Our presence in Iowa this year was an entirely intentional navigation for the sake of pursuing one of our recurring motifs. We could’ve trimmed a few hundred miles off this year’s drive if we’d bypassed it and taken the more direct route up I-90 through Wisconsin and Minnesota. However, one of the many unseen attractions on our to-do lists was in east-central Iowa — small enough that it was unlikely to be a primary destination in itself, and remote enough that the odds of it being “right on the way” to some future Point B were negligible. We’ve missed so many off-path stopovers in years past that we’re tired of missing out and have become a bit more amenable to long detours. Well, the fun kind of detours, anyway, as opposed to road construction detours.
(Prime example of one out-of-the-way challenge that’s stymied us: a complete Laura Ingalls Wilder historical tour would require days and days of backroads, virtually no interstates. Multiple tiny towns have historical homes or museums in her name because Pa Ingalls did a stellar of job of never living near a single Podunk anywhere that grew into a conveniently connected metropolis.)
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. We were each raised in a household that couldn’t afford annual out-of-state family vacations. We’re geeks more accustomed to vicarious life through the windows of pop culture than through in-person adventures. Eventually we tired of some of our self-imposed limitations and figured out how to leave the comforts of home for the chance to see creative, exciting, breathtaking, outlandish, and/or bewildering new sights in states beyond our own, from the horizons of nature to the limits of imagination, from history’s greatest hits to humanity’s deepest regrets and the sometimes quotidian, sometimes quirky stopovers in between.
We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.
Technically not even 2020 stopped us. We played by the new rules of the interim normal and wandered Indiana in multiple directions as safely as we could. This year the long-awaited vaccines arrived. For 2021 we agreed we had to go big. Our new primary objective was Yellowstone National Park, 1500 miles from Indy…
Longtime MCC readers may nor may not recall one of the recurring motifs in our past vacations was the final resting places of Presidents of the United States of America. In fact, one trip was dedicated specifically to the task of spotting nine such gentleman in a row. They’re not all winners, but they went down in American history as official Presidents, for better or worse, so they count. Prior to 2021 we’d visited the gravesites of 22 U.S. Presidents in all:
- #2 and #6: John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams in a church basement in Quincy, MA
- #3: Thomas Jefferson on the grounds of his very own Monticello in Virginia
- #7: Andrew Jackson at his plantation east of Nashville
- #8: Martin Van Buren in an ancient burial ground a mile from his Dutch home church in Kinderhook, NY
- #9: William Henry Harrison under a monument southwest of Cincinnati
- #11: James K. Polk on the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol
- #12: Zachary Taylor in his family cemetery in Louisville
- #13: Millard Fillmore at a cemetery full of celebs in Buffalo, NY
- #15: James Buchanan alone on a cemetery hill in Lancaster, PA
- #18: Ulysses S. Grant at trivia-famous Grant’s Tomb in Manhattan, a few blocks south of Harlem
- #19: Rutherford B. Hayes behind a large museum in Fremont, OH
- #20: James Garfield inside a massive tower in Cleveland
- #21: Chester Arthur at a corner plot in Albany, NY
- #22/#24: Grover Cleveland amid his fellow Princeton University presidents in Princeton, NJ
- #23: Indiana’s own Benjamin Harrison at Crown Hill Cemetery here in Indianapolis
- #25: William McKinley under a seven-story dome in Canton, OH
- #29: Warren Harding in a 28-foot-tall Greek temple in Marion, OH
- #32: Franklin Delano Roosevelt at fabled Hyde Park in New York
- #33: Harry S Truman on the grounds of his Presidential Library in Independence, MO
- #34: Dwight Eisenhower on the grounds of his Presidential Library in Abilene, KS
- #35: John F. Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC
Half an hour west of the Iowa 80 Truckstop we added a 23rd name to the roster with a stop at the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site. As I said: they’re not all winners.
To be fair, Hoover’s life had its ups. A former mining engineer who went on to become a four-time Nobel Peace nominee and a survivor of the Harding administration, Hoover did tremendous work aiding in post-World War relief efforts (both of them) and was instrumental in implementing the Former Presidents Act, which would ensure every American President would have a lifelong pension after leaving office and wouldn’t have to die broke like some extremely unlucky nineteenth-century Ex-Prezzes did, or as Harry Truman was in danger of doing at the time. Other post-1933 pastimes included a critical role in the formation of UNICEF and a 25-year stint as president of the Boys Club of America, which did not suddenly go broke when he walked in.
Unfortunately Hoover is best remembered for being the Commander-in-Chief who let the Great Depression happen on his watch and whose best idea for a solution was, “Can’t charities handle all the poor for us instead of the government?” So history has largely regarded him as the guy who made FDR possible and arguably necessary. Much like Jimmy Carter, his best and most appreciated works were performed before and after his term in office.
Hoover and his wife Lou Henry are buried in West Branch, IA, on the grounds of the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, where also stands the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. The latter is under federal control and was therefore still closed due to COVID when we arrived. Luckily for us the Hoovers’ graves weren’t inside, but rather on the grounds out back, where a nice park welcomed joggers and tiny animals. It’s not the first time we’ve found a Presidential resting place doubling as a free public gym.
With 23 dead Presidents now checked off, we returned to I-80 and tried not to panic when the rental car began behaving oddly on the way to our Day One endpoint in Cedar Rapids, an interesting city that wasn’t exactly at fault for some of the predicaments that would follow over the next fifteen hours.
To be continued!
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[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my faint signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]