Hail To The Chiefs

Happy Presidents Day!

Whether you spell it with or without an apostrophe (President’s Day?  Presidents’ Day? — the jury is out), a few things are certain:

  • You’ll forget there’s no mail delivery and the banks are closed, and
  • You won’t honor our presidents.  Not even guys like John Tyler, who never gets any recognition at all despite having 15 kids and still finding time to annex Texas.

Westport is not exactly Presidentsville, U.S.A.  Unlike New Haven, no president was born here (though George W. Bush scrubbed that fact from his official biography).  We’re not even as attractive as Chappaqua as a presidential retirement community.

Still, we’ve had brushes with presidential glory, starting with the Father of our Country.

George Washington traveled through town several times.  At Marvin’s Tavern on the Post Road near King’s Highway South the president declined the feast prepared for him, asking only for bread and milk.  Yet in his diary he called it “not a good house.”  Perhaps his wooden teeth bothered him that day.

James Buchanan was our only gay president.  Did he ever get jiggy at the Cedar Brook Cafe — the oldest continually operating gay bar in the country?

Abraham Lincoln supposedly slept at Morris Ketchum’s Hockanum estate on Cross Highway, during a trip north to raise funds for the Civil War.  No word on whether his wife, Mary Todd, accompanied him, though as a noted shopaholic she would certainly have loved Main Street.

Andrew Johnson had no formal education.  His wife taught him reading, writing and arithmetic.  Some “06880” commenters accuse the Westport school system of a similar lack of preparation for real life.

Ulysses S. Grant was the first president to run against a woman:  Victoria Woodhull, the 1872 nominee of the Equal Rights Party.  Direct descendants of the former suffragette/spiritualist/stockbroker/free love advocate now live in Westport.

William Howard Taft weighed over 330 pounds.  If today’s kids keep being driven to school — and not even allowed to walk to the bus stop — they’ll look like “Big Bill” too.

Warren Harding — on every historian’s list of Worst Presidents Ever — has a high school in Bridgeport named for him.  (It’s in the FCIAC league with Staples.)  I’ve always wondered how that happened, and why Harding students don’t demand a change.

Franklin D. Roosevelt made a campaign stop in Westport in 1936.  He spoke on the Post Road, in front of the YMCA.  FDR and his wife Eleanor also visited Westport as guests of social reformer Lillian Wald, at her famous South Compo “House on the Pond.”  Wald’s guestbook includes the names of Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt, who according to historian Woody Klein “spent his boyhood summers in Westport” — an intriguing factoid I discovered 3 seconds ago.

Harry Truman started as a haberdasher.  So did Ed Mitchell and his family.  Truman grew up to be president.  The Mitchells were much more fortunate.

Among the many women John F. Kennedy boinked was Marilyn Monroe.  She was a summer resident of Westport.  While there is no evidence that any presidential hanky-panky happened here, there is also none that it didn’t.

Lyndon Johnson sent millions of Americans — and dozens of Westporters — to Vietnam.  On the other hand, local resident Adam Stolpen once worked for LBJ, and has some amazing stories about him.

Bill Clinton visited Westport several times as president, including a $10,000-a-plate fundraiser at the Inn at National Hall.  Also, since his presidency, no Staples senior has been allowed to do an internship at the White House.

55 responses to “Hail To The Chiefs

  1. Dick Lowenstein

    George W. Bush may have excised “New Haven” as his birthplace, but not before others defaced his name (at least twice) on offical road signs stating that George W. Bush was born in New Haven. (The signs were eventually removed.)

  2. Terry Brannigan

    If you were President Clinton, would you want a bunch of kids running around The White House who may have been present for your visit to their town that included a hotel stay? Don’t trouble over our lack of a president from Westport, he or she just hasn’t taken office yet!

    PS: do you capitalize the “t” in “The White House”? Mrs. Johnson?

  3. Dan, these blog posts get better and better every day. Funny!

  4. Dan, if you don’t run for President, please be our 1st Selectman?

  5. Westport Expat

    Dan (or anyone), Did Lillian Wald live on/around Round Pond? I grew up in that end of town but the only famous house I knew of was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s (a rental, at that!) Or is there another pond off of South Compo that I’m forgetting?

