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Eagle Archive: McDaniel talk offers glimpse into history of 'Presidents Club'

Time magazine editors Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy came to McDaniel College this month with a sneak peek into the most exclusive club in the world, "The Presidents Club."

A year after the release of their critically acclaimed book, "The Presidents Club: Inside the World's Most Exclusive Fraternity," the topic of the close, complex and uniquely-American relationship between the living presidents of the United States still garners a great deal of attention.

McDaniel College history professor Bryn Upton, who facilitated the April 18 discussion, explained how only another president can understand what it is like to be president.

Duffy emphasized that the burdens of the office forge a bond between presidents that has a higher calling that easily transcends political differences, and Gibbs added that, "There is no club in America that would have all of these guys as members. They are just that different."

Nevertheless, according to the book, the modern presidents' club is said to have begun, on Jan. 20, 1953, at the inauguration of Dwight Eisenhower, when "Harry Truman greeted Herbert Hoover on the platform. 'I think we ought to organize a former presidents club,' Hoover suggested."

As many as eight presidents may have visited Carroll County at some point in their lifetime, including two of the presidents credited with founding this modern "presidents club."

Eisenhower lived on a farm about 10 miles north of the Carroll County-Pennsylvania border in Gettysburg and often commuted home from Washington, right through Westminster.

In 1929, Hoover visited Carroll County in an effort to find his ancestral home. His great-great-great-grandfather had settled in Maryland in the 1740s. Hoover found his family homestead on Clear Ridge Road, just south of Uniontown.

Just last Thursday another chapter was written in the presidents club, when President George W. Bush's presidential library was dedicated. It is customary that all the living presidents attend presidential library dedications. Such rare meetings no doubt give presidential historians another glimpse into the mysterious club.

Meanwhile, the introduction of the book explains it well. Voters judge the performance, successes and failures of a president. "That is the duty of democracy. But judgment is not the same as understanding, and while what a president does matters most, why he does it is the privilege of history…"

The discussion on the presidents club at McDaniel may have provided some of the best up front and personal insights into the presidency since President Ulysses Grant is said to have visited the campus on October 2, 1873.

As an aside, Interim Provost of McDaniel College, Dr. Tom Zirpoli, noted in introductory remarks that the opportunity to hear Gibbs and Duffy discuss the fraternity of living U.S. presidents was the result of a town-gown partnership between McDaniel and Carroll County. He thanked Lynn Wheeler, "director of our wonderful Carroll County Public Library, who with our (McDaniel) Office of Communications & Marketing… bring these bestselling writers and this book conversation to our campus."

When he is not lost in the pages of The Presidents Club, Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at

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