Friday, December 02, 2011


I have a long walk home from work every day (2.3 miles according to my Fitbit), and that gives me plenty of time to think (sometimes too much time). Lately I’ve been thinking about luck. Maybe it’s because I read a story about a guy who just won $1 million in the Georgia Lottery – for the second time.

I like to say the luckiest day of my life was the day I was born: happy, healthy, and whole, into a large and loving family at a propitious time and place in history. That’s a lot of advantages right from the get-go. You’d have to work pretty hard to screw that up (and don’t think I haven’t tried).

But that’s not really luck. More like an accident with fortunate consequences.

In my senior year of college, I met with the head of the folklore department to discuss the (admittedly limited) opportunities in my chosen field. His name was Henry Glassie. He was tall and lean with an unfashionably bushy mustache and a seemingly endless supply of plaid shirts. He looked exactly like the head of a folklore department should.

(As an aside, Professor Glassie is truly one of America’s greatest living folklorists. His first book, Pattern in the Material Folk Culture of the Eastern United States, is a seminal work in the field. In researching it, he visited every county east of the Mississippi River. Every county. Think about that for a minute.)

In his wonderfully untidy office, Professor Glassie warned me that folklore was not a particularly lucrative pursuit. This did not come as a surprise to me. “The only way I’ll ever get rich is if I win the lottery,” I said. “And I never play the lottery so I’ll never be rich.” At this he laughed and said, “What a marvelous syllogism!” I laughed back and pretended I knew what the hell a syllogism was.

Life comprises two things: the choices we make and everything else. And everything else is out of our hands. If you choose to play the lottery, you might win. If you choose not to, then you won’t win. So even winning the lottery begins with a choice. In the end, luck has nothing to do with it.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Public intoxication

Walking home from work on Thursday (yes, I had to work on Thanksgiving), I saw a highly inebriated gentleman standing in the middle of the sidewalk. Apparently he had an urgent need to urinate, but was having trouble accessing the necessary organ. Sometimes it's tough to reach, what with all the layers. He was hunched over, fiddling around with his zipper like it was a Gordian Knot (great band, btw). Suddenly he stood upright, as if a thought had just occurred to him (perhaps "Maybe I shouldn't be urinating here"). But this sudden movement started him teetering, and he fell backwards, like a felled tree. He seemed unfazed by this development, and by the time I reached him, stretched across the sidewalk flat on his back, his eyes were closed and he was smiling. I hope he didn't fall asleep. The temperature was about -5 F.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wow, can’t believe it’s already Thanksgiving. Sorry I haven’t posted much lately. Between the bouts of heavy drinking and the hard work, who’s got the time? (Just kidding of course; I haven’t been working that hard.) ...

First, I have an update on the mystery of the fate of the Oneida, the yacht on which Grover Cleveland’s secret cancer surgery was performed. As I blogged about a few weeks ago, somebody sent me a picture they snapped last summer of a boat that looks an awful lot like the Oneida. It was exciting to think that the Oneida was still out there, since its ultimate fate is still unknown (to me, at least).

Well, this week I got an e-mail from somebody who thinks the yacht in that picture is actually
the Cangarda (built in 1901) – and I think he’s right:

Drats, I was really hoping I’d found the Oneida.

On the home front, it’s been getting colder and colder in Ulaanbaatar, but we’re adjusting. The other morning Allyson was getting ready for work when she asked me what the weather was like outside. I said, “Not too bad: four above.” (And that’s Farenheit, of course.) A couple weeks ago we went out to dinner and walked home in a temperature of nine below. That was pretty cold.

And the simple act of walking is complicated by the fact that the entire city is pretty much covered with a layer of ice, including the sidewalks. At least the snow makes the open manholes easier to see. 

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Beijing Trip

Allyson had a conference in Beijing last week and I tagged along to check out the city. We got a bit of sightseeing in on Friday and Saturday and generally had a good time. I was impressed by the city: clean, modern, totalitarian. But the public displays of expectoration were startlingly numerous (and disgusting). People here in UB spit in public a lot, but nothing like the Chinese, who seem to be conjuring a piece of an internal organ with the preliminary hacking, then expel the result on the sidewalk (or, in one case, the floor of the meat market), not to mention everything else in the general vicinity. Seriously, don't talk to me about "cultural differences" -  you'll never be regarded as a modern city as long as people are hocking loogies in public. (And there are packs of wild dogs roaming about - but that's a different rant.)

Anyway, here I am in Tiananmen Square. I was going to write "freedom" on a bed sheet and run around with it, but Allyson talked me out of it.

On Saturday we took a cooking class and learned how to make won tons, dumplings, etc. Here's Allyson carefully making a won ton.

