Thursday, February 23, 2006

Lois Swanee
Museum Curator

Who is your favorite president?

Presidents are fallible. They, too, are human beings and have feelings as we do. They were destined to follow the divine calling that landed them in the highest position in the land. George Washington was our number one and from George to George, we have number 42 in George W. Bush.

First ladies counted too. Abigail Adams, whose husband, John Adams, was the first to live in the White House and since she had no clothes line (America didn’t provide her with that) she hung her wash in the oval room at the White House. On down the line Teddy Roosevelt had a big family of kids to live in the White House and the kids had a billy goat in the White House and slid down the banisters. Their sister Alice was a difficult child. Her father said that he couldn’t run the United States and tend to Alice at the same time. He found her smoking and ordered her to stop as nobody was going to smoke under his roof, so she climbed on the roof and smoked. (Surely not the White House roof, maybe the pre-White House.)

When I lived in Vicksburg, there was a 6’2” black woman from Port Gibson who said she was the granddaughter of the President of the United States, Franklin Pierce. Pierce’s wife was ill and eventually died. A black woman was his maid and I suppose she was the grandmother of this woman.

Warren Harding was President after World War I and was seemingly very promiscuous. He fathered an illegitimate child while he and his wife were living in the White House. His wife accompanied him on the whistle-stop train trip on his bid for re-election in 1923. After having dinner on the train with his wife, he died of the stomach ache.

When Chester Arthur was young, he worked as a laborer on the Erie Canal. He wasn’t a Christian but his mother was. They lived in a log cabin not far from his work. One night he was working alone on the boat when he slipped and fell in the water. He couldn’t swim (should have been against the rules) and he was about to drown when a cable came loose and dropped into his hand and he was saved. After he pulled himself up, he tried and tried to figure out how that miracle had happened. When he walked home that night, he saw the candlelit window of his cabin he looked in the window and his mother was on her knees praying for him. That’s the miracle that saved him so he could become President of the United States.

Andrew Johnson was the only tailor to become president, and he couldn’t read or write. His school teacher-wife taught him to read.

When William Taft became president, the bathtub as we know it had just been invented. They had to make a huge one for him as he weighed 300 pounds or more. He was president twice but not in consecutive years.

My mother said that in 1901 she was at a ballgame in Potts Camp, when word spread through the crowd that President McKinley had been assassinated two weeks before communication was very slow back then.

Once my children and I were in Washington to see the sights. We walked around the capitol to a side door. A doorman said, “Just wait here for a moment.” In a few minutes out pops John F. Kennedy. He was surprised to see us and he was glad to see us too. We were thrilled over seeing him. At another time we were sitting in George Allen’s box at the Redskins football game (Allen was the coach) and tall, dark handsome John F. Kennedy Jr. sat with us.

In a modern day world Susan and Kelly Jordan were guests at the Bush Family and Friends party at Christmas time last year at the White House. Their daughter, Elise, works now at the White House, writing President Bush’s speeches. How about that! The White House chauffeur was taking Elise and the Bush daughters to Camp David and in the ensuing conversation Elise found out that the chauffeur was from Ashland. His name is James Ross Jr.

Once a man named James Davis from Washington, D.C. called me doing research on his family tree. His grandfather was General James Davis from Chulahoma and he is buried at the Chulahoma cemetery. Mr. Davis said that he was born in Washington and had lived there all of his life and he was my age (not too young). I asked him how many presidents he had seen in person. His reply was “none.” I found it absolutely unbelievable that a person could live that close to the White House and never see a president.

I can’t tell Abraham Lincoln from Jeff Davis, the President of the Confederacy. They look just alike except Lincoln had a mole on his face. Both men were born about twenty miles apart in Kentucky. Lincoln was born in February 1809 and Jeff Davis was born in June 1808.

Lincoln’s wife had to choose between Lincoln and the radical Stephen Douglas as her suitors. She declared, “The one I choose will become President of the United States,” and sure enough he did. Both Lincoln and Davis had sons to die during the war. Davis’s son fell from the upstairs porch onto an iron picket fence and it killed him.

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