Hottest Heads of State

A scientific and unbiased ranking of world leaders in order of hotness.

JD and Kate Visit the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site

If you like Ulysses S. Grant, you will love our upcoming book, Hottest Heads of State: The American Presidents. You can just read the chapter on Ulysses S. Grant and throw the rest away!

The Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site
Grantwood Village, MO
Adults: Free! | Children: Also free!

Kate: Our visit to the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site began by J.D. making me sit in the car and wait while he drank a huge cup of coffee.

JD: Strictly speaking, it began with me making us stop to buy coffee, since I had done exhaustive research and learned that the U.S. Grant Site does not have a cafe.

Kate: When we (finally) went inside, I could tell J.D. had a lot of coffee that morning by the way he was voluntarily engaging in conversation with strangers.

JD: Well, it was partly that I was overcaffeinated, but it was also that after walking in the front entrance I’d immediately gotten off on the wrong foot with the park ranger, and I wanted to smooth things over.

Kate: I missed that because I was in the bathroom! (The bathrooms are very nice, if you happen to be in the suburb of Grantwood Village and are looking for a place to use the bathroom.) What happened?

JD: I asked for tickets, because their website says you need tickets for the tour of White Haven (which is Grant’s in-law’s house, and the place he met his future wife). But apparently you don’t need tickets, and the ranger assumed I was asking for tickets because I thought I was at Grant’s Farm, a totally separate tourist attraction across the street. As it turns out, this is because the U.S. Grant National Historic Site is a little…let’s say sensitive about Grant’s Farm.

Kate: Now I wish I had asked him, “Where do we get the free beer?”

JD: For those who don’t know, Grant’s Farm is an attraction that takes you on an open-air tram ride through a park filled with bison, elk, and other animals, then you’re dropped off in a mock Bavarian town and given beer, courtesy of Anheuser-Busch. The whole thing is free, except parking.

Kate: And apparently people try to avoid paying for parking at Grant’s Farm by parking at the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site? That is the kind of insolence that President Grant would never put up with.

This is for disposal of worn or distressed flags. So don’t put your mail in it, unless you’re mailing a worn flag to the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War.

JD: I ended up having a long conversation with my new best friend the park ranger about this. Because of staffing cutbacks, they can no longer post a ranger in the parking lot to prevent illegal parking. That’s when I decided to start volunteering for the National Park Service by identifying illegal parkers and keying their cars.

Kate: That’s really going to cut into your time volunteering at our dry cleaner’s parking lot.

I’m guessing about 85% of these visitors to Grant’s Farm are illegally parked at the U.S. Grant Historic Site, just based on how shifty and suspicious they look.

The House and Museum

Kate: Like many presidential museums, you are encouraged to begin your visit by watching a short movie. This movie was about the life of Ulysses S. Grant, which was thematically appropriate.

JD: My first reaction to the movie was admiration for their retractable movie screen. My second reaction was that the actor playing President Grant was not nearly handsome enough. My third reaction was that the actor playing a young Grant was, in fact, handsome enough.

Do you think this actor is handsome enough to play a young U.S. Grant? You can vote “yes” by preordering a copy of our book. If you think he is NOT handsome enough, you can vote “no” by preordering two copies.

Kate: I thought the movie was great.

JD: The movie was great. My favorite part was Grant arguing over the dinner table with his father-in-law about slavery, and the whole time he’s gripping his knife and getting increasingly angry. Did President Grant stab his father-in-law to death with a butter knife? You’ll just have to visit the Ulysses S. Grant Historic Site to find out!

Kate: Now that our interest was piqued, it was time to take a tour of White Haven, to look for evidence of murder.

The scene of the crime…of stealing Ulysses S Grant’s heart! But also maybe the crime of murder.

JD: We were the only visitors there, so the park ranger who does not like illegal parkers walked us up to the house. We started chatting about Missouri and the Civil War, and he mentioned the Camp Jackson Affair. I said “I don’t think I’m familiar with that,” because of course I’m not.