 And here we are enjoying the fruits of our labors!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A four-leaf clover...

One day in 1971 - 40 years ago! - when I was five years old, I found a four-leaf clover in my backyard. 
My mom had it laminated (remember those laminating vending machines?). 
It's fallen apart a bit, but I still have it - and I still haven't found another four-leaf clover since then.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Horseback riding

Allyson and I went horseback riding last weekend 
at Bogdkhan Uul National Park, 
about 20 km outside Ulaanbaatar. 
Just my second time on a horse. 
We took a two-hour trek with a guide. 
Actually traversed some challenging terrain. 
It was a blast!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Grover Cleveland's "secret operation" yacht found?

I received an interesting e-mail recently from Robert DeSimone, who read an article about the secret operation on Grover Cleveland that I wrote for BoatUS (a great magazine, incidentally). In the article (and in my book about the operation), I mentioned that the ultimate fate of the Oneida, the yacht on which the operation took place is unknown:

Around 1914, Elias Benedict [the owner] sold the yacht, which was rechristened the Adelante and converted into a towboat. During World War I the Adelante was commandeered by the U.S. Navy and put into service setting up a network of maritime radio stations along the Maine coast. After the war, it went back into service as a towboat, operating out of New York under the names John Gulley and Salvager. By 1941, the boat, once one of the grandest yachts in the world and the site of a unique episode in American history, had been abandoned. Presumably it was sold for scrap. 

Well, Robert e-mailed me a photo of a yacht that looks a lot like the Oneida. Here’s what he wrote:

I was flipping through the magazine and saw the first page of your article. As I looked at the picture I immediately remembered a picture I took while vacationing in Nantucket. When I took the picture of that glorious old ship my imagination started to whirl. I really did think there was something “presidential” about this boat, some great history behind it. I snapped the picture and moved on. I'm no expert on yachts either, but the details are strikingly similar with the exception of the center mast and rear deck structure. Over its lifespan the Oneida would have had many retrofits and upgrades. Who knows, maybe she sat dormant for years and was eventually restored to her original beauty. The setting for your article seems to match the region where I saw the boat. I would guess it's a privately owned yacht. This picture was taken on August 19, 2011 in the Nantucket Harbor. I wish I had snapped a picture of the name on her stern. Maybe it's a bit of history lost and now found? 

OK, below is the picture that Robert sent me. Below that are two pictures of the Oneida, one taken around the time of the operation in 1893, another taken in 1914, when the yacht was the towboat known as the Adelante (click on an image to enlarge it):


UPDATE: A friend just emailed this old picture of the Oneida that he found online. It's facing the same direction as the yacht in the photo that Robert sent me, which make comparing the boats a bit easier:

I agree: The boats sure do look similar. Could it be that Grover’s “secret operation” yacht is still out there plying the waters off the East Coast? What do you think? Any suggestions on how I can identify the boat in the photo that Robert sent me? Please let me know.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Harry Truman's Utmärkt Resan

For some reason, my Truman book has been reviewed in Swedish. Here's the original, and here's the "English" version courtesy of the Google translator. From the latter, here's my favorite bit:
In a postscript to the paperback edition from 2011 of his book (the original was introduced in 2009) says Algeo that he managed to trace the car to a farm near Kansas City, unfortunately in rather poor condition and impossible expensive to restore (in the overgrown garden of a jew lawyer family outside Philadelphia I invited over a Thanksgiving weekend at the mid-sixties there was an equally imaginative and derelict car, a big station wagon with exterior wooden slats that belonged to the radical artist Ben Shahn ( with the posthumous portrait of Day Hammarsköld with the menacing ash ).

Monday, September 12, 2011

Set your phasers to stun(ned)...

OK, this is cool: In this interview, Walter Koenig (Chekov from Star Trek) says the last book he's read is ... The President Is a Sick Man!

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Did we get lost on the way to Tsetseguun.......

Today we have a guest blogger -- my first! It's Chuck Howell of USAID here in UB. Chuck organized last weekend's hike and wrote about it for the Nomad News, the embassy community's newsletter. With Chuck's kind permission, I'm republishing his article here. And, before you ask, yes there were two Al(l)lysons on the hike: Mine (Allyson) and the "new" Alyson (aka One L).

Did we get lost on the way to Tsetseguun.......

Or was it a clever ruse? Should we have taken the turn to the left instead of the right? You may ask how Tumi, Chuck, and Michelle -- all of whom have hiked Tsetseguun several times could have taken a wrong turn on the busiest and best marked trail in Boghdan National Park? Or was it a planned wrong turn in order to give a real experience of hiking in the forest? Either way, our group, that in included not only the above three but also first time Mongolia hikers, Allyson A, Matthew, Alyson M, and Carrie (friend of Michelle's), experienced a truly great hike and first exposure to the great natural beauty of Mongolia.

