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Shortest Presidency, Tall Memorial

Harrison's Tomb!

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover a while back:

It’s convention time yet again! This weekend my wife Anne and I have driven two hours southeast of Indianapolis to attend a show we’ve never done before, the seventh annual Cincinnati Comic Expo. With her birthday coming up in a few weeks, which usually means a one-day road trip somewhere, we agreed this would count as her early celebration.

As if the con itself — and the chance to meet more Star Wars actors in person — weren’t enough of a birthday present, you should’ve seen Anne’s eyes go wide with excitement when I dropped one more tourism bombshell on her:

“Hey, honey! Did you know William Henry Harrison’s burial site is right outside Cincinnati?”

It’s the quirky little things that keep our marriage exciting and atypical.

Longtime MCC readers and friends know my wife is a history buff who brakes for Presidential burial sites. As a common must-see on our annual road trips, prior to 2016 we’d seen twelve such tombs:

2003: John F. Kennedy, Jr., at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC **
2008: Thomas Jefferson at Monticello near Charlottesville, VA **
2011: Ulysses S. Grant in Manhattan
2012: Harry S Truman in Independence, KS; Dwight Eisenhower in Abilene, KS; and Benjamin Harrison here in Indianapolis ***
2013: John Adams and John Quincy Adams in Quincy, MA; and James Garfield in Cleveland, OH
2015: Zachary Taylor in Louisville, KY; Andrew Jackson and James K. Polk, respectively near and in Nashville, TN

[** To be remastered and reprinted here on MCC eventually.
*** Never got around to sharing online; someone remind me to rectify this someday.]

Quick primer: William Henry Harrison was governor of the original pre-statehood Indiana Territory from 1800 to 1812, became a sort of hero in the War of 1812, served Ohio in both the U.S. House and Senate, and later became the ninth President of the United States of America as the first Whig Party member to win the election. Then he caught pneumonia at his 1841 inauguration, died thirty-two days later, and became either a trivia answer or a laughingstock depending on the kindness of whoever you’re asking.

In addition to that one cameo on The Simpsons as a throwaway song lyric, fans of Parks & Rec may also recall the episode partly set in the William Henry Harrison Museum. Full disclosure: that was fictional. Sorry to crush any road-trip dream you had pinned on that one.

But he was a President. Therefore he gets an official burial site.

Boy Scouts sign!

…and in recent history the Boy Scouts later donated a MEMORIAL sign to make it even more official.

Harrison selected his burial plot before his passing in the tiny working-class town of North Bend, Ohio, a few miles off US 50 and near the banks of the Ohio River. As the lead photo shows, it’s up atop a small hill (nicknamed Mount Nebo), located on the original family estate (i.e., the farm where he lived for a while before running for President). In 1871 the family offered to relinquish possession to the State of Ohio in exchange for a pledge to take care of it forever. State governments being what they are, they more or less told the family they’d think about it and get back to them. Decades of negligence ensued. Because, y’know, just thirty-two days, right?

Harrison Woods steps!

Stone steps behind the hill lead into the forest and possibly into local hunters’ deathtraps for all we knew.

To be fair, the original construct was like a big, sod-topped barrel, not exactly meant to inspire future generations or meticulous groundskeepers. The neighbors chipped in for light upkeep and a squarer stone structure to supersede the barrel, but they could otherwise only do much. Moving at the speed of government, the State of Ohio finally remembered Harrison was an American President and accepted the family’s offer in 1919. They immediately approved the addition of those two pillars shown above and a balustrade at the top of the steps leading to the tomb. In 1924 they approved the addition of a sixty-foot obelisk making President Harrison’s tomb taller than several other Presidential burial sites.

Harrison obelisk!

It still doesn’t touch Grant’s Tomb, but it’s a valiant contender nonetheless.

In 1932 the State of Ohio handed the William Henry Harrison Tomb State Memorial over to the Ohio History Connection, a.k.a. Ohio’s own local nonprofit historical society. In 1970 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places ten years after launch. In 2007 additional improvements were funded and built, including a modest parking lot and a couple of educational kiosks.

Harrison jogging path!

This nice walking path heads off toward town, but we didn’t investigate because we’d just wrapped up a comic con and a stroll around several blocks of downtown Cincinnati, and had exceeded our monthly exercise quota.

There’s no admission or parking fees, no gift shop, no attendee in sight. It’s basically a small-town rest stop without facilities unless you count those woods.

But it is a Presidential burial site.

Harrison quote!

Inscribed on one pillar is probably one of the last paragraphs he ever recited.

Harrison plaque!

The exterior gate is swung open during daylight hours.

Harrison gate!

A short, undertall passage leads to a second metal gate through which none may pass.

Harrison wreaths!

Harrison shares the tomb with his wife Anne, their son Congressman John Scott Harrison (father of President Benjamin Harrison), and several other relatives, some interred unmarked. New ceremonial wreaths are placed inside from time to time.

Harrison's tomb!

Turn your attention past the bars and to your right, and there’s the late President and Mrs. Harrison. After her short stint as First Lady, Anna remained a mother of 10 and doting grandmother until her passing in 1864.

(And for those semantic sticklers whose hackles have been raised throughout the entry, yes, I’m aware of the verbal discrepancy and realize he’s not strictly “buried” per se. But “interred” is such a boring, featureless word bereft of any of the really interesting consonants. And nobody says “Presidential interment sites”. Consider this a vote for consistency over precision.)

To be concluded!

* * * * *

The preceding entry was Part Five of a six-part MCC miniseries covering our two-day visit to Cincinnati, September 24-25, 2016. Other chapters in the series are/will be linked below for reference. Thanks for reading!

Prologue: Another Convention, Another Series of Quests
Part 1: Cincinnati Comic Expo 2016 Photos #1: Cosplay!
Part 2: Cincinnati Comic Expo 2016 Photos, Part 2 of 2: Who We Met and What We Did
Part 3: The Dashing Designs of “Downton Abbey”
Part 4: Bow Down Before “The Genius of Water”
Part 6: Cincinnati 2016 Overnighter Photos [last call for Cincy pics]

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About Randall A. Golden
Hoosier since birth, geek since age 6, father at 22, Christian at 30; launched Midlife Crisis Crossover at 39. Full-time service rep; part-time internet contributor; former message board admin; inhabits Twitter as @RandallGolden. Views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of any other corporation, being, or party line.

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