Getting ready for a trip across the US to visit presidential grave sites

Here we are at the grave site of President Madison. He was a rather "short" president.

Here we are at the grave site of President Madison. He was a rather “short” president.

DENVER — I collect dead presidents. It’s exactly what you think it is: The tombs of every dead United States Chief Executive.

The first of the 38 POTUS graves I visited was on a Spring Break detour to see Richard Nixon’s final resting place on the grounds of his Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California.

When I first started this interest, I worried that this could be perceived as a bit morbid, but, like Nixon’s site, some of these graves would be on the property of a museum which is a legacy of life for these men.

Some of the graves would be in towns or even villages that no one would have any other reason to visit.  Enticing bait for a travel and history nerd.

I crossed off 22 graves from my list over the next 17 years.

My sister Erin wanted in on the continuing quest. She was a graduate student in Boston and a history nerd apprentice with an unnerving Thomas Jefferson obsession.

The first Magical History Tour was centered on Virginia.

Colonial  Williamsburg, Monticello, numerous battlefields from two wars and seven dead presidents made the Old Dominion the only logical destination.

We returned to a definitive consensus on the Civil War and the appropriate volume of karaoke, the discovery of colonial nachos and possibly the only place on the Eastern Seaboard I would consider leaving Colorado for.

Prequel, anyone?

Erin has since received her MBA and is ready to move back to Colorado. An epic road trip and  another Magical History Tour is in order.

Over Christmas dinner, my oldest son’s interest was piqued over a fierce debate of the character and charisma of our second and third presidents.

“Adams was a dour, argumentative load,” he said. “Jefferson was overrated and oversexed.”

My fourteen year old son Ben announced he was coming with us. His ten year old brother, Andy, announced he was having seconds on potatoes. I had no rebuttal for either of them.

I developed my preferred style of road tripping early on:

  • “Dad! That billboard says you can play ticktacktoe with a chicken!
  • That rest area has a twostory playground fort!
  • Can we stop at that truck stop?
  • The sign says ‘cinnamon rolls as big as your head’!
  • Oooo! Holiday Inn has a pool!”
  • “No son, we have a schedule to keep and reservations in 100 miles. If you’re hungry, mom packed sandwiches.”
  • “When I have my own car I’ll stop for everything cool and check in to the best hotel in whatever town I’m in and eat nothing but cinnamon rolls and NONE OF YOU ARE INVITED!!!”

After a few cross country moves of my own I learned the hard lesson of being days behind and exhausted from sleeping in car or the NoTell Motel and that maybe dad wasn’t entirely trying to ruin anything fun. Still, I think a middle ground is attainable.

Hotels of known reputation have already been booked but taking a 30 mile detour for John Dillinger’s dentist’s office is not out of the question.

Colorado is famed for microbrews so local beer will be sampled and assessed
inferior to the worst Colorado has to offer. Colorado is not famed for local cuisine so Boston clam chowder and Philly cheesesteaks and Cleveland pierogies will inspire us to return again.

Starting in Boston on Saturday, the 9th of August, we will try to make one last run at the Freedom Trail and see if climbing to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument will suck my will to live like it did 3 years and 30lbs ago.

Hartford, CT for lunch and off to Hyde Park, NY for the first president of the trip: FDR.

Following the Hudson Valley we’ll try to make time through the Garden State into Princeton where Cleveland lies blocks from the Ivy League campus.

We’re giving New York City a miss as it can only be a destination of its own.

Philadelphia and Valley Forge in the morning and on to Lancaster for James Buchanan.

Harrisburg for lunch, and perhaps our biggest challenge: Buying Yeungling beer on a Sunday in Pennsylvania.

Leaving fresh from Cleveland, OH on Monday morning we’ll see Garfield and McKinley and work our way to the Columbus area for Harding. Cincinnati has one Harrison and Indianapolis has the other.

Literally and figuratively, Springfield, IL is the Capital of the Land of Lincoln and will need some time for Abe’s house, tomb and presidential museum.

Tuesday the 12th will be our easiest day as we only need to make Dubuque, IA for the night.

Further into Iowa is Erin’s one destination request: the Field of Dreams in Dyersville. No historical context but it’s her car.

Hoover is where we’ll meet up with I80 and into Des Moines for dinner at Hessen Haus.

Our Teutonic DNA will not let us pass up 40 kinds of sausage and 80 taps of German Beer. Leaving family in Omaha on the morning of the 14th we’ll take a route home Erin and I know well from summers of returning to the  Ortmeier homeland of Eastern Nebraska.

Just some last minute details, suggestions and vetoes to take care of. How early are we leaving every morning? Who’s driving and how much? Do we really have to spend so much time in New Jersey.

Let’s go!