Regardless, we found a new way to walk within 20 -25 minutes of the summit without running into other hikers or noise other than our own. Granted, there were more rock outcrops to negotiate and more bogs with hidden holes to avoid, but in general it was a good test for us.

The hike to Tsetseguun on the regular trail takes almost two hours. At the two hour mark on our hike, we were unsure whether we should hike to the left or right to find the trail. So we took a lunch break while Tumi climbed a couple of levels of a nearby rock hill to determine our location. We knew we were close to the summit, but which way to go was the question. Tumi was able to get to the top of the rock hill for a remarkable vista looking north and east. He also saw Tsetseguun and upon his return, we headed in the direction of gradual left. After about 10 minutes we came to the main path. At that point we were about 5 minutes from the plateau and 20 from the summit. Alyson and I hiked another 12 minutes north to a vista point on the plateau while the rest of our intrepid group headed down, or south, on the marked path.

On the way down we were passed by groups and groups of people headed to Tsetseguun -- more people than we had ever seen on the mountain. They were having a great hike up and looking forward to celebrating at the summit.

Tsetseguun is always a great hike whether you make the left turn that is marked or go the path less taken -- just be sure, if you take the path less traveled, you also go with Tumi. The other tip is to depart Ulaanbaatar so you can be at the trail head by 9am at the latest because of the buses and groups that start around 10am.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Is that Cleveland or Taft?

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Hiking Trip, September 3, 2011

Allyson and I joined a few friends for a hike today. It was a perfect day for a hike, but the sun was very intense (hence the headgear). We lost the trail for a while, but had a great day nonetheless. And on the way home we stopped at a ger and picked up some fermented mare's milk. Delicious!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Waiting for Joe (and Pedestrianism)

Been a busy week here in UB. Joe Biden - VPOTUS, doncha know - is visiting tomorrow, so Allyson has been working nonstop. And I've started my new job as the English-language editor at the website Oh, and I sold my next book. It will be about pedestrianism, the great competitive-walking craze of the nineteenth century. Did you know that pedestrianism was once the most popular spectator sport in the English-speaking world? You will after you read Pedestrianism: When Watching People Walk Was the World’s Most Popular Pastime. Of course, that won't be until 2013 or so. (Pictured above is Edward Weston, photographed circa 1909. Weston was one of America’s most famous pedestrians. In 1861, he walked from Boston to Washington in ten days. Six years later, Weston collected a $10,000 prize by walking from Portland, Maine to Chicago in 26 days.)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Corporations and People

"Corporations are people, my friend." -Mitt Romney, 2011

"Corporations, which should be carefully restrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people, are fast becoming the people’s masters." -Grover Cleveland, 1888

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Brother can you spare 123 tughrik?

Mongolian currency has no coins, only bills. This can lead to a deceptively thick wallet. (I bet Mongolian men have a higher rate of back problems because their wallets are so fat.) For example, the photo above depicts 1,065 tughrik on the left, and its equivalent in U.S. currency on the right: 87 cents. (The current exchange rate is 1,229 tughrik = 1 dollar.) Mongolian bills come in eleven denominations: 20,000, 10,000, 5,000, 1,000, 500, 100, 50, 20, 10, 5, and 1 (though I've never seen a 1 tughrik note, which is worth about 1/12 of one cent). The hard part is, every note above 100 is the same size and features the same portrait (of Chinggis Khaan, naturally), so they are notoriously difficult to tell apart. Each denomination is a slightly different color, but with especially worn bills it's hard to tell.

Speaking of money, I have found a job! I will be working as an editor for the English version of the Mongolian news website It's only part-time, but I will be working mainly with Mongolians, which should help me pick up the language more quickly. And, I don't mean to brag, but my weekly salary will be well into the six figures!

Sunday, August 07, 2011

It's "officially" a best seller!

I guess I am officially a "best-selling author" now: The President Is a Sick Man is No. 10 on this week's Maine Sunday Telegram best-sellers list! Click here to see the list.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

PBS NewsHour, July 29, 2011

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.

Here I am discussing The President Is a Sick Man with Ray Suarez on the PBS NewsHour last Friday. And in case you missed it, the website recently gave the book a very lengthy (and positive) review. Click here to read it. More updates from Ulaanbaatar coming soon!

