Statues vs. Everything Else
The Lincoln Memorial is the most visited Presidential Monument in our nation. At the last count (before the pandemic) it was host to 10,000,000 visitors a year. I do not know how they count the visitors. Is there some invisible turn style we cross when we pass the columns and walk inside? Or if you can SEE the Monument, does that count as visiting? 10 Million people is an astronomical number. Even more so when you consider only 3,000,000 people make the walk to the Jefferson Memorial across the Tidal Basin. Although both monuments are stunning and inspiring, neither statue sits on a physical piece of ground where Jefferson or Lincoln walked. The area on which the Lincoln Memorial sits in 2023 was under the Potomac River in 1865.
Over the course of the last thirty-five years, I have had the honor and privilege of visiting over 300 (and counting!) presidential sites. But what exactly is a presidential site? If it merely means I am walking in the footsteps of a president, that counts for most of the United States. My wife asked if my list included Buehler’s in Wooster where George W. Bush’s campaign bus rolled by one summer afternoon in 2000. She managed to time her ‘break’ with the moment Bush drove past. Sadly for her, he was on the other side of the bus.
So does the road in front of Buehler’s in Wooster, Ohio constitute a presidential site? For my wife, I would say yes. She probably thinks of that moment every time she is nearby, thereby thinking about then-Governor Bush.
But in my count, it is not included. Now if he had blown a tire right there in downtown Wooster, forced to get out and press the flesh with folks that didn’t go through a metal detector- yes, we would include it. In fact, if that had happened there may have been a statue erected after September 11, and of course torn down sometime in 2007. Ol’ George W has had more ups and downs then Cedar Point’s Gemini.
Take another ‘for instance’- the new Harding Museum in Marion, Ohio. Did Warren walk its halls? No. Do I consider it a presidential site? Yes. Same with all the other Presidential Libraries, whether the President cut the ribbon or not.
Is a statue a presidential site? Ah. I don’t know if I want to answer that yet. The Lincoln Memorial was dedicated by former President Taft (who was Chief Justice and led the Memorial Commission) and presented by Taft to President Harding. Lincoln’s son, Robert was on the dais. Is this a Lincoln site? I like to think of Taft and Harding while I am there, too. And for that matter, Richard Nixon once visited the Memorial in the wee hours of a morning to talk to protestors.
Is the Lincoln Memorial a Presidential Site? I have to say: Yes. But there are other Lincoln statues and memorials that are not. (I.E. Louisville, Cincinnati, and London, England.)
Is the McKinley Memorial statue outside the statehouse in Columbus, Ohio a presidential site? Oh gosh. I might have to change my thought process. Statues might have to have their own category- and not considered presidential sites. Forgive my stream of consciousness writing…
I may end up making a declarative statement that Statues or Memorials to Presidents are not Presidential Sites in my counting except three- all in Washington D.C.- the Jefferson Memorial, The Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.
Now let’s dig further into this weird question that for some reason is fascinating me. Lancaster, Pennsylvania is home to two presidential ‘sites’ for James Buchanan: His gravesite and his home. The two sites are a few miles apart. (There is also a statue but see above). Do I count both as sites? Yes.
But take for instance James Madison- His home and gravesite are in the same location. Is this one presidential site, or two? For me, it is just one. I might be splitting hairs here, but if I am going to boast about something, there ought to be some rules.
Why are the rules on how I ‘count’ presidential sites important to me? Consider Mount Vernon, one of the grandest of all Presidential Sites. Inside the gates of Mount Vernon you have Washington’s Tomb, his home, his former Tomb, his Distillery, his Garden, his Slave Quarters, among other small items. If all these were spread about Alexandria, Virginia they might all be considered presidential sites. But they are all in one area and I consider Mount Vernon one single presidential site. Same for Jackson’s Hermitage, Madison’s Montpelier, Jefferson’s Monticello and so forth. The rules are important to me because I don’t want people to think I am inflating my 300 number by counting multiple sites for the same location.
The last thirty-five years have been fun. I didn’t set out ‘counting’ anything when I first stepped into the White House in 1989. But it has been a grand adventure and I look forward to turning 300 sites into 600.