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.