Friday, January 6, 2012

Off the Rails

One hundred and fifty nine years ago today, on January 6th 1853, a passenger car broke loose from a train that had left Andover Massachusetts en route to Concord New Hampshire just minutes before. The car rolled down an embankment, and when it came to a stop there was one fatality. Benjamin “Bennie” Pierce (age 11) died as his parents (who had been traveling to attend a funeral of a family friend) watched. Two months later his father would be inaugurated to be the 14th president of the United States of America.

Bennie’s mother Jane would never recover from the tragic death of her third and only surviving child. For years she hid away in an upstairs room of the white house writing maudlin letters to Bennie. She would not appear in public at all until new-years-day 1855. Jane was rarely seen after that, and became known as “the shadow of the white house”. In 1856 she is credited with starting the happy tradition of having a white-house Christmas tree.

Christmas trees should be taken down by January 6th

Pierce is known as one of the least effective presidents of the United States. Of the 44 presidents Pierce has been ranked by some as 39th in effectiveness. The same group ranked his predecessor (Millard Fillmore) as 38th, and his successor (James Buchanan) as 40th.

Pierce was a languid anti-abolitionist and repeatedly admonished northern abolitionists to stop “encouraging ugly feelings”. Harriet Beecher Stowe referred to him as "the archtraitor.”.

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