Presidential Distances

On July 8, 2014 · 2 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle talked about birthplaces and death locations of the Presidents of the United States. Now let’s finish this off with a comparison of distances between those two points. This involved a rather simple process of dropping the lat/long coordinates for each president into a great circle distance calculator and recording the results. Then I plotted the distances between birth and death onto a chart.


Distance between Birth and Death of US Presidents

Don’t get too hung up on the lack of presidential names. Readers can always cross reference the numbers to each administration on the shared spreadsheet if curious. Also, don’t be concerned that it’s not scaled to time, either. Administrations lasted from a single month (William Henry Harrison) to just north of twelve years (Franklin Roosevelt). The more important point was to confirm in graphical form that distances between birthplaces and death locations increased quite remarkably for latter administrations. This wasn’t entirely unexpected as it tracked nicely with growth and settlement patterns in the United States.


Shortest


LBJ's Birthplace
LBJ's Birthplace by Jim Bowen, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

Four presidents came to this earth and shuffled off this mortal coil at spots less than two miles (3.2 kilometres) apart. It didn’t surprise me to see this happen for some of the earliest presidents. Travel was more problematic and the landed gentry tended to stick close to their ancestral estates for multiple generations. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Martin Van Buren all passed away within extreme proximity to their birthplaces.

The shortest distance, less than a single mile, caught me off-guard completely. Lyndon Johnson? He didn’t serve until the middle of the 20th Century, and died in 1973. By no means did it seem logical for Johnson to be lumped into the same category as presidents born during the colonial era. And yet, not only was he there, he led the pack.

Johnson was an anomaly of course and a throwback to an earlier time. Paraphrasing from the Handbook of Texas, Lyndon Johnson’s grandfather, Samuel Ealy Johnson Sr., built a home near Stonewall, Texas in the 1880′s. Lyndon’s father, Samuel Ealy Johnson Jr., occupied the home in 1907 and Lyndon was born there in 1908. The adjacent ranch was purchased by a relative of the Johnson family. Lyndon purchased that 438 acre ranch in 1951.

Johnson united the properties. Then, as the National Park Service explained,

Lyndon Johnson took great pride in his heritage and his roots here in the Hill Country of Texas. In order to share that heritage with interested visitors, President Johnson hired architect J. Roy White of Austin, Texas in 1964 to reconstruct the birthplace home. President Johnson and Roy White relied on old photographs of the original birthplace house as well as family members’ memories to guide the project.

Thus, Johnson consciously and explicitly chose to move near his extended family and then later in life he focused on preserving his legacy.


Median


President William McKinely Birthplace
President William McKinley Birthplace by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

I used median rather than average because outliers threw the average way off. The median distance from birthplace to death location equated to about 130 miles (210 km), while the average came in closer to 430 miles (690 km). Three presidents scored very close to the median; Woodrow Wilson, Millard Fillmore, and William McKinley.


Longest



Ronald Reagan Estate, Bel Air, California

Then there were presidents who found themselves a long way from their birthplaces — more than 1,500 miles (2,400 km) — when they passed away, some unexpectedly and some at a ripe old age. John Kennedy and Warren Harding both died in office. Kennedy and Nixon died in hospitals. The vast majority of the 12MC audience would already be familiar with Kennedy’s story so I won’t dwell on it other than to mention that I visited the Grassy Knoll in 2008. Warren Harding died in the Presidential Suite of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, probably from a stroke or congestive heart failure. His wife’s refusal to allow an autopsy led to conspiracy theories the continued to persist even through the present.

I guess I have to use Ronald Reagan’s estate to illustrate this section since he was the only member of the 1,500 mile club who died at home.

The president who died farthest from his birthplace was Richard Nixon. He was born in Yorba Linda, California and died in New York City, a great circle distance of 2,436 miles.

Presidential Death Locations

On July 6, 2014 · 3 Comments

After examining birthplaces for the Presidents of the United States, I shifted gears and did the same for the places where they died. This proved to be a little more problematic because greater attention had been focused on their exact places of birth, undoubtedly because it’s a more cheerful subject. I began with the shared spreadsheet compiled in the prior article and added columns for all of the presidential death locations, including as many exact latitude/longitude coordinates as I could find and links to appropriate websites for more information.



View Presidential Birthplaces & Death Locations in a larger map

I then overlaid presidential death locations onto the earlier birthplaces map. Some sites might be worth visiting. They included palatial estates later converted to museums and often co-located with presidential libraries. Others, well, I’m not convinced I need to visit the hospital room where Richard Nixon died of a cerebral edema.


