If someone from another culture were to come here today, on this President’s Day holiday, and try to guess what it is we’re celebrating, there’s no doubt he or she would probably guess that we’re honoring our two greatest mattress and auto salesmen of all time. Or perhaps furniture. But there is no chance, from the media references seen today, that a stranger would guess we’re supposed to be respecting two of the greatest leaders our country has ever seen.
Both of them, Washington and Lincoln, visited Albany, by the way. Washington came through the area on a couple of occasions; no surprise, given that his wartime headquarters was just down the river in Newburgh. Lincoln came to the city as a Senator to meet with the kingmaker Thurlow Weed, and some years later, as the President-elect, saw his future assassin perform on an Albany stage, and then moved on for a salute from Troy. The next time Albany would see him, it would be as one of the destinations of his funeral train.
The photograph, by the way, is of a touching tradition – the sitting president sends flowers to the graves of former presidents on their birthdays. This arrangement honors Chester Alan Arthur, the 21st president, who is buried in the family plot at Albany Rural Cemetery.