Dixie Peach: Not Creepy. Quirky.

Cooler than the other side of the pillow.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Not Creepy. Quirky.

One of the first books not written for children I ever became fascinated with was a book my family had about US presidents. It was published by National Geographic (my father was big into National Geographic) and the book had lots of pictures. Portraits and drawings and cartoons of all the men who had been presidents up until that time - which meant the book only went up to Lyndon Johnson. Before I had even started kindergarten I was quite familiar with what our past leaders looked like - and their wives as well. Over the years, especially once I'd learned to read well enough to read a book like that, I would pull that book off the shelf and pour over it. And once I learned to read I was a bit disappointed to find out that Eleanor Roosevelt had not been a president but had only been married to one - the extra attention paid to her in the book fooled me.

I credit that book with starting me on my fascination with US presidents and the US presidency in general. I've read all sorts of biographies of presidents and early in life I learned to name all the presidents in order. Even now when I have trouble falling asleep I name all the presidents in order. I can tell when I'm starting to get sleepy because I'll forget who the thirteenth and fourteenth presidents were (Millard Fillmore and Franklin Pierce - likely I forget them because they were forgettable as presidents. Fillmore was never even elected president and Pierce just plain sucked at the job). My passion for the presidency expanded to a fascination with presidential trivia and then to presidential assassinations. The combination of the two - presidential assassination trivia - is practically intoxicating to me. No detail is too obscure or weird for me.

My friends have learned to accept my somewhat macabre interest. My husband has learned to actually embrace it. The US presidency isn't something he learned much about during his education so anything I have to say about it is new and interesting to him and if I'm talking about the assassination of a president, he's even more interested. It's politics and true crime all wrapped together. And as proof that my husband indeed knows me, as one of my Christmas gifts he bought for me Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell.

Sarah Vowell is proof that I am not unique in my fascination and interest in the assassination of presidents. In her book she takes various road trips, sometimes dragging her somewhat reluctant friends along, to visit various museums, landmarks, cemeteries, parks, and in the case of the place where John Wilkes Booth was killed, a roadside shrine as she writes about the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield and William McKinley. In short she did what I've done myself - in the case of Lincoln, that is. I have taken advantage of the years I lived in the Washington, DC area and have visited lots of the landmarks involved in the assassination - Ford's Theater, the Petersen house where Lincoln died, the Surratt tavern in Maryland, the Surratt boarding house in DC, and about 20 years ago a took a tour where you travel the escape route of John Wilkes Booth. She pokes around, asks questions and in general makes road trips involving the murder of heads of state sound fun. And to me it would be fun! That's my kind of road trip! Going to see an exhibit showing a bit of John Wilkes Booth's thorax is something you wouldn't have to even dream of talking me into doing. Just say "John Wilkes Booth's thorax" and I would be grabbing my purse. Sarah Vowell's writing about these offbeat trips is interesting, relevent and rather funny. It's part history lesson, part pilgrimage and I am all envious that I wasn't with her when she made these little jaunts to see the (sometimes literal) bits and pieces that make up US history. It was comforting in a way to know that there is someone else out there who shares my quirky interest and for whom no detail is too minute.

And just in case Sarah Vowell Googles her name and finds this post, let me say this to her: I'm with you. John Wilkes Booth was undeniably handsome and would it be wrong to me to say that Lewis Powell was kinda hot? I mean for a guy who slashed up a secretary of state and all.

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Blogger Kristina said...

Quirky is awesome, and by awesome I mean you!

I have this book, but still need to get through it. I've read the first two chapters and really enjoyed them, but stupid school always makes me put it down again. Perhaps I'll finish it after I graduate in April...

3:37 PM  
Blogger TitanKT said...

As you know (may know), I lived in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area for a number of years and I have stood in the exact spot where the Zapruder film was shot. It's deeply weird because it looks exactly the same. It's just all in color. But it looks exactly, precisely the same.

I did not go into the old book depository (which is now, of course, a museum)... but we did walk up on to the grassy knoll and all that and look at the train tracks right behind there.

I had a fascination with the Kennedy assassination and if I remember correctly, wrote a report in high school about it. I was particularly compelled by the Warren Commission and the Zapruder film. I think because it was so gruesome. I remembered feeling awful for Jackie, holding her dead husband like that, getting his blood and brains all over her designer suit. How terrifying and shocking that must've been.

And then to make matters more outrageous, that Oswald was killed by Jack Ruby in front of everyone like that. Wow.


I know what you mean about stupid school always getting in the way of your leisure reading time. I had a sharp PANG of sympathy for you as I read that... I JUST finished my master's and now... checking out books of FICTION from the library is a treat more sweet than any I've had in a LOOOOONG time. You're gonna love it. It's SOOOOO worth it!

5:07 PM  

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