Get to know our local political history: Many famous politicians called the midwest home

2014-02-06T08:00:00Z 2014-02-06T18:13:07Z Get to know our local political history: Many famous politicians called the midwest homeJulie Dean Kessler Times Correspondent
February 06, 2014 8:00 am  • 

With politicians from Indiana and Illinois having their quirks and odd trivia and Presidents Day nearly here (Feb. 17) here are fun facts and tidbits about a governor and three presidents. One sold furniture, another won two Grammys, one dreamed about his own death, and one sported a blue polka-dot tie during campaigns.

President Barack Obama

It was President Obama -- whose first name, Barack, means “one who is blessed” in Swahili -- who won two Grammys for Best Spoken Word Album for his two books, "Dreams From My Father" and "The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream." Oddly, an important achievement isn’t mentioned in the sources listed here: He is the nation’s first African-American president.

Interesting Facts:

- Appeared on “Saturday Night Live” as himself in 2007.

- His grandmother died the day before he was elected president in 2008

- Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.

- The foreclosure rumor about his Hyde Park, Ill., home? False.


President Abraham Lincoln

The connection between Abraham Lincoln to LaPorte County, Ind., seems pretty clear to Fern Eddy Schultz, county historian. She’s on a committee that plans to recreate Lincoln's 1865 funeral procession through the county—part of a plan to trace the entire route from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, Ill., in 2015, marking the sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s assassination.

The train crossed through LaPorte County on the New Albany Railroad—now the Monon—including a brief stop in Westville. “When it came to Michigan City, there was a big observance. We’re going to try to replicate that,” said Schultz.

Serendipity resulted in the LaPorte County Historical Museum having one of the signs marking the funeral route. “INDOT (Indiana Department of Transportation) found the marker in a back yard. They called (the museum) and asked if we wanted it,” recalled Schultz, who seemed mighty pleased.

Springfield, Ill., may boast of Lincoln’s heritage, but Indiana has Lincoln Boyhood National memorial just southeast of Evansville; LaPorte has Lincoln Way (highway) and Lincoln School, and Michigan City has Lincoln Avenue.

Interesting Facts:

- His wife’s wealthy family objected to the marriage.

- He was the first president to be assassinated.

- Through deep depression, he still frequently told stories and jokes to friends and family.

- At 6’4”, the tallest U.S president

- First president to have a beard.

- Had a premonition he would be killed


President William Harrison

Hammond (Ind.) High School alum Bob Chapman, a history buff, can rattle off the details of the president, whose nickname was “Tippecanoe.”

“Harrison led the battle against (the Prophet), at the Tippecanoe and Wabash rivers in 1811 (in West Lafayette, Ind.) His victory was not so subtly referred to in his presidential campaign: 'Tippecanoe and Tyler, too.' John Tyler was his running mate."

Interesting Facts:

- He died of pneumonia just one month into his presidency.

- His grandson, Benjamin Harrison, became president in 1889-1893.

Governor Harold Handley

Harold Handley’s career may have started out at a furniture store in his hometown of LaPorte, Ind., but soon he became a politician, eventually winning the Indiana gubernatorial seat. Well-liked, he made friends easily.

Interesting Facts:

- He was a large, gregarious man

- Indiana state senator, 1940-1941

- That term interrupted by army service in World War II.

- Re-elected to the state senate in 1948 and lieutenant governor in 1952.

- Ran for governor and lost in 1952

- Elected governor: (1957-1961) in 1956.

- Political trademark: a blue polka-dot tie.


So on Presidents Day, impress friends and co-workers with your trivia knowledge —but try not to sound too much like Cliff Clavin on “Cheers.”

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