Every single birthplace of all 43 US presidents as well as the president of the CSA! Andy and I are excited to move to phase two of the project: editing, writing, and eventually publishing! We will show a large preliminary edit of the work at the 2see Gallery in Maysville, KY this summer (date TBA soon!) along with the introduction to the book by Andy.
George W. Bush was born on July 6, 1946 in Newhaven, CT while his father was attending college at Yale. It is a large house on campus that was divided up into many apartments when George H.W. Bush was attending school. Yale has since bought the home and converted it into university offices. I have visited and photographed the house, but the current structure bears little resemblance to its 1946 state. By the time he was two, the Bush family had moved to Texas where his father entered the oil business. The family lived in this home in Midland from 1951-1955, formative years for young George W.
The house in Midland is unique in that two presidents and two governors lived within its walls. George H.W. Bush moved to Midland at 26 to seek his fortune in the oil business. By the time he was 40, he was a millionaire. While living at the house, the family welcomed two more boys and tragically lost a daughter to leukemia at age 3. The time spent at the house and in the little community of Midland would have a deep impact on George W:
"Our deepest values in life often come from our earliest years. It is here in Midland and in West Texas where I learned to respect people from different backgrounds, to respect people from all walks of life. It is here where I learned what it means to be a good neighbor at backyard barbecues or just chatting across the fence. It is here in West Texas where I learned to trust in God."
It was a neighborhood full of family friends, other kids to ride bikes with, and their Episcopal Church right across the street. The backyard was a hub of activity with big brother George taking the lead! It was also here that George was first hooked on baseball, what would become a lifelong passion.
It was a quick trip to Midland on the tail end of visiting the Clinton, Eisenhower, and Truman sites. I flew in at about 8:30am and was back at the airport by 1pm! It was a crisp sunny day which revealed the house's clean, modern lines perfectly. The docents that gave me a tour were very nice and very patient, allowing me to photograph at my own pace.
Cell phone photos follow:
In 1882, John and Martha Truman purchased a small home in the rural farming community of Lamar, Missouri for $685. The 1.5 story home measured just 20 by 28 feet, but had everything the growing family needed. On May 8, 1884, Harry was born in the downstairs bedroom of the home. Later in life, he would choose the middle initial 'S' as a tribute to both grandfathers, Anderson Schipp Truman and Solomon Young.
The Trumans would only live in the little house in Lamar for 11 months after his birth, moving to several small farming communities in the area until finally settling in Independence in 1890. Harry graduated from high school in Independence in 1901 and immediately entered the work force in order to give his brother and sister the chance to complete their education.
After brief stints working for the railroad and two different banks, Harry returned to the family farm. In 1917, he joined the army to fight in WWI. It was during his deployment to France that he discovered his leadership abilities. Upon his return to Missouri, he married his childhood sweetheart, Elizabeth Wallace, and tried his hand once again in the business world, opening a men's clothing store in Kansas City. Despite initial success, the business eventually failed and Harry spent the next decade paying off all of his debts.
A Chance encounter with a local politician introduced Truman to politics. Starting as the eastern Judge of the Jackson County Court, he rose steadily to eventually occupy the White House for two terms. Truman was chosen as FDR's final Vice Presidential running mate. After just two months into his fourth term, Roosevelt died, catapulting Truman into the White House. Interestingly, Truman had no Vice President during his first term. Before the adoption of the 25th amendment in 1967, a vacancy in the office of Vice President was not filled!
The clouds finally broke for our visit to this site--my last birthright to photograph for the project! I focused particularly on the stark whiteness of the house contrasted with the heavy shadows from the surrounding trees. As with many such homes, I also attempted to reveal just how small and humble the structure appears in person, and despite it being situated in a neighborhood with lots of other homes, I want the pictures to give the feeling of wide open space as it originally sat on the edge of the frontier. I took lots of wide shots from every angle, including several shooting up at the open sky. The interior was quite nice as well with light pouring in through the lace curtains.
Cell phone pictures follow:
In the summer of 1946 an automobile accident in Hope, Arkansas took the life of traveling salesman William Blythe. Three months later on August 19, Virginia Blythe would give birth to their son, William Jefferson Blythe III. Virginia lived in this house with her parents and young Billy for four years until she married Roger Clinton in 1950. Before remarrying, Virginia trained and worked as an anesthetist to support her family. Billy's grandfather ran a small general store in town where he would spend many hours helping behind the counter. Both grandparents supported desegregation and credit was extended to customers regardless of skin color.
"My grandfather just had a grade-school education. But in that country store he taught me more about equality in the eyes of the Lord than all my professors at Georgetown, more about the intrinsic worth of every individual than all the philosophers at Oxford; and he taught me more about the need for equal justice than the jurists at Yale Law School."
