25 March 2008

Who Loves Benjamin Harrison?

The Waldorf=Astoria, that's who.

At the center of the lobby of the palatial old hotel is ridiculous grand, and probably horrendously heavy, four-sided clock. It's old enough that it once graced the Rose Room of the previous Waldolf=Astoria down at Fifth and 34th. The hotel bought it after it was exhibited at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. It was made by the Goldsmiths' Company on London.

The base of the thing is octagonal, each face adorned with the sculpted metal likeness of a famed personage. Since the clock was English-made, I guess there was no getting out of one of the faces being that of Queen Victoria. Benjamin Franklin is the only American non-President. Five other sides feature folks you've probably heard of: Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, George Washington and (I'm assuming a lot here) Grover Cleveland. The eighth and final panel goes to Benjamin Harrison, our forgotten 23rd President, who is probably best remembered today (if he is remembered at all) for breaking up Cleveland's two terms. He is safely the face on the clock that most often provokes a "Huh?"

Harrison was one of those guys who won the office by way the electoral collage, failing to win the popular vote. He possessed a weird number of connections to other Presidents and politicians. His grandfather was William Henry Harrison. His granddaughter later married a descendant of James Garfield. His daughter married a grandnephew of Harrison's other Secretary of State, James Blaine (whom Harrison had hated.)

My favorite thing that Harrison did was make it impossible for us to determine whether North Dakota or South Dakota was admitted to the Union first. Before he signed the legislation for the two states, he shuffled the bills so he could only see the bottom of each.

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