by Sarah Marshall
Now that we’ve looked at presidential pets and favorite foods, let’s explore their honeymoons. It’s difficult to judge which has been the most romantic presidential honeymoon in history; possibly a draw between the Nixons’ canned pork-and-beans for breakfast or the honeymoon hours spent by the newlywed wife of Woodrow Wilson compiling the index of a new edition of his book Congressional Government, A Study in American Politics. In any case, if we were to rank presidents in order of greatness of their honeymoons, it would give us a system that might place otherwise mediocre or downright awful presidents at the top, and America’s best leaders near the bottom. Perhaps no one would suffers more under this than Abraham Lincoln with his rented rooms with Mary at the Globe Tavern, but my memories of high-school American history seem to provide vague indications that he had other strengths.
• Barack and Michelle Robinson Obama: The California coast
• George and Laura Welch Bush: Cozumel, Mexico (cut short because George needed to return to his Congressional campaign).
• Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton: Haiti
• George and Barbara Pierce Bush: Sea Island, Georgia
• Ronald and Nancy Davis Reagan: Phoenix
We drove to Phoenix, and along the way my new husband stopped at roadside animal places which featured rattlesnakes and similar creatures.
‘We’ve got a ranch now,’ he kept saying. ‘You’ll have to learn what these things look like.’
Sure. But on my honeymoon? “ — Nancy Reagan, My Turn
• Jimmy and Eleanor Rosalynn Smith Carter — Chimney Rock, North Carolina
• Gerald and Elizabeth Bloomer Warren Ford: Ann Arbor, Michican (included football games and campaign rallies).
• Richard and Thelma “Pat” Ryan Nixon: Mexico
For our honeymoon we drove for two weeks through Mexico. We had very little money, so we had stocked up on canned foods in order to avoid the expense of restaurants. After we were on our way, we discovered that our friends had removed the labels from all our cans, and thus every meal became a game of chance. Several times we ended up having pork and beans for breakfast and grapefruit slices for dinner” — Richard Nixon, RN
• Lyndon and Claudia “Lady Bird” Taylor Johnson: Monterrey and Mexico City, Mexico
“What Lyndon seemed to have liked most about the honeymoon was sex. Lady Bird did not complain about her aggressive husband, but on their return to San Antonio before leaving for Washington, she made a hurried appointment with a gynecologist.” ” — Randall Bennett Woods, Lyndon Baines Johnson
• John F. and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy — Acapulco, Mexico
• Dwight and Mamie Doud Eisenhower: Colorado, Kansas, and Texas
• Harry and Elizabeth “Bess” Wallace Truman: The Harrington Inn in Port Huron, Michigan
• Franklin and Anna Eleanor Roosevelt Roosevelt [not a typo]: A grand tour of Europe
• Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover: A cruise to China, where Herbert would begin work as a mining consultant to Emperor Guangxu. Both Herbert and Lou spoke fluent Mandarin.
• Calvin and Grace Goodhue Coolidge: Montréal (cut from two weeks to one at Grace’s suggestion).
• Warren G. and Florence “Flossie” Kling DeWolfe Harding: After a wedding at Warren’s home in Marion, Ohio, the couple did not take a honeymoon but instead focused all their attentions on Warren’s career as publisher of the Marion Daily Star. Florence refused to wear a wedding ring, saying she didn’t like “badges,” and insisted that the wedding take place between 8:00 and 8:30, as she believed it was bad luck to do anything important while the minute hand was between six and twelve.
• Woodrow and Ellen Axson Wilson: A four-room cottage in Arden, Georgia, where they remained for two months while Woodrow prepared to teach history at Bryn Mawr and Ellen prepared the index a new edition of Woodrow’s book, Congressional Government, A Study in American Politics.
• Woodrow and Edith Bolling Galt Wilson: Two weeks in Hot Springs, Virginia, and White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. (Woodrow may have chosen a modest honeymoon in part to discourage the rumors that had attended his courtship of Edith, as some Washington gossips had gone so far as to allege that she’d murdered the former First Lady in order to take her place. These rumors were helped along by a misprint in the Washington Post, which printed an article that intended to tell readers that, during a night at the theater, “rather than paying attention to the play the President spent the evening entertaining Mrs. Galt,” but instead read “rather than paying attention to the play the President spent the evening entering Mrs. Galt.”)
• William Howard and Helen Harron Taft: A grand tour of Europe
• Theodore and Edith Carow Roosevelt: A grand tour of Europe
• William and Ida Saxton McKinley: New York
• Grover and Frances Folsom Cleveland: Following the first and thus far the only Presidential wedding to take place in the White House (which, incidentally, made Frances, at 21, the youngest first lady in history), the Clevelands spent five days in Maryland’s Cumberland Mountains. (During Cleveland’s first term, his sister Rose had served as first lady.)
