William Howard Taft National Historic Site Cincinnati, Ohio Visited: May 10, 2004 NPS Site Visited: 40 of 353 NPS Website
WHAT IS IT? The boyhood home of William Howard Taft, the only man to serve as both president of the United States and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
BEAUTY (1/10) The House is ugly. While a few rooms have been somewhat restored to their 1860’s specifications, the interior includes few pieces original to the Taft’s. The Ranger told us that Taft’s father bought the house and 2 acres in 1839 for $10,000. Given that the wily William Henry Harrison bought the entire Indiana territory just 30 years earlier for the same sum, we can only conclude that either the Ranger was wrong or father Taft got a bad deal.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (2/10) Nothing of historical note happened here in Cincinnati except for the birth of William.
CROWDS (5/10) We were the only people there.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (2/5) A brown NPS sign instructs you as to which exit you should take off I-71. After that the signs stop and you are on your own. We had a Cincinnati AAA map and still almost made a wrong turn. Good luck. There are six parking spots at the site. Unless the John Birch Society of greater Cincinnati decides to make the trip, you should have no trouble finding a space.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (1/5) There was only one book at the bookstore about William Howard Taft. Given that there is a new book, currently ranked #190 in sales at Amazon.com, about the election of 1912 why wasn’t this book stocked at the Site?
COSTS (4/5) The Site is free, parking is free.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (4/5) Two of us, two Rangers.
TOURS/CLASSES (2/10) The film glosses over all things controversial and is chock full of historical niceties and inaccuracies.
For example, Taft’s tenure as the First Governor of the Philippines from 1901-04 is portrayed as extremely productive, free of turmoil and a noble mission. The video remarks a few times that Taft cared so much for the Filipino people that he would not leave until his job was done and power was back in Filipino hands.
We would believe that he even gave up a nomination on the Supreme Court to help the south Asian colony. There is no mention of the large-scale guerilla fighting of 1902. No mention of the thousands of deaths, prisoner executions and torture or the burning of Filipino villages. It is a good thing that Taft did not fulfill his promise to stay until Filipino independence because that did not happen until 1946, 16 years after Taft’s death.
The film depicts Taft as a man of the people and a reformer. Are we fools? The film’s representation of the election of 1912 is laughable. Firstly, it states that Taft defeated Teddy Roosevelt for the Republican nomination. It is not pointed out that TR won every Republican primary and that the Taft-controlled political machinery disqualified Teddy’s delegates so that their man would be nominated.
Secondly, the video declares that Taft ended up losing to Woodrow Wilson. This is true but the video does not tell you that Taft also lost to third party candidate Teddy Roosevelt. There is no mention that Taft effectively fractured the Republican Party from the progressive vision of its founder Abraham Lincoln.
These are just two examples of the abysmal historical representation of the Site’s video. We could go on forever.
There is an animatronic representation of Taft’s son Charlie in the museum. It tells stories about Taft family members. It is broken.
The tour of the William Howard Taft House was OK. It was clear that our Ranger was new. She was still reading a book she had checked out from the public library about Taft’s childhood. She did a good job of teaching what she knew herself. We appreciated her help. We were unclear as to why the Site dedicated to honoring Taft did not have this book either on sale or in its office. Why did the Park Ranger at the William Howard Taft NHS have to resort to checking a book out at the public library?
FUN (1/10) None at all.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (1/10) No. Read a book about Taft. You will learn a lot more about him somewhere else.
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