In high school with a younger brother about to enter school, Bill Blythe decided to legally change his name to Clinton so that everyone in the family would officially share the same last name. It was not a smooth relationship with his step-father who was a gambler and an alcoholic and sometimes abusive to Bill's mother and little brother. Bill would excel in school and music, eventually landing on public service as the best direction for his talents:
"Sometime in my sixteenth year, I decided I wanted to be in public life as an elected official. I loved music and thought I could be very good, but I knew I would never be John Coltrane or Stan Getz. I was interested in medicine and thought I could be a fine doctor, but I knew I would never be Michael DeBaky But I knew I could be great in public service."
Following successful elections to positions in high school, college, and graduate school, at 28 Clinton ran for the House of Representatives in a heavily Republican district. Despite the loss, he was determined to pursue a life in politics. Four years later, he successfully ran for Attorney General of Arkansas and then at 32 was elected as the youngest Governor in the country. Following a rough first term, Clinton was voted out of office after just two years. Two years later, he was back in the Governor's mansion, this time staying for a very successful 10 years until vacating the position to move in to the White House.
It was another heavily overcast day on our visit to the house. With lots of rain and melting snow recently, the ground was saturated (as were my feet at the end of the shoot!). I made use of the puddles of water for reflections and used the greyed-out skies to reveal the intricate branches of the trees surrounding the home. I am very pleased with several pictures from inside the home, in particular a couple of shots of the walls and floors of Billy's bedroom. While none of the furniture is original, it is of the right period and I feel the silhouettes do give a nice feeling of what it was like in the 1940s.
Cell phone images of the site below:
David and Ida Eisenhower ran a faltering general store in Hope, Kansas when David found a job with the railroad down in Texas. $40 a month cleaning steam engines was enough to rent a home and support the family of four. While in Denison, the family welcomed another son on October 14, 1890 in the downstairs bedroom of their rented home. Young Dwight spent less than two years at the little house just off the railroad tracks before the family moved to Abilene Kansas so David could pursue a position as an engineer at the Belle Springs Creamery.
Dwight wouldn't return to Denison until 1946 as a war hero and then again six years later as a candidate for the Presidency.
The home is a modest two-story structure with an attached kitchen. Although the railroad has long since moved, there was a short section of track where the rails once stood--only 12 or 15 yards from the front porch of the house! I spent a fair amount of time working the tracks in to pictures before moving in closer to look for details. One aspect I respond to with original homes is that you can stand in the very place the president was born. I photographed in the bedroom where he was born as well as several images of the outside window. Finally, I made pictures that attempt to show the humble nature of this little house as well as the great trees that surround it in order to relate something about this larger-than-life personality that came from such ordinary beginnings.
I've packed a big bag of cameras and a small bag of clothes for my final presidential birthplaces trip. Andy Leiter and I are meeting in Dallas, hopping in a rental car, and visiting the birthplaces of Eisenhower, Truman, and Clinton. By Friday night, this grand project will be done! Of course there is still lots of editing, writing, printing, and framing left to do, but at the end of the week, I will have photographed every presidential birthplace, several presidential boyhood homes, a fair number of president gravesite, and even the birthplace of the president of the CSA! I'll update our progress here on the blog, so check back in!
On October 1, 1924 James Earl Carter, Jr. was born in the Wise Sanitarium in Plains where his mother, Lillian was a nurse. 53 years later, Jimmy Carter became the first president born in a hospital. When the future president was 3, a baby girl named Eleanor was born to the Smith family next door. 19 years later, he would marry her (she went by her middle name, Rosalynn). This little town of 600 made an indelible mark on Jimmy and Rosalynn. They returned from his successful Naval career in 1953 to take over the family farm after his father's death, living in public subsidized housing at first, the only president to have done so. The Carters still have a home together in Plains and spend about 75% of their time there, President Carter often teaching Sunday School lessons at their church.
At the time Jimmy was born (the first of four), James Sr. ran the town general store in Plains and had begun to invest in farmland. When Jimmy was 4, the family moved to a farm about 3 miles outside of Plains when young--an unincorporated area called Archery populated almost entirely of impoverished African American families. It was these families who would help work the farm and whose children Jimmy would work and play with as a boy.
"My black playmates were the ones who joined me in the field work that was suitable for young boys. We were the ones who toted water to the more adult workers in the field. We mopped the cotton, turned sweet potato and watermelon vines, . . . and did all thankless tasks. But we also rode mules and horses through the woods, jumped out of the barn loft onto huge piles of oat straw, wrestled and fought, fished, and swam."
