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Thursday, April 7, 2016

President Benjamin Harrison

I made the time on my way back home from Kentucky to stop in Indianapolis and visit the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site which is located in his home he built before he became president.

In the Welcome Center behind the home is a display dedicated to Benjamin Harrison's grandfather, William Henry Harrison, who was elected our 9th President in 1841 but unfortunately has the distinction of being the president to hold office for the least amount of time at just over 30 days.  He caught a cold which developed into pneumonia and became the first president to die in office.

campaign ribbons, William Henry Harrison

Benjamin was the 23rd President, and was our inaugural president as he was in office 100 years after George Washington.  Some of his accomplishments included expansion of our Navy, the opening of Ellis Island, the Sherman Antitrust Act which put a limit on monopolies, and was the U.S. President who opened our second, third and fourth National Parks!

Harrison campaign memorabilia

Harrison was also the first U.S. President to receive votes from women, and advocated for African American rights though was unsuccessful in getting Congress to vote on improving their voting and educational rights.

President Harrison had a tendency to defy the social rules of the time, letting his grandchildren eat in the dining room with him (more often children ate in the kitchen) and believe it or not he even let his wife have her own writing desk in his office.  Imagine, treating your wife as if she might be an intellectual equal!

My favorite story my guide Jacob told me was about President Harrison's pet goat that was kept at the White House.  Here's an excerpt from the Presidential Pet Museum website:
President Harrison was known for closing up the Oval Office around noon most days and heading out to the White House Lawn to play with his grandchildren and their many pets.  One of those White House pets was Old Whiskers (or “His Whiskers,” according to some sources).

Like most goats, Old Whiskers was a bit of an ornery fellow. One day, the goat apparently had had enough of pulling a cart and being poked and prodded by children. Possibly falling under the misconception that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, Old Whiskers took off running through the White House gates trailing the cart with the Harrison grandchildren aboard.

The president, who was waiting for his own carriage at the front of the White House at the time, raced after the cart. Old Whiskers did eventually stop, but only after quite a few Washington, D.C., residents saw their commander-in-chief running down the street holding on to his top hat, waving his cane and yelling at a goat.

A response to the competition posed by the phonograph, the Reginaphone
was a hybrid machine that played both music box discs and phonographs.
Here's a link to a Youtube video playing a Reginaphone.  The Harrison home had one with a collection of discs to play on it and it was fun to imagine the Harrisons lounging around listening to it instead of the piano.

There was a bedroom in the home dedicated to the President's daughter, Mary.  Of course the fact I came away with was that due to lifelong corset training the poor woman had a waist that was only 17 inches!  Maybe it was 19 inches, but think for a moment about what that meant for that woman's organ placement.   Disturbingly, when I googled corset training I discovered that apparently modern women are doing this today but call it "waist training" instead.

President Harrison loved technology and had what was probably the first telephone in Indianapolis installed in his home, and he was the one that had electricity installed in the White House.  He also collected canes.  A special cane hand carved for him with the heads and names of the presidents had a few spelling errors though like this example of "Manderson" instead of "Madison".

I enjoyed the political cartoons on display.  If you're interested in seeing more, I found a website focusing on cartoons from the Depression to the Millenium.

Overall it was a great little museum and I'm looking forward to seeing more presidential sites.  If you want to explore some too here's a link from the National Park Service.


  1. You have increased my knowledge ten fold on President Harrison. Interesting stop.

  2. Interesting museum on a president I had not heard of though I did know of one short lived. Seeing your blog reminds me I would like to visit the home of our Greatest PM Churchill

  3. What a great-looking house! As Judy said, thanx for the info ... who knew?

  4. I can't believe we didn't visit this place when we stopped in Indianapolis to see friends! My husband is a history person and we never seem to miss a Presidential museum. I much prefer these smaller scale places. Thanks for sharing!