Monday, December 21, 2015

Taft's Whale House*

Taft's birthplace decked out for Christmas
On a whim a few weeks ago I decided to hit some geocaches in the Mt Auburn area of Cincinnati. A newer one was near the September 15th, 1857 birthplace of  William Howard Taft, where he also lived for his first 25 years.
There are all sorts of schools, museums, and roads around town named for the prominent Taft Family. Believe it or not, as a 36 year resident of Cincinnati and a self-described local history nut, I have never been there. Or more correctly, I believe I was dragged here as a teenager with my parents and grandparents many years ago. I don't think that counts.
These days, of course, I love my local history and especially the 19th century oddball Ohio Presidents. I find the other 20th century Ohio POTUS' like the prematurely deceased Harding and McKinley interesting but for some reason, Bill Taft never clicked with me. I suppose with the others there is some sort of sideshow curiosity about them. They were either Generals, died in an unfortunate way, or just outright forgotten by most. Sometimes all of those things. Other than Taft's sizable girth (along with the related bathtub legend) and his spat with Teddy Roosevelt,  I suppose I just found Taft kind of...normal. The man himself remarked later in life, "I do not remember that I was ever President." So don't worry, this post isn't really about Taft. However, here is a list of enjoyable 15 Wonderful William Howard Taft Facts.

I wasn't sure if I was going to take the tour, so I parked in the empty lot behind the house thinking I'd just walk around the outside. As I was strolling through the property, staffed by the National Park Service, a Ranger (with the Ranger Smith hat and everything) came out and asked if I was going to take the free tour that was just starting. This seemed like fate to me. I said "yeah" and walked over to the house and caught up with the group which consisted of an older couple and probably their adult sons.
Mt Auburn was once an affluent neighborhood, but times change and that isn't so any longer. In fact, the property of one of Cincinnati's most prominent families is flanked by the Hamilton County Juvenile Court complex and William Howard Taft Elementary. As our Ranger tour guide led us through each of the period furnished rooms and talked about the Taft family legacy and the only Cincinnati born POTUS, she locked the door behind as we left. The Ranger clearly loved her job but I felt like deep down she drew the short straw and was just making the best of her assignment. I suppose everyone can't be a Ranger at Yosemite or Ford's Theater. The guided tour wasn't long. Maybe 20 minutes. After that, we were free to roam about the unlocked areas where they had timeline information and other items on display (in sealed and locked cases of course) on the life of our 27th President and 10th Chief Supreme Court Chief Justice.

One take away I had was the fact that they don't know exactly when the 19th-century Greek revival house was built (probably 1842). All the records were lost when the Hamilton County Courthouse burned down in the 1884 Cincinnati riots. That particular event comes up a lot when researching Cincinnati history.

Of course, no visit to a museum is complete with a stop at the gift shop! In this case, it was next door in the Taft Education Center where I was greeted by a young lady who asked if I wanted to see the film that was playing. She seemed excited to see another human being. I politely declined and perused the offering of Taft swag instead. They tempted me with t-shirts and Ranger hats but I opted for the understated fridge magnet and lapel pin. Afterward, I scooted off to claim the geocaches that brought me to the area. At any rate, I'm glad I took the tour. It was somewhat spontaneous and I enjoy visiting Ohio Presidential sites anyway. Not a bad way to spend a dreary late November afternoon.

*You may be thinking, "What's with the post title, "Taft's Whale House"? I get it that Taft was fat and but that was later." There is a newish Cincinnati microbrewery and restaurant in Over-The-Rhine called Taft's Ale House in honor of our portly President. So it's a play on that. I had to get one fat joke in, right? I've never been to Taft's Ale House myself but I hear it is good. Tell them Gehio sent you! Be prepared for a blank stare.

I should pick up a book on Taft. I guess. As far as Presidential spots go, Rutherford B. Hayes, you are (probably) next!