As I explained yesterday, my new plan for this project is to do it as a video series. Here’s how that’s going to work:
Rather than try to tackle all the trips and then create a final product, I’m breaking the project up into seasons, like a real TV show would. Season One would consist of six half-hour episodes, which I’ve outlined below. I’m planning to do a Kickstarter toward the beginning of April, which would hopefully fund all the traveling for Season One. I’d travel and film during spring, summer and fall, and then produce the shows toward the end of the year, putting them on the internet around the beginning of 2014. I’d continue blogging, taking photos, writing up the places I visit, but with a more clearly defined end product than I’ve had to this point.
Make sense? Well, here’s the outline I have for Season One now. I actually have most of Season Two plotted out – who knows, if the Kickstarter is really successful I could just add those on too.
Season One of Presidents Who Lie (In State)
EPISODE ONE: DC, PART 1
First In War, First In Resting In Peace
The father of our country died in 1799. The national monument to him was not finished until a century later – in between, a guy tried to steal Washington’s body, an artist’s sculpture of Washington in a toga was laughed out of the Capitol Rotunda and another president died while trying to raise funds to build the monument. Now that it’s finally done, Americans spend an inordinate amount of time taking randy pictures of themselves near the obelisk. Find out why this long and often disturbing tale is a metaphor for the country itself.
He Kept Out Of The Galactic Rebellion: Woodrow Wilson and Darth Vader
These days we’re marking the 100th anniversary or 150th anniversary of just about everything… except the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, which began in 1913. The man passed a massive amount of the Progressive-era legislation, led the country through World War I and dreamed up what is today the United Nations – yet his gravesite is overshadowed by a gargoyle of Darth Vader. We’ll explain why.
Immortalized in paint – and wax
The National Portrait Gallery is home to nearly every iconic presidential portrait ever made – and just down the road is the Washington branch of Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, where each chief executive is immortalized in a different, waxier kind of way. Both of these museums are essential to understanding what presidents mean to America.
The not quite White Houses
Every time I go to Washington I try to get a tour of the White House – and every time I strike out. Fortunately there are two other houses in the DC area that sitting presidents have used as living quarters.
EPISODE TWO: DC, PART 2
The Ground Is Hallowed But The Air Is Pretty Loud
I’ll retrace the funeral route of President John F. Kennedy to Arlington Cemetery, where the eternal flame burns, where President William Taft is hidden off to the side and where the solemnity and beauty of the location is undercut only slightly by the constant deafening airplane noise overhead.
Here’s where he started belonging to the ages
Ford’s Theater and the Petersen House, where Abraham Lincoln’s story takes a grisly turn and his journey to larger-than-life myth begins.
The National Mall is full of monumental action – from statues in the US capitol to the surprisingly grisly US Grant memorial all the way to Abe Lincoln on the other end. But how come the nation’s chief space for monuments is almost solely devoted to presidents?
The most inexplicable things in DC
Walk around DC and you’ll see some truly inspiring sights – from the Franklin D Roosevelt Memorial to the Vietnam “Wall.” And then there’s the James Buchanan Memorial… which makes one wonder how the man historians call the hands-down worst president of all time got his own statue. Also, I’ll find out why poor James Garfield is the only assassinated president whose assassination spot isn’t marked with a plaque or a museum.
Escape From Theodore Roosevelt Island
I test my mettle on the island honoring the Bull Moose himself. Will I make it back out unscathed? Maybe this should be the season finale, just in case.
EPISODE THREE: OF LINCOLNS AND FORDS AND REAGANS
Gerald Ford’s Funky 70’s Museum
The Gerald Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan, does a great job of telling the story of a short but important presidency – and it starts with disco-dancing mannequins and a Bruce Lee poster. The man had style.
The One True, Boyhood Home of Ronald Reagan
President Reagan moved around a lot as a kid, but the citizens of Dixon, Illinois know the Reagan house in their town is the actual Reagan boyhood home.
Lincoln’s Morbid Ride Home
Retracing the incredibly moving and even more incredibly depressing funeral train that took Abraham Lincoln’s body back to Springfield, Illinois following his assassination. We’ll hear about an effort to recreate that train trip in time for the 150th anniversary of his death, visit some of the most unusual statues along the way (from a three-headed Lincoln statue to a watermelon that represents Abe) and hear the story of the people who tried to steal Lincoln’s body from the tomb in Springfield.
EPISODE FOUR: DAY TRIPS
Franklin Pierce: The “Buy Local” President
A number of presidents are considered failures; Franklin Pierce is one of them. But he had a pretty good excuse: everyone in his life was dying around him, including his sole remaining child and his own vice president, and his understandably inconsolable wife allegedly started holding seances. Pierce himself nearly bought the farm before taking office, which would have dumped a constitutional crisis on top of a family tragedy. We explore all this, plus why his native state decided to hold off on giving him a statue for nearly half a century after his death.
When no memorial is a fitting memorial
Calvin Coolidge is not considered a failure – some conservative thinkers rate him as a top-notch president, chiefly because of what he didn’t do in office. One even argues that it’s a good thing he doesn’t have a big memorial. Are big memorials biased toward big government?
A quiet little space in Quincy
Two President Adamses, one gravesite. Well, actually two gravesites in one room. Well, actually two gravesites in one room and one former gravesite across the street.
EPISODE FIVE: NEW YORK, PART 1
Visiting Grover Cleveland’s gravesite once
I promised to visit the grave on two nonconsecutive occasions, so here’s number one.
This message will self-destruct
Chester A Arthur had his personal papers burned upon his death and told the curious that his personal life was none of their business. This has not done wonders for his legacy – though he has an amazing sarcophagus, he’s largely forgotten today and his once-sumptuous house in New York City is now a grocery store. Other presidents have had a hard time breaking through, too, like Martin Van Buren – though his house is intact.
Explaining how the famous president and Civil War leader became a famous Groucho Marx punchline.
Roosevelt and Roosevelt
Two larger than life Roosevelts take two larger-than-life approaches to eternity. FDR invented the modern presidential library, while TR, whose daughter once said he wanted to be the corpse at every funeral, keeps somewhat quieter than one might expect.
Visiting Grover Cleveland’s gravesite again
I told you I’d visit on two nonconsecutive occasions, right? Well, here it is.
EPISODE SIX: TEXAS
The Peeing President
Upon leaving the White House, Lyndon Johnson picked up a pack of cigarettes, horrifying his daughters and his cardiologists, and declared his post-presidency “MY TIME.” Much of “MY TIME,” though, was spent as the previous decades had been spent – peeing. I’ll look at one of LBJ’s more uncouth habits.
The death that launched 24 hour news
2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. The end of “Camelot” marked the start of the 24 hour news cycle, as TV and radio networks literally stopped everything to cover the biggest story of their lives. The country probably wasn’t the same; the media definitely wasn’t.
Now this is what I call a season finale! I’ll head to Dallas for the 50th anniversary ceremonies… cause you know it’s gonna get interesting this November.