Died in Office



Garfield Memorial, Long Branch, New Jersey

I could imagine a subset of macabre presidential trivia aficionados focused on the eight Chief Executives who died in office. That would be a bit morbid for my tastes, and yet I’ve trudged over to Ford’s Theater and the Petersen House to see where Abraham Lincoln was shot and died. James Garfield, William McKinley and John Kennedy were also felled by assassins. The other four, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Warren Harding and Franklin Roosevelt died of natural causes.

Garfield barely served as President, elected just a few months before he was shot by a delusional office-seeker in the waiting room of a Washington, DC train station in 1881. He may have been killed as much by the inept medical attention he received after his injury as by the bullet itself.

Had Garfield been left where he lay, he might well have survived; the bullet failed to hit his spine or penetrate any vital organs. Instead, he was given over to the care of doctors, who basically tortured him to death over the next 11 weeks. Two of them repeatedly probed his wound with their unsterilized fingers and instruments before having him carted back to the White House on a hay-and-horsehair mattress.

Doctors eventually brought the suffering Garfield to a summer cottage on the New Jersey shore in a last-ditch hope that fresh air and cooler temperatures might revive him. Nothing remains of the original cottage and only a granite marker records the place where Garfield spent his final few days.


Clusters


DSCF1881
Woodrow Wilson’s House by JB, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

Presidents died in a more dispersed pattern than where they were born. Nonetheless two clusters demonstrated the opposite extreme and offered much tighter groupings than any of the birthplace clusters. Neither location surprised me, nor will they likely surprise the 12MC audience.

Many former presidents remained politically active as they grew older and retained their ties to Washington, DC. One might expect that some of them died there. I counted seven. Three died in office within the physical boundaries of District: Lincoln, W.H. Harrison and Taylor (the last two passed away in the White House). John Quincy Adams died in the Speaker’s Room of the US Capitol Building. Dwight Eisenhower died at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Woodrow Wilson and William Taft died at their post-administration mansions. Wilson’s home included 39,200 square feet of livable space. Taft’s home became the Syrian Embassy (until ordered closed in March 2014). Maybe I’ll undertake a Presidential Death Location tour for an upcoming 12MC Bicycle Ride.

If not politics, then financial power would seem to be attractive to people of this elevated stature. Four of the former presidents ended their days in Manhattan: James Monroe; Chester Arthur; Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon.


Counterintuitive


Ulysees S. Grant Cottage
Ulysees S. Grant Cottage by Selbe & Lily, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

I scratched my head in bewilderment at some of the places where presidents died. I never would have guessed that Garfield died at the Jersey Shore. Monroe in Manhattan seemed odd too. He’d spent the bulk of his retirement in Virginia and moved-in with his daughter Maria only after his wife passed away. Maria had married Samuel L. Gouverneur, a New York City attorney and politician.

The placement of Ulysses Grant’s death also seemed out of context, a cottage in the woods north of Saratoga Springs, New York. Grant spent the final six weeks of his life at the cottage rushing to complete his memoirs. He died of throat cancer three days after finishing his task. The book provided financial comfort for his family after his death and remains in print.


Sweet Retirement



Gerald Ford Home, Rancho Mirage, California

Some former presidents managed to escape office and retired to lifestyles with less pressure. Many of them resided on sprawling estates and lived well as they grew older and eventually passed away there: Thomas Jefferson at Monticello; Andrew Jackson at The Hermitage; Rutherford Hayes at Spiegel Grove; Theodore Roosevelt at Sagamore Hill; Lyndon Johnson at his Johnson Ranch. Even later presidents like Gerald Ford seemed to live in style, with Ford’s home situated conveniently along a golf course in Rancho Mirage, California.

There were other gems. I’ll leave the rest of the spreadsheet to the 12MC audience to explore.

Presidential Birthplaces

On July 3, 2014 · 4 Comments

I’m not sure why I began to think about the birthplaces of every President of the United States. Maybe this might interest people, I considered. I wasn’t fooling myself though — I did it for me. Theoretically I could pass through one of these areas someday in the future and I might want to stop if it were close enough to my intended track. So I created a map.



View Presidential Birthplaces in a larger map

I gathered all of the locations in a shared spreadsheet. Twelve Mile Circle readers should feel free to consult the spreadsheet for exact latitude/longitude coordinates and links to additional information about each site. This could be a handy little reference for anyone wishing to visit these birthplaces — and there are people who do that! I don’t know why I’m surprised. After all, it’s not that much different from my county counting.

