Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Benjamin Harrison: The Invisible President

You can break the presidents into two categories: Those people know and those they don't. Maybe there's a third, middle-ground category. I don't know. But if you were to send Jay Leno out onto the street to talk with people about presidents, they would name Washington, Lincoln, Kennedy, etc., then they would scratch their heads when confronted with John Tyler, Franklin Pierce, and Chester Arthur.

Benjamin Harrison falls into that second category of relative obscurity, and I can understand that. What I don't understand is why I have a hard time remembering him. I can name all the presidents--in order--including Harrison, so it's not like I don't know he existed. He's William Henry Harrison's grandson. He signed the Sherman Antitrust Act. He was the guy who was president between the two terms of Grover Cleveland.

I know these things. And yet Benjamin Harrison is invisible to me, and I can't figure out why.

See, each president triggers some kind of synapse in my brain. Maybe that's not the right term, but my brain registers a certain familiarity with each one, and each of them has some little nugget of information that pops to mind when I think about them, usually independent of anything else I know about them and independent of anything significant they actually accomplished during their presidencies. Some examples for the lesser-known presidents:

Calvin Coolidge: He was quiet.
Zachary Taylor: Ate a bunch of cherries and died. (We also share a birthday!)
James Garfield: He was assassinated.
James Buchanan: He's the gay one.
Millard Fillmore: His name is Millard Fillmore.
Martin Van Buren: He was on an episode of The Monkees.

So, I'll think of Zachary Taylor, I'll think "Cherries!" and the "Zachary Taylor" part of my brain will light up.

But I don't have a "nugget" for Benjamin Harrison, despite the fact that I listed several nuggets up above. Isn't it enough to be sandwiched between Grover Cleveland? Shouldn't that be his nugget? But it's not. He's nuggetless and I was born without the portion of the brain that processes Benjamin Harrison.

Know what else is curious? I'm hoping to take a few little trips with the family this summer, and of course my focus is on presidential sites and museums. So I've been thinking about Grant's home in St. Louis (about five hours away), the Truman museum in Independence, MO (about eight hours away), Eisenhower in Kansas (nine hours away), Taft in Cincinnati (five hours away), and Gerald Ford in Michigan (about four hours away). And yet my eyes and mind always skim over that other presidential site that's just four hours from here: Benjamin Harrison's.

If anyone has ideas for overcoming my Benjamin Harrison deficiency, leave a comment! I suspect no one is actually reading this, so leave a comment even if it has nothing to do with Benjamin Harrison. In fact, leave a comment especially if it has nothing to do with him.


  1. I thought this was about a different type of nugget. I was all ready for a eunuch president story.


  2. Anne, I agree that would have been a much better story. And chances are, he'd be far less forgettable because of it.

  3. I just want to put in a plug for the Truman Museum. It has a live Truman impersonator walking around and pressuring you to ask him questions as if he is Harry S. Truman. Not to be missed!

  4. Oh, good to know! I was there, like, 20 years ago and I found a typo in one of their displays so I submitted a complaint/correction LOL. I'll have to think up some good questions to ask "Harry."

  5. I can identify with this...I love all the Ohio Presidents, I live in Cincinnati, I've been to Garfield's tomb, McKinley's tomb, Grant's birthplace, Taft's birthplace, Harding's tomb, WH Harrison's tomb I've been to the location of Ben's birth in North Bend but that's only because of WH Harrisons tomb being next to it and it's just a sign. I've driven to Grouseland in Indiana to see WHH's house, not an Ohioan but I even drove to Louisville KY to see Zachary Taylors tomb. I've been to Indianapolis only 2 hours from home but I've never visited Ben's house or tomb even though I see all the prominent signs on the highway. Maybe someday! I guess his "nugget" for me is that he's the only grandson President of a President. That and the Cleveland sandwich.