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Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Grave Hunt of Utica

The grave of James S. Sherman
Today my friend Bob and I went to the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which I'll tell you about tomorrow. Afterward, we engaged in his latest hobby--visiting the graves of U.S. Vice Presidents. He's about to start on a drive cross country where he will see several such resting places, (including some Presidential graves, most of which he's already seen). We were talking about Vice Presidents and we couldn't remember who William Howard Taft's was. We were sitting in a Denny's in central New York when Bob remembered that the man was James S. Sherman. We used our smartphones to find out we were only 15 miles from his grave.

You have to realize that this is a quirk of Bob's that can be fun or extremely exasperating. We went together to Hollywood and spent most of our time in cemeteries, where he even took a picture of the grave of Gummo Marx. But I was up for this adventure, so we plugged the address of the cemetery into Garmin and found it easily. It turns out the cemetery, Forest Hill in Utica, also contains the graves of former U.S. Senator and political boss Roscoe Conkling, former Governor of New York and Democratic candidate for President Horatio Seymour, and for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Ward Hunt. We happened by a friendly man who was on the cemetery's board and directed us to the appropriate graves.

As for Sherman, and as for most Vice Presidents who did not become president, there's little to say about him. He was a long-time congressman from New York who was teamed with the Ohioan Taft for geographic reasons. Wikipedia lists no accomplishments of his as veep, except for perhaps pulling Taft to the right, which angered Theodore Roosevelt, who ran as a third-party candidate in 1912, ensuring the election of Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

James S. Sherman
Sherman is the last Vice President to die in office, and he did so with bad timing. He died of Bright's disease only five days before the election. Taft, who knew he was going to lose, replaced him with Columbia University president Nicholas Murry Butler, who received the paltry electoral college votes (they won only Utah and Vermont).

And so, along with so many others, Sherman is a Vice President who is in almost complete obscurity. It was really only in  the modern era that Vice Presidents were given more to do--Carter's partnership with Mondale made a change in Vice Presidential power. In fact, back in Taft's day, presidential candidates didn't choose their own running mates, the parties did. It's not surprising that they wouldn't speak much with each other. As another Vice President, Thomas Marshall, said, "One boy ran off to the circus, another became Vice President. Neither were heard from again."

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