Presidential Lives (and Deaths)

-posted by Carl K.

“Who is buried in Grant’s tomb?” was a question famously and frequently asked by Groucho Marx of contestants who would otherwise be leaving without a prize on You Bet Your Life, his witty 1950s game show. And it was a trick question.

The answer to this question and the path to so many other facts about the presidents can be found in three quirky and unusual books about the men who held that office.

TDead Presidents cover imageo begin at the endings, National Public Radio’s Brady Carlson has written Dead Presidents: An American Adventure Into the Strange Deaths and Surprising Afterlives of Our Nation’s Leaders. This is a surprisingly lighthearted look at the post-presidency lives, passings, and memorializations of our chief executives. Carlson’s observations on the scope and memory of some of the presidents are astute, thoughtful and usually amusing.

Incidentally, this page, Gravesites of U.S. Presidents, from, is handy to have while reading—it has pictures of all the grave sites, which makes it a great illustration to the book. Seeing proves Carlson’s points about the overbearing grandeur of Garfield and McKinley’s mausoleums, for example.

Secret Lives of US Presidents cover imageSecret Lives of the U.S. Presidents: What your Teachers Never Told You About the Men of the White House by Cormac O’Brien breathlessly introduces presidential scandals and rumors, told in an irreverent and entertaining style, with sidebars and interesting facts. These brief and breezy chapters give equal time to giants like Gen’l Washington and obscurities like Chet Arthur, and the Wizard of Old Kinderhook.


Imperfect Presidents cover imageImperfect Presidents: Tales of Presidential Misadventure and Triumph is author Jim Cullen’s look at the missteps and bad decisions of a dozen of our leaders, including Washington, FDR, and on into modern times. The writing here takes a more serious, but still not academic tone.

And by the way, about Grant—he and his wife are in an above ground mausoleum, so the trick answer is no one is buried in Grant’s tomb.

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