• Benjamin and Caroline Scott Harrison: North Bend, Ohio
• Chester A. and Ellen “Nell” Herndon Arthur: Vacationed for two weeks before returning home to live with Ellen’s mother in Virginia. Nell died a year before Chester was elected Vice President, and when he became President following Garfield’s death a year later, his sister served as First Lady in an official capacity. He never remarried.
• James A. and Lucretia “Crete” Rudolph Garfield: In lieu of a honeymoon, the Garfields immediately moved into their new home in Hiram, Ohio.
• Rutherford B. and Lucy Webb Hayes: Rutherford’s sister’s house in Columbus, Ohio.
• Ulysses S. and Julia Dent Grant: A four-month trip to Louisville, Kentucky and Georgetown, Ohio, where they visited Ulysses’ parents, who had refused to attend the wedding because Julia’s family kept slaves.
• Andrew and Eliza McCardle Johnson: Eliza, 16 years old to Andrew’s 18, married younger than any First Lady before or since. The couple were wed by Mordecai Lincoln, a relative of the future president, and following ceremony the Johnsons moved in with Eliza’s mother.
• Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln: In lieu of a honeymoon the couple moved into the Globe Tavern in Springfield, Illinois, where they rented a room at a rate of four dollars a week, in which they would remain for nearly a year.
• James Buchanan never married; his niece, Harriet Lane, served as first lady during his presidency.
• Franklin and Jane Appleton Pierce: Six days in a boardinghouse near Washington, D.C.
• Millard and Abigail Powers Fillmore: Forgoing a honeymoon, the Fillmores married in Moravia, New York, and settled immediately afterwards in East Aurora, 150 miles away.
• Zachary and Margaret “Peggy” Smith Taylor: Following their wedding, Peggy remained on the Kentucky farm given to the couple by the groom’s father, while Zachary, then a lieutenant in the U.S. army, worked in the west.
• James K. and Sarah Childress Polk: After a wedding at the Childress plantation in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, the couple enjoyed numerous parties thrown for them by friends and family, then moved into a two-room house in nearby Columbia.
• John and Letitia Christian Tyler: The couple married at Letitia’s family plantation in Virginia, and forwent a honeymoon. Letitia was to suffer a stroke two years before her husband took office, and would die, at 51, as the result of another stroke during Tyler’s presidency, making her the first first lady to die in the White House. (She remains the first lady with the shortest lifespan.)
• John and Julia Gardiner Tyler: Following a brief courtship and secret wedding in New York, the Tylers honeymooned in Philadelphia and Sherwood Forest, the Virginia plantation that Tyler, who was 30 years older than his new wife, had bought for his retirement.
• William Henry and Anna Symmes Harrison: Fort Washington in Cincinnati, Ohio, where the groom was stationed at the time. Though officially a first lady, Anna never resided in the White House during her husband’s 30-day term.
• Martin and Hannah Hoes Van Buren: First cousins and childhood sweethearts, the couple were married at the bride’s sister’s home in Catskill, New York. It’s unknown whether they honeymooned; Hannah died of tuberculosis 20 years before Van Buren’s presidency, and Van Buren omitted any mention of her from his autobiography. During his presidency the role of first lady was filled by his daughter-in-law, Angelica Singleton Van Buren.
• Andrew and Rachel Donelson Robards Jackson: After their first attempt to marry was rendered invalid by the disclosure that the bride was already married to another, Rachel obtained the first divorce in Kentucky history and the Jacksons were married a second time. After their first wedding, they had honeymooned at the Natchez Trace. (Rachel died shortly before her husband took office, and the position of first lady was filled first by the president’s niece, Emily Donelson, who resigned during a rift with the president over the Petticoat Affair, and then by Sarah Yorke Jackson, the president’s daughter-in-law.)
• John Quincy and Louisa Johnson Adams: Louisa, who was born in London and remains the only First Lady born outside the United States, married John Quincy at London’s All Hallows Barking Parish. The young couple forwent a honeymoon and moved to Berlin, and Louisa did not come to the United States until four years after their wedding.
• James and Elizabeth Kortright Monroe: Long Island
“Our friend Monro [sic] was married & next morning decamp’d for Long Island with the little smiling Venus in his Arms, where they have taken house, to avoid fulsome Complements during their first Transports.” — Congressman Stephen M. Mitchell, in a letter to a friend
• James and Dolley Payne Todd Madison: Winchester, Virginia, at the home of James’ sister Nelly Hite.
• Thomas and Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson: A cottage on the Monticello property, as the mansion had yet to be built. (Martha died 19 years before Thomas became president; their daughter, Martha Washington Jefferson Randolph, served as first lady.)
• John and Abigail Smith Adams: The couple moved into their new home in Braintree, Massachusetts, on the evening of their wedding day.
• George and Martha Dandridge Curtis Washington: The aptly named White House Plantation, Martha’s home during her first marriage.
On her honeymoon, Sarah Marshall would like to travel (and eat) like the Helen Taft and Edith Roosevelt, but will probably end up working like Ellen Wilson, eating canned beans like Pat Nixon, and mooching off of relatives like Peggy Taylor.