From Suffering to Hope

By Doug Farmer  

The best contests are the ones the other party does not know about.

I am a self-admitted history buff. My good friend Kurt (his name has been changed to preserve the “non”-competitive nature of this contest) is too, but, by comparison, he is the master.

Long ago I decided I would be the first to visit all the presidential gravesites. Being of a sporting nature, I established certain rules. Each visit must be an add-on to an already-planned trip. The detour cannot add more than an hour to the trip. If there is a home or a library, that also must be toured.

My first visit to a gravesite was William Howard Taft’s, then the only president buried at Arlington National Cemetery when I was 8. We were in Washington, D.C., for a wedding, my uncle insisted, and I snapped the first of many pictures with my Brownie camera. Let the race begin: Kurt would have been about 5 and I took a 1-0 lead.

With a love of history and road trips, I have lengthened the lead.

Some stand out.

You cannot visit Andrew Jackson’s grave without reading the tribute to his wife, Rachel, on her grave and only hope you love your spouse half as much.

Calvin Coolidge is buried at Plymouth Notch, Vermont, truly among the hills and hollows of America, along with seven generations of Coolidges. I had two reactions: How did anyone overcome such isolation and lack of opportunity, and heartbreak upon realizing that Calvin Jr., age 25, died of an infected blister while his father was president. So high and so low, side by side.

In keeping with the rules, there have been many visits at sunrise and one in the light of a full moon.

Polk, Taylor and Harding were all at the break of day, with Harding a second time in the light of a full moon on a winter’s night. That’s another story exceeding this page’s word count.

As you crisscross our country, you realize the gravesites on the farthest edges are the most challenging.

I despaired of ever visiting Reagan’s or Nixon’s, but God provides. Son No. 4 spent a summer in Los Angeles and we visited both. Nixon cannot catch a break. People who visit his library will also visit Reagan’s library, which has to be one of the most cheerful,
upbeat spots on earth; Nixon’s is, to be blunt, not.

I am not sure how many Kurt has visited. It would be counterproductive to reveal the contest, but I sit at a lofty 31 with only seven to go, all on the coasts or borders—the two Adams, Pierce, Teddy Roosevelt, Grant, Cleveland and, the nearest, Gerald Ford.

I would like to count Grover Cleveland. Years ago, prior to the internet, when I attended Palm Sunday services in Princeton, New Jersey, I distinctly remember looking out at the cemetery. Only with the internet did I learn that the former mayor of Buffalo and governor of New York was buried outside the window. Kurt might argue that does not count, if only he knew.

Doug Farmer has worked at Park Bank since 1981 and began his term on the State of Wisconsin Banking Review Board in 2003. He’s lived in La Crosse since 1971. You can reach him at

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