By April of 2010, there were just two presidential burial sites that I had
left to visit. Lyndon Johnson, the famous Texan who took over the presidency
after the Kennedy assassination in 1963, is buried at his ranch in a place called
Stonewall. However, it would save us substantial airline fees if, rather than go
visit LBJ in Texas, we went to pay our respects to Gerald Ford, who was laid to
rest at his presidential museum in Michigan. After holding a yard sale to help
fund our adventure, we were ready and able to get on the road again and
become one step closer to finally completing this quest.
We surmised that the quickest way to get to President Ford's presidential
museum would be to drive up through New York, cross into Canada, and re-
enter the United States near Detroit. And, as we knew, we would be passing by
several other historic sites on our way. Unfortunately, we started out a little
later than I had hoped that Saturday afternoon, so I opted to cross off the first
site on my list, which was the New York State Capitol in Albany. Instead, our
first stop was in Utica, where the 27th vice president was laid to rest in 1912.
Without too much trouble, we found James Sherman's personal mausoleum,
which is located atop a hill, looking out at his hometown. Next, my father and I
headed toward the very rural Westernville, where Declaration of Independence
signatory William Floyd is eternally resting. Several incredibly steep and hilly
roads later, and we were at the churchyard where Floyd is buried. He is buried
not too far from the entrance to the grounds, so finding him was no problem.
Less easy to find were the two famous people interred at the next cemetery
we visited. Most cemetery offices are closed on Saturdays, and we could not
acquire a map of Fort Hill Cemetery, meaning that we were forced to search
for William Seward and Harriet Tubman ourselves.
After a few minutes, however, we soon realized that we were way over
our heads. Fort Hill Cemetery is huge, and it would be almost impossible to find
either one of the graves we were looking for. After driving around for what
seemed like an eternity, we spotted a man walking along one of the cemetery’s
roads and asked him if he knew where Seward and Tubman were buried.
Although he couldn’t tell us about Seward, he led us half way around the
cemetery and brought us to the grave of the woman made famous by her work
with the Underground Railroad. After taking our pictures, thanking the stranger,
and promoting my website, we set off in search of the man responsible for the
purchase of the 49th state. We probably spent a half an hour more looking for
Seward by car when we decided to try it by foot. My dad and I subsequently
went our separate ways, determined to locate Secretary Seward. Though we
had split up, we eventually found Seward’s resting place, hidden inside a sort of
valley. Having finally taken the photographs we wanted, we set out for the final
grave of the day: Frederick Douglass’ Rochester burial site.
Though it was dark and the cemetery should have been locked up
already, the gates to Mount Hope Cemetery were wide open when we arrived
that night. I knew that the abolitionist was buried in section T, but that
information proved useless without a map, as the order of sections in a
cemetery hardly ever makes any sense. Luckily, we stumbled upon a sign which
led us in the right direction, which was soon followed by another sign, and
finally Douglass himself. We finished up there rather quickly and were headed
back out to the street when we made an unpleasant discovery: The gate was
locked! On all of our trips, this had never happened to us. Amazingly, there was
a sign attached to the gate that had a phone number to call if one were to be
trapped in the cemetery. We tried the number and it failed, as a robotic voice
on the line requested an area code. Fortunately, I had all of the info on the
cemetery, including a phone number, so I had the correct area code. Within ten
minutes, we had been let out and were on our way to our hotel in Batavia.
Sadly, I had not realized that Susan B. Anthony, the famed women's rights
activist, is buried in the same cemetery that holds the remains of Frederick
Douglass. Despite that blunder, I was very pleased with what had been
Day two of the trip ended up being a little more frustrating. One of the
highlights of the day was that we were going to go see something that changed
history: The gun used by Leon Czolgosz to assassinate President McKinley in
1901. On the internet, I read that the weapon was in the possession of The
Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, but their museum did not open until
noon. In the meantime, we went to the spot where McKinley was shot (now only
a plaque mounted to a rock) and Forest Lawn Cemetery. We revisited President
Fillmore, paid our respects to some of Forest Lawn's other famous residents,
and left to go to the museum. However, when we arrived, we were flabbergasted
to hear the the gun, contrary to what was listed on the internet, is kept in a
separate building which is open by appointment only. Frustrated, we drove to
the building where the revolver is kept, but it was closed.
The two of us, still angry that we had been misled by erroneous information
on the internet, continued on our way. The next step was to drive through a
stretch of Canadian land and re-emerge into the U.S. a few miles from Detroit.
Before long, we were at the Canadian border. Somehow, after having it in his
hand just a few moments earlier, my father misplaced his passport card. That
delayed us for a few moments, but the border patrolman eventually let us go. All
the same, we could have gone without another foul-up.
Hours later, we were in Detroit and searching for more graves. This time,
they belonged to businessman Henry Ford and the famous Rosa Parks. Finding
Ford was no issue, but we ended up looking for Mrs. Parks in the wrong
mausoleum and weren't able to find her before the cemetery closed. That meant
we would have to go back the following day, taking time away from the other
sites we were to see that day.
All in all, it could have gone better.