Sunday, July 24, 2011


We arrived in Ulaanbaatar late Thursday night. The kitties were on the same flight (they had been shipped separately from Washington). Our apartment is great! We don't have Internet yet, so I can't go into much detail, but it suffices to say that we are well and happy. The photo above was taken yesterday (Saturday, July 23) in front of one of the Buddhist temples in UB...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Longellow Books, Portland, ME, 7 PM Tuesday

Crazy week. Left DC for Maine last Friday but unexpectedly had to fly back to DC yesterday to do something for the book. Tomorrow (Tuesday, July 19) I will be back in Maine to do a reading at 7 PM at Longellow Books in Portland (click here for details). I hope to see a lot of familiar faces there! Then... early Wednesday morning... we fly out of Portland for Ulan Bator - via Detroit and Seoul. Should be quite the adventure!!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

NMHM event last night

Many, many thanks to the National Museum of Health and Medicine for organizing such a wonderful event in Silver Spring. More than 50 people attended!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

National Museum of Health and Medicine

I'm really looking forward to tonight's event for the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Maryland (just outside Washington). (Click here for details.) The museum has slides with samples of Grover's tumor!

The movers came yesterday and packed up our stuff. Now we're living out of suitcases until we get to Ulaanbaatar. We leave Washington on Friday for Maine. We leave portland for UB on the 20th - a week from tomorrow. Hard to believe!

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Quick update...

I was interviewed about The President Is a Sick Man on NPR's Morning Edition this week. Click here to listen. Incidentally, I will be anchoring the NPR newscasts overnight tonight (July 9 - 10). Insomniacs tune in!

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Friday, June 24, 2011

Book TV

My reading last month at the Museum of American Finance in New York will be aired on C-SPAN's Book TV this Sunday, June 26, at 11 AM and 8 PM EDT. Click here for more information.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Seattle, TONIGHT (if it's Tues. June 21)

Took the train from Chicago to Seattle with an old friend. A most memorable trip (though not always in a good way; we ran about five hours late). It's great/amazing/weird to be back in Seattle, where I lived for five years ('88 - '93). It sure has changed a lot since then, I can tell you that. Anyway, I will be appearing at Third Place Books just outside Seattle tonight at 7 PM. Please come see me, old Seattle friends - we're all going out for beers afterwards. Fore more info about the event, click here.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Washington Post review, Philly event

The Post gave my book a pretty nice review today. Click here to read it. This Wednesday (June 15) I will be doing an event that I've been really looking forward to: I will be speaking at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia at 6:30 pm. This is where Grover Cleveland's tumor is on display, and the museum will be open for the event, so you can come here me prattle on about my book and see the tumor! Click here for details.

Friday, June 10, 2011

JFK Stadium, Philadelphia, August 1982

This is a picture of me and and my sister Joan at a concert at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia on August 21, 1982. The lineup was Robert Hazard, Flock of Seagulls, Blondie, Elvis Costello, and Genesis. Tickets were $15.25. Hard to believe it's been nearly 30 years since this photo was taken, and nearly 20 since JFK was torn down. We went to the concert with Joan's friend Lisa, who recently sent me this picture. Priceless. Thank you, Lisa!

Monday, June 06, 2011

Wheeling, Tuesday, June 7

My event in Wheeling, WV tomorrow (Tuesday, June 7) will be a fundraiser for West Virginia Tornado Relief. Click here for details.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

WORD Bookstore, Brooklyn, June 2, 2011

Had a great event at WORD last Thursday, where I was interviewed by my friend (and Washington Post art and architecture critic) Philip Kennicott. Next time you're in NYC, check out WORD: it's a wonderful bookstore!

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Happy 125th anniversary to Uncle Jumbo and Frankie!

One hundred twenty-five years ago today - on June 2, 1886 - President Grover Cleveland and Frances Folsom were married. The ceremony took place in the Blue Room of the White House. It was an intimate ceremony: just twenty-eight guests, including all the members of the cabinet and their wives, excepting Attorney General Augustus Garland, who, after the death of his wife several years earlier, had pledged to never again take part in “social festivities,” declining even to attend his own son’s wedding. The forty-nine-year-old groom donned a tuxedo with a white bowtie. The twenty-one-year-old bride wore a gown of heavy corded satin so stiff it could stand up by itself. Grover’s brother William, a Presbyterian minister, presided. In her vows, Frances promised to “love, honor, and . . . keep”--not “obey.” The music was provided by the Marine Band under the direction of John Philip Sousa...

Really looking forward to tonight's event in Brooklyn. Click here for more information.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Brooklyn, Thursday night...

