Happy President’s Day!
Did you know that in the 295 years that Old North has been around, we’ve been visited by multiple presidents of the United States?
1. James Monroe
Our very first presidential visitor was James Monroe, the fifth president of the United States. In 1817, the first year of his presidency, Monroe completed a good-will tour of the United States, as a way of unifying the country and smoothing out bad feelings between opposing political parties. Monroe’s visit to Boston was commemorated in a local newspaper as the beginning of an “Era of Good Feelings,” a term which would come to describe the years 1817-1825, the length of his presidency. During his stay in Boston, Monroe visited the Old North Church for a Sunday service and received communion. A plaque at the front of the church still commemorates Monroe’s visit during his historic national tour.
2. Theodore Roosevelt
Our second presidential visit was from Theodore Roosevelt, on December 29, 1912. At the time, Teddy Roosevelt was actually an ex-president, having already served from 1901 to 1909. However, Roosevelt was on the campaign trail for the 1912 election, and while in Boston, made an unexpected stop at the grand re-opening of the Old North Church, which had been closed for a year while undergoing huge renovations. Roosevelt’s unexpected visit made quite a splash – local newspapers talked more about Roosevelt’s campaigning than the historic restoration of Old North! Visitors to Old North today can still sit where Teddy sat during the ceremony, and that pew, Pew #25, is marked with a special plaque in honor of his surprise visit.
3. Franklin Roosevelt
In 1920, church records show that Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave a speech at Old North, most likely as part of the 1920 presidential campaign when he was in the running as a vice-presidential candidate for the Democratic Party. FDR lost that particular election, but as we all know, he returned to the presidential ticket in 1932, this time as a presidential candidate, and won.
4. Calvin Coolidge
On April 18th, 1923, the then Vice President Calvin Coolidge (FDR’s opponent in the election of 1920) gave a speech about the importance of the past two centuries on the 200th anniversary of the founding of Old North. In the speech, Coolidge noted that “There are few organized institutions and fewer still buildings in all the land that goes back to that day… This building stands with the Old South Church, the Old State House, King’s Chapel, and Fanueil Hall as the sole remaining public buildings of Boston constructed before the Revolution.” Almost a hundred years after Coolidge’s speech at Old North, the buildings that Coolidge so venerated are still standing and educating the public, and in just five years, Old North will be celebrating its 300th anniversary (and 100th anniversary of Coolidge’s visit!)
5. Gerald Ford
Our fifth and most recent presidential visit was on April 18, 1975, on the bicentennial of the eve of the American Revolution. President Gerald R. Ford paid an official visit to the Old North Church, to deliver a televised speech reflecting upon the 200th anniversary of the country. He immortalized Old North’s role in the American Revolution by saying, “The Declaration of Independence has won the minds, it has won the hearts of this world beyond the dreams of any revolutionary who has ever lived. The two lanterns of Old North Church have fired a torch of freedom that has been carried to the ends of the world.” To mark the occasion, he gifted the Old North with a symbolic Third Lantern, which we still keep lit inside the church to this day!
We’ve had five presidents visit Old North, but there’s one president that we couldn’t neglect to mention: George Washington! While George Washington visited sites such as the Old South Meeting House after the Siege of Boston during the Revolutionary War and King’s Chapel during his presidency, he never (to our knowledge) stepped foot into the Old North Church. Nonetheless, a senior warden at Old North named Shubael Bell purchased a bust of George Washington to donate to Old North in 1815. Famously, Washington’s old friend General Lafayette paid Old North a visit in 1824 and exclaimed, “Yes, that is the man I knew and more like him than any other portrait.” All-in-all, we’ll give George honorary status for being an iconic presidential figure at Old North.
Coolidge, C. (2001). The Price of Freedom. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Fredonia, p.315.
“Gerald R. Ford: Remarks In Boston At The Old North Church Bicentennial Lantern Service.”. presidency.ucsb.edu. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=4846.
“Old North Church (Christ Church In The City Of Boston) Records, 1569-1997”. masshist.org. https://www.masshist.org/collection-guides/view/fa0290.
Photograph of “Teddy Roosevelt in Boston, 1912” appears courtesy of the Digital Commonwealth: Massachusetts Collections Online. (c) Leslie Jones. (CC BY-NC-ND)