  6. Funny stuff Dan!

  7. Boinked?

  8. Ric–Yup, chances are, he got jiggy with her.

  9. The Dude Abides

    Funny stuff, Professor. But you may have forgotten the most profound presence of a President here when Gerald Ford hooked his tee shot off the 8th hole at Longshore in the summer of ’76 and hit a Pontiac Bonneville on Compo Road. Damages were settled out of court. Ford was pardoned as well. Not the Pontiac though.

  10. This was one of your best pieces, Dan.

  11. The Dude Abides

    Wasn’t Dutch Reagan a life guard at Burling Hill?? The summer
    of ’37 I do believe.

  12. Richard Lawrence Stein

    The Dudes Mention of President Ford playing golf on our fair links is the first i have ever heard this….. Dude are you hitting your hukka/bong or is this a overlooked account in Westport history…. Dan could you substantiate this claim?

    • I believe the Dude is pulling our leg about both Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. After all, in 1937 wouldn’t Reagan have been way too old to have been a lifeguard?!

  13. The Dude Abides

    Ronnie was 26 in 1937 and was heading to Los Angeles after a bad winter in Iowa. He found an agent in New York City who lived on Beachside Avenue. Gerry Ford was in town while celebrating the Tall Ships in the city for the bicentennial. I believe he stayed at the Fitzgerald house off the 4th green. He used a Wilson Staff 7 iron (Billy Casper model) for his wild tee shot. Also, you have forgotten Jimmy Carter who, on his graduating cruise from the Naval Academy in ’47, stopped by Cockenie Island on his way to Groton Sub-base and forever coined the phrase for sexually active Wreckers “going to the submarine races” at Compo Beach.

    • I like the way The Dude blends reality with his memories. I don’t know what to believe, but they’re good stories.

      Reminds me of a favorite movie ‘Big Fish’.

      • I still think the Dude is kidding. He should write fiction. But would I bet the farm on my conviction? No. Only a couple of cows.

      • Or “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.”

        • The Dude Abides

          Nice title. Thanks. Possible memoir. You really need to try cannabis, hmmm . . . it really releases the endophins and cynicism. It might even make you lovable.

        • Funny and a very good observation!

        • No, no, no it is the movie about Chuck Barris, the Dating Game and Gong Show guy, who may or may not have also been a CIA assassin. Watch it Dude- you may end up changing your handle. Sam Rockwell is great.

          • The Dude Abides

            Sorry, hmmm . . . my ADDHDPSTSHO set in. I have seen the
            movie and quite bizarre even for me especially since it is true. Like Sam though. “The Winning Season” and “Conviction” are first rate.

  14. Richard Lawrence Stein

    I am sorry to say Dude… But I have never heard of this in any form of anecdotal way… Dan who is one of the great knowers of Westport lore can’t even give you a nod. Put down the pipe and back away from the White Russian… The only Ford that were in Westport in 76 were either driven or models taking a break from the city and their fashion shoots

  15. The Dude Abides

    Such doubt-seekers. And while Bush ’43 repudiated his many dinners at the Clam Box in Westport on his way to grandpapa’s house in Greenwich to become a real Texan (although a Yalie unable to gain entrance to my University of Texas law class), his father, Bush ’41, used to come to town after baseball games in ’48 to race on Roseville Road along with other town teens. After a loss to Brown in the Ivy League semi-final, he drove his Triumph some 72 mph down the crooked/narrow road gaining the attention of Westport’s finest. A call from his father, the Senator, allowed his freedom and paved the way for his future at the CIA.

  16. James Buchanan was gay?! Do you have evidences to support this claim?

    • This, from http://www.american-presidents.org:

      “One of the best sources to read about the allegations of homosexuality is in the book Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong by James W. Loewen. In his book Lowen assets that Buchanan didn’t try very hard to hide his preference. He lived with William Rufus King, a Senator from Alabama, for many years. King had served as Pierce’s vice president in 1852. Many referred to them as “the Siamese twins,” a known reference to a homosexual couple. Lowen asserts that Andrew Jackson dubbed King “Miss Nancy,” and Aaron Brown, a prominent Democrat, writing to Mrs. James K. Polk, referred to him as Buchanan’s “better half,” “his wife,” and “Aunt Fancy…rigged out in her best clothes.”