Kate: Twenty minutes later, we were both intimately familiar with the Camp Jackson Affair.

JD: False! I quite literally did not remember what it was until I looked it up on Wikipedia just now. Here is a summary in the form of a limerick I just wrote:

There once was a border state,
Whose guv’nor was full of hate.
He tried to seize arms,
This set off alarms,
So he fled the capital with a rump state legislature, which then “seceded” and “joined” the Confederacy, but since they no longer controlled Missouri it was largely a symbolic gesture, and to complete the rhyme I will again say the word “alarms.”

Kate: The tour of White Haven is self-guided, which means the park ranger waits outside on the back porch while you walk through the empty house, trying to figure out how soon you can leave without hurting the park ranger’s feelings.

Escaping from a burning building is the perfect time to learn the definition of the word “egress.”

JD: After reflecting on the fact that I was treading the same floorboards that Grant trod, we walked down to the old barn, which houses the museum proper.

Kate: When you arrive, the museum will be ready. It has been waiting for you, ready to suck you in and systematically dismantle everything you thought you knew about Ulysses S. Grant.

JD: In large part, the setup of the museum is “Oh, you’ve heard Ulysses S. Grant was a drunk? Let’s look at the evidence and see if that’s true.” “You’ve heard he was a butcher?” “You’ve heard he was prejudiced?” “You’ve heard he was a Sphinx?”

When I use a “Butcher?” folder to hold my resume, my job interviews get weird fast.

Kate: Now JD wants me write an segue introducing his rant about how Grant’s reputation has been dragged through the mud by historians who opposed Reconstruction and racial equality in general.

JD: He basically went from being a national hero at his death, to being viewed as a corrupt, drunken butcher. (And a Sphinx, I guess. A drunken Sphinx.) And that’s kind of what I expected when we showed up—that the museum’s message would be, “Well, Grant was awful, but every president deserves a historic site. I guess.

Kate: That would look pretty great on a placard.

JD: Instead, the message was more “Grant was pretty great, especially because he helped win the Civil War, which was about slavery. He wasn’t perfect, but no one is! Especially you, since you’re probably planning to sneak across the street and visit Grant’s Farm.”

The Gift Shop

JD: The gift shop mainly carries books, about Grant, which is a mistake. Imagine you went to a restaurant that served really great pasta, and you ate a huge meal, and then as you were leaving they said “Hey buddy, want to buy some pasta?” This is literally the time when you are least inclined to buy pasta. You are already full of pasta, and similarly, I was full of Grant. What I really could have gone for, after spending a couple hours there, was some food. Maybe the gift shop should be selling pasta.

Kate: I noticed that they had a lot of Abraham Lincoln stuff. That made me feel sad for Ulysses S. Grant, not for the first time on this trip.

The “My first tatting” kit sold in the gift shop does not include a portrait of U.S. Grant. So you’re just going to have to go from memory when you’re in the parking lot, giving yourself a U.S. Grant tattoo.

JD: They do, of course, carry the little wooden cup-and-ball toy that every presidential library gift shop carries. I found myself wondering where are these cup-and-ball toys are coming from, so I checked the label, and the answer is Bellows Falls, Vermont.

Kate: I’m not sure where you’re going with this.

JD: I think we should move to Bellows Falls and work for that company. Cup-and-ball toys seem like a recession-proof industry, unlike scented candles or humor books. It’s when people are the most down on their luck that they want to forget about their troubles with a rollicking game of cup-and-ball!

The Cafe

JD: As noted previously, the Grant Historic Site does not have a cafe. They don’t even sell old-timey rock candy or black licorice in the gift shop, like every other presidential site.

Kate: So if you’re going, bring your own licorice!

JD: Or just go across the street and get a bratwurst and free beer at Grant’s Farm.

