Someday, you might have your very own stone.
Everyone will know it’s yours because your name will be on it, along with a couple of dates. It’ll be yours for a long time, perhaps forever, but sadly, you’ll never see it in its finished form. You’ll just have to trust that it’s the right size for the job or, as in “Dead Presidents” by Brady Carlson, you could be memorialized with a stone the size of a South Dakota mountain.
Brady Carlson is a curious guy and when his curiosity is piqued, he tends to go all-out in a search for information. Years ago, in grade school, he became interested in U.S. presidents and he noticed that most books are written about “the lives of our leaders.” That led him to wonder about their deaths.
A few years ago, he finally acted on his inquisitiveness with a cross-country journey to the graves of the presidents and their monuments.
Beginning with the Father of Our Country, Carlson learned that Washington didn’t want a lot of foofaraw upon his death. He really didn’t want a city to be named after himself, either; one can only imagine how he’d feel about his monument which, by the way, wasn’t finished for nearly 90 years after George died.
Every schoolchild knows that John Q. Adams and Thomas Jefferson — friends, rivals, and signers of the Declaration of Independence — both died on July 4, 1826. That’s an eerie coincidence, but Carlson says it’s more common than we think. Presidents Ford and Truman both died the day after Christmas (in different years). James Madison almost died on Independence Day, 1836, but he declined medical help to do so, and died a few days prior.
Abraham Lincoln’s bones sat in a basement “for almost a decade.” Parts of James Garfield’s skeletal remains are in a museum, remnants of an attempted murder, a trial, and mishandled injury. One president was exhumed 140 years after he died, one lay in a temporary crypt for “two months longer than his entire presidency…” and, surprisingly, just one (so far) rests in peace in Washington.
In less than a year, a new person will sit in the Oval Office. What happened to 39 of his (or her) predecessors is the premise behind this peek at presidential passings.
You don’t have to look much past the title of “Dead Presidents” to know that you’re in for something enjoyably irreverent here, but Carlson isn’t disrespectful. His fascinating journey was genuine, as evidenced by places he sleuthed, people he met along the way, and the can’t-stop-reading information he found. We learn about gravesites and places where we only think a president rests in peace. We learn how he got there — sometimes a circuitous route. And we learn how our former leaders are remembered forever. Or not.
History buffs will relish this book. Trivia lovers will eat it up, and political fans should lobby for it. If politics as (un)usual has your ear this year, “Dead Presidents” is stone-cold fun.
“Dead Presidents,” by Brady Carlson, copyright 2016, W.W. Norton, is 324 pages and sells for $26.95.