drop out and rest. When he regained his health, he also changed his goals deciding to become a lawyer and entered Princeton to pursue his studies.

After law school, he once again changed direction –  becoming a history professor at Bryn Mawr College.  By this time he had married another Presbyterian preacher’s kid – the lovely Ellen Louise Axson. He returned to Princeton as a professor and after twelve years, became president of Princeton. The politcal leaders of New Jersey watched his presidency of the college and convinced him to run for governor of the state – which he did and won.

Because of his background, he believed strongly in predestination and told the other politicians he wasn’t interested in playing games “God ordained that I should be President of the United States.” He also added that anyone who disagreed would be a fool. He felt God had put him in the position to work toward world peace. Instead he found himself in the middle of a World War.

I remember many of the exhibits at the house and museum focusing on Wilson’s first wife and his three daughters, rather than the more well-known Edith Galt Wilson whom Woodrow married while serving as President. (Ellen died shortly after he took office.) Ellen was a refined lady who was interested in arts, literature and music and that’s the way she raised her daughter – all successful in their own way. Jessie, especially, was quite accomplished working on the National Board of League of Women Voters and the YMCA.

Ellen was also an accomplished painter and even today her paintings are compared favorably with other professional artists at the time.

PRESIDENT #27 – WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT

A previous post copied …

Dscn0525Sue and I were coming home from an Awana Ministry Conference in Chattanooga when we decided to visit Taft’s house.

We would be coming back north through Cincinnati on a Sunday morning. I knew the home was in the city itself – and sometimes Sunday mornings are a good time to go into cities. (Here’s a traveler’s tip. Do not and I repeat, DO NOT try to drive through downtown Boston anytime BUT Sunday morning, but that’s a whole other story.) Sounded like the perfect plan.  Stop. Tour. Take a few pictures. Check it off my list. Continue on our way north.

Everything went well until we missed a not-very-well-marked fork on the expressway. No problem. We’ll just go up to the next exit and get off.

Wrong. The next exit did not have a get-on-again ramp. Still we had about three different maps. We should be able to find it.

Wrong.

We soon found ourselves in a rather non-picturesque part of the city. Let’s just say there were a lot of boarded-up buildings and people “lounging” on the sidewalks. A lot of bars, too.

Hmmm …

We found one street that Sue actually located on a map. We went one way and then the other. Time passed. We needed one of about five different other streets to pinpoint our position. Even though every one of those five streets should’ve been in the area we found none of them.  We saw a lot of the same boarded-up buildings. We saw the same people “lounging” in the streets. We saw the same bars.

Then we saw a couple walking down the sidewalk. They were at least walking upright. We stopped.

“Can you tell me where the Taft House is?” Sue called out.

Dscn0520 They came over to the car. The man stood there looking like he didn’t know how he was supposed to look. The girl looked perplexed.

“Tafts? I don’t know them.”

“He was a president.” I explained. “His house his here somewhere. It’s a national park.”  Still no recollection of anything. She looked at our map.

“Could you at least tell us where we are?”  Sue said, showing her the atlas.

I don’t know exactly how to explain this, but she looked as if she really, truly wanted to help us, but had no idea what to do to give that help. She stared down the street.  Unfortunately, she was leaning on the car, so I kind of had to wait until she admitted she didn’t know anything about where we were or where we were going.

We continued going around a multitude of blocks. The empty-gas tank thing beeped on the car. Now, I know I had quite a few miles left before I ran out of gas, but didn’t want to chance it – who knows how long we would be doing circles.

I saw a gas station that looked rather run down, but a normal-looking couple were getting gas, so I pulled in next to them. I figured if anything happened, they could help. Stuck my card in the pump. Started pumping the gas. I was cleaning off the front windshield when suddenly I had a volcano of gas exploding out of my tank. I quickly pulled out the pump, the gas continued to pour out. Finally, I hit it right and it stopped. The  man (part of the normal-looking couple) came to my rescue. (See, I’m a good judge of character – I knew they would help us!)

“Are you all right?”

“Yeah, I think ..”  I looked for some paper towels, but of course, they didn’t have any.  The nice man brought me some napkins he had from some fast food place and helped me wipe off the side of my car.

Did I complain? Did I go in to ask directions?

Nah. Seemed safest to get out of there.

Well, while the girl had been leaning on the car earlier telling us she didn’t know where we were or where we were going – she had said something about calling someone.

Wait a minute! I had printed out the info about the house!  Maybe there was a phone number on it.

I saw a McDonald’s (not one you’d really want to eat at – but we could use their parking lot) and pulled in. I dialed the number.

“Hello, Tafts’ House. This is Doug.”

“Doug,” I said. “WHERE are you?”

“Where are YOU?” he asked.

I told him I was at the McDonald’s on Mahlin.

Doug had never heard of that street and didn’t know of any McDonalds.

“By the MLK,” I told him. (We had been driving around long enough for me to be on an “abbreviated name” basis with the streets.)

“Oh,” he said and gave directions. However, not knowing where the side street or the McDonalds was located, we had no idea if we should go right or left to get to the START of his directions.  But did eventually figure it out.

And sure enough, Doug’s directions got us to Taft’s house.

When we showed up, there were two other ladies there – twenty-somethings from, interestingly enough, Chicago, who, interestingly enough, also got lost finding the place.

“You need signs,” we told Doug.

“Oh, we’ve got signs,” he insisted. “Just had new ones made. They’re in the basement.”

Duh Doug! Signs in the basement don’t cut it.

Anyhow, the outside of the house is nicely restored, but the rooms don’t have too many Taft treasures. At first I thought that seemed odd since there are still a lot of Tafts around – and a lot of Tafts who visit the house (so Doug told us). In fact, until a few years ago, a Taft was governor of the state.

But then I figured that’s probably WHY there aren’t too many Taft originals – so many Tafts are still living (unlike the Lincolns who have no descendants) that the “real” stuff is probably still in the family.

There was no cost for this adventure. Just donations. And I did get it crossed off my list.

Should-you-visit-it-if-you’re-in-the-area-factor?

Hmmm … I’ll leave that up to you.

September 12, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0)

PRESIDENT #25 – WILLIAM MCKINLEY

130_3050 After McKinley was assassinated at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, Teddy Roosevelt was sworn in as president at the Wilcox Mansion in downtown Buffalo.  Jeff, Cindy and crew and I visited there a few years ago. This was what I posted about the visit.

PLACE: Wilcox Mansion, downtown Buffalo, New York

WHAT IT IS: The site of Teddy Roosevelt’s inauguration (after McKinley was assassinated at the Pan America130_3044n Exposition)

SHOULD-I-GO-THERE-IF-I’M-IN-THE-AREA FACTOR: Yes, if you’re interested in history. No, if your only interest is chicken wings or the Sabres.

KID FACTOR: Tough call. When we rang the door bell and the scholarly tour guide answered, I figured we were in BIG trouble with three little kids. But he was good with the130_3045m and had unbreakable things for them to hold while explaining original furniture in original rooms filled with original and  breakable stuff.

He told me he had more patience with kids than he did with adults who tried opening closed doors and touching things that shouldn’t be touched.

130_3047While we were looking at the gift shop, he brought out a wooden replica of a coal stove that someone had made for the house and actually got down on the floor to patiently show the 5yo how it worked.

Kids also received certificates at the end saying they had been through the house.

Still, an historical house is a house and kids don’t know that much about history since they don’t have much history themselves.

COOL FACTOR: You can stand only a few  feet from where the inauguration took place.