Kate: You won’t even have to move your car! Just leave it at the Grant Historic Site. They love it when people do that.

JD: I wonder if the National Park Service would be open to us setting up a bratwurst stand in their parking lot. If nothing else, it would would help them stick it to Grant’s Farm.

Kate: I think we’d need to ease them into the idea. We could start by selling loose cigarettes in their parking lot, and then slowly work our way up to bratwursts.

Should I bring my kids?

Kate: We did NOT bring our kids with us to the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site. And it was heaven. It made me rethink ever bringing our kids anywhere ever again.

JD: When was the last time we got to spend 20 minutes talking to a stranger about the Camp Jackson Affair? I bet we’d be talking to people about the Camp Jackson Affair all the time if it weren’t for our kids. I could just wear a button that said “Ask me about the Camp Jackson Affair.”

Kate: For the sake of our research, I tried to imagine how our kids would have fared at the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site. And I think they would have been fine. Grant’s house is empty because all of his original furniture was destroyed in a fire, so there’s nothing left to be destroyed by your children.

JD: The museum has a bunch of fake owls in the rafters, presumably to scare off rodents. I think those would have intrigued the kids. Or, scared them off. Either way, more time for me to try on costumes representing countries Grant visited on his post-presidential around-the-world tour.

Kate: Overall, the U.S. Grant Historic site really hits that sweet spot of having enough kid-friendly stuff to keep your children occupied, but without being fun enough that they’ll be sad when it’s time to leave. And they really can’t do anything that will get them in trouble, except for illegal parking.

What would you change?

Kate: It’s hard to complain about a presidential museum that is totally free. What could they possibly owe me? That said, with such a meager gift shop and no cafe, it’s like they’re not even trying to take my money.

JD: I think they should have free beer. That would turn the lack of a cafe into a plus, because after a couple beers on an empty stomach, you’d be like, “Whoa, I’m a little tipsy, this is the perfect way to learn about Ulysses S. Grant, the notorious drunk!” But then you’d learn that Grant really wasn’t a drunk—at least not more than you, the person who gets tipsy at history museums—and you’d feel bad for judging him. And feeling bad for judging Grant is the whole point of the Ulysses S. Grant Historic Site.

Final thoughts

JD: If you are a nerd, like me, then you like it when history museums talk about why one historical narrative became dominant. The Grant site does this better than just about any museum I’ve ever visited, underscoring that the Civil War is a weird case where the losers wrote the history books, and the victors were like, “Fine, whatever, just don’t secede again.” Which is how we end up having a debate in 2017 over whether or not we should have monuments to men who raised armies and waged war against the United States for the cause of slavery.

Kate: Everyone should visit the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site. It should be mandatory, like jury duty.

JD: Maybe that should be their slogan. “It’s like jury duty! You have to do it and there’s no cafe.”

Read the rest of this series:
JD and Kate Visit the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum
JD and Kate Visit the Jimmy Carter Presidential Museum
JD and Kate Visit Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage
JD and Kate Visit the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

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How to Celebrate Herbert Hoover’s Birthday

Herbert Hoover

Your long wait is over. It is finally, finally Herbert Hoover’s birthday.

What I love about Herbert Hoover’s birthday is that it’s the one day of the year when you get to really focus on Herbert Hoover, all day long, to the exclusion of everything else. Here are some ideas to help you plan a celebration that’s fun, rewarding, and full of memories that will help get you through the rest of the year. Which even now is looming, dark and inescapable, like an approaching sandstorm.

1. Eat Oatmeal. Herbert Hoover was a Quaker, which means that it’s the perfect day to whip out your microwave and make a delicious bowl of Quaker oatmeal. With each nourishing mouthful, it will be like you’re taking a steaming hot bite of Herbert Hoover.

2. Be efficient. Hoover was an adherent of the Efficiency Movement, so with everything you do today, try to be as efficient as possible. For starters, reading this list is probably not an efficient use of your time.