I'm doing an event Thursday night at WORD, a great bookstore in Brooklyn. It will be a little different than the usual reading; it will be done in an interview format, and my interviewer will be my friend and the Washington Post's culture critic, Phil Kennicott. It should be a lot of fun, and I hope my legions of friends and fans in the NYC area will show up. Click here for more information. Speaking of the Post, a book review that I wrote for them appeared in last Sunday's paper. Click here to read it. Oh, and here's an interview I did for the book on WNED Radio in Buffalo.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Politics and Prose, Washington, DC, May 28, 2011

Had a wonderful event at Politics and Prose on Saturday night. In my remarks I noted that, for authors, doing a reading there is the equivalent of playing Madison Square Garden. I have another big event coming up Thursday night in Brooklyn. It will be at WORD, a wonderful little bookstore. Click here for more information.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Buffalo, May 26, 2011

Had a great day in Grover's adopted hometown of Buffalo today. Had a great event this afternoon at the Central Library. Afterwards I walked down to City Hall and paid homage to the statue of Grover (above). This evening I had another great event at Talking Leaves, a fantastic bookstore. Oh, and the Canadian magazine Macleans gave the book a very nice review. Tomorrow I drive back to DC, and Saturday at 6 PM I will be speaking and signing at the famed Politics and Prose Bookstore. Really looking forward to that event. (Click here for details.) Hope to see my many DC-area friends there. And please help spread the word!!!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Quick update...

I know, I know, I haven't been doing a good job of updating the blog lately. Truth is, I've been running around a lot. The first leg of the book tour ended last week when I dropped off my friend's car in Brooklyn. I'd driven it all the way from Los Angeles: 4,194 miles in 18 days. This week I'm back on the road for events in Buffalo, then, next Saturday, May 28, I'll be doing a reading at Politics & Prose, a famous Washington bookstore. I'm very excited about that one! (For the particulars on my events, please visit the book's website here and click on Book Tour.)

Here's s rundown of recent publicity for the book... Here's an op-ed about Grover that I wrote for the Christian Science Monitor... Here's my appearance on Inside City Hall, a great program on NY1 in New York... And here's a nice plug for my Buffalo appearances in the Buffalo News.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Had a great day in Milwaukee yesterday. In the afternoon I was given a tour of the Milwaukee Press Club by former club president Roger Stafford. Roger had read my Truman book and thought I might appreciate the club. And how! The walls are covered by autographs of famous politicians, entertainers, writers, and athletes from the late 1800s to the present. Click here to see some photos. Afterwards, Roger asked me to add my own autograph to the walls - a great honor. indeed!
Last night I did my spiel at Boswell Books in Milwaukee - an awesome bookstore. About 25 people turned out - not bad for a Monday night in Milwaukee!
Tomorrow I have a busy day in St. Louis: On KTRS (550 AM) at 9 AM, St. Louis Public Radio (90.7 FM) at 11 AM, and a reading at Pudd'nhead Books at 7 PM.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Kansas City, May 3, 2011

A photo from my event at the Kansas City Public Library, May 3, 2011. Attendance was 116.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Indianapolis, Indiana

I'm in Indianapolis today, appearing at the Indiana Medical History Museum tonight at six. On the way I stopped at the cemetery in Terre Haute, Indiana where Eugene V. Debs is buried. Debs plays a small role in my new book. He was a labor leader, Socialist presidential candidate, and all-around great American. Click here to see more photos from my visit. Tomorrow it's on to Chicago!

Monday, May 02, 2011

Goin' to Kansas City...

Quick updates: Visited the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas today. (Click here to see some photos.) ... The Associated Press released a very nice review of the book today. ... For some reason, the Daily Mail, a British paper, ran a piece about the book today too! ... Tomorrow (Tuesday) morning I'll be a guest on Up to Date with Steve Kraske at 11 AM CDT on KCUR-FM (89.3) in Kansas City. And tomorrow night the book tour officially kicks off with an event at the Kansas City Public Library. If you can make it, please come out and see me!

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Camp Amache

Today I drove from La Junta (that's luh-HUN-tuh), Colorado to Salina (that's suh-LY-nuh), Kansas. Along the way I stopped outside the town of Granada, Colorado to visit the site of a Japanese-American internment camp. About 10,000 Japanese-Americans were interred in what was called Camp Aamache during World War II. Only the foundations of the barracks remain, but the old well house is still standing, though, as you can see in this picture, a large tree is now growing through it. Kudos to Granada High School, which has a student club that maintains the grounds. Tomorrow, I'm visting the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas. I don't think I should tell them I wrote a book about Harry Truman.

Oh, and the Wall Street Journal reviewed my book. Not too gushing, but still not too bad.

Friday, April 29, 2011

On the road...

The trip's gone quite well so far. Flew into Los Angeles Wednesday afternoon. That night I attended a party at a friend's apartment, where I met the writer Sandra Cisneros. We chatted about writing for about 20 minutes. We're very different kinds of writers. For one thing, she's won one of those MacArthur "genius" grants. But it was an interesting conversation.

