Presidents: Rutherford Birchard Hayes
Birthplace: Delaware, Ohio
Visited in 2013.
History complementary with a fill-up.
Sometimes learning is a gas.
A view of the hallowed BP station, from across the street.
A reverse angle of the marker because the people demand it.
Driving around Ohio in search of presidential sites takes a fair amount of gas. While on an all-day excursion in 2013, I had heard about a great gas station in the town of Delaware. Well after sunset, I found myself tanking up at a BP. Through an astonishing coincidence, it also happened to be the birthplace of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1822.
Who knew? I swear, it was a total shock! I definitely didn't plot this out on the Internet and drive one hour out of my way to see a marker at a gas station, for that would be insane!
It was a tough childhood for young Rutherford. His father died 10 weeks before his birth, and at a young age Rud was forced to work to help sustain the family. There were many long days at the gas station, which struggled financially since the automobile had not yet been invented. Many townsfolk wrote in their diaries of a heartbreaking sight: a forlorn Rutherford, his childhood beard barely four inches long, standing by the side of the road and offering to squeegee their horse's face. Only sales of jerky and pre-paid telegraph cards kept the family from abject poverty.
Fun fact: Hayes isn't the only president whose birthplace is currently occupied by a gas station. Calvin Coolidge was born in a back room of his father's Vermont general store, and the filling pumps from the 1930s are still out front (although they are not functional). Hayes' family (seriously) came from Vermont, where his dad was a storekeeper. Is it sad that I can make this connection off the top of my head? Seriously, I'm getting worried.
Spiegel Grove, Fremont, Ohio
Visited in 2007.
Rutherford's very nice Ohio home.
Rutherford's very nice grave, in his back yard.
Rutherford Birchard Hayes was our 19th president, and he had a hellacious beard. It was not always so. There was a time when he was clean shaven, before the war. But war changes men. For example, it can make them grow beards. Seriously, the thing was just huge.
Hayes was born in 1822, sans beard, in Ohio. He never knew his father, who died two months before his birth; Hayes was instead raised by his mother, who had no beard, and his bachelor uncle Sardis, who did. He went to Harvard Law, then returned to Ohio to be a litigator.
When the Civil War broke out, Hayes was so moved by the cause that he formed the volunteer Ohio 23rd Regiment, despite having a wife, several kids and a flourishing law practice. With no prior military training or command experience, his men saw little reason to respect or follow such a baby-faced dandy. Yet such was his love of country, so desperate was Hayes to defend the name of freedom, that he sat, concentrated, and in a 12-hour period, grew a foot-long table duster. It was called Old Soupy. History would never be the same.
Hayes was shot five times while fighting in Virginia, his beard in every case slowing the bullet and saving his life. The Republican party of Cincinnati, hearing tales of the beard's heroics, nominated Hayes' beard as a candidate for the U.S. Congress in 1864. It served two and a half terms before moving on to the Ohio governorship, developing along the way a reputation for honesty, rectitude, and flavor-saving. In 1876, Old Soupy was nominated as a compromise Republican candidate for the presidency. Voters, hesitant to trust the foreign policy of facial hair, actually favored New York Governor Samuel Tilden in the popular vote. But a dispute over election results in the South threw the election to a special 15-member electoral commission, and three days before the Inauguration, 20 electoral votes were awarded to Old Soupy, allowing it to best Tilden 185-184. To avoid any controversy or national strife, the gracious Old Soupy withdrew, and the vice presidential candidate, Hayes himself, was sworn in.
After four uneventful years in the White House, Hayes and his beard retired to Spiegel Grove in Fremont, Ohio, living in a house that still stands today. I checked it out in 2007, and it's a very nice historic site -- Hayes' family lived in the house for generations before turning it into a full-on museum. The house is three stories, with tremendously high ceilings and some swank decorating. It has much more visual pop than most of the presidential homes I've visited. There's also a Hayes museum standing about 100 feet away, which is only mildly informative but does have two chairs made out of animal horns. Hayes is buried on site, and if you want, you can stand in front of his grave, throw a rock and break a window in the residential subdivision creeping alongside the property. This is a huge selling point for those homes: 4 BR, 3 Baths, great view of a dead president!
Hayes' beard continues to live in Fremont to this day; it is married, has four children and coaches basketball at the YMCA. And I swear, one day I shall return to Spiegel Grove with a better camera and do a proper write-up.