Hail To The Chiefs!

No, not the ones from Kansas City.

I’m talking about our nation’s presidents. You know, the guys — and yeah, they’re all men — who we celebrate today 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 that 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 definitively 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.

And, of course, in 2012 Barack Obama flew in for a fundraiser at the Beachside Avenue home of not-yet-disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. I’m sure the former president would like a do-over on that one.

The presidential motorcade at Harvey Weinstein’s Beachsdie Avenue house, in 2012. (Photo/White House pool, courtesy of WestportNow)

Westport has had better luck with presidential candidates. Like Bill (and Hillary) Clinton, in recent years many made their way here — more for fund-raising than actual vote-seeking. Who knows?  Soon, Amy Klobuchar or Elizabeth Warren — or one of the guys — may come to town.

Though I’m guessing — for different reasons — we’ll see neither #45, nor Mike Bloomberg.

21 responses to “Hail To The Chiefs!

  1. A gem, Dan, a joyful start to the morning! I always appreciate a soupcon of cynicism, which I being that way myself, I consider insightful: “Westport — a national leader in areas like hedge funds, education and nannies…” Great!

    And that candidates come here more for fundraising than anything. Which leads me to disagree with your close: Elizabeth Warren won’t be here because she shuns big donor fundraiser parties that rise up here like daffodils (and onions on my lawn) in the spring.

    And Mike Bloomberg? Only to visit some rich friend and get some R&R from the grueling pace of the editing room.

  2. Joan Tricarico

    Good morning, Fun post for President’s Day! Also, Obama was in Westport in 2012 for a Fundraiser at a private home of a famous producer according to an 8/06/12 Washington Post article.

  3. Aaaargh! How could I have forgotten the Obama/Weinstein connection. I’ve added it in above. Thank you, Joan and Paul!

  4. Dorrie Barlow Thomas

    I learned about Millard Fillmore in 6th grade. I wanted to study him as he seemed to be such a forgotten president and that appealed to me…also, that name, how ridiculously fantastic! The aide in our classroom, Mrs. Hurlehey (no idea how that’s spelled, sorry) told me her family has a “Millard Fillmore Day” party every year to celebrate him & his birthday…WHAT???!!! I’ll never forget that odd tidbit 🙂

  5. Dan, this is great. A perfect pairing of fact and sarcasm. You are gracious for providing Millard Fillmore with social media coverage. His bandwidth will never be the same. And this blog may not launch one thousand ships, but along with our leaders, you have certainly catapulted mattress and car sales!

  6. Being slightly pedantic here: The Federal holiday today is Washington’s Birthday, not “President’s Day”.

  7. Yeah, you are being slightly pedantic. According to the Wikipedia entry for “Washington’s Birthday”:

    “Washington’s Birthday is a United States regional holiday celebrated on the third Monday of February in honor of George Washington, the first President of the United States, who was born on February 22, 1732. Since the Uniform Federal Holidays Act of 1971, its observance can occur from February 15 to 21, inclusive.

    “Colloquially, the day is also now widely known as Presidents’ Day and is often an occasion to honor the incumbent president and all who have served as president, not just George Washington.

    “The day is a state holiday in most states, with official names including Washington’s Birthday, Presidents’ Day, President’s Day, and Washington’s and Lincoln’s Birthday. Depending upon the specific law, the state holiday might officially celebrate Washington alone, Washington and Abraham Lincoln (whose birthday is February 12), or some other combination of U.S. presidents (such as Washington and the third president Thomas Jefferson, who was born in April).”

    So I was just being colloquial. This is a blog, not the Federal Register. Happy Presidents’ Day, Ernie!

    • Pedantic or maybe pedagogic, as one of two holidays with a richly and darkly political undercurrent. The representative in charge of shepherding the bill was from Illinois, and moving from February 22 to the third Monday was a not-so-naked effort to combine the holiday with Lincoln’s. One wonders how it was possible for him to say that the holiday would sometimes fall on Washington’s Birthday, sometimes not, but he did. And of course the third Monday would never be on Lincoln’s birthday or Washington’s birthday. But in 1968 (Wikipedia is here confusing the act with an urban myth about Nixon) there was still no way Virginia legislators were going to vote to honor Lincoln. The insistence was also to avoid any sitting president thinking the holiday honored him or herself, in those days Johnson. Also giving rise to the confusion about where the apostrophe goes, or if there is one.


      As a sidebar, the Wikipedia article has been edited 17 times so far today and no longer reads the same. One of those edits made it a “regional holiday” before being undone.

  8. Dan,
    You crack me up!

  9. When I was a kid, in 1960, Henry Cabot Lodge spoke here at the new Staples High School (and as I recall the motorcade didn’t get the memo the high school had moved and first went to the old school). Lodge was the running mate of–well, why ruin the story. He was the brother of Westporter and former Connecticut governor John Davis Lodge, so we almost had the brother of a vice president living here.

  10. I don’t recall having ever heard about Millard Fillmore staying here.

    So, Dan, is this yet another bit of rock history connected to Westport?🤨 The man who had two of the most famous venues in the world of rock (indirectly) named for him stayed here—and just a short walk from where Players Tavern existed, which itself hosted some legendary acts.

    • The indirect part is that the Fillmore is named for Fillmore St. in San Francisco, which the original Fillmore Auditorium was on. San Francisco has a lot of streets named for presidents including Van Buren, Buchanan, Pierce, Taylor, Grant, Hayes, and Bush, though the later must have been named by a clairvoyant who saw into then future.

  11. By the way, am I the only one, or does anyone else think that Alec Baldwin has another president (Fillmore) he looks like he would be just perfect to portray?

  12. My third post on this today. I ended up in San Antonio, TX one day in 2002 due to missed-train connections and took a tour of the Alamo. They asked the people in the tour contingent where we wereall from, and I couldn’t resist saying “I’m from Connecticut, just like our president” (George W. Bush). It’s ashamed the only president ever born in Connecticut tried so hard to disown that fact. And if things worked out differently in 2004, were could have had a 3-way race of presidential candidates all born in Connecticut: George W. Bush, Joseph Lieberman and Ralph Nader.

  13. Wasn’t John Kennedy here when he was running for president? Also, I find it difficult to believe that any candidate coming from the North East before Westport was Westport wasn’t here. Paul Revere was here. Westport was on the shipping lines that went from Boston To NYC every day. Passengers went on those ships along with the cargo.

    • JFK made a famous New England tour the weekend before the 1960 election. He spoke in Bridgeport that Sunday, then went to New York and back to Connecticut. He was several hours late to his final appearance, in Waterbury. A huge crowd waited until 3 a.m.

  14. Linda Grabill Parker

    I must tell you , Dan – that a very popular and successful gathering in St Paul each year is the “Millard Fillmore Dinner ” – attended by the MN movers and shakers in politics , business and philanthropy – as well as “we , the people”. It’s great fun and the purpose is to celebrate the Mississippi River – however , they’ve changed the name to “The Great River Dinner”,and it’s just not the same !