read from May 30 - June 14
Dead Presidents: An American Adventure into the Strange Deaths and Surprising Afterlives of our Nation's Leaders by Brandy Carlson
Summary (via Goodreads)
An entertaining exploration into the death stories of our nation’s greatest leaders—and the wild ways we choose to remember and memorialize them.
In Dead Presidents, public radio host Brady Carlson takes readers to presidential gravesites, monuments, and memorials to tell the death stories of our greatest leaders. Mixing biography and travelogue, Carlson explores whether William Henry Harrison really died of a cold, why Zachary Taylor’s remains were exhumed 140 years after his death, and how what killed James A. Garfield wasn’t an assassin’s bullet. He tells the surprising stories of the Washington Monument, Mount Rushmore, and Grant’s Tomb. And he explains why “Hooverball” is still played in Iowa, why Millard Fillmore’s final resting place is beside that of funk legend Rick James, and why Ohio and Alaska continue to battle over the name of Mt. McKinley. With an eye for neglected places and offbeat people reminiscent of Tony Horwitz and Sarah Vowell, Carlson shows that the ways we memorialize our presidents reveal as much about us as about the men themselves.
Yikes, I visibly recoiled at the description of how all the doctors were treating President Garfield after he had been shot. Not only would he probably have survived with better treatment, he went through a lot of unnecessary pain as well. Adding insult to injury (death, actually), the most inept doctor presented Congress with an enormously high bill; they didn't pay.
At the opposite end of the spectrum was President Reagan's doctor. He let the ER doctors do their job and didn't let his ego get in the way of getting the best treatment possible.
Am I a bad Iowan because I've never heard of Hooverball?
I liked the author's little additions of subtle humor throughout the text.
"The Rest of the Set" dragged a little but that's fitting based on who it's covering (the less memorable of the presidential bunch).
A few random things I learned:
- Franklin Pierce had such a long speech at his inauguration Abigail Fillmore, the outgoing first lady, caught pneumonia and died.
- The same catafalque (the stand the coffin rests on) has been used for every state funeral since it was built for Lincoln and it's called the Lincoln Catafalque.
- In 1820 James Monroe ran unopposed for reelection, the only president other than George Washington to have done so.
- President Eisenhower won an Emmy for his use of television in office.
A Few Quotes from the Book
"That's all a man can hope for during his lifetime - to set an example - and when he is dead, to be an inspiration for history." ~ William McKinley
"Being president is like running a cemetery: you've got a lot of people under you and nobody's listening." ~ Bill Clinton
"A well-timed death can make a president larger than life. A poorly timed one can turn him into a buffoon."
"Dead presidents become the road not taken, the vessels of what might have been. We can ascribe to them any position, or any potential accomplishment, that we supported or hoped for when they were alive, and no one can prove they wouldn't have taken those positions or achieved those goals."