Montpelier Estate, Orange County, Va.
Madison was our shortest president at 5 foot 4—and yet,
he has such a tall grave. Well, he deserves it. The Father of
the Constitution has never gotten his due. Sure, the Declaration
of Independence has sweep, romance. The Constitution is
wonky in comparison. (If you had to set one to music and listen
to it while making love, you’d definitely choose the Declaration.)
But the Constitution is the blueprint, the assembly manual, of
Albany Rural Cemetery, Menands, N. Y.
“Elegant Arthur” is best remembered (by me, at least) for
three things: ( 1) He took office after the 1881 assassination of
James Garfield; ( 2) he had very cool sideburns—muttonchops,
really—that would be the envy of today’s hipsters; and ( 3) he
commissioned Louis Tiffany, best known for his stained glass,
to lavishly redecorate the White House.
Arthur was a man of style, with 80 pairs of trousers in his
closet. It was only fitting that he’d be transported to his black
granite sarcophagus in Cornelius Vanderbilt’s private railcar.
(I took Amtrak’s Hudson line up to Albany. What a view!
It’s so much nicer when you’re alive.)
Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Va.
I’ll admit it: Sometimes when
I’m thinking about James Monroe, I become bored. He faced
little or no opposition in both of
his elections. He presided during the “Era of Good Feelings,”
when partisan tensions all but
disappeared. His tenure sounds
so peaceful, so painfully nice.
Then again, he issued the Monroe Doctrine, a stern warning
to Europeans to stay out of our
hemisphere. More importantly, he oversaw
the purchase of Florida. (Orange juice, Epcot
and the election of 2000. What more can
you ask of one state?) That settles it: James
Monroe is not boring. His black, cagelike
grave certainly isn’t run-of-the-mill. Plus, like
Jefferson and John Adams, he died on July
Fourth—a brilliant exit strategy.