No state in New England can, or likely ever will be able to, boast that it leads the nation in birthing presidents. Massachusetts tops the region with four (the Adamses, JFK, and Bush the elder), but Virginia and Ohio have done considerably better. We could probably brand ourselves “the home of hard-to-sell presidential hopefuls,” but that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
Here’s the good news, however. A person can’t choose where he was born, but he can choose where he is periodically reborn — and New England has long been a favorite spot for vacationing presidents.
George H.W. Bush’s summertime ties to Kennebunkport helped make that lovely Maine coastal town known worldwide, and son George W. spent some presidential time there, too. Bill and Hillary Clinton loved Martha’s Vineyard. So, too, do Barack and Michelle Obama, though they have also spent some vacation time at Acadia National Park in Maine.
Our history as a region for regal respite is far richer, however. As president, John Adams liked to come back home for an extended stay-cation. New Hampshire’s Franklin Pierce vacationed closer to Washington during his presidency, but returned to New England the summer after leaving office. Chester Arthur, a Vermonter by birth, took at least one vacation in Newport, R.I., a city that claims visits by 26 of the men who would be, were, or had been president, starting with George Washington himself.
Grover Cleveland and his much (28 years) younger wife spent part of their summers in Marion, and, later, Bourne; indeed, after setting to sea for secret cancer surgery in July of 1883, Cleveland continued on to Gray Gables, his summer home in Bourne, to recuperate under the guise of a vacation.
William Howard Taft came to Beverly during each of the four summers of his presidency, there to golf and hobnob with this state’s GOP elite. Woodrow Wilson had his summer White House in Cornish, N.H.
Calvin Coolidge was on vacation at his family’s place in Vermont when he was sworn in as president upon the death of Warren Harding. Dwight Eisenhower made Newport the location of his summer White House. Although he loved the Cape, as president, JFK also frequented Newport in the summer, and went sailing off the Maine coast.
As that history shows, when the dog days of summer descend, presidents start thinking of New England. And who can blame them? This is a region that has it all: Lovely ocean beaches, clean, clear lakes, rugged mountains, rivers both fast and slow-moving, and even, for those who miss, say, Texas, one small desert. A diversion: Why they would miss Texas is quite another matter. My father, who lived in Dallas back in the days before air conditioning was a common amenity, used to quote Civil War General Philip Sheridan to this effect: If I owned Texas and hell, I’d rent Texas and live in hell. These days, he’d rent Texas, advertise hell on Airbnb, and head for New England.
If I were in charge of marketing New England as a tourist destination, I’d start with an ad montage showing all the presidents who have come here for a summer break, followed by this tagline: New England, the bipartisan choice for a great summer time.
Ah, but other jealous regions will respond, your summer is a fleeting thing. True enough — which is why we New Englanders do all we can to protect our July and August weekends from invitations or obligations to travel to other parts of the country.
Which brings me briefly to Scott Brown. The presidential trial balloon he just sent aloft in Iowa has left some thinking our short-lived senator has fallen prey to grandiosity. Not me. His move is an obvious keep-your-name-in-the-news ploy on the part of a politico recently hired because of his prominence by a high-powered law firm. But I am bewildered by his timing. Who in his right mind would leave New England for Iowa during the last lovely weeks in August?
So yes, our season of glory is about to fade into the cool of fall. Still, in New England, autumn is also a many-splendored thing. And after that? Well, as a friend and I savored the summer over recent beers, he leaned in as though to confide a closely held secret.
“You know,” he said, “ski season isn’t that far away.”