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Episode 6:
The Saddest President

Feb 17, 2009

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Music, Footnotes & Ephemera

The song is “Pastoral” by Moondog.

I first read about the sad, sad Pierces in a book of Presidential profiles I got at a used bookstore. The book, upon further research, got a key detail wrong. I SO wish it were right, though: the way I first learned the story, Benny Pierce gets killed on the way to the inaugural. So, they’re on their way from New Hampshire; Jane is convinced that they are tempting the wrath of God; the train stops in Baltimore and Benny dies, proving it; she gets off the train; Franklin has to keep going because he’s about to be inaugurated as President of the United States. An epic, if apocryphal, story. Damn facts…

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11 Comments | Leave a Comment

11 Comments on The Saddest President

  1. beansbeansbeans says:

    You rule. This rules. Rule.

  2. andrewc says:

    these are fantastic. thank you.

  3. My day is made. Another good message, i enjoy coming back here and checking your latest blog posts.

  4. Enson Haber says:

    Very nice , thanks a sharing

  5. John R Huff Jr says:

    You seem to get the historical facts correct, but I find your presentation rather distasteful. You are much too insensitive to both the President and Ms. Pierce. You have little respect for the health conditions (alcoholism) and (clinical depression) of both of them. One final thought. It is immature to use the word “suck.”

  6. Gloria says:

    In response to Huff, Jr. up there on his high white throne.

    Alcoholism and clinical depression are certainly serious issues that are no laughing matter. But there is also an art and intelligence in humor, satire, and caraciture. Would you tell Dickens, Twain, Wilde, and Vonnegut that they are immature and insensitive? (Maybe you would!)

    Besides, life is too heavy. We need this sort of lightness to make it through before we turn to dust and ash like both the “President” and “Ms. Pierce!” Ce n’est pas vrai?

  7. Gloria says:

    Hate to be that person, but I spelled “caricature” incorrectly up there, and it’s bothering the heck out of me…
    c’est tout!

  8. Paula says:

    I’ve just discovered this site and your stories. For someone that HATED history in my younger years, I find an interest more so in things now and am enjoying these episodes.

    My question/comment is this though – after listening to this, I researched a bit on and it states President Pierce was sober during his presidency and that the death of Benny was due to the train “decoupling” at a stop where they got off to stretch their legs. There seems to be some inconsistencies in this story. Where do you obtain your information? I also realize with the re-telling of stories, that details change (ever so slighlty) or others interpret facts and opinions differently. So, I ask purely as curiosity and not in any way criticizing.


  9. Paula says:

    **I should have included that stated the train was involved in an accident and did not mention the couple getting off at a stop to stretch their legs.

  10. Terrence Golfulus_shampoo says:

    Linked on in to this page from (a link in) ask historians on reddit. I appreciate you, your knowledge and your casual tone. You sound like you are enjoying yourself and have a true love for talking about history. I feel like I want to hug you(?)