Yesterday I drove from L.A. to Flagstaff, Arizona (466 mi., 7 hr., 29 min.). This morning I stopped by the Flagstaff Barnes and Noble, where I saw The President Is a Sick Man in a bookstore for the first time. Then I drove to Santa Fe (392 mi., 6 hr. 34 min.). Winds of 50 mph with occasional dust storms the whole way. My friend's Prius, which I'm driving, is holding up well. (Don't worry, Phil.)

Tonight I'm staying at the home of James McGrath Morris, whose acclaimed biography of Joseph Pulitzer is now available in paperback. Jamie's already written a great blurb for my book, so now I am even more indebted to him!

Tomorrow I'll meander into Kansas. Looking forward to visiting the Eisenhower Library in Abilene (finally). First official event of the book tour is Tuesday night in Kansas City.

Oh, and the book got a nice mention on the Washington Post book blog this week.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tempus Fugit

April is flying by. Last weekend's book festival in Philadelphia was fun (if a little wet). This week Allyson is attending a Mongolian language immersion program at Indiana U. (home of one of the country's only Mongolian Studies programs). Next week I embark on the book tour, flying to L.A. to pick up a friend's car, which I'll be driving all the way to NYC. It'll be my third coast-to-coast road trip (Philly-to-Seattle 1988, L.A.-to-DC 2004).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Philly on Saturday

Just a reminder that I will have a booth at the Philadelphia Book Festival this Saturday, April 16, from 10:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. My booth is No. 6 on 19th Street (right beside the library). I'll be selling copies of all my books, including the new one hot off the presses!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Philly Book Festival, April 16

Forgot to mention that I will have a booth at the Philadelphia Book Festival on Saturday, April 16, from 10:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. My booth is No. 6 on 19th Street (beside the library). I'll be selling all my books (hopefully my copies of the Grover book will have arrived by then), as well as a few other goodies. So please go to the festival and stop by my booth!

Quick update...

Been a crazy week. The President Is a Sick Man has been published and should be available soon. I got my copy last Thursday, and I really think it's a great looking book. Meanwhile, the paperback of Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure is now on sale. It includes a new afterword in which I explain how I tracked down Harry's 1953 Chrysler. I anchored the NPR newscasts overnight Saturday and Sunday. Did OK, I think. Then on Monday night I saw Yes in concert at the Warner Theater right here in Washington. Sat in the second row - it was awesome! This weekend we're off to Portland, and three weeks from today I fly to Los Angeles to begin the book tour...

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The new book has arrived!

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic
Well, it's arrived at my publisher, anyway. Here's a pic they sent me. I should be getting a copy in a day or two, and it should be in stores within the next few weeks. Very exciting!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Not so fast, Besse!

Last week I told you about 114-year-old Besse Cooper of Georgia, who Guinness World Records has named the world's oldest person. Turns out Besse has some competition for the title: The family of Rebecca Lanier of Ohio claims she just turned 119. Problem is, Rebecca has no birth certificate, so Guinness won't recognize her claim. (Rebecca is African American, and her family points out that birth certificates were not always issued for African Americans born in 1892.) Maybe Besse and Rebecca should just duke it out, UFC-style! Anyway, don't worry: I will be following this story very closely and providing regular updates.

Friday, March 25, 2011


I usually don't post contemporary political stuff, but this is just too hilarious. It's Newt Gingrich pulling a classic flip-flop on Libya. Reminds me of the Grover quote, "What's the use of being elected unless you stand for something?" Or, in Newt's case, unless you stand for everything. Or maybe nothing.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A New World's Oldest Person

The world has a new oldest person: 114-year-old Besse Cooper of Monroe, Georgia. Congratulations, Besse, and long may you reign! Besse was born in Tennessee on August 26, 1896, during the last year of Grover Cleveland's second term. She is among the last of the "Grover babies," children born during Cleveland's two administrations.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Grover Cleveland Birthplace Event

Allyson and I had a wonderful time Saturday at the annual Grover Cleveland Birthday Conference. Many thanks to David, Sharon, and everyone else at the Grover Cleveland Birthplace for making it such an outstanding event. If you ever have the opportunity, please do visit the Cleveland birthplace. It's in Caldwell, New Jersey, a very charming town that's an easy drive from New York and Philadelphia. I'm a little biased, of course, but I think it's splendid!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Annual Grover Cleveland Birthday Conference Presents: A Lecture By Matthew Algeo

The President Is a Sick Man

10 a.m., Saturday March 19th, 2011

Author and journalist, Matthew Algeo, will speak on the secret surgery of President Cleveland in 1893, the ensuing cover-up, and the news reporter who, after publishing the story, was labeled a liar and a “disgrace to journalism”. Twenty-four long years would pass before one of Cleveland’s doctors finally revealed the truth.

