Thursday, September 29, 2011

The last journey of James K. Polk

Among a lot of other things this blog is about journeys. Usually they involve myself and one of several different co-conspirators but since (a) I have made the trip to our next Governor's grave many, many times and (b) the truly interesting journey this time wasn't made by myself but by the Governor himself. I figured I would spend a little time telling you about his journey and how his earthly remains ended up where they currently rest.

On June 15, 1849, just a short 103 days after leaving the office of President, James K. Polk succumbed to what was likely cholera, breathing his last words to his wife, “I love you, Sarah, for all eternity, I love you."  Over the course of the next several decades the remains of James K Polk would be moved twice and finally end up, along side his wife, at the Tennessee State Capitol.
McKendree Methodist Church, location of James K Polks Funeral
Due to the fear of that a possible cholera epidemic could be caused by his remains, his funeral would take place the day after his death. The funeral service was held at Mckendree Methodist Church, following which James would be interred at the Nashville City Cemetery on June 16, 1849. This cemetery is also the final resting place of Governor William Carroll, who I covered in a previous blog. Many notables of the early history of Nashville are buried in this cemetery so it would stand to reason that James K. Polk would end up here as well. This, however, was never meant to be the final resting place as the intent was to place him here until the monument that was being made in his honor could be completed. The actual location within the graveyard has been lost to time but based on cemetery records it was located on Central Avenue within the grounds of the cemetery.
Central Avenue at the Nashville City Cemetery
He would remain at the City Cemetery until May 22, 1850, when he was exhumed and re-interred in the front yard of his home, Polk Place, which was located in downtown Nashville. At this location the monument, designed by the architect of the Tennessee State Capitol , William Strickland, was placed on his grave.  Sadly, despite his wishes of remaining at this location, and willing his estate to the State of Tennessee to ensure that this would happen, shortly after Sarah's death, he was again moved
Polk Place, circa 1880
On September 19, 1893, the remains of both James and Sarah were removed from their property and placed on the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol where they remain to this day. Tragically, in 1901, Polk Place would be demolished by the State.
The historic marker at the location where Polk Place once stood
So there you have it, the last journey taken by the12th Governor of Tennessee and the 11th President of the United States, one that took him 44 years, 3 months, 5 days to complete, and that ended at his current and hopefully final resting place.
(see after the Governor bio for bonus pictures)
Name: James Knox Polk
Birth: 2 November 1795
Death: 15 June 1849
Age at Death:  53 years, 7 months, 12 days old
Interment: Tennessee State Capitol
Term in Office: October 14, 1839 – October 15, 1841
Pollitical Party: Democrat

James K and Sarah Polk's monument as it looks today
James Knox Polk was born on November 2, 1795 to
Samuel and Jane Polk in Mecklenburg County,
North Carolina. The family would move to the Nashville area when he was still a child. Graduating from the University of North Carolina he would return to Nashville to practice law, apprenticing under Felix Grundy. He would go on to open his own law practice in Columbia, TN, where he would meet and work with another future Governor, Aaron V. Brown. In 1823, his political career began when he won a seat on the Tennessee State Legislature. He would marry his wife, Sarah Childress, the following year on January 1, 1824. The two would never have children, likely the result of a surgery that James had as a child to remove urinary tract stones, leaving him sterile. In 1825, he was elected to the United States Senate, where he would spend the next 14 years. Becoming the Speaker of the House in 1835, he worked tirelessly pushing the agenda of fellow Tennessean, President Andrew Jackson, earning himself the nickname 'Young Hickory'.  At the bequest of Jackson, Polk left congress in 1839 and returned to Tennessee to run for Governor of the State. Defeating Newton Cameron, James would only serve one term and be defeated in the next two Gubernatorial races in 1841 and 1843 by James C. Jones. He would find himself thrust upon the national stage the following year when he became the first "dark horse" candidate for the Presidency. Running on an agenda consisting of four main points: the reestablishment of the national treasury,  lowering of the tariffs, acquiring the Oregon Territory from Britain and acquiring Texas and California from Mexico. He also promised that if elected he would serve only one term. Defeating the Whig, Henry Clay, James was seated as President on March 4, 1845. At the end of his term, he had accomplished all of his goals, making the United States a truly Continental Nation, stretching from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans. Honoring his promise of serving only one term he did not seek his parties nomination. The four years in office and the stress left James in frail health and he likely contracted cholera in New Orleans, while on a good will tour of the South following his Presidency. Returning to his home in Nashville, James K Polk died on June 15 1845. His retirement, at only 103 days, is still the shortest of any President. His widow, Sarah Childress Polk, would live the next 42 years in widowhood, the longest of any other first lady and die on August 14, 1891.

