Dead Presidents

Dead Presidents: An American Adventure

See the presidents:

George Washington John Adams Thomas Jefferson James Madison James Monroe John Quincy Adams Andrew Jackson Martin Van Buren William Henry Harrison John Tyler James Polk Zachary Taylor Millard Fillmore Franklin Pierce James Buchanan Abraham Lincoln Andrew Johnson Ulysses Grant Rutherford Hayes James Garfield Chester Arthur Grover Cleveland Benjamin Harrison William McKinley Theodore Roosevelt William Taft Woodrow Wilson Warren Harding Calvin Coolidge Herbert Hoover Franklin Roosevelt Harry Truman Dwight Eisenhower John F Kennedy Lyndon Johnson Richard Nixon Gerald Ford Ronald Reagan

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:

Holly Abeels
Avishay Artsy
Erin Barnes
John Barrett
Tom Barry
Charles Behensky
Amy Borchwald
Shane Bradt
Liz Bulkley
Matthew Cain
Margaret Carlson-Lane
Katerina Claiborne
Gwen Dallas
Dianne Finch
Sarah Fraser
Roger Goun
Tanya Hakala
Ben Leubsdorf
Anna Moskov
Mike Ostrego
Liza Poinier
Susan Posner
John H. Robinson
Michael Saffell
Cara Scala
Anne Sloka
Caroline Carter Smith
Jonathan Smith
Phil Sumida
Jeanne Timmons
Thanh Tran
Scott Vesely
Erica Westerman
Mick Walsh
and several anonymous donors