Posing with William Henry Harrison at the National Portrait Gallery (just a painting of him, not his rotting corpse)
A while back I was visiting a friend whose son Sam was two years old. This child was able to do something impressive – if you asked him, “Who was the 12th President?” he’d reply “Zachary Taylor.” He knew all the presidents by number! It was really cute, until I realized that I could only name the first, the 16th, and then all the ones after JFK. The 13th or 27th, though? Not a fucking clue. It was humbling to know that I was dumber than a toddler, but on the other hand I wasn’t sure Sam would be able to pass the bar exam. (He would, though, be better than me at those math problems that begin, ‘A train leaves Buffalo at 6am going 58 miles per hour…’ Anyone on earth would be.)
Feeling like a presidential idiot, I decided to learn my history. I printed a list of our leaders from the internet, placed it by the side of my desk, then proceeded to diligently ignore it. But a year later I spotted a set of presidential flashcards at the thrift shop for 99 cents. It was kismet! These would do the trick, because unlike the boring list I’d downloaded, the flashcards had pictures!
I set a challenging, breakneck schedule of learning one president per day. I learned about Washington, Adams, Jefferson…all was going as planned until I got to the president to end all presidents — well, to end my study of all presidents: William Henry Harrison. Our 9th president, whose term lasted just 31 days. O Harrison, my Harrison! It was love at first sight.
I tried sticking to the original plan, I did. I dutifully moved on to the tenth flashcard the next day, John Tyler. But he just didn’t do it for me. Tyler, shmyler, who gives a shit?! I couldn’t get William Henry off my mind. “Old Tippecanoe.” His arresting gaze from the front of the flashcard, his aristocratic nose, his idiotic decision to give a 2-hour inaugural address in the rain, the pneumonia he caught due to his stupidity, and his untimely death one month later. It’s just so fucking stupid! How could I resist him?
So I’ve given up on all those other guys and have started reading a biography of William Henry Harrison, or ‘Bill’ as I like to call him. I realize I may never be able to list all the presidents in order, but I’ll be able to tell you more than you’d ever want to know about William Henry Harrison. That is, if you’re dumb enough to ask.