Presidents may pass away, but they keep working.
That’s what I’ve learned as I’ve been traveling across the country to see their gravesites. Our chiefs of state tend to keep busy even after they enter what I call the “post-post-presidency.” The question is: why? Why don’t they just lay there like the rest of us do?
Because we have so much for them to do, of course! We name streets and schools after them. We put them on our money. They are the basis of works of stirring art and stupefying commerce. We make them larger than life on mountains; then we cut them back down to size with kitsch.
Like funerals, memorials are less about the dead than the living. In life, what the presidents do matters; after that, what matters is what we do with and in their names. And we do a lot. And it keeps them living on long after they’re gone. Being a dead president is about as close to civic immortality as one gets in this part of the world.
So with that in mind, I’m traveling this country of ours to pay my respects to the people with whom our national buck has stopped. Even in death, they have much to tell us.
Not literally, of course.
This project has been made possible in part by super-generous supporters, including:
John H. Robinson
Caroline Carter Smith
and several anonymous donors