My mom and I planned this presidential excursion as part of our return trip from a family reunion. Earlier that day, we took a “Bonus Nerd Trip” to Lincoln’s boyhood home in Indiana, which we did not know would be so close to the reunion. The Lincoln stop was quick, but we had to race to the Harrison memorial, which closed at dusk.
We had neither a GPS nor smart phone, so we were relying on printed Internet directions, which didn’t work so well. We had a tough time finding the memorial. I recall thinking, “Poor William Henry Harrison, if he had been in office longer, his memorial may have been better marked.”
It was getting late, so my mom stayed in the car while I raced up the steps to the memorial, which is a 60 foot limestone obelisk above the family tombs. Harrison apparently expressed interest in this site, overlooking the Ohio River near the confluence of three states: Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. The hill does have a nice view.
Since it was late, there were only a few people around. A younger man was walking down the steps as I was going up, and another man was poking around the base of the lights at the far side of the hill.
Feeling somewhat isolated, my first thought was, “this would be a good place for a crime.”
The memorial entrance only reinforced this eerie feeling. I passed through some old metal gates into a small hallway with a deadend at the graves of President Harrison and many of his family members. I took a quick look, signed the guest book and got out fast.
I then took a few photos and hurried back to the car, feeling that I was being followed. Turns out, I was.
The man checking the lights was actually a site caretaker, I think his name was Joe. He approached my mom and me as I got back in the car. He wanted to be sure we didn’t miss the other part of the memorial, located just up the hill, featuring signs with information about President Harrison. While this area was under cover, the signs seemed faded with some letters missing. Again, I thought, “Poor President Harrison, not a popular president so his site is not getting a lot of attention.”
Joe was very, very eager to share his knowledge of Harrison and North Bend, and he talked to us for quite a while. He did give us a good tip, suggesting we drive to the top of the hill and turn around for a great view of the large bend in the river.
Here’s an interesting note, while researching Harrison’s death, I came upon a reference to “Tecumseh’s curse,” the belief that presidents elected in years ending in zero would die in office. Harrison, elected in 1840, gained fame for a military victory over Shawnee Indian leader Tecumseh and became the first president to die in office (1841). The pattern continued for more than 100 years: Lincoln (elected 1860), Garfield (elected 1880), McKinley (elected 1900), Harding (elected 1920), FDR (elected 1940) and Kennedy (elected 1960). Ronald Reagan (elected 1980) apparently “broke the curse.”