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:
- The Tippecanoe Battlefield Museum, which commemorates the 1811 conflict with the indigenous that’s regarded as his most memorable fight scene, for better or worse
- His final resting place at the base of an obelisk near a trailer park outside Cincinnati, OH
- His genuine autograph at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museums, also in Ohio
- Mingling with multiple Hoosier subjects in a mural at the Indiana Statehouse
- Rendered in bronze as one of 43 Presidential statues occupying street corners in Rapid City, SD
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.)
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.)
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