Major Knox pays his respects to James Knox

Another marker for Polk Place--this one is obscured by a security gate.
William Strickland, designer of the Tennessee State Capitol and James K Polk's monument,
is interred in the wall of the State Capitol

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Nixon, Reagan and the great scramble to see them both...

Here we sat, Effrin and I, trying to figure out how we got here and where to go next. The whirlwind of the day was disorienting and this roadblock on Madera Road served only to perplex us even more. We'd started our day at a disgustingly early hour and been on the move ever since, a move that had seen us travel from Nashville to Las Vegas and finally to Los Angeles. I'm sure that most people, upon landing in L.A., don't race immediately to the graves of the two West Coast Presidents, but Effrin and I aren't most people and the sole purpose of Effrin even being there was these grave visits and at this juncture the likelihood of seeing both was looking bleak. After I jokingly and completely randomly said that the road might be closed, we were amazed to find that it was in fact closed...even more amazing was the lack of any signs in order to show us a we were at a loss which only strengthened our resolve. We. Would. See. Reagan.

A brief rundown of how we ended up in this location with only an hour before closing time would go something like this: up at 4, flight at 6, a mad search for a pint glass, lunch well before 10, five hour energy, a very drunk soccer mom, a forty five minute delay, an overly long wait for an over crowded transfer to the rental car, literally pushing said crowd out of the way in a mad dash to pick up our rental car (a Nissan Sentra), I-105, I-91, Yorba Linda and....
The Nixon Presidential Library and Museum
The final resting places of Richard and Pat Nixon

...and September 11th Memorials, frozen Snickers, Gatorade and Diet Cokes, I-5, L.A. traffic and L.A. drivers, terrible Top 40 radio,and the roadblock on Madera Road, driving aimlessly to find a way around, driving back to talk to the cops working the road block about how to get around it, overly crowded parking lots snaking up to the Museum, Effrin yelling to take the 'lone' parking spot, endangering our lives and cutting people off to get into the spot only to see another twenty available just down the road, Simi Valley (one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places I have ever been), forty-five minutes to spare and....
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum
The final resting place of Ronald Reagan

Walking away from the Reagan site, a feeling of accomplishment came over me because in a year when I had planned to only see one Presidential site I was able to make it to a total of eight (A. Johnson, L. Johnson, Truman, Eisenhower, T. Roosevelt, Grant, Nixon and Reagan), four of which I saw with Effrin. In addition to my feeling of accomplishment, exhaustion washed over me making the drive back to the airport to return the car especially painful...but nothing that a nice Italian dinner and a bottle of wine didn't more than cure. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Aliens, Confederates and Governors

You know, in thinking about my journey around the state to visit these graves something has become strikingly apparent and that is that despite the fact I was born and raised in the state of Tennessee, I've spent very little time really exploring it.

Major, paying his respects to William Campbell.
Case and point, a few weekends ago I was able to convince Amber and Major to visit the grave of former Governor and Union Civil War General, William Bowen Campbell,  with me in Lebanon, TN. Now for those of you unfamiliar with Tennessee, Lebanon sits about 20 miles outside of Nashville and is a straight shot out I-40 from my house. I have driven past Lebanon literally hundreds of times and visited a few shops at the outlet mall there but never seen what the town really has to offer. So on this visit we decided that after the graveyard we would drive into the town and check it out.

Monument to Robert Hatton on the Lebanon Town Square
The town square in Lebanon is quite quaint and seems to be mainly made up of either Law offices or Antique stores. There is also a monument to the Confederate Civil War General, Robert Hatton, and a reproduction of the original home that the town was built around. We spent a little time checking out the town square and visited an amazing Antique store called, Cuz's Antique Center. Now neither Amber nor myself are big antique fans or anything but any store that claims they house the head of an alien is worth a look (for more information this visit: here) . Another highlight of the store is the (potentially real) electric chair that is housed in the back of the place. If you ever find yourself in Lebanon swing by and check them out. While in the area we also decided to visit Cedars of Lebanon State Park, where Major spent some time swinging and we discovered a very nice community swimming pool, which we plan on visiting next summer.
The Alien head on display at Cuz's
I guess what I am saying is that we often spend a lot of time exploring new cities and towns when we are on vacation and neglect the things that are available to us everyday. While visiting the Governor's, from this point forward, I will make a trip into the closest town and spend a little time exploring because if we found an alien head in Lebanon, who knows what else is out there. 

