Photo for the Tribune by Charles Osgood
September 20, 2009
In these harsh economic times, what better way to spend a day than visiting the home of the man who has come to symbolize even lousier days?
Herbert Hoover was born Aug. 10, 1874, in the two-room cottage in the town of West Branch, Iowa, about 200 miles from Chicago, an almost straight shot on I-80. He was the second of three children born to Jesse and Hulda Hoover.
That's his old home in Osgood's photo, a handsome 14-by-20 place, in which the future president was born and where he lived until he was about 5. He lost his father (heart attack) in 1880 and his mother (typhoid fever) in 1884, and then went to Oregon, where he was raised by his mother's brother and his family.
After serving as the 31st president of the United States from 1929 to 1933, Hoover became chairman of the Boy Scouts of America, helped found UNICEF and otherwise did good deeds. He and his wife, Lou, would live in California and New York City. They did not live in Iowa but did buy the childhood cottage in 1935, and Lou Hoover oversaw its renovation. It and the surrounding property were dedicated in 1962.
The facility is lovely and rural: "Do not climb trees and fences. Be watchful for poison ivy and ticks. Do not disturb animals or plants." A creek runs through the property, and a tall grass prairie just beyond the Hoovers' grave site will give you some idea of what much of Iowa looked like before being steeled and farmed and urbanized.
On the grounds you will find a blacksmith shop, similar to the one operated by Hoover's father; a one-room schoolhouse and the Friends Meetinghouse (his mother was a Quaker minister). You will also find such oddities as a statue of Isis, the Egyptian goddess of life, presented to Hoover by Belgium.
The largest building is the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum. Though many early presidents -- John Quincy Adams, William McKinley and Woodrow Wilson, to name three -- have libraries that are operated by private foundations, historical societies or local governments (and you really should make a point of visiting the magnificent Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, owned and operated by the state), only 13 form what is known as the Presidential Libraries system. Of these, all part of the National Archives and Records Administration, Hoover's goes the farthest back in time.
You can learn things there. You can learn that during his successful 1928 campaign for the presidency Hoover voiced this optimistic goal: "Given a chance to go forward with the policies of the last eight years, and we shall soon with the help of God be in sight of the day when poverty will be banished from this Nation."
Dead now nearly 45 years, how sad he might be to know we're still working on that.