      Lowen’s research further found a letter that King wrote to Buchanan in 1844 upon his move to France in which he said, “I am selfish enough to hope you will not be able to procure an associate who will cause you to feel no regret at our seperation.”

      A letter from Buchanan to a Mrs. Roosevelt dated May 13th stated:

      “I am now “solitary and alone,” having no companion in the house with me. I have gone a wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any one of them. I feel that it is not good for man to be alone; and should not be astonished to find myself married to some old maid who can nurse me when I am sick, provide good dinners for me when I am well, and not expect from me any very ardent or romantic affection.

      Also: http://www.sodahead.com/united-states/was-james-buchanan-our-first-gay-president/question-49802/

      • What do you got on Tom Cruise…not that it matters, just curious.

        • The Dude Abides

          You got a thing for Tommy, John? Our neighbor had dinner with Cruise and his then wife, Mimi Rogers, while he was shooting “Color of Money” with the Newmans. Said to be a perfect gentleman, well-spoken and a “regular boy scout.”

          • No, other than I like him as an actor, in certain roles, and I was only asking since Dan was outing Presidents and seems to have the inside track on such things.
            He did lose some points with me when he cast aside one of the most beautiful women – Nicole Kidman.
            But he was good in – Rain Man, Born on the Fourth of July and Magnolia.

          • The Dude Abides

            Yeah, I agree. Recent stuff with Mission-Impossible not so hot. Mimi was no slouch though. Check her out au natural in “Door in The Floor” with the orignal Dude, Jeff Bridges. Great movie.

      • Interesting. Do you know that Honest Abe also got jiggy with a lad named Joshua Speed?

  17. I’ve actually often thought that having a Harding High School in Bridgeport is pretty peculiar. I have to assume (I’m just winging this) that it must have been opened in the 1920s, just after he died, something like that, and it’s kind of a memorial gesture. But the name really should be changed … it has no relevance for kids there now. Or even in 1930.

  18. The Dude Abides

    Indeed, Harding High was named after the President with its opening in 1925. Their mascot is the “Presidents” which seems to have more relevance than “Wreckers??” But under your premise, should we drop Washington and Lincoln High Schools all over the country? I think not. I think it is good to have a relation to the past . . . sorta like Mr. Staples.

  19. The Dude Abides

    How does Papa Staples rank in those polls? While historians rank Warren as one of the worst prez, they also rank Dutch as one of the best. Go figure. Plus, I believe Harding had a fatal heart attack while having sex with his mistress. Now every teenager can relate to that.

    • Harding was alleged to have been poisoned by his wife, though that theory has largely been disproved in favor of a heart attack (his wife refused to allow an autopsy). It was former NY governor (and briefly vice president) Nelson Rockefeller who died in the saddle.

      • The Dude Abides

        The HBO special “Boardwalk Empire” portrays Harding as a big womanizer with several bastard kids. It is no wonder his wife poisoned him. I still like the school. I always go to the away football games there. It is reality check from the pristine artificial turf around these parts.

  20. Well, in that case, Nelson Rockefeller should have two high schools named after him, if you know what I mean.

  21. Larry Perlstein

    Dan, you didn’t do your homework. You left me off the list! I know someone who is directly related to Chester A. Arthur! Yes, Chester A. Arthur was the 21st president and likely the most forgotten. For those of you who want to catch up on presidential trivia: http://www.presidentsusa.net/arthur.html

    • I would call the aforementioned John Tyler the most forgotten president, but thanks for including Chester A. Arthur. I am sure the many Westport residents who attended Union College are pleased at your mention of their fellow alum.

  22. The Dude Abides

    I heard that Arthur visited Sherwood Island and fell in love with the Sound. He immediately enrolled in one of Jon Cantor’s sailing classes.