The nation’s capital started out smelly: a swamp. Today the situation is much improved: the sweet scent of cherry blossoms. In between there was the smell of cheese â€“ all over town, in every direction. If that wasn’t weird enough, get this â€“ the smell was coming from the White House.
It all started in Sandy Creek, New York, when dairy farmer Thomas Meacham decided his 140 cows could best be put to use making a gigantic cheddar for the President of the United States. Meacham spent many weeks turning gallon after gallon of vintage 1835 milk into a wheel of curd-fueled mayhem. Final proportions: four feet long, two feet wide and 1,400 pounds. Meacham, certain that he’d thoroughly kicked the asses of the Massachusetts farmers who made a giant cheese for Thomas Jefferson, sent this bad boy to Washington, covering it in bunting as well as representations of each American state and Jackson’s famous statement: â€œOur Federal Union, it must be preserved.â€
Funny he should mention â€œpreserved,â€ as King Cheese was installed in a White House vestibule upon arrival… and sat there. For years. Some say they were simply letting the cheese age, but I suspect Jackson told the staff to leave the cheddar in a safe place until another patriotic American sent him a box of giant crackers.
Leave it they did, until there were just ten days left in Jackson’s term. By then, Jackson had done more or less everything he’d set out to do: he’d beaten back the nullification crisis in South Carolina, retired almost all of the national debt, shut down the Bank of the United States, pushed thousands and thousands of Native Americans off US land and beaten the crap out of a would-be assassin. And then somebody was pacing the White House and oh crap, there’s a huge wheel of cheese just sitting here, what are we gonna do with it?
And after the staff got through a few rounds of â€œwell, I’m not gonna eat that,â€ they decided to foist the wheel formerly known as cheddar on the public. Mice and destitute college students were thrilled; police in D.C. groaned, remembering the public emergency that was Jackson’s last public bash, Inauguration Day 1829. Things got, as they say, a little out of hand; thousands of people showed up, got drunk and broke stuff. Even the normally fearless Jackson was rattled and fled the mansion for fear he’d be trampled to death. Things only calmed down when they moved the whiskey outside.
You’d think someone would’ve reminded Jackson of this fiasco, but there he was, eight years later, doing the same damn thing again. And, sure enough, the second verse was the same as the first, with ten thousand people swarming into the Executive Mansion, breaking everything in sight and wolfing down cheese at a rate of seven hundred pounds an hour. The masses also managed to smear cheese into the carpet and onto the walls. I’m sure they were grounded when they got home, but by then it was too late, really.
Then it was over, the cheese party and the Age of Jackson. Poor Martin Van Buren, who had worked for years for a shot at the presidency, had to start his term in a smelly, ransacked White House auctioning off several hundreds pounds of his predecessor’s cheese. Then came the Panic of 1837, which lasted for years and pretty much ruined his administration before it had even begun. Be careful what you wish for.