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.

Pre-Nazi Swastika Architectural Details

On March 30, 2014 · 4 Comments

I experienced the joy of traveling within the Twelve Mile Circle — the Delaware geo-oddity for which this site was named — while visiting with some dear friends last weekend. In Wilmington, at Rodney Square specifically, I glanced up and noticed the wonderful Egyptian Revival architectural details on the Wilmington Public Library. I’d been sensitized to the style because of my earlier Egyptian Revival Churches research, which provided evidence that I’ve actually learned a few things while publishing this rag. Now I could bore my companions with tales of trivial knowledge.



Architectural Detail on Wilmington (Delaware) Public Library
My Own Work

Then I noticed the swastika. I already understood that it was an ancient symbol existing for thousands of years before the Nazis co-opted and defiled it, converting it into a symbol of hate.(¹) As the US Holocaust Memorial Museum explained:

The swastika has an extensive history. It was used at least 5,000 years before Adolf Hitler designed the Nazi flag. The word swastika comes from the Sanskrit svastika, which means “good fortune” or “well-being”… In the beginning of the twentieth century the swastika was widely used in Europe… Despite its origins, the swastika has become so widely associated with Nazi Germany that contemporary uses frequently incite controversy.

I couldn’t have agreed more. The Wilmington swastika jumped like a bolt into my consciousness by its mere existence, even while I understood its historical usage intellectually, a reflection of severely negative connotations forever associated with its symmetry. Edward Lippincott Tilton, a master architect of public libraries in the United States, could not have foreseen the result of his decorative choice when he designed the building in 1922 and likely would have been appalled had he not passed away before the war.

The Wilmington Public Library included various architectural details based on classical ideals. None of them became the least bit controversial except for the swastika. Feel free to check some of them out by clicking the left-and-right arrows on the Flicker image above or from what you can spot on Street View. I’m a fan of the little owl sculptures on the second-floor window ledges.

I posted my discovery on the 12MC Google+ page(²). Reader "Benjamin" kindly posted a couple of links including a vintage photo with an advertisement for Swastika Sodas and a page on the Early Use of the Swastika in WA State. That led me to wonder about the prevalence of swastikas as a North American architectural detail during the early 20th Century, before such usage became unthinkable.

More examples survived than I could have possibly imagined, both in clockwise and counter-clockwise orientations. Below are just a few that I noticed either photographically or on Street View.


Skillman Branch Library, Detroit, Michigan, USA



Opposite Ends by Charles Dodds on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Notice the decorative fret running around the Skillman Branch Library perimeter which included both attached and standalone swastikas (it was also visible in Street View). The building was constructed in 1931/32 and originally called the Downtown Library until its extensive renovation and re-opening in 2003. The Skillman Branch may be known best as the location of the extensive National Automotive History Collection.


Lampposts, Glendale, California, USA



[Glendale Lamppost Swastika by Jeremy Sternberg on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

The City of Glendale, California erected a series of cast iron lampposts along some of its busier downtown commercial and residential streets in the 1920′s, notably on Broadway between Glendale Avenue and Brand Boulevard. More than 900 vintage lampposts included decorative swastika bands within their design. In response to a complaint, the City Attorney conducted an extensive evaluation in 1995 and concluded,

The contention was that these approximately 2 inch by 3 inch symbols encircling the base of these old lampposts, were Nazi swastikas, were offensive and should be removed… Not a scintilla of evidence exists to indicate that the counter clockwise swastika design at the base of the lampposts was intended as a political or other statement in support of any group or organization.

The City Attorney offered several alternatives including "take no action and preserve the lampposts as they are." An April 2011 Street View image seemed to confirm that selection.


Jefferson County Courthouse, Birmingham, Alabama, USA



Columns at Jefferson Co. Courthouse, Birmingham, Alabama, USA

Swastikas also appeared on columns outside of the main entrance to the Jefferson County courthouse in Birmingham, Alabama. This granite and limestone Art Deco building dated to 1929, as designed by the noted Chicago architectural firm Holabird & Root.

The building’s National Register of Historic Places application listed numerous exterior architectural details.

Bas-relief sculpture adds subtle and sometimes elegant decorative detailing to the facade. Particularly notable are the series of sculptures by Leo Friedlander symbolizing attributes associated with the seat of justice and cultural and political influences from the county’s past. Over the west entrance the panels depict the Indians, the Spanish, the French, early American settlement, the Confederacy, and the English. Other panels of the building symbolize vigilance, power, justice, and mercy. Columns topped with the American motif of New World corn flank the main entrance. Handsome Art Deco lanterns also mark the entrances.

Nowhere did it mention swastikas.


The Travellers Hotel, Ladysmith, British Columbia, Canada



The Travellers Hotel, Ladysmith, British Columbia, Canada

North America usage of this motif wasn’t limited to the United States, as evidenced by the façade of the Travellers Hotel, in Ladysmith, British Columbia, Canada, constructed in 1913:

The large and highly detailed Traveller’s Hotel building speaks to the prosperity and optimism that existed in pre-war Ladysmith… an excellent example of an Edwardian-era, commercial style building… The most striking features are the brick swastika symbols on the front facade. At the time of construction, the swastika was a relatively common symbol of prosperity and peace; during World War II, concerns were expressed about the symbol’s association with Nazism. The building was not altered in response to these concerns and the Traveller’s Hotel remains in substantially original condition.

Today the Travellers Hotel Cooperative hopes to "revitalize and reopen" this historic hotel.


Kimo Theater, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA



Kimo Theater, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Native Americans, including the Navajo and other tribal nations of the US Southwest that used swastika-like decorative designs. This was carried forward into the Kimo Theater in Albuquerque. I couldn’t find a decent public domain or creative commons photograph to embed, nor a decent Street View image, although one good photo existed on the City of Albuquerque’s Kimo Theater swastika page. The Kimo Theater, first opened in 1927 and now owned by the city, represented the "flamboyant, short-lived architectural style" known as Pueblo Deco.

Thus, the Kimo Theater (map) wasn’t a throwback to ancient Egypt, Greece or Rome. It represented Native American, particularly Navajo artistic elements, for whom the swastika represented "life, freedom and happiness."


(¹)For example, and as noted previously in 12MC to represent a Buddhist temple in Japan or the name of a town in Ontario, Canada.

(²) I try to post unique tidbits, breadcrumbs and non sequiturs on each of the various 12MC pages, whether here on the flagship site within those "completely unrelated" footers or on satellite locations such as G+ or Twitter. Readers won’t get the full 12MC experience on any one site; they all contribute to the whole. Often I use Twitter to announce new articles, mock spammers and conduct nonsensical public conversations that chase away readers which is why I can’t seem to get my subscriber base to grow. Imagine that. I often use G+ to mention weird 12MC visitors from oddball locations and such. Nobody uses G+ although I still like to keep it alive. There will never be a 12MC Facebook page, though. There’s no particular rhyme or reason for what I post where except in very general terms

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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