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Political graveyard wayfinding

2011 December 7

Here’s one of the fun little projects I’ve wanted to put some time into for a while. It began on my most recent visit to Lake View Cemetery, where I discovered and purchased a novel book at the gift shop of the Garfield Monument: Who’s Buried in Grant’s Tomb, a guide to presidential grave sites, by Brian Lamb.

It’s a fun book, at least I think so. The design is nice, with the exception of one headline typeface choice. It’s packed with interesting information, and there are even appendices slicing up the facts and statistics of presidential mortality all kinds of different ways, but…

There are no charts. No graphs. Not even one map.

So I’ve corrected this oversight, beginning with a checklist of all currently-occupied presidential graves. (I’ve been to five of them so far, or six if you count both presidential graves in Arlington National Cemetery, though I don’t recall specifically taking notice of Taft’s grave.) I’ve also created a couple of info graphics to take stock of who’s leading in the presidential grave sweepstakes. First, the much-needed map:

US map indicating presidential grave sites in each state

It’s interesting how this is distributed, regionally. You would expect a number to be found along the eastern seaboard, certainly, though a number of eastern states are left out, as is the core of the Old South. Whereas there’s a surprising big block of midwestern states (including my current and former states of residency) all with at least one grave. Apparently “flyover country” is defined a bit more narrowly within the context of presidential resting places.

Of course, the numbers per individual states are also interesting:

pie chart of graves of American presidents, by state

Virginia leads, with about one-fifth of the total, and this isn’t surprising. Nor is New York’s second place, really, given its long role as a center for power and influence throughout many eras of the nation’s history. Ohio, however, is right behind with five, an artifact of the state’s heyday, in which it was known as “the mother of presidents” and, therefore, ended up becoming the mortician of a number of them as well. (I’ve visited three of the five Ohio sites.)

These three states, alone, account for nearly half of the total. After Ohio, Tennessee is next with three, which is probably at least as interesting a historical artifact as Ohio’s five. Massachusetts claims only two presidential graves (Adams, pere et fils) which is fewer than one might expect, though more than a number of other northeastern states. California has gone from zero to two in the past couple of decades, while thirteen other states claim one presidential grave apiece. Looking to the future, as Lamb does with chapters on still living presidents, the south is poised to make gains in the next few decades, with Texas probably vaulting ahead of California sooner or later. (Would a joke about pretzels be too awful, at this point? Or have I already gone off the scale with morbidity anyway?)

Anyway, something to ponder. And perhaps make into a slightly-morbid hobby as you plan future road trips. (I know that’s what I’m going to do.)

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