Hail To The Chiefs

America celebrated Presidents Day yesterday in the usual manner:  with special sales, no mail delivery, and absolutely no thought given to Zachary Taylor, Benjamin Harrison or Gerald Ford, let alone actual presidents like Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and (the big one) William Howard Taft.

Westport — a national leader in areas like hedge funds, education and nannies — would seem to be a natural for presidents too.

We’re not.

Besides passing through on the railroad or highway, our town has few connections with our commanders-in-chief.

George Washington, of course, slept here — he slept everywhere.  In 1780 he is said to have discussed war strategy with the Marquis de Lafayette and Comte de  Rochambeau at the Disbrow Tavern (where Christ & Holy Trinity Church is today).  He returned twice in 1789 as president, coming and going on an inspection tour of the Northeast.  He spent 1 night at the Marvin Tavern — located on the Post Road, opposite King’s Highway South — but did not have a bang-up time.  In his diary, he called it “not a good house.”

This may be the only time Millard Fillmore appears in my blog. Or any blog.

Millard Fillmore was a guest at Richard Winslow’s “Compo House” mansion on the North Compo/Post Road corner (it later became a sanitarium, then was torn down before tear-downs became fashionable).  But he was here 6 years after he left office.

Abraham Lincoln supposedly stayed at Hockanum, Morris Ketchum’s Cross Highway estate near Roseville Road, during his presidency.  Woody Klein‘s history of Westport says only that Salmon P. Chase — Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury — was a frequent guest.  Hockanum still stands; there is a “Lincoln bedroom” upstairs, and the deed states that no changes can be made to that room.

Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke on the steps of the YMCA’s Bedford Building during his re-election campaign of 1936.  He was the 1st sitting president to visit since George Washington.  In addition, FDR’s grandson David lived here for several years in the 1990s.  And FDR’s wife, Eleanor, often visited Lillian Wald’s South Compo “Pond House.”  I know, I’m stretching here…

Hey hey, LBJ...

Lyndon Johnson was friendly with Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas — so friendly that that helped scuttle Fortas’ nomination to be Chief Justice in 1968.  Fortas had a summer home on Minuteman Hill, and some beach residents say that Johnson was an occasional guest.

Bill Clinton trolled here for money, before and during his presidency.  As president he attended fundraisers at the Inn at National Hall, and a private home on Saugatuck Avenue.  Both were low-key affairs, if you don’t count the 25-car motorcades, sharpshooters on top of buildings and helicopters whirling overhead.

Westport has had better luck with presidential candidates.  Like Bill (and Hillary) Clinton, in recent years many have made their way here — more for fund-raising than actual vote-seeking.  Who knows?  Soon, Sarah Palin may come to town.

I’d prefer Millard Fillmore.

8 responses to “Hail To The Chiefs

  1. Wendy Crowther

    Hey Dan,
    If Hollywood ever wanted to portray the life of Millard Fillmore, they should cast Alec Baldwin in the part. Can you see the resemblance??

  2. Bill Clinton’s first visit to Westport was in December 1991, even before the New Hampshire primary, when we hosted a fundraiser for him at our house. I remember thinking that this must have been what it felt like to meet John Kennedy when he was first campaigning — a compelling presence in our living room…No motorcades, no security — and he always mentioned that early support when he came back to Westport, as did Hillary.

    • The number of politicians — presidents-to-be, almost-presidents, president-wannabes and president-never-will-bes — who have enjoyed the wonderful Sheffer/Scheffler homes (and hospitality) could fill a book. I can’t wait until you write one!

  3. Grumpy Old Man

    Richard Nixon visited Westport in 1959 with Henry Cabot Lodge as they ran for the White House. They had lunch at the Clam Box and
    Lodge spilled clam chowder all over his wife’s dress as he stood to give an introduction to Nixon. My mother, who was present, insisted that Lodge should have been the presidential
    nominee despite his act of slobbery.

  4. Once when Bill Clinton was at National Hall, the secret service put frogmen in the river but I guess they didn’t realize it was tidal or they didn’t consult a Tide Chart and the frogmen ended up standing in ankle deep water

  5. addison_fletcher

    Pursuant to an earlier comment and in tune with the infamous offtake of Lloyd Bensten’s statement to Dan Quale: Bill Clinton was no Jack Kennedy. Clinton completely wasted his second term because he couldn’t keep it zipped. His legacy of improved education in this country was completely wasted. Then he derailed his own wife’s campaign because of his ego. No Jack, no Bobby and not even Ted. Not even close.