As a journalist, Algeo has reported from three continents. His stories have been featured on public radio programs; All Things Considered, Marketplace, and Morning Edition. Mr. Algeo is the author of Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure, named one of the Best Books of 2009 by the Washington Post, and Last Team Standing, a history of the Eagles and the Steelers. Wife, Allyson, works for the United States government as a Foreign Service officer. The couple currently resides in Washington.

Excerpts from his latest book, The President is a Sick Man:

“. . . some presidents have gone to remarkable lengths to hide their infirmities . . . Edith Wilson, for all intents and purposes, oversaw the executive branch after her husband’s stroke. It has been said that she could be considered the country’s first female president. . . .Even his valet knew Harding was deathly ill, telling a Secret Service agent that “something is going to happen to our boss . . .”

“. . . at the very moment President Cleveland was slumped, unconscious, in a makeshift operating room . . . the nation's attention was fixed on the opposite end of New York State . . .A steeplejack and tightrope walker . . . was attempting to cross a wire strung over Niagara Falls. According to one report . . .”

Date: Saturday, March 19th

Time: 9:30 Registration, Lecture 10 am, Luncheon to follow

Location: First Presbyterian Church at Caldwell, 326 Bloomfield Ave., Caldwell NJ

Fee: $25 fee for lecture and luncheon.

Free admission to Grover Cleveland Historic Site

Registration: In advance: 973-226-0001

Or register at the door.

Event Sponsored by: The Grover Cleveland Birthplace Memorial Association

Sunday, March 13, 2011

We honor this month...

Snapped a photo of this sign at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia yesterday. Wow. What a load of ungrammatical gibberish. Besides, what, exactly, is being honored? "This month"? I suspect Amtrak intended to "honor" Black History Month - which ended nearly two weeks ago.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Grover and Harry in Wax

I got to "meet" Grover Cleveland and Harry Truman today! Allyson and I went to the new Presidents Exhibit at Madame Tussauds here in Washington. Despite a few factual errors (JFK was not the youngest president, TR was), it's an excellent exhibit. Click here to see more pictures from our visit.

Goodbye, Frank Buckles

I happened to be working on the newscast desk at NPR last Sunday when the news came across the wire that Frank Buckles, America’s last surviving First World War veteran, had passed away at the age of 110. (He died of natural causes incidentally; I remember calling Allyson to tell her that Jimmy Stewart had died, and her reaction was, “How?” As if he might have died in a parachuting accident.)

I never met Frank, but I feel like I’ve come to known him over the years. I really respected him for embracing his role as the Last Man Standing. He understood the importance of his place in history. He was America’s last living link to the Great War. One week ago, I (or you) could have spoken with spoken with someone who had experienced that war firsthand. Now that opportunity is gone forever. The first draft of the history of the First World War is finished.

I’ve been fascinated by the First World War since I was a kid, and saw the veterans marching at the head of all the parades in Perkasie. (I also remember seeing a few Spanish-American War veterans in the parades, as well; weird to think that I remember the veterans of a nineteenth-century war.) When I worked at Minnesota Public Radio in the mid 90s I did a story about First World War vets for Veterans Day on year. I remember meeting a 99-year-old vet from Wisconsin who still bowled in a league twice a week. He’d shaken hands with Teddy Roosevelt. So I shook the hand that shook the hand...

Another vet I met had lived in the same Minneapolis apartment since the 1920s. His apartment was a time machine. The lamps, appliances, and furniture were at least fifty years old. The neighborhood had changed rather dramatically; it was populated almost entirely by Laotians. It was like something from the movie Being There.

As a history buff, I was drawn to these men. It was almost inconceivable that I could interview soldiers who had served in the trenches on the Western Front. I knew that was a rare opportunity, and I’m glad I took it, because now it’s gone.

Thank you, Frank Buckles. Thank you for your service to our country, and for bearing the standard of your colleagues with incalculable grace.

If the last surviving Second World War veteran lives as long as Frank did, he or she will live until 2039. I just hope I make it that long!

UPDATE: Turns out John Boehner and Harry Reid are refusing to allow Frank's body to lie in the Capitol Rotunda.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Poll: Grover better than most other presidents

The Siena College Research Institute has released a new poll of historians ranking the 43 presidents. The top five are F.D. Roosevelt, T. Roosevelt, Lincoln, Washington, and Jefferson. Truman came in ninth. Andrew Johnson ranked last. (Click here to see the complete list.)

