NORTH BEND, Ohio – You might consider the parade here earlier this month the equivalent of a participation trophy.
Of the 45 presidents the nation will honor Monday, none served as short a term as William Henry Harrison. He died just 31 days into his presidency and is buried in a tomb overlooking the Ohio River in this town 15 miles west of Cincinnati.
Despite a term so short that he left no imprint on the presidency itself, Harrison is still honored every year with a parade sometime around his Feb. 9 birthday. This year’s featured the usual honor guard, marching members of a local Sons of the American Revolution chapter, and wreath-laying at the former president’s tomb.
Robert Ruehlman, a local judge and North Bend resident who helps organize the parade, said it’s important to remember Harrison beyond even his time as president.
“He was an important figure in the war of 1812 and he was the first presidential candidate to use a slogan,” Ruehlman said. That slogan: “Tippecanoe and Tyler too.” (Tippecanoe was a battle Harrison fought in; Tyler was John Tyler, his running mate.)
Harrison, a Whig, can claim to be the answer to variety of historical trivia: he was the first president from Ohio, the grandfather of a later president (Benjamin Harrison,) and a pioneer when it came to presidential campaigns – chiefly by exaggerating his record.
In her biography “William Henry Harrison,” author Gail Collins, the New York Times columnist and Green Township native, said, “Politically, Harrison’s greatest achievement was to star in what is still celebrated as one of the most ridiculous presidential campaigns in history,”
He’s also a key figure in a new mystery.
A sword he carried at his inauguration that was used in the Revolutionary War by his father-in-law, John Cleves Symmes, disappeared for decades– until it turned up at a Connecticut auction last year. It was seized until authorities can answer the question: was it stolen, as local historians suggest, or was the seller the true owner. The FBI is investigating.
On March 4, 1841, Harrison gave the longest inaugural address in history (8,445 words). To show how hardy he was, he wore no overcoat, hat or gloves in the freezing temperatures.
Harrison caught pneumonia and died on April 4, after just 31 days in office.
At this year’s parade and wreath-laying, North Bend’s mayor Douglas Sammons said Harrison would have a message for the nation if he were alive today.
“In our present day, the United States seems to have become a more polarized country,” Sammons said. “Even when we disagree, it does not mean we should be disagreeable. If President Harrison was alive today, I do not think he would appreciate where our country’s discourse is.”