This Funeral Director Has Visited All 38 Presidents’ Gravesites

Posted May 10, 2016

8 min read

A self-proclaimed political junkie, Glenn Rosenbaum has a hobby that is sure to make you smile: he’s been to every President’s gravesite – all 38 of them. He’s also been to 27 Vice Presidents’ graves, as well as several Supreme Court Justices’ burial sites. We spoke with Rosenbaum, who is the Vice President of FRENCH Funerals & Cremations, to learn more about his trips across the United States to visit the gravesite of every President – from where he got the idea, to the gravesite story that every funeral director can appreciate.

How He Got the Idea

As someone interested in both history and politics, Rosenbaum explains that funeral service was his second career. Before he entered the industry, he had already been to 6 or 7 President’s gravesites. Once he was in the industry, the hobby became more deliberate: “Then I really became interested in studying about what happened to presidents after they died,” he says. “Instead of visiting graves I happened to run across in my travels, it really became the focal point.”

Coupled with his passion for travel, Rosenbaum started to plan trips where he would specifically go seek out the sites, and now, approximately 12 years later, he’s been to all of the President’s graves. “I’ve been to probably 100 other notable people’s [gravesites]: gangsters like Al Capone to kings and queens in England.”

The Search for Each Memorial Site Hasn’t Always Been Easy

At one of the most removed presidential graves, President Martin Van Buren’s, located in Kinderhook, New York, the site was especially hard to find. It was also before GPS had become popular.

Typically, Rosenbaum brings his wife along to each site, and this time was no different. “We’ve got maps and everything else, and we’re trying to find this grave. I told my wife, I said, ‘We’re here. We came all this way.’” It was pouring down rain that day, which didn’t make the search for the actual gravesite any easier.

“We looked for a couple hours and really never could find it.” Despite traveling more than 3,000 miles, they felt they had exhausted their search since it had been hours with no success or sign of the location. Just as they decided they would give up, they saw signs for the gravesite.

Still raining, they pulled up to the cemetery. Rosenbaum asked his wife to take his picture by the grave, just as he does for every trip. Despite a bit of initial resistance because of the rain, she obliged. “She got out in the pouring rain, and took my photo by this gravesite,” recalls Rosenbaum.

Every Gravesite Has Its Own Story

Besides having a photo of each gravesite he’s been to, Rosenbaum also looks to do a bit of research before each visit. “I learn a little bit about it, and what we’re going to see to prepare us.”

Being able to visit all the gravesites has given Rosenbaum a unique perspective and an even greater appreciation for each one. “If you’ve been to all the gravesites, they’re obviously all unique and individual, but they’re also very telling,” he adds.

“There are huge monuments that were built. I’m thinking of Warren Harding in Ohio: he was [considered by many to be one of the] worst presidents ever, but he’s buried in an elaborate tomb. Children all over the country in 1927, about 200,000 kids, sent pennies in to build this memorial,” Rosenbaum explains. “The memorial is important in American history because it’s the last of the elaborate presidential tombs. Up until this time, you’ve got these huge mausoleums, and these big structures, and it’s a trend that really began with Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois. Harding was the last one.”

Following him was President Calvin Coolidge – whose gravesite is in stark contrast to Harding’s. “President [Coolidge] is buried in a hillside cemetery that you can literally walk up the side of the cemetery. You could sit on his headstone if you wanted to. It’s half a mile from where he was born. It’s half a mile from the place that, when he found out that the president had died, that he took the Oath of Office.”

Rosenbaum’s appreciation extends to the individual characteristics of the gravesites. “There’s a striking difference in some of the tombs,” he says. One example is President Franklin Pierce. Rosenbaum explains how, once again, history brings much meaning to his gravesite. “He really became a southern sympathizer. When he died, in 1869, he was buried, and there was nothing on his tomb that even said he was President.”

That was because the state of New Hampshire did not even recognize him, which stayed that way until the 1920s. “He laid there for over 50 years, almost as an unknown.” His gravesite had a marker, but nothing that acknowledges how he had been President.

A Story That Funeral Directors Can Appreciate

Rosenbaum is full of vibrant, history-packed stories such as this. One story in particular is one that many funeral directors would appreciate. 
“Most presidents, not so much any more, but most were put in a common crypt or a temporary tomb while their mausoleum or their tomb was being built,” explains Rosenbaum.

That was no different than when President James Garfield was assassinated. “Nobody expected that, so he was in a tomb in Lake View Cemetery. They built this very elaborate monument to James Garfield.”

Then, when it was done, they disentombed Garfield and brought him to the mausoleum to put him down in the crypt. “Nobody, including the architect, took into the fact that the casket wouldn’t fit. This was a heavy steel casket, and they had no way to get him down to the crypt.”

Finally, they had to cut a hole in the middle of the beautifully-tiled mosaic floor in order to drop his casket down into the crypt. “Then they repaired and patched the hole. It’s every single director’s nightmare: to go to a crypt to place the casket in and it doesn’t fit.”

“Nobody Knows That He’s There”

Rosenbaum knows a wealth of facts about the story behind each President’s funeral and gravesite – which he has a sense of humor about, too. “I don’t think a whole lot of people stalk dead presidents like I do,” he says, laughing.

Another story he tells is one that would surprise most. While many know President John F. Kennedy is buried in Arlington National Cemetery – Rosenbaum once again brings more information to light. “Most folks don’t know there’s actually another President in Arlington National Cemetery.”

The other President? President William Howard Taft, who died in 1930. Not only was he the 27th president but he was the only president after to become a Supreme Court Justice, Rosenbaum points out. “And nobody knows that he’s there.”

What’s Next for Rosenbaum

Rosenbaum says since visiting President Gerald Ford’s gravesite in Michigan last year, he has slowed down a bit. With a vacation coming up, he’ll likely do a bit of research to see if there is anyone famous whose gravesite he can visit. He also still has Vice Presidents’ graves to visit, and some of them are so obscure it will take a bit of time to visit them.

“Every president and every vice president, except one, has been buried. There’s only been one cremated,” says Rosenbaum. “That was President Gerald Ford’s Vice President, Nelson Rockefeller, who was cremated. He’s the only one.”

He’ll also be watching to see how burial trends change or remain the same in the future. For now, there are Presidential Libraries which is the commonplace to be buried. “We’ll see if that trend continues,” he says.

About Glenn Rosenbaum

Glenn Rosenbaum is a vice president for FRENCH Funerals & Cremations, Albuquerque’s largest and oldest family-owned funeral services company, serving New Mexico since 1907. Now in his 17th year with the company, Glenn’s experience with FRENCH includes working as a funeral director, the director of information technology and his current leadership role. When not serving the families of New Mexico and visiting interesting grave sites, Glenn enjoys his days with his wife and best friend Amy and his two amazing daughters, Mattie and Ellie.

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