MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We'll get a move on now from H Street to the American road, as we meet a guy who's on a very particular kind of road trip. You could say Brady Carlson has a bit of a fixation with U.S. presidents, not the living, breathing ones mind you, but rather the more than three dozen heads of state who are no longer with us. His journey to visit and blog about every presidential grave site began right here in the D.C. region, where four U.S. presidents have been laid to rest. Jacob Fenston tagged along with Carlson to find out what these graves say about the men they memorialize.
MR. JACOB FENSTON
I met Brady Carlson at Arlington National Cemetery where two U.S. presidents are buried. President Kennedy's pretty easy to find, just follow the tour busses, but William Howard Taft? His grave is hidden behind the huge memorial to women in service.
MR. JACOB FENSTON
I don't see any signs for it. I see Women's Memorial signs.
MR. BRADY CARLSON
By the time you start to see signs for this gravesite, you're kind of already there.
This is one of the first stops on Carlson's journey to visit very president's grave. Each grave, he says, reflects something about the man beneath the marble. For example, the fact that Taft's grave is obscured by a grander monument …
It's almost fitting that his memorial is overshadowed by another, because in life, he was always overshadowed by another president.
Carlson lives in New Hampshire, which boasts one gravesite. This project will take him all over the country, visiting 18 states and all 38 dead presidents.
It does strike me as a little morbid. I think it's that I can't meet them in person, so this is as close as I'm ever going to get.
Carlson isn't alone in this obsession with presidents and their graves. It turns out visiting presidents' graves is a legitimate hobby, and it's one that got presidential historian Richard Norton Smith hooked at a young age.
MR. RICHARD HORTON SMITH
The first gravesite that I actually visited -- in fact, it was exactly 50 years ago. It was in the summer of 1962.
That was a few months before Smith's ninth birthday, the first of many fun-filled family vacations.
Well, you know, it was the classic station-wagon-from-hell, you know, vacation. And we'd go off for two weeks, and I would basically plan the itinerary.
And, of course, it always included the gravesite of some obscure president.
I think what draws you to a gravesite is not the site itself, I mean, that's part of it, obviously. But, you know, there's nothing more democratic than death. All of us will confront it. And how we confront it may be as revealing of character, and certainly as dramatic, as anything else that occurs in life.
MS. ANNE HARMON
So we're walking downstairs to the crypt level, which the word crypt simply means hidden.
Anne Harmon is the visitor programs manager here at one of the gravesites. But first, a little presidential trivia. Four presidents are buried in the D.C. metro region, but only one is buried in the District of Columbia. Any guesses? Here's a hint.
He was president of Princeton University and following that he was the governor of New Jersey.
Okay. One more hint. This president famously said of World War I …
We're going to make this the war to end all wars. We're going to make the world safe for democracy.
If you guessed Woodrow Wilson, you're right. The 28th president of the United States is buried at the National Cathedral in Northwest D.C. When Wilson died in 1924, only one small section of the cathedral was completed, so that's where he was buried. In 1956, he was moved upstairs to the main nave. Harmon says these days, President Wilson gets a lot of visitors.
Yes, actually we do have quite a few visitors who are going to various places all over the country to see the final resting places our presidents.
Of course, one of the most-visited presidential graves is across the Potomac in Mt. Vernon, Virginia.
MS. ANGIE TOPPINGS
George Washington's remains are within the sarcophagus on the right. Martha Washington's remains are with the sarcophagus on the left.
Tour guide, Angie Toppings, is pointing out the two marble boxes holding the first president and his wife. Each year a million visitors pass through the gates of Washington's Mt. Vernon estate, and many stop here at the tomb to pay their respects, including hordes of school kids, like Taylor Hopper, here on her senior trip from Springstead High School in Florida.
MISS TAYLOR HOPPER
It's just really inspiring, 'cause you think about all the things, like, he did, you know, like, and he wasn't very old, like, when he died. So, like, he just did so much in such a short span of lifetime. So it just makes you think, like, you can do that too.
Meanwhile, Brady Carlson, who's visiting all the presidents' graves, is back home, blogging about his trip to D.C. Seeing Washington's tomb, he writes, put him in the state of breathless hyper-giddiness of a tween at a Justin Bieber concert.
But as great as the trip to D.C. was, we still got a lot more work to do, a whole lot more presidents to visit. So here …
That's Carlson in a video he recently posted on his blog. Next up, he's heading to the Midwest to Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, and Michigan, the land of Gerald Ford. I'm Jacob Fenston.
You can see photos of the D.C. region's presidential graves and find a link to Brady Carlson's blog on our website, metroconnection.org.
Time for a quick break, but when we get back, finding your stride after a life-changing injury on the battle front.
STAFF SGT. CHRISTOPHER RYAN WALKER
And you can see other people doing stuff instead of being like, well, I can't do that 'cause I don't have arms. It's like, oh, that guy's doing it. I can do it.
That and more in a minute on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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