A president in the family

During this presidential election, I am reminded of our family’s dearly held connection to another president, in another time. Our family has always been proud to be able to claim a connection (although distant) to Franklin Pierce. 

My mother and grandmother took our family history very seriously. Stories and White House artifacts we own were treated as valuable historical icons, which, maybe, they are. Scraps of fabric and lace, said to have come from Jane Pierce’s inaugural gown, a silver teapot (pictured in a White House photo), original documents and many stories now belong to my generation and our children. When I was a child, I was sadly disappointed to learn that this information wasn’t exactly valued on the school playground. Beyond a few extra credit points in U.S. History classes for providing the family tree and proving the claim, no one was impressed by the name of a president who no one had ever heard of, or, worse, one who had the reputation of “being one of the worst presidents in U.S. history.”     

Franklin Pierce, whose term ran from 1853 to 1857,  was the youngest man to serve as president up to that time, and still the only one to serve from New Hampshire. (Take a look at the 1852 electoral map for an overview of how that election played out; in fact, it’s fascinating to look at Continue reading “A president in the family”

His time has (finally) come?

Millard Fillmore!There’s something in the air this President’s Day. Call it Millard Fillmania. You’ve probably all seen the recent car commercial offering a soap-on-a-rope effigy of the forgotten statesman touted to be the first to take a bath in the White House. (This oft-repeated “fact” was actually a sly hoax perpetrated by H.L. Mencken, by the way).

Then there’s John Blumenthal’s oddball romance, Millard Filmore, Mon Amour, which tells of a deeply neurotic millionaire working on a massive biography of the man. In addition to being a close runner-up among eye-catching presidential titles to Lydia Millet’s George Bush: Dark Prince of Love, it surely has one of the most improbable subject headings in history: Fillmore, Millard, 1800-1874 — Influence — Fiction. But the real tipping point for the Millard Fillmore revival has to be George Pendle’s delightfully daft The Remarkable Millard Fillmore: The Unbelievable Life of a Forgotten President. Taking Mencken’s antic impulse and running with it, Pendle brings forth little-known aspects of our nation’s 13th president, such as his piratical origins, his minstrel show days, his curious disguise during the battle for the Alamo, and his invention of the T-Shirt, all culled from Fillmore’s recently rediscovered “napkin doodles.” Not since Forrest Gump has one man done so much for an ungrateful world.  And surely it isn’t just my being a librarian that has me in stitches over the index, with its helpful entries for “Clothes – eating of, 7-8. -refusal to wear, 14. Commas 1-243. Conclusions – jumped to, 34. – leapt to, 189.” etc.

A quick update for President’s Day: Fillmore Fever continues to sweep the nation. Check out this cool Waiting-for-Guffmanesque Millard Fillmore Musical, The Accidental President, on Youtube, including such numbers as No One Will Remember Me, How Lonesome This World Is, Out There, and my personal favorite, It Has to Have a Window Seat!

~posted by David W.