Graveyard One: Presidential Tombs and Death Relics

May 3, 2016 — I’m hearing vague rumors that we’re in an election season, so I thought I’d do a presidential post. Actually, my thoughts are turning to presidents because a kind Poe-Land reader recently sent me a newly published book by a guy named Brady Carlson called Dead Presidents: An American Adventure into the Strange Deaths and Surprising Afterlives of Our Nation’s Leaders. The reader believed it would be up my alley since, like Poe-Land, it’s a macabre travelogue/afterlife-ography thing, which, you know, isn’t really a genre. Carlson also lives in New Hampshire and his publisher is WW Norton, who owns the imprint that has published my books. So, yeah, it’s not only up my alley, it shares a dumpster. Ok. I don’t really know what to do with that idiom.

But it’s a real good read, and it got me to thinking about the presidential graves that I’ve visited. I don’t normally seek them out, but in a life of constantly visiting graveyards, I’ve been to my share. Now, thanks to Carlson’s book, I kind of want to go to them all. Below is my head start, plus some relevant presidential death relics that I’ve also seen in my oddity treks.

James A. Garfield, Lakeview Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio: I’m reaching into the wayback machine for this one, but I’m still enamored by this major monument to a minor president who was assassinated and indirectly bequeathed his name to a cartoon cat.

James Buchanan, Woodward Hill Cemetery, Lancaster, Pennsylvania: We needed a place to stretch our legs during a long trip home seeing family. So why not stop in a graveyard. And why not the one with the remains of our only ever bachelor president.

Millard Fillmore, Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo, New York: Honestly, I was only at this grave because he shared a rotyard with the grave of the man who invented the electric chair, the fantastic Blocher Mausoleum, and the grave of Rick James. But running a country’s cool, too.

Ulysses S. Grant, New York, New York: Grant’s famous tomb ain’t in a cemetery, it’s in a Manhattan park, where he lies forever at state, right beside the 18th century grave of a five-year-old boy that was a part of the deal when the city bought the land from private hands.

Franklin Pierce, Old North Cemetery, Concord, New Hampshire: This is the guy who found Nathaniel Hawthorne’s dead body. Oh, and he was also a president, the only New Hampshire president.

Chester A. Arthur, Albany Rural Cemetery, Menands, New York: One of the few graves I actually did seek out because of its fantastic design that is elegant without being overindulgent. At least compared to sites like the tombs of Grant and Garfield. Although mostly, I was here because I wanted to see Charles Forte’s grave.

James Monroe, Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia: Ah, one of our illustrious Founding Father presidents, whose grave I only visited because I was looking for the tomb of the Richmond Vampire.

John Tyler, Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia: Same story as above, minus the Founding Father bit. Maybe the illustrious bit, too. It just so happens the presidents share adjoining plots thanks to a local politician who liked to collect the bodies of dead presidents. I learned that in Carlson’s book.

Jefferson Davis, Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia: Kind of a United States President, this guy. Well. Not so united, but certainly some states. Also, he happened to be in that same cemetery as Monroe, Tyler, and the Richmond Vampire.

I’ve never been to Abraham Lincoln’s Springfield, Illinois, tomb but I have seen the bloody flag that was ripped from the balustrade and pillowed under his head seconds after John Wilkes booth gave Lincoln an inaugural membership into the hyper-exclusive Assassinated U.S. Presidents Club.

And I’ve also been to Booth’s grave in Baltimore, Maryland. His is the little white loaf stone in the corner of the above photo.

Now, I haven’t been to William McKinley’s Ohio tomb. But, he’s another member of the Assassinated Presidents Club, and I’ve seen a few of his death relics during my jaunts for The New York Grimpendium. Like the spot where it happened, which is commemorated with a plaque. And the assassination weapon itself, which, along with other grisly relics of that event, from the assassin’s handcuffs to the surgical implements used on McKinley’s wound, are on display in Buffalo, New York, at the Buffalo History Museum Resource Center. I’ve also stood outside of the walls of the still-functioning Auburn Correctional Facility, where his assassin, Leon Czolgosz, was executed by electric chair. Auburn was the site of the first electric chair execution about a decade earlier.

I also visited a lot of electric chair sites for the book.

In conclusion, I don't know who will win the election this November, but I can guarantee that whoever it is will eventually get a really cool tomb.