An American Adventure Into the Strange Deaths and Surprising Afterlives of Our Nation's Leaders
324 pages. Introduction, acknowledgments, notes, illustration credits, index.
This delightful book examines what happens to American presidents after they die. Where and how are they buried, are they memorialized, were their wishes respected, and how are they remembered today? And sometimes a bit about their life and how they died.
The book starts, of course, with George Washington – whose wish for a private funeral, with no parades, was entirely ignored by his countrymen! However the book proceeds not chronologically as you might expect, but thematically: for example, "Well-Timed Exits" (chapter 2) or "Death Trips" (chapter 5).
John Kennedy gets an entire chapter, including coverage of the not-so-eternal flame, and how his widow pretty much invented the modern elaborate presidential funeral. (The story about President Kennedy comparing his administration to Camelot, after the musical? Probably an invention, as he didn't like musicals!)
You might think that legacies just happen, but as the author tells us, getting places and buildings named after dead presidents sometimes requires political effort – such as the movement to name something in every state after Ronald Reagan.
The author has a knack for finding the story in every dead president. For instance, James Buchanan was unremarkable as a president and died apparently without a friend in the world… but he had a niece who loved him, and made sure he has a presidential portrait (Congress refused to pay for it!) and a statue in Washington D.C. But which president did not get a statue until 50 years after his death, and why? Which president referred to another man as his 'wife'? Which president has his own sport? Read the book to learn more.
The book is an interesting mix of eclectic history and humor, and I highly recommend it.
Reviewed by Editor in Chief Bill .