As is usual in these rankings, Grover is in the middle of the pack, ranking twentieth. Here's how the historians ranked him by category (from 1st to 43rd):

1. Background (family, education, experience) 19
2. Party leadership 16
3. Communication ability (speak, write) 17
4. Relationship with Congress 15
5. Court appointments 17
6. Handling of U.S. economy 22
7. Luck 20
8. Ability to compromise 19
9. Willing to take risks 24
10. Executive appointments 18
11. Overall ability 20
12. Imagination 22
13. Domestic accomplishments 17
14. Integrity 19
15. Executive ability 17
16. Foreign policy accomplishments 21
17. Leadership ability 19
18. Intelligence 25
19. Avoid crucial mistakes 14
20. Expert's present overall view 19

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Grover in Wax; Maury Povich in Person

The Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in Washington has a new exhibit featuring all 43 U.S. Presidents - including Grover, of course. (No word on whether he's featured twice to account for his non-consecutive terms.) I'll have to check it out and post some photos when I get a chance...

I'd been planning to attend a taping of the Maury Povich show this week, but came down with a wicked bad cold. Didn't want to be "that guy" with the hacking cough in the audience (or on the train up and back). Disappointing. Maybe I'll try again in the Spring...

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Happy Birthday, Frank Buckles

Frank Buckles, America's last living World War I veteran, turns 110 today. Happy birthday, Frank! And best wishes for many more. When Frank was born, McKinley was president, and Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison were still alive and well.

Monday, January 31, 2011

A Grover Slideshow

Grover book on Facebook

Hey, if you're on Facebook, please "Like" my new book. Click here to go to its Facebook page.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Grover Ranked 4th-Best President Ever

At least by the conservative British politician Daniel Hannan, who puts Grover behind only Reagan, Lincoln, and Jefferson in this article. Grover - who in his second inaugural declared that "while the people should patriotically and cheerfully support their government, its functions do not include the support of the people" - has become something of a darling to conservatives of late.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Keen of Philadelphia

Went to Philadelphia for the day yesterday. Had a nice lunch with my sister. What always surprises me about Philly is that the subway system still uses tokens. Tokens! Is there another major mass transit system in the country that still uses tokens? Anyway, while I was there, I shot some video and made this short film. It's a very brief biography of William Williams Keen, one of the surgeons who operated on Grover Cleveland in 1893...

Monday, January 10, 2011

Gabrielle Giffords and the Assassination of Frank Steunenberg

The attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords calls to mind another act of political violence that sent the nation reeling more than a century ago. Late one December afternoon in 1905, former Idaho governor Frank Steunenberg opened the gate to his house and was blown to pieces by a crude bomb that had been designed to detonate when the gate was opened.

Steunenberg had earned the bitter enmity of miners by sending in the National Guard to end a miners strike when he was governor, so it was widely assumed that he had been murdered by a radical miners union, much as it has been theorized that Rep. Giffords was targeted by right-wing or Tea Party extremists.

In fact, Gov. Steunenberg was targeted by a deranged loner with murky motives - much as it’s beginning to appear Rep. Giffords was targeted. Steunenberg’s assailant went by the name Harry Orchard, though his given name was Albert Horsley. In exchange for escaping the gallows, Orchard agreed to testify against three union officials who were charged with conspiring to murder Steunenberg. But Orchard’s connection to the union was tenuous at best, and the three officials (defended by Clarence Darrow) were acquitted.

I guess the lesson here is to be careful about jumping to conclusions about the motives behind acts of political violence.

(The story of Frank Steunenberg’s assassination is superbly recounted at this wonderful website.)

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Grover on Jeopardy!

In case you missed it, the answer to last night's Final Jeopardy was ... Grover Cleveland! (Of the late-19th century presidents with facial hair, he was the only Democrat.)

Say it ain't so...

According to this article in the Washington Examiner, the bar at the Mayflower Hotel is closing. Harry Truman must be spinning in his grave. He liked the Mayflower so much he called it Washington's second-best address. Personally, I think he underrated it a bit. I've had some, uh, smashing times at the Mayflower bar. Accidentally left a green Phillies hat there once. Never got it back. Man, I loved that hat. The bartender, Cambodian-born Sam, is one of the best. As Harry would put it, he makes a damn good drink. Farewell, Mayflower bar. You will not be forgotten. Though most of memories of you are hazy...

Monday, January 03, 2011

America's Last World War I Vet Ailing

I was sorry to hear that Frank Buckles, America's last living World War I vet, isn't feeling well. According to this article, Frank has "slowed down considerably in just the past two months" and "is awake just a few hours a day." Frank would turn 110 on February 1st. Here's to hoping he celebrates that birthday - and many more!