This would be Carter's home until he left for college in 1941, having seen running water, electricity and all manner of mechanization come to the farm during that time. Ever the entrepreneur, James Sr. experimented with different cash crops and found success in peanuts. As a boy as young as 5 years old, President Carter recalled walking to town selling boiled peanuts to townspeople for 5 cents a bag.
"The early years of my life on the farm were full and enjoyable, isolated, but not lonely. We always had enough to eat, no economic hardship, but no money to waste. We felt close to nature, close to members of our family, and close to God."
"My life on the farm during the Great Depression more nearly resembled farm life of fully 2,000 years ago than farm life today. Social eras change at their own curious pace, depending on geography and technology, and a host of other factors. It is incredible with what speed those changes have totally transformed both the farming methods and the very life-style I knew in my boyhood"
The farm today has been restored to its pre-electricity condition of about 1938. It is an impressive site with a fully functioning farm surrounding the original home. With large vegetable plots, barns with blacksmithing equipment, a small general store for the community, pecan grove, and a menagerie of different animals one gets the sense of just how busy the days were growing up on the farm. There are audio recordings throughout the site where you can hear President Carter convey his recollections of different areas of the farm. The one that impressed me the most was his story about the day his father let him hitch up the plow all by himself. It was that day that he knew he had entered manhood. Another recording conveyed the effect that the New Deal policies had on the farm and the deep appreciation he has for the land. Photographing this site was such a pleasure for its abundant possibilities--a huge site, original buildings, and compelling stories. I looked for pictures that would convey the strong ties to the land, the hard work needed to run a farm, and some of the little innovations such as the shower made from a bucket.
This was actually my second visit to Plains for the project. Thanks to local historian Jan Williams (who also runs the Plains Historic Inn & Antique Mall - www.plainsgeorgia.com), I was able to find the site in Plains where the Carter family was living when Jimmy was born. My parents visited Plains to attend one of President Carter's Sunday School lessons and spoke with Jan about my project. She led them to the site of the home, since burned down. It was a good opportunity to re-visit the entire site and make a few more pictures in addition to the birth home site. I woke up early, leaving Jana and our three girls sleeping in the hotel to go out and make pictures. It was a foggy, humid morning--the humidity levels must have been over 100%--but great for some misty pictures of the farm. We returned with the kids later that day to walk around the site.
In 1912, Francis Anthony "Frank" Nixon needed a home for his growing family. He found a mail-order home building kit in a catalog and ordered it for about $1000. His new family home came in on the train about a mile away from his lemon grove and required many trips with his horse cart to pick up all the lumber and crates. The kit didn't come with a chimney, so Frank designed and built one himself.
A year later on January 9, 1913 Richard Nixon, named after King Richard the Lion-heart, was born in the house. He lived in the home until he was 9 when the family moved to nearby Whittier where his father opened the first gas station along with a general market. Like the Hoovers, the Nixons were Quakers and Richard's childhood would have been shaped by those same values. "For a child, the setting was idyllic. In the spring the air was heavy with the rich scent of orange blossoms. And there was much to excite a child's imagination: glimpses of the Pacific Ocean to the east, the San Bernardino Mountains to the north, a 'haunted house' in the nearby foothills to be viewed with awe and approached with caution--and a railroad line that ran about a mile from our house." The train must have made an impression, as young Richard wanted to be a train engineer. He was president of his 8th grade class, started and chaired numerous school groups, was a fierce debater from an early age, and eventually hosted Elvis at the White House!
The homesite is indeed idyllic. The home still stands on the spot where his father built it next to a grand California Pepper tree that his father planted that same year. The furnishings are 90% original to the Nixon family. The bed where he was born, the high-chair he used, and the family table where he learned to debate are all in the home--and I was allowed to photograph inside! I was a bit worried when I arrived on site to see a couple of school busses unloading. It was a bit difficult in the morning to make pictures without scores of elementary kids in the way. After spending some time in the excellent museum and speaking with the very informative docents, most of the kids were gone and I had only a few other visitors to contend with. I tried to capture the home and tree together, both having their origins with Nixon's father. Inside the home, I looked for images that would showcase the original furnishings that impacted Richard at an early age--the bed where he was born, and especially the table where he sat with his family and learned to debate with his father.
When visiting all of these sites, there are stories of impacts made on these men early in life that shape and mold who they became. For example, as a young man, Nixon would see his father fail at one business, dust himself off and then succeed at another. One can certainly see this reflected in his great political comeback to become president.
Cell phone photos below. The final edit will be added to the Presidents Project tab.