Sidenote: Sometimes while visiting the grave of the Governor's I'm able to visit a few other graves of note in the same cemetery and I will do a profile of those individuals and share a few pictures as well.

Name: William Bowen Campbell
Birth: 1 February 1807
Death: 19 August 1867
Age at Death: 60 years, 6 months, 18 days old
Interment: Cedar Grove Cemetery, Lebanon, TN
Term in Office: October 16, 1851 – October 17, 1853
Pollitical Party: Whig
William Bowen Campbell was born on February 1, 1807 to David and Catherine Campbell in Sumner County, TN. He studied law under his cousin, former Virginia Governor, David Campbell and would open his law practice in Carthage, TN. In 1836, at the outbreak of the Seminole War, William would enlist and be raised to the level of Captain in a company commanded by William Trousdale.  Following the Seminole War, he would defeat his former commander in a bid for Congress, despite Trousdale’s relationship and endorsement by President Andrew Jackson.  After serving three terms in Congress ,he returned to Tennessee and became a Colonel during the Mexican War.  In 1851, William would run for Governor again defeating his former commander, William Trousdale.  He would be the last Whig to hold the Governorship of Tennessee. An opponent of secession he enlisted in the Union Army, where he served as a Brigadier General. Following the Civil War, he was again elected to Congress where he was a strong supporter of then President Andrew Johnson. He died on August 19, 1867.

Grave of Note #1
Name: Robert Hatton
Birth: 2 November 1826
Death: 31 May 1862
Age at Death: 35 years, 6 months, 29 days old
Interment: Cedar Grove Cemetery, Lebanon, TN 
Notability: U.S Congressman, Brigadier General- Confederate States of America

Robert Hatton was born on November 2, 1826, in Steubenville, OH, and would move at a very early age to Tennessee.  Studying at Cumberland University, he would become a lawyer and open a law practice in Lebanon, TN. A member of the Whig Party, he served first in the State Legislature and then ran unsuccessfully for Governor. In 1858, as a member of the Opposition Party, a party formed after the fall of the Whig Party that would fight against the expansion of slavery,  he was elected to serve in the United States Congress.  As an opponent of slavery he initially opposed secession but would enlist in the 7th Tennessee upon hearing that Lincoln planned on sending an army into the Southern States. Serving gallantry during the Peninsula Campaign be was raised to the level of Brigadier General in the Army of Northern Virginia. Before the Confederate Congress could confirm this promotion he was killed at the battle of Fair Oaks on May 31, 1862. Since Middle Tennesse was occupied by Union Troops  at the time of his death , he would first be buried in Knoxville until the end of the Civil War when he was re-interred at Cedar Grove Cemetery.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

With apologies to Edward Hazzard East

One lesson I have already learned in doing this Governors thing is the value of doing your research before leaving the house. I guess I naively thought that the cemeteries would be proud to be the final resting place of a Governor or at the very least be aware that there was one buried there. My first trip taught me this lesson as I aimlessly drove around looking for something (not sure what exactly) that might point me in the direction of the grave for which I searched. After searching it occurred to me the value of being prepared and of not being afraid of asking for directions which is what I ended up doing...having said all of this I must now admit one other way I was unprepared and that was in the fact that I hadn't mapped all of the Governor's graves out before making my very first trip.

Me...making a map.
Much to my shock upon completion of this map making task I discovered that not five but six Governors are buried at Mt. after a little research I was able to return and complete this cemetery. Strangely, not only did I overlook this individual in my first trip but the state of Tennessee continues to overlook him and you'll see why in my write up below.


Name: Edward Hazzard East
Birth: 1 October 1830
Death: 12 November 1904
Age at Death: 74 years, 1 month,11 days old
Interment: Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Nashville, TN
Term in Office: March 4, 1865 – April 5, 1865
Pollitical Party: Republican

Edward Hazzard East, who went by E.H., was born in 1830 and attended Lebanon Law School.  An opponent of secession E.H. was chosen as Secretary of State by  Millitary Governor, Andrew Johnson. Following Johnson's innaguaration as Vice President on March 4, 1865, E.H. filled the vacant Governorship until the elected Governor, William G. Brownlow, was seated. Serving only one month and one day his is the shortest term of any Tennessee Governor. Since he was an 'acting Governor' and not an elected or seated Governor the Tennessee State official website does not acknowledge his Governorship. Following the Civil War he would continue practicing law, arguing cases before the Supreme Court and serve as an original trustee for Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. He would die on November 12, 1904.