Abe Stands Tall on Tourist Trail


Don’t stop reading just because the word Washington appears in this post. We’re going to talk about fun things in our nation’s capital (and elsewhere), with no mention of current political issues or individuals.

My tourist tip of the year: take a bike ride during a visit to D.C. My family did just that earlier this month as part of an East Coast vacation. In a three-hour, nighttime guided bike ride, we learned more about and had time to reflect at all of the following: Washington Monument; White House; Lincoln Memorial; Jefferson Memorial; World War II, Korea and Vietnam War memorials; and a few other memorable spots. A little exercise and a lot of history in a short time period.

I come back to see a story on top presidential tourism spots in 2009. Abraham Lincoln leads the way, with Indiana contributing through visitors to one of his boyhood homes. Franklin Roosevelt and our first three presidents (Washington, Adams and Jefferson) were also high on the list. And there’s a few surprises.

Some highlights from the article:

According to figures collected by the National Parks Service , nearly 6.8 million people visited sites associated with Lincoln last year, including his memorial on the National Mall, Ford’s Theatre and childhood homes in Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois.

In contrast was John F. Kennedy, who falls at the bottom of the list. His Massachusetts home drew only 16,000 visitors last year, mostly nearby residents and students on field trips. It’s only open part of the year and few people know about it, a National Parks Service rep explained. Many Kennedy enthusiasts pay their respects at the Eternal Flame in Arlington National Cemetery, where he rests, or visit the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, his living memorial.

Those and several other popular spots like Washington’s Mount Vernon and Jefferson’s Monticello are not managed by the NPS or included on this list. Among the lesser known entities:

Who knew that 162,000 people visited Herbert Hoover’s home in Iowa last year? That’s just shy of the entire population of Des Moines, Iowa’s largest city. The popularity of the place may have less to do Hoover’s presidency, which was darkened by the Great Depression, and more to do with modern-day marketing. 

The similarly situated James A. Garfield home in Lawnfield, Ohio, drew far fewer people. Just 17,000 people visited the site recently acquired by the National Parks Service, placing it second to last on the list. Though the Civil War general is a local celebrity in this Cleveland suburb, his national status was limited by the short length of his presidency. Garfield was assassinated six months after taking office.

Special programs, especially those timed to historical events, can make or break a site’s popularity. They even gave Lincoln a boost to the top. Though Lincoln has always been a popular draw — 900,000 people visited his memorial in 1936  — tourists flocked to Lincoln sites last year to celebrate his bicentennial.

The Adams family home in Massachusetts also drew relatively large crowds. Some 250,000 people visited the home of John Adams, who was overshadowed in life and in death by other founding fathers.

The Massachusetts birthplaces of both the second president and his son John Quincy Adams, the sixth president, draws many New Englanders interested in the family’s history. Its location just nine miles from Boston and close to beachside vacation homes doesn’t hurt either.

Tourists are willing to go off the beaten path for one particular president, however. Seniors who lived through Roosevelt’s presidency comprise most of the visitors to his home 90 miles north of New York City.

"For so many in the World War II generation, FDR was their only president," the NPS spokesperson said.

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