The Ex-Capital Birthday Weekend, Part 7 of 10: William Henry Harrison Slept Here

A two-story log cabin that used to be various businesses but is now an old-timey museum.

I’ve run across a few websites that think the building once known as Branham Tavern is still a working tavern to this day. Whoops!

I’ve never thought of President William Henry Harrison as one of this blog’s patron saints, but in prepping this entry, it dawned on me that we’ve name-checked him enough times in our travels to make our own clipfest. We’ve run across representations and mementos from his life in several attractions to date:

Admittedly we blew our chance to collect a complete set when we visited Vincennes in 2020 and failed to stop by Grouseland, his old mansion. As I recall it was closed at the time of our visit for renovation and/or pandemic. Maybe we’ll rectify that omission next time we’re in the area. In the meantime, our visit to Corydon added another of his previous residences to our veritable Ninth President Collectors’ Checklist, not that we consciously keep one.

(If I had any documents or artifacts to share, I could also add this one time in fourth grade when I dressed up like him for a school project, complete with sash and epaulets made from construction paper, and was forced to drink some horrid punch at a fake tea party in the school library with the very few other kids who’d followed directions and wore their own homemade Presidential costumes. No evidence remains from that incident unless any classmates come forward to testify. So far we’ve all kept our silence.)

An all-red lawn gnome on a wood porch lined with numerous potted plants.

A red lawn gnome welcomes us, along with flowers so far doing well this warm autumn morning.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

In addition to our annual road trips, my wife Anne and I have a twice-yearly tradition of spending our respective birthdays together traveling to some new place or attraction as a short-term road trip — partly as an excuse to spend time together on those most wondrous days, partly to explore areas we’ve never experienced before. We’re the Goldens. It’s who we are and what we do.

In October 2022 Anne turned 52. Indiana offers no shortage of tourist attractions for history aficionados like her. We’ve visited quite a few of those over the years, but this year we felt it was time to check off one of the Hoosier State’s biggest trivia answers: Corydon, our original state capital before Indianapolis…

A brick fireplace surrounded with a LOT of stuff of varying historical and geographical value, all hanging from or leaning against or piled next to it.

Welcome inside the house that Harrison built!

We were heading toward a completely different Corydon point-of-interest (specifically the Constitution Elm) when we unknowingly walked in front of the William Henry Harrison Log Cabin. A surprise woman in a big straw hat arose from her chair behind its fence and loudly greeted and startled us. Her dress, hat, volume and gregarious demeanor reminded me a lot of Minnie Pearl. Her greeting wasn’t a boisterous “Hooooow-DEEE!” but the vibe was on the same frequency. As the tour guide for the Cabin, she gave us a few minutes’ intro and welcomed us inside. The Cabin was on our possible to-do list, but we hadn’t planned on doing it now. It seemed mean to walk away, though. She radiated friendliness at a highly extroverted level and admission was free.

A big glass-doored cabinet filled with dozens of objects with William Henry Harrison's face on them.

Harrison may only have survived to be President for 31 days, but that was more than enough time to generate his own merchandise (possibly posthumously).

The aforementioned Harrison had the place built in 1800 to be his home and office during his stint as governor of the pre-statehood Indiana Territory. In 1805 he upgraded to the also-aforementioned Grouseland but held onto the cabin till 1808, when he sold it to one William Branham. In his hands it became the Branham Tavern, a name that still appears on tourist brochures to this day because it’s snappier and takes up less pamphlet space than “William Henry Harrison Log Cabin”. After his passing circa 1819, its ownership and purpose changed throughout the years, alternately serving as a Presbyterian parsonage, a mercantile, and a gift shop. At some point all that beautiful hardwood got covered with white clapboard siding, which was removed when it underwent major restoration in the mid-’80s. The Historical Society of Harrison County bought it in 2014 and now maintains it as a catchall museum for local Indiana history. It’s also one of nine buildings in Corydon built before 1825 that are still standing today.

A William Henry Harrison Pez Dispenser still in the original package.

William Henry Harrison: the Pez Dispenser!

If you’ve seen the Parks & Rec season-7 episode “William Henry Harrison”, in which the cast visits a fictional William Henry Harrison Museum with a few exhibits and plenty of empty space, the Cabin is much more cluttered. Not everything is Harrison-centric, but I’d wager most of its contents would have short winning paths in a Six Degrees of William Henry Harrison game.

A flyer from one of Harrison's Presidential campaigns, slamming his opponent Martin Van Buren.

Harrison took on Martin Van Buren twice for the Presidency. He lost in 1836 but won in 1840, like they were the Rocky and Creed of their era.

As more tourists came in, our docent began shifting her attentions to them to recap the intros they’d missed. She remained available for questions at any time, which was kind of her. We kept looking at our own pace.

The bell of a blue victrola, painted to look like a flower.

Antiques on hand included a blue victrola.

An old upright piano.

An old-timey upright piano. No jamming allowed.

A well-polished wooden cabinet, older than it looks, doors shut.

Inside this well-kept cabinet is etched the autograph of frontiersman Squire Boone (brother of Daniel).

A red, white and blue quilt with patches for every U.S. state.

Their quilt collection includes this one with patches for each of the fifty states.

Hanging near the ceiling is a sideways US flag, mostly in shadows with a lone weird light shining near its center. At left in the shadows is a creepy baby doll.

Looming overhead is a weirdly lit U.S. flag and a baby fraught with spooky foreshadowing.

A small Indiana Bicentennial trophy presented to Corydon, apparently, sitting on a mantel.

A souvenir trophy from Indiana’s Bicentennial, about which we posted quite a bit at the time.

Shelved items bearing photos of Frank O'Bannon.

A tribute space to Corydon hero and Indiana Governor Frank O’Bannon, who died in office in 2003. We mentioned him previously in this miniseries.

James Best objects: a poem he wrote, a painting he painted, and a fake Sheriff Rosco campaign poster.

A tribute space for James Best, who grew up in Corydon and is best known as Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane from The Dukes of Hazzard.

(Apropos of Anne’s deepest interests, he also appeared in the Twilight Zone episodes “The Grave”, “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank”, and the hour-long “Jess-Belle”. Best’s childhood home is still around and has a marker out front, but remains privately owned and isn’t available for tours or selling you T-shirts.)

toothpick models of various Corydon buildings all sharing a vitrine.

Toothpick models of Corydon’s more well-known structures, including the nine surviving pre-1825 houses.

A display case of items made from the wood of the same extremely old tree.

Household items made of wood taken from the town’s venerated Constitution Elm, whose remains have since petrified.

The self-guided tour didn’t take long. We exited through an open side door and continued on our way toward the Elm, leaving the museum to other tourists in town for Glasstoberfest. They’d surely find a heartier greeting nowhere else.

To be continued! Other chapters in this very special miniseries:

Part 1: Unrelated Pastry Prologue
Part 2: Welcome to Corydon
Part 3: Halloween and the Hallowed Tree
Part 4: A Capital Pack of Markers
Part 5: Hooked on Butt Drugs
Part 6: Cozy Corydon Cuisine
Part 8: The Battle Cabin in the Woods
Part 9: Indiana Caverns on $0.00 a Day
Part 10: An Epilogue of Film, Fowl, and Facades

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