Why the Legacy Tours? Rutherford B. Hayes Memorial BP Station

Photo from Diplopundit’s Archive

Ever wondered why our elected leaders and very important folks go on legacy tours/interviews or even write their own books? Or have their surrogates defend their record, spin us if needed to shore up their legacy?

I‘ve always thought that this has to do with claiming their “correct” place in history, but in a visit to Ohio in 1999, a much simpler reason surfaced and gave me a better appreciation of this legacy shoring up business. In Delaware, Ohio – specifically on #17 E. William Street.

Downtown, on US 36/William Street, a half-block east of Sandusky Street, there is a plaque on the north side, directly in front of the BP station. The plaque marks the birthplace of Rutherford B. Hayes, 19th President of the United States, now a gas station owned by British Petroleum.

Joe Mcelwee on Paying homage to a land of presidents did this same route in 2004:

Dozens of gas stations are operated in this bustling community, but I looked for the BP station on East William Street. Adjacent to the pumps stood a monument behind a phone booth flanked by bushes. Etchings on the slab indicated that Rutherford B. Hayes was born here in 1822. I filled my tank and headed inside.

“People stop here to see the president’s birthplace?” I asked the clerk. He studied me from behind the counter.

“Nope. They just want gas.”

“What happened to Hayes’ house?” I asked.

He shrugged.

The Washington Pugilist (December 19, 2008) recaps history for many of us who may not remember:

“In one of the most controversial presidential elections in the nation’s history, the Democratic candidate won the nation’s popular vote but lost the election. Everyone remembers the details; a Florida election that was “too close to call;” accusations of fraud and the destruction of Democratic ballots; and southern blacks forced at gunpoint to the ballot boxes to vote Republican. Don’t remember that last part, you say?

Well, you can’t be blamed for forgetting the 1876 election of Rutherford B. Hayes. His somber, bearded face adorns no currencies or mountainsides, nor are there famous national monuments in his honor. His homestead, in Delaware, Ohio was demolished, so that a gas station could be erected. The birthplace of our nation’s 20th 19th president is now marked only by a modest memorial plaque, standing with humility and honor in the parking lot of a BP.”

And so – can you really blame the living for their legacy tours, interviews, forthcoming books, centers, temples of worship, er libraries, and whatever else is in their “no BP station preventive insurance” checklist?

The Rutherford B. Hayes Memorial BP Station stands in great contrast to the memorials made in his name in the small country of Paraguay where he is still revered as a great hero. Paraguayans celebrate a holiday in President Hayes’s honor, named a city, department or province, soccer team, sports club, national holiday, and museum for him. He is reportedly also commemorated in textbooks, monuments and folklore. Why? Our 19th President was the arbitrator in a boundary dispute between Paraguay and Argentina after the War of the Triple Alliance where Paraguay suffered some 300,000 military and civilian casualties in 1864 – 1870.

On November 10, U.S. Ambassador Liliana Ayalde participated in a ceremony at the Paraguayan Ministry of Foreign Affairs to introduce a new Paraguayan stamp that pays homage to President Rutherford B. Hayes and the 130th anniversary of the Chaco territory arbitration in which President Hayes decided in Paraguay’s favor.

Bill Clinton already has a boulevard named after him in Priština; a Clinton statue is also in the works. Kosovo Albanian authorities have also recently decided to name one of the main streets in Priština after outgoing U.S. President George Bush. Listening to these legacy talks fill one’s head with endless wonder – what will the natives build in Afghanistan and Iraq?

I am, of course, curious if the “no BP station preventive insurance” plan also has global coverage.