Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Separated at Birth, part 9

This one is only slightly presidential, but it's extremely current.

Pope Francis, who is currently in the U.S. meeting with President Obama, and Yogi Berra, who died today. It's like deja vu all over again.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Follow Presidentress on Twitter @MsPresidentress

I made a Twitter account for Presidentress a few weeks ago when I learned there's a guy who tweets as Richard Nixon, just like Nixon would if he were alive and tweeting, though probably with fewer expletives.

I didn't do much with the account until a few nights ago when I time-delay-tweeted about the most recent Republican debate. But being a relative Twitter neophyte, I forgot to hashtag. Oh well.

I did get a couple retweets anyway, like about my observation: Marco Rubio is like the guy who looks like he'd be the life of the party, then turns out to be a major buzzkill.

Anyway, if you don't want to miss out on gems like that for future debates, follow Presidentress @MsPresidentress. (Someone had already taken @Presidentress and numerous variations thereof.)

And if you're on Facebook, make sure to follow there as well. I post lots of fun Facebook-exclusive content, like Abraham Lincoln sitting on a Coke bottle. Good times.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

Sometimes I feel like I should rename this "The Taft and Harding Blog." Sorry (not sorry).

Anyway, today we celebrate the birth of one of my favorite presidents: William Howard Taft. I've written about him a few times before (and will again---wait until Thanksgiving!), but on this special day, I'd like to share with you what I guarantee is the catchiest song you'll ever hear about Taft. In fact, I'll guarantee it's one of the catchiest song you'll hear all year.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Harding's Mistress was Ahead of Her Time

It has been a few weeks since we learned that Warren G. Harding really did father a child with his alleged-and-now-confirmed mistress, Nan Britton.

Some people think I exaggerated my excitement over that news, but seriously, for days I felt like I was floating on rainbows with little cartoon bluebirds chirping merrily around my head. I imagined that must be how people felt when we walked on the moon. I was actually a bit worried about myself.

I also took advantage of some easy jokes, making and posting these pictures to the Presidentress Facebook page:

I mean, it's easy to joke, right? At the same time, there's a lot about this situation that's very un-funny, and if you'll excuse my posting of those two photos above, I'd like to get serious for a moment.

I've been thinking a lot about Nan Britton and what she must have gone through. So many people didn't believe her, and those who did thought poorly of her. She was a liar at best and a trollop at worst (or is that reversed?). Until the day she died, she knew that people---especially the people who mattered most (i.e., Harding's family, and possibly her own daughter)---thought she had fabricated the whole thing.

Not only that, she had to go through hell just to have and raise her child. Britton dedicated her book to single mothers and their children, and said that she hoped her story would bring them justice. Back in 1919, unwed mothers were not supposed to keep their children, nor was it even possible in most cases.

Nan Britton didn't have the support of society or the government; she just had the stigma, which she tried to avoid by pretending to be married, or by pretending the child was someone else's, or by marrying someone out of desperation to reclaim the child she was forced to give to her sister to raise. Most other women in similar situations were forced to walk away from their children permanently. Britton refused to do that.

As was so often the case then (and to a large degree still is now), Britton took all the burden while the father (in this case Warren G. Harding) got off scot-free. Yeah, his reputation might have suffered a bit, but only after he was dead. Britton had to deal with it for her whole life.

It's easy to paint Nan Britton as...well...easy. But she was more than that. She was a "New Woman," part of the wave of feminism that began in the late 1800s and continued into the 1920s. She was an independent woman during a time when it was only just becoming acceptable for women to be independent. She set off on her own several times, going to new cities, finding work, securing housing, supporting herself, and even embracing her own sexuality (gasp!). I'm not sure if Britton considered herself a feminist or was fully aware of the ground she was helping to break, but she certainly flouted social norms, and I don't see that as a bad thing.

I'll admit I initially felt disdain for Britton, back when I thought she had made up the story for fame or fortune. Yet how often is that still the general reaction when a woman steps forward with claims of sexual contact with a famous, powerful man? How quick are we to dismiss accusations of a beloved comedian or skilled quarterback raping someone? (To be clear, Britton didn't accuse Harding of any wrongdoing, but there are certainly similarities between the way she was treated and the way victims are today.) Yes, there will always be people who make up false accusations, but not nearly as many as the women who are afraid to come forward for fear of being ridiculed, scrutinized, and dismissed, as Britton was.

My opinion as an outsider, especially one nearly 100 years removed from the situation, doesn't matter much, but I do feel bad that I dismissed Britton's claims...though I also admit I held out a strange hope. For some reason I wanted the story to be true, which I suppose explains my excitement over the news that it was.

And of course, we can't forget about Elizabeth Ann, Britton and Harding's daughter. According to some accounts I've read, Britton's descendants always believed the Britton's claims. According to other accounts, they doubted it. My guide at the Harding Presidential Site said that Elizabeth Ann thought her mother fabricated the story, which led to an estrangement between them. Poor Nan had a daughter who thought she was a liar; poor Elizabeth Ann lived her life never knowing with certainty who her own father was. Far from claiming her rightful place as the child of a president, she and her mother were reduced to being viewed as oddities, punchlines, or cautionary tales.

I'm glad the truth is finally out; I just wish for Nan and Elizabeth Ann's sake it could have come a decade or two earlier.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

McKinley Still has a Mountain

Eight people sent me links about the Alaskan mountain's name change from Mount McKinley to Denali. I considered writing about it but try as I might, I just couldn't get interested in it. Sorry.

