On June 7, Zach Schonfeld ’13 toured the modest 170-year-old site of President Grover Cleveland’s 1837 birthplace.
“Live from Caldwell, N.J.,” Schonfeld blogged on this day. “It’s not much—the house has been expanded significantly since Cleveland’s birth, but the siteitself still blends seamlessly into the background of Caldwell’s quiet suburban sprawl. Yes, I drove past it initially and had to circle back. Sorry, Grover. Just be thankful I didn’t steal your parking spot.”
Cleveland’s childhood home is one of 20-some presidential birthplaces Schonfeld is exploring this summer as a Wesleyan Olin Fellow. His project, partially funded by the History Channel, allows the English and American studies major to travel the country, visit presidential historical sites, interview locals and experts on presidential preservation and blog about his experience. His blog, appropriately titled, “I Visit Presidential Birthplaces,” is updated multiple times each week.
Schonfeld initiated the project in December 2010, near an abandoned farm. Here, he explored the birthplace of Calvin Coolidge in Plymouth, Vt. and found it to me one of the most memorial visits of his adult life. He returned to the “breathtaking, perfectly preserved” 19th century farm on July 1 and participated in the town’s Fourth of July parade. “There I paid respects—and wished the late Vermonter a happy and healthy 139th,” Schonfeld writes.
Hoping to visit additional presidential homes, he applied for and was awarded the Olin Fellowship, created by Wesleyan Writing Programs to support independent research or creative writing.
“My project explores the notion that presidential birthplaces are more than mere passive markers of historical trivia—that they can, and do, provide rich insight into the ways in which small,