"This cottage where I was born is physical proof of the unbounded opportunity of American life"
In 1871, Herbert Hoover's father and grandfather together built the 14 by 20 foot cottage in the town of West Branch; population 350. By 1880, the population had swelled to 500. The community was largely farmers and those that supported farming like Herbert's father who was the town blacksmith. Like much of the community, the Hoover family were members of the Religious Society of Friends (commonly known as Quakers) with guiding principles of honesty, education, hard work, simplicity, generosity, and faith. In fact, the Friends Meetinghouse was just across the street from the Hoover cottage. When Herbert was 6, the Hoover family sold the blacksmith shop and moved to a larger house. Unfortunately, that same year, Herbert's father died of a heart attack. Just 4 years later, his mother would also lose her life to pneumonia. Orphaned at 11 years old, Herbert boarded a train bound for Oregon to live with his Uncle. He would eventually attend Stanford's first class, work as a mining engineer in Austrailia, and become the first President of the United States born West of the Mississippi River.
The first thing that struck me on arriving at the site was just how small the house is. It is tiny--14X20 feet, about the size of the back deck on our house. By the time the Hoovers moved to a larger home, they had three kids! Photos in the museum show a home full of friends and family. It really forces one to think about what is important and what we really need. The house was restored by the Hoovers in the 1930s as were many other buildings surrounding the cottage including the schoolhouse, the Friends Meetinghouse, and his father's blacksmith shop. Smaller and more rural than Tampico, Herbert must have had a similarly free childhood. "I prefer to think of Iowa as I saw it through the eyes of a ten-year old boy. . . filled with the wonders of Iowa's streams and woods, of the mystery of growing crops. . . . days should be filled with adventure and great undertakings, with participation in good and comforting things", recollects Hoover of his childhood here. Despite leaving at 11, it made an obvious life-long impression on him, as he chose this place for his Presidential Library as well as his grave site.
I did find myself thinking lots about the early tragedies in his life, especially losing his parents. As a parent of three (one the same age as Herbert was when his father died), I couldn't help thinking about just how young they passed away--both were just 35. And I just can't imagine what that train ride out to Oregon must have been like for young Herbert. An 11 year-old boy on a train through the West in 1886! I also thought about the unexpected external events that can forever alter the course of your life. Just 8 months into Hoover's presidency, the stock market crashed, bringing on the Great Depression. It is how we respond to these events that really defines who we are.
For the pictures, I tried to find ways to convey just how small this house is. I composed long shots through the trees and the landscape. I also found some great reflections in the cottage windows that show some of the interior space superimposed with the reflection of the open land surrounding the home. With such a small space, most of their time would have been spent outside, the Iowa land leaving a life-long impression.
**Please note--all photos are from my cell phone. The finished edit will be uploaded to the full project page accessible with the above link.
After driving West across Iowa to Omaha for Ford, I drove East across the state to Tampico for Reagan. Driving across Iowa is like driving through every movie you have ever seen set in the midwest--idyllic green fields punctuated by barns, silos, and farmhouses. Mixed in with the wind noise of the car, I swear I heard a voice telling me that if I built it, they could come. . .
Early in the chilly morning of February 5, 1911, Ronald Reagan was born to a young family living above the bakery on Main Street in Tampico, IL. Rent for the three-bedroom apartment was $10 a month, affordable for the $1 a day Jack Reagan earned working for the Pitney Store down the street. Jack was a salesman and moved the family in and out of Tampico, Galesburg, Chicago, and Monmouth following work before finally settling the family in Dixon to become a shoe salesman in 1920 when Ronnie was 9.
The first thing I noticed about Tampico when I opened the car door was the quiet. Downtown Tampico could have served as the set of Mayberry--old brick storefronts lining both sides of one block surrounded by farmlands and grain silos. Most of the stores were empty or closed. The whole time I was there photographing, I saw maybe a dozen cars pass. Quiet.
After making a few pictures outside, I entered the RR Birthplace and Museum. Joan Johnson runs the site and was full of great stories and facts about the Reagans and their home in Tampico. She gave me a great tour of the three bedroom apartment where Ronald was born. The apartment has been lovingly restored to its likely early 1900's appearance. They even found the original wallpaper to reproduce. It was quite spacious and even had closets--rare for the time it was built. For most of these sites, the home is also the actual site of birth. The front bedroom overlooking Main Street is the room where Nelle Reagan gave birth to her two sons. I made pictures of the room and worked the windows, thinking about a young Ronnie looking out those very windows to the street below.
After photographing the buildings downtown, I made some pictures of the boyhood home down the street (now a private residence) then drove to Dixon to photograph the boyhood home there.
It must have been quite a free childhood for Ronald growing up in these small towns--free to run about, learning to swim in the local swimming hole, riding his friends' horses, all surrounded by open farmland and the hard working farmers who tended the fertile land.