Presidents’ Day, the inaptly named holiday with a fickle apostrophe, came and went, as ever, with New Yorkers ignoring it other than perhaps to go shopping. (Not to beat a well-worn drum, but there is no federally sanctioned occasion known as Presidents’ or President’s or Presidents Day. Officially, it is Washington’s Birthday, observed on the third Monday of February.)
Clyde Haberman offers his take on the news.
As holidays go, it is something of an orphan, lacking the spectacles associated with other national days. And somehow, honoring the presidents by going to the Lincoln Tunnel or the George Washington Bridge doesn’t cut it.
But there were other ways for New Yorkers to recognize the day, including visits to locations in the city associated with some of the 43 men who have held the country’s highest office. There are quite a few of them.
Might as well begin at the beginning, at Federal Hall, on the Wall Street site where George Washington was inaugurated in 1789. After taking the oath of office, Washington went to worship nearby at St. Paul’s Chapel. Six years earlier, he had another New York moment when he bade farewell to officers of the Continental Army at Fraunces Tavern.
James Monroe is not commonly thought of as a New Yorker, but after his wife’s death in 1830, he moved here from Virginia to live with his daughter. He died the next year, and was buried in New York City Marble Cemetery, on East Second Street. But he did not rest there for eternity. In 1858, his remains were reinterred in Richmond, Va.
Oddly enough, Monroe was the third president in a row from among the founders to die on the Fourth of July, the other two being John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. They died on the same day in 1826, Jefferson going first.
Then we have Abraham Lincoln, who set himself firmly on the road to White House with a speech at Cooper Union on Feb. 27, 1860. In it, he defended the federal government’s right to control slavery.
In Riverside Park, you could visit Grant’s Tomb, which really should be called Grants’ Tomb, containing as it does the bodies of both President Ulysses S. Grant, and his wife, Julia Dent Grant.
Far less impressive is a small apartment house at 123 Lexington Avenue, off 28th Street, a building now owned by Kalustyan’s, a Middle Eastern and Indian food market. There, Vice President Chester A. Arthur took the presidential oath of office on Sept. 20, 1881, after President James A. Garfield died of gunshot wounds.
A faded brass plaque noting the event used to hang above a row of mailboxes inside the building’s front door, out of sight to almost everyone. Some situations improve. The plaque, though still faded, is displayed somewhat more prominently these days in a glass case facing the street.
Let’s see. You could go to 28 East 20th Street, the birthplace of Theodore Roosevelt, the only president born in this city. Or to the Waldorf Towers, where Herbert Hoover died in 1964. Or to Hunter College’s Roosevelt House on East 65th Street, where Franklin D. Roosevelt lived for a spell with his wife, Eleanor.
At Columbia University you could stroll the campus that Dwight D. Eisenhower led before being elected president in 1952. His vice president, Richard M. Nixon, later became president, and died at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center in 1994. Continuing this chain, Nixon’s ambassador to the United Nations in the early 1970s was another future president, George H.W. Bush.
Bill Clinton settled into office space on 125th Street in Harlem after his presidency, and more recently relocated to Lower Manhattan. A Barack Obama tour could include Amsterdam Avenue at 109th Street. He slept in an alley near there on his first night as a Columbia student in 1981, Mr. Obama said in his memoir, because he couldn’t get into his apartment.
But arguably the most popular president for New Yorkers had nothing to do with the city. That would be Andrew Jackson, whose image is on the $20 bill.
You could have given him props on Monday simply by going to any of the thousands of A.T.M.’s around town.