Thursday, October 05, 2006

Happy Birthday, Chester A. Arthur, Ultimate Blank Years President

Happy Birthday, Mr. President…
Chester A. Arthur, born this day in 1829 in Fairfield, Vermont

When people find out that I have a Master’s in US history, they often ask “Who’s your favorite president?”

“Chester A. Arthur,” I reply.*

The looks I get are priceless. Many times I get a “Who?” or a “Bah! He wasn’t a president!”

Ah yes, ignorance about Blank Years presidents. The Blank Years is my term for those years in the late nineteenth century when no one pays a lick of attention to the presidency. See,
United States history survey courses follow the presidency very closely through Andrew Jackson’s presidency. Things taper off a bit until Lincoln, and then courses cover Johnson and Grant, but the late nineteenth century? It takes a real trivia buff to be able to name those presidents period, let alone in order.

When covering the late nineteenth century, survey courses focus on economic and social issues that shaped the post-Civil War United States. No one bothers with the presidents again until Teddy Roosevelt. Hence, the Blank Years. And no president exemplifies the Blank Years better than Chester A. Arthur.

This line pretty much sums up everything known about the man I call Chet, the twenty-first president of the United States of America: Although a decent and honorable man, Chester A. Arthur was a firm believer in the spoils system. He filled posts with corrupt members of machine politics.**

Occasionally surveys will give an expanded bio that mentions his being the Quartermaster General of the State of New York before he was named the Collector of the Port of New York, and that he was named as James Garfield’s running mate after President Hayes's attempt to oust Arthur from the Port job (who says that the spoils system doesn’t have its perks?). When Garfield was assassinated in 1881, less than a year into his term, Arthur became president. He was never elected in his own right. He was born in Vermont. He died in 1886. He had great facial hair. Yep. That’s pretty much it.

I think it was a combination of pity and shock that no one knew more about a president than the above that endeared Chester A. Arthur to me. I like saying his name—I draw out the long “A”—Chester A. Arthur. Ah, poor Chet. It makes me laugh to think that he was president. He’s become my favorite answer to questions I don’t know the answer to. Question: Who wrote War and Peace? Answer: Chester A. Arthur. Who is your favorite president? Chester A. Arthur. Easy as pie!

To honor my favorite Blank Years president, I have a small but growing collection of Chester A. Arthur memorabilia. That’s the kind of weirdo chick I am. I’m always on the lookout, so if you know of any Chet goods, let me know.

Chester A. Arthur Goods

Happy Birthday, Chet,
hope this doesn't make you roll over in your grave

*He isn’t, of course, but I don’t have a favorite president. I like components of several presidents, but explaining this is long and complicated, and people’s eyes glaze over, so I’ve chosen the wiseass route.

**I'd give a citation for this, but this is the standard line absolutely everywhere (especially the “firm believer” part), and I wouldn't know where to begin.


Anonymous said...

Hey, nice post about Chester Arthur. I was actually going to do this in a much abbreviated form, but now I see it's been done.

Anonymous said...

What splendid whiskers! What a shame that modern presidents neglect their facial coiffure (although they still keep up the venerable tradition of venality in governmental appointments).

By the way: as a whining Brit, I'm totally ignorant of American cuisine (I've never been in a McD or a KFC and never will). So would you please be so kind as to enlighten me on a subject obviously close to your heart? What on earth is Fluff?

Before Girl said...

I thought that was a great post. You're odd. I like that.

Oh fluff...where would my elementary school years be without you? And even now, as a quick fix lunch to bring to work to avoid eating egg salad sandwiches from the vending machines.

Sassy Sundry said...

Robyn---Thanks for stopping by. I think the world could use more Chester A. Arthur, so by all means, go ahead. It could become a movement.

Dive--Lucky you. A life without McFood. Vile stuff. Hmmm... what is Fluff? That could be a philosophical question. How to explain it. Fluff is a thick marshmallow sauce, sticky (unbelievably so---getting it off one's face is almost impossible)in consistency, and sweeter than anything on this Earth. I'll reveal more in the quiz answers (next Fluff entry will likely be on Monday).

Before Girl---Why thank you. I dig your blog too. I have fond memories of Fluffernutters myself. Lucky me, a coworker brought in lemon muffins.

Before Girl said...

OH, and how to get fluff off? Warm to hot water, soap optional.

Dive-Sundry has it right-it's basically a marshmallow sauce, not quite a solid, but definitely not a liquid. You could turn a container of it upside down and nothing would come out. It's made regionally in the New England area, namely a town called Lynn, and shipped to other places in the U.S., but from what I have gathered, not that far beyond New England, for the most part. Thus ends my fluff knowledge (other than the fudge recipe on the back, which needs fluff as its main ingredient, is actually really hard to make and come out right.)

Sassy Sundry said...

This past weekend I learned that while Fluff is made in Lynn, Massachusetts, it was "discovered" in Somerville, Massachusetts (hence the Fluff Festival there). If you are really curious, two years ago I was able to find it in a specialty foods shop in Kensington.

Before Girl, did Fluff ever wind up in your hair?

Anonymous said...

Looks like it wound up in Chester's whiskers.

Before Girl said...

No, but a couple of friends of mine went on an early morning run to the supermarket once, for the sole purpose of having a foodfight at the local playground in our hometown. One of them thought fluff would be the perfect thing to smear on the other team, and it ended up in his hair.

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Anonymous said...

Hi There, Read your coment with vigour, hope you can help me I have a coin that looks to be either gold or brass and has Chesters face imprinted with a complete imfo of his history. Have you ever seen before? Not a new coin or imprint....thanks!
Thistlelizzy at

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