3. Dig a mine. Did you know that Herbert Hoover had a personal fortune, and that he made it in mining? You’ve been meaning to amass a personal fortune, and what better way to do so than by digging a mine in your backyard? Who knows what kind of valuable resources you’ll find! Soil? Electricity? Natural gas?

4. Disaster relief. Herbert Hoover helped evacuate thousands of Americans from Europe when WWI broke out. So the least you can do is help your neighbors evacuate after their house is swallowed by a sinkhole due to your poor mining practices.

5. Distribute food. Herbert Hoover saved millions of Europeans from starvation during WWI, even though (at the time) he was a private citizen. You can recognize his humanitarian work by having a European over for dinner. (If you don’t know any Europeans, just go to the airport and stand at Arrivals with a sign that says “I want to have a European for dinner.”)

6. Play Hooverball. What better way to cap off the day’s activities than with a rousing game of Hooverball? Hooverball was invented by Herbert Hoover’s doctor to help the then-president stay in shape. Wikipedia describes it as a “a combination of volleyball and tennis, played with a 6 lb medicine ball.” Which leaves a lot of room for interpretation. So as long as you use a 6 lb medicine ball, feel free to combine volleyball and tennis in any ratio you like.

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A Fake Interview with Donald Trump

JD pretend to interview Donald Trump

President Donald Trump claims to hate The New York Times, which he calls “the failing New York Times,” yet he keeps giving them interviews. We, on the other hand, have not secured a single interview with him, even though he has never once called us “the failing Hottest Heads of State.” (Despite the fact that we are, by some measures, more of a failure than the New York Times.)

Fortunately, if there’s one thing I picked up at the University of Missouri School of Journalism (back when I regularly walked past it and imagined what was being taught inside) it’s that you’re allowed to make up interviews as long as you use real quotes.

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Justin Trudeau Fan Fiction, Ch. 2

Justin Trudeau on stairs

Chapter 2: In Which Justin Trudeau Makes an Indecent Proposal,
But Probably Not the Kind You’re Hoping For.

So far, your second day of work has been better than your first. You haven’t gotten trapped inside any falling elevators, and you haven’t had any embarrassing encounters with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Maybe being a member of Canadian parliament won’t be so bad after all! That is, as long as you can continue to avoid (1) elevators and (2) Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (And also (3) the ghost that haunts Parliament Hill. But that’s a story for another day!)

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Memoir Quebecois, Part 2

Dinosaur exhibit at the Granby zoo

We live in a golden age of human achievement.

If you haven’t been reading JD’s travel diary, then you haven’t been missing out on much. Don’t believe me? Just check out Part 1!

Friday, July 7

Dear Diary,

We got the first pass version of our book on Thursday night, so I stayed inside all day on Friday working on the book and ignoring the kids’ requests that I 1) play ninja, 2) play pillowfight, or 3) play ninja pillowfight.

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JD and Kate Visit the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum

Are you as excited as we are for the release of our book Hottest Heads of State: The American Presidents, on January 30, 2018? Probably not. But that’s OK. Healthy, even.

Exterior of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum

The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum
Atlanta, GA
Adults: $8 | Children (16 and under): Free

JD: For a while we were wandering around a big park, lost, looking for the museum. When we finally stumbled upon it, I said, “The Carter Library sneaks up on you…just like the real Jimmy Carter!”

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Sincerely, Dick

Relationship Advice from Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon writes his own relationship advice column

Richard Nixon recorded all of his Oval Office conversations, and the transcripts from these secret tapes are an nonstop explosion of profound wisdom and keen observations about the human condition. If you’ve ever read through the transcripts yourself, you probably thought, “If only this guy had his own relationship advice column!” Well, all of your wildest dreams are about to come true.

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JD and Kate Visit...

JD and Kate Visit the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site

U.S. Presidents

How to Celebrate Herbert Hoover's Birthday

U.S. Presidents

A Fake Interview with Donald Trump