Trends began to reveal themselves as I plotted each location. For instance, notice the concentration of sites in the eastern half of the United States, particularly the northeast. That would be expected to a degree because of population and settlement patterns. However I didn’t expect it to be quite that stark. Nixon and Obama(¹) stood far apart as obvious outliers, considerably removed from everyone else.


The Adams Family


John Adams' Birthplace
John Adams' Birthplace by James Walsh, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

The original father-son presidential duo, John Adams and John Quincy Adams should win an award for proximity. They were born in adjacent houses (map) in the north precinct of Braintree, now Quincy, Massachusetts. Both are open the public as part of the Adams National Historical Park. That would be an easy visit.

The National Park Service estimated the distance between birthplaces at 75 feet (23 metres).


Clusters



James Monroe Birthplace, Monroe Hall, Westmoreland Co., Virginia

I noticed a couple of particularly tight birthplace clusters, one in Virginia and one in Ohio. These two states dominated presidential politics during different eras, creating opportunities for statistical anomalies. The Virginia cluster occurred on the Northern Neck with the births of some of the earliest presidents and "founding fathers," George Washington, James Madison and James Monroe.

Ohio dominated the presidency in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with a string of Republican victories. As explained by the Columbus Dispatch,

Ohio’s dominance of the presidency around the time the 19th century became the 20th was no accident: Ohio was the third-largest state, behind New York and Pennsylvania, and it was the economic engine of America. Ohioans were the inventors and operators of the industrial age. With economic might came political power, including dominant influence in the political parties, especially the GOP, from whence seven of Ohio’s eight presidents came.

A particularly remarkable clustering centered near Cincinnati, with the birthplaces of Ulysses Grant, Benjamin Harrison and William Taft.


Close to the Border


Chester Alan Arthur State Historic Site - Vermont
Chester Alan Arthur State Historic Site – Vermont by Doug Kerr, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license

The Chester Arthur birthplace in Fairfield, Vermont fell remarkably close to Canada, about 20 miles (32 kilometres) from the border (map). His father immigrated from Ireland to Canada, settling in Dunham, Lower Canada, which is now part of Québec. His mother was an American born in Vermont. The couple wed in Canada and their first child was born in Canada. Arthur was born in the United States. The family moved regularly as Chester’s father taught at various schools and later served as a minister of the Free Will Baptist church.

Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution of the United States said,

No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President

Arthur’s political opponents conducted a smear campaign focused on the Constitution’s natural-born-citizen clause. His father’s immigration to Canada, his birth near the border, and his family’s frequent relocation were all used as "evidence" of non-citizenship in an attempt to disqualify Arthur from office.


Hospital Births



Bill Clinton Birthplace, Hope, Arkansas

Most presidential birthplaces earned landmark status. Many can be visited by the public. That might not be possible for future presidents. Increasingly, the more recent presidents traced their births to hospitals. Jimmy Carter came first, then Bill Clinton, then George W. Bush and most recently Barack Obama.

Bill Clinton provided a case in point in Hope Arkansas. The Julia Chester Hospital of his birth no longer existed. It was torn down. The Brazzel-Oakcrest Funeral Home occupies its former site. In commemoration the funeral home placed a flagpole and a marker to signify Clinton’s birthplace. Street View provided decent coverage although a view from inside of the funeral home actually offered a better image. In addition his childhood home became a museum. Likely, that’s what will happen in the future. The hospital might deserve a simple plaque while the president’s initial home will replace the typical "birthplace" museum of the past.


Odd Men Out

I won’t bother to discuss all of the presidential birth sites. Maybe I’ll provide more information if I ever visit them. I’ll wrap this up with two more examples.

Andrew Jackson’s birthplace remained an historical mystery. It was somewhere in the Waxhaws Region:

Andrew Jackson, Sr., died in late February, 1767. Betty traveled south to the Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church to bury her husband. On the return trip, she gave birth to Andrew Jackson, the future president of the United States. Although stories abound as to the events surrounding the birth, as of yet no definitive evidence has arisen to authenticate the exact location of Andrew Jackson’s birth on March 15, 1767.

He may have been born in North Carolina. He may have been born in South Carolina. Both have claimed him.

Finally, pity poor Warren Harding. Many historians considered Harding the worst or amongst the worst of all U.S. presidents. Nobody built a Warren Harding Birthplace museum. He barely earned a marker.


Foreshadowing Alert

Watch @TheReal12MC Twitter account over the next few days and you might be able to figure out the topic of several upcoming articles


(¹) I’ve listed Obama’s birthplace as Kapi’olani Maternity & Gynecological Hospital, Honolulu, Hawaii. I don’t put much credence in Birther conspiracies. I don’t think Donald Trump reads 12MC so we’re probably fine.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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