I wasn’t chasing James Garfield last September in Long Branch, New Jersey. In fact, forgive me this admission, it had slipped my mind that Long Branch had anything to do with the Orange Township, Ohio born 20th President of the United States. But we will get to President Garfield in a moment. I was in Long Branch because I was on a mission to chase George Washington. The chase had detoured to Long Branch because when I woke way too early in Marlboro, and had a few hours to spare before Monmouth Battlefield State Park opened at 8.
I am an early riser thanks to twelve years in Human Resources across three different manufacturing facilities. The employees on the shop floor appreciate seeing me early and I answer their questions early. Unfortunately my Saturdays and Sundays are also early mornings. It is excruciating tip toeing around the house at 5am trying not to wake my wife (and dog for that matter.) But on the road chasing presidents, yay, I can get up and type “Presidential sites in New Jersey” into Google and see where the road might lead.
It led to Long Branch, and “Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park.” Seven presidents? Yep. We will get to them in a later post, but for now, the park (and ocean) drew me the half hour drive over to Long Branch.
This was not a beach for swimming. The ocean current swirled the sand beneath my bare feet but it was marvelous. I tried to trace my memory to the last time my feet were in the Atlantic Ocean. Maybe 1998? My wife reminded me, upon my return when hearing the same question, that I dip my barefeet into the Atlantic every summer in Maine. But alas, this was sand, and I am trying to be dramatic. So it was 1998 since last my toes dipped into the edge of the East Coast and felt that rippling water and the current pull the sand out from under my feet. I felt a connection to the Eric of 1998. And beyond that man, to the seven presidents of the late nineteenth century, who escaped the Washington heat of summer to Long Branch, and perhaps this very stretch of beach where I now listened to the gulls, watched the fisherman cast, and felt the morning sun break across my face.
I walked the line between ocean froth and sand, picking up shells that perhaps a president had picked and discarded. “What will I do with a shell all day in my pocket?” Perhaps Hayes had said. I saw a little boy running towards me and he held up his hands to reveal tiny crabs. “These are for my Dad for bait!” I replied, “Oh how nice! Good luck!” Actually I was saying good luck to the crabs, as I followed along his footsteps looking for tiny crab myself. I gathered a handful, looked down the coast to the man throwing a line into the water, and chucked the crabs into the ocean surf.
Futile effort, I know. But perhaps I spared them another hour.
I stood in the sun, soaking up rays I know Arthur and Hayes, Garfield and McKinley, Harding and Wilson had all soaked up before. The morning before this I was at the newly constructed Eisenhower Memorial on the Mall in Washington DC. The morning before that I was at Harpers Ferry. These weekend trips, fast paced and at times chaotic, do not allow for sunbathing on beaches, seven presidents or not.
I left the crabs to their chances. As I brushed the sand off my feet, I wondered what else Long Branch might have in store for me. I had about twenty minutes left before the opening of Monmouth. And I like to be at places when they open to beat the throngs. I am sure this morning there would be a throng at Monmouth. Because doesn’t everyone chase presidents on beautiful New Jersey days?
To be continued…