When I explained this to my friend Anne, she suggested I write about William McKinley's favorite pie or something, just to distract people. I don't know his favorite pie (note to self: find out) but I did recently take a trip to visit his tomb, and I've been meaning to write about that. What better time than now?

I visited McKinley's monument when I was in Ohio a few weeks ago. It was actually the second time I'd been, the first being last year when I was there with my husband and kids. My children, probably tired from traveling and climbing the 12,000 (or 108, but who's counting?) steps to the top, fought and yelled at each other when we got to the mausoleum part. I wanted to avoid being disrespectful to the dead, so I hurried them out and didn't have a chance to really absorb any of it. This time, though, I was alone and could take as much time as I wanted.

The McKinley Monument is located in a park in Canton, Ohio, just a few steps from a science/history museum with a room dedicated to McKinley. Even though I had gone to the museum with my kids the year before, I decided to go again for two reasons: 1) My Museum of Science and Industry membership got me in for free, and 2) I needed to take pictures of Ida McKinley's slippers. (That's another post for another day.)

I had planned on visiting the museum first, but since I arrived before it opened, and since the nearest Starbucks was 14 minutes away and required that I get back on the interstate, I decided to take advantage of my free time by taking in McKinley's tomb/monument/memorial.

If you've never been there, you need to understand that this thing is huge. The tons of stairs make it a popular spot among fitness buffs who run up and down for their exercise. Being less of a fitness freak, I panted my way up and stopped a couple times to take photos. When I got to the top I tried to block out the guy doing tai chi so I could read some of the information posted about McKinley and the monument.

One of the signs made me snort and inspired me to send this text to my friend Kirstin:
You know, the info at this memorial says that it's dedicated to a man "of simple and dignified life" and that the "funds were not to warrant a lavish display, even if that had been appropriate, which it was not." And yet this is the most effing elaborate presidential monument I've seen. 
Seriously, I get that this was built toward the end of the gilded age, when opulence was a given. I get that he was a president, and an assassinated one, no less. He became a martyr, and maybe people felt a need to honor him in a material way. But if this isn't a "lavish display," I don't know what is. And the current landscape isn't even as elaborate as the original: There used to be a waterfall and small river in the shape of a sword leading outward into the park from the base of the monument. Now it's just grass.

Given McKinley's legacy of the Spanish-American War---a war whose main goals were to obtain land and establish American superiority---I can't help but think of this building as not only as a monument to McKinley, but to American imperialism in general. It's big. It's foreboding. It's white. It's...apt. I meant for this to be a lighthearted distraction from the McKinley/Denali debate, but I guess it didn't quite end up that way.

Will my selfie with an animatronic President McKinley and First Lady lighten the mood?

And here, I just found this on the Mrs. Field's blog: "William McKinley was a very simple eater. No favorite desserts seem to be found." Bummer. 

Stuff I Love: Veeptopus

In my first installment of "Stuff I Love," I introduced you to Hottest Heads of State and Senator Dracula. That probably led you to wonder, "Jennie, what other intelligent yet humorous things do you love?"

I'm so glad you asked, because I tell people about this next one every chance I get (which admittedly isn't often).

I stumbled upon the Veeptopus store on Etsy one day, and until then I hadn't realized how badly I needed this artwork in my life: portraits of every vice president...with an octopus on (or in) his head. Let me repeat that: Every vice president with an octopus on his head.

The hardest part is deciding which one to get.

I wanted them all but instead of making a hasty decision, I sat on it for a few days. Then I wondered if I could commission Jonathan Crow, the artist behind Veeptopus, to make me some president/strange animal mash-up. He said he would, so I asked my kids for suggestions. I thought William Howard Taft riding an anteater would be fun. My oldest son wanted something about Teddy Roosevelt and a seahorse. My daughter suggested Abraham Lincoln with a flamingo's head poking out of his stovepipe hat.

I submitted all three ideas to Crow, and he said the Taft/anteater combo sounded the most appealing, so I told him to go for it.

A day or two later, he emailed me a draft of Taft on a badger and asked if that was okay. I had my heart set on an anteater, though, so I asked him to redo it. (Turns out we were both wrong and it should have been an opossum.) So he created a painting of Taft riding an anteater, and it now hangs proudly on the wall in our sitting room. ("Sitting room" sounds nicer and more historic than "this extra room without a clear purpose that came with the house")

I guess Crow liked Taft, because he went on to create a whole series of Taft/badger scenarios.

He also painted this picture of Taft and anteaters flipping someone off, and I can't help but wonder if he painted that after I told him to change the badger to an anteater. I'm gonna go ahead and take credit for this one.

Crow has also expanded his repertoire to include cyborg Supreme Court justices...

...and presidential candidates.

If you're looking for a unique gift for the marine biologist in your life or your favorite presidential blogger, a Veeptopus print would be perfect. Veeptopus also sells note cards, which would be great for impressing or terrifying your child's teacher.

I should state that these opinions are mine and I was not in any way compensated for this post. I send Veeptopus money, not the other way around. (Although if he ever pursues the Lincoln/flamingo thing, I'm demanding a copy for generating the idea.) I just wanted everyone to know the glory of cephalopods perched upon famous politicians. You're welcome.