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Posts Tagged ‘presidents’

Ulysses S. Grant Repaired My Parents’ Dryer

August 3, 2016 | by

Revisited is a series in which writers look back on a work of art they first encountered long ago.

He’s always watching.

In 1974, when they were honeymooning in Atlanta, my parents bought a portrait of Ulysses S. Grant—not the one pictured above, but something close enough. They spent fifty bucks on it: cash they’d won on a bet with my grandfather, wagering that Nixon would not see out his term.

The painting hung above our fireplace in northeast Ohio when I was a girl. It matters only peripherally that Grant was an actual man who lived and died in the nineteenth century; who was the eighteenth president of the United States; and who, as commanding general of the United States Army, led the Union Army to victory over the Confederacy in the Civil War. What matters is how single-minded I found his gaze, his eyes staring down at me—to say nothing of the distinguished crinkle of the eyebrows above them, those bright buttons on his jacket, that thick beard and head of hair, sculpted like cake frosting. Read More »

Plastic Presidents

March 1, 2016 | by

The Marx Presidents.

Growing up, our house was filled with presidents and almost presidents. WIN WITH WILLKIE! blared a sign on our front door. Wilson, having “kept us out of war,” looked down benevolently as you mounted the stairs. At the top, you might be confronted with a Nixon caricature and a poster for Theodore Roosevelt’s Bull Moose ticket. And that’s to say nothing of the large case of assorted campaign buttons in the living room, or the cedar closet that had been completely given over to posters, terrifying rubber LBJ and Reagan masks, and other such ephemera. Read More »


December 9, 2015 | by

For centuries, the lights of the Hanukkah menorah have inspired hope and courage. They may have also been responsible for inspiring then–General George Washington to forge on when everything looked bleak when his cold and hungry Continental Army camped at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777/8. The story is told that Washington was walking among his troops when he saw one soldier sitting apart from the others, huddled over what looked like two tiny flames. Washington approached the soldier and asked him what he was doing. The soldier explained that he was a Jew and he had lit the candles to celebrate Hanukkah, the festival commemorating the miraculous victory of his people so many centuries ago over the tyranny of a much better equipped and more powerful enemy who had sought to deny them their freedom. The soldier then expressed his confidence that just as, with the help of God, the Jews of ancient times were ultimately victorious, so too would they be victorious in their just cause for freedom. Washington thanked the soldier and walked back to where the rest of the troops camped, warmed by the inspiration of those little flames and the knowledge that miracles are possible.

Whether or not Rabbi Susan Grossman’s account is true, it took the presidency a while to acknowledge the Jewish Festival of Lights. Sure, Jimmy Carter may have lit the National Menorah, but the White House has only hosted an official annual Hanukkah party since 2001. Read More »

American History X

February 17, 2014 | by

warren harding600

Warren G. Harding, c. 1923; oil on canvas, by Margaret Lindsay Williams.

My dad is a man who likes to make time. Forget roadside attractions, lingering meals, and charming scenic routes: when we traveled as a family, speed was our goal. He especially liked to break previous records; I remember trying to see how many exits we could pass on the Long Island Expressway before the end of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” (To this day, hearing the opening chords of “Here Comes the Sun” stress me out.)

The one exception to this rule was presidential homes. And in the late nineties, my father was going through a major Warren G. Harding phase. So, when my parents drove me out to Chicago to start college, there was no question but that we would detour off the I-90 to Marion, Ohio, to visit the Harding house.

With all due respect to Monticello and Lincoln’s cabin, there is a particular charm to what I hesitate to call “minor” presidential homes. Lindenwald, the Martin Van Buren house in Kinderhook; Springfield, the Louisville boyhood home of Zachary Taylor; Lancaster, PA’s Wheatland, where Buchanan lived out his final years. These places are important to their communities. Taken together, they make up a bigger proportion of the country’s history than Hyde Park or the Hermitage, and they are sustained purely on the strength of the enthusiasm of volunteers.

Said volunteers are rarely prepared for my dad. His knowledge is vast, his ardor unwavering, his memory for presidential trivia intimidating. I have seen guides delighted by such an attentive visitor. Others recoil in fear and uncertainty. I was concerned as we approached 380 Mt. Vernon Avenue in the charming town of Marion, because I knew full well that in this instance, he had an agenda. Read More »

The Presidency, in Verse

November 2, 2012 | by

We may know their takes on climate change, on reproductive rights, on economic policy. But what of poetry? The Poetry Foundation has investigated the poets the presidents loved, and presented their findings in an illuminating and timely post. Just a few pairings:Read More »