Holiday spotlights presidential history

By Thomas Garcia: Freedom New Mexico

So just how much do you know about the presidents we honor on Presidents’ Day?

Many of today’s youth might not know that at one time the nation used to observe both George Washington’s and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday in February.

However, Donald “Doc” Elder, a professor of history at Eastern New Mexico University, can recount those days and his own admiration for those brave men who have led this nation.

“Growing up we would always get two holiday days with Lincoln and Washington’s birthdays” said Elder “When I was in college the Congress designated one Monday in February to honor the presidents. I was so bummed that we would now only get one day off for the holiday.”

Elder has researched the lives of the men who became president and has come across some little known and interesting facts.

James Buchanan was the 15th president of the United States and was the only bachelor president the nation has ever had. Many people have seen the portraits of Buchanan and wondered why he is looking off into one direction. Not many people know that Buchanan was cross-eyed and in order to see you he had to literally look away from you, Elder said.

The 28th president, Woodrow Willson, suffered from dyslexia and taught himself how to learn and work past the disorder when there were no diagnoses or treatment for it at the time. He went on to become on of the greatest intellects of his time, Elder said.

While the interesting stories about the presidents go on and on, it is the lack of knowledge about those presidents by today’s youth that concerns Elder.

“In today’s world with the thought of No Child Left behind and the focus increasing on math and English, social studies have suffered a bit.” Elder said.

There are a lot of people that don’t know that there was a president named Garfield, said Elder.

“About 20 years ago I took my family to Ohio. I told them that while we are here we are going to go see Garfield’s tomb. My son began to cry and I told him that it was OK that it was a nice tomb and he replied ‘I didn’t know that Garfield the cat had died.’”

In the past, the presidents were portrayed as almost flawless beings but as time went on people began to see more of their humanity.

“I can not even begin to imagine what it would be like to be in charge of one of the most powerful nations in the world,” Elder said.

Nowadays anyone can turn on the TV and see some late night host taking shots at how the current president talks, or there is always a show or two that has Gerald Ford falling, Elder said.

“Ford was actually one of the most graceful presidents that ever was in office,” Elder said. “ Ford was an all-star football player for the Michigan Wolverines. Everyone has tripped on stairs or carpet, Gerald Ford just got caught doing it on camera.”

If Elder had to pick one president that has inspired his life he would pick John F. Kennedy.

“He was only in office for 1,000 days but he represented and inspired the American citizens like no other,” Elder said. “Whenever someone asks me to help out with a cause I will do all that I can because of the speech that Kennedy gave the nation. I can still hear his Bostonian accent ‘ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’”