Ohio prides itself as the birthplace of eight U.S. presidents. Three of these esteemed men hailed from Cincinnati: Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison and William Howard Taft, the only person to ever serve as both the President of the United States and the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The William Howard Taft National Historic Site in Mount Auburn honors Taft’s contributions to our nation and his family’s contributions to our community as well.
We entered the center where a park ranger greeted us, and invited us to begin with the 14-minute orientation film. Inside the small theater, we saw Will’s childhood in Cincinnati and his love of baseball, a passion that led to his initiation of the President’s Opening Day pitch. The video also highlights Taft’s education, graduation from Yale and his friendship with Teddy Roosevelt. We heard about his role in building the Panama Canal, his difficult presidency and his loss to Woodrow Wilson in his second presidential campaign, and finally, the fulfillment of his dream: his appointment to the United States Supreme Court and subsequent role as our 10th chief justice.
After the film, we looked at exhibits in the education center. My daughter posed by the larger-than-life William Howard Taft standup poster. We enjoyed the Kodak cameras of the early 1900s and photo albums filled with black and white snapshots of exotic trips to Japan and the Philippines. We admired displays that reflected other Taft family members and their contributions to broadcast history, the Cincinnati Symphony and the opera. But, the best part, of course, was the animatronic Charlie Taft. Dressed in fishing gear and posed beside his mustard yellow car, Charlie turned to us and spoke, talking about his parents, ancestors, and other family members, depending on the buttons we pushed.
When we finished with Charlie, we toured the actual house. William Howard Taft’s birthplace and boyhood home was built in the 1840s in the Greek Revival style, and owned by his father, Alphonso. A curious fireplace with tiles depicting Shakespearean dramas and Aesop’s fables captured our attention in the first room, where our guide confided that sometimes the characters’ eyes seem to stare, watch and follow her. With a shiver, we left that room, and went to the nursery. The children had a crib and bed, but the nanny slept in a trundle just off the floor, and like the other servants, answered the families’ calls when they pulled a cord and rang a bell for them. We visited the library, where we saw the awkward connections between ceiling fixtures and table lamps, made necessary by early gaslights, and also saw a portrait of young William. He had long hair and wore a dress, but our guide explained that such styles were common for toddlers. “You could tell whether a child was a boy or a girl by the way the hair was parted,” she said. We next went to the home’s most elegant room. Large enough for entertaining, the room featured a piano imported from Boston, beautiful furnishings, delicate figurines, detailed family portraits, lush drapes, and hideous carpet. “To us, the colors clash,” our guide explained. “The Victorians liked patterns and colors and frills. Sometimes it just comes off as garish.”
We toured the remaining areas on our own, taking in the grand staircase, a few more furnishing and exhibits of campaign materials and other artifacts. Visitors ages 6 – 12 should pay close attention to these things, and everything they see and hear at the site, and then note their responses in their Taft activity booklet available on entry. Their efforts will earn them historic knowledge, as well as a Junior Ranger badge and certificate. So, come on out to this historical site to celebrate President’s Day in Ohio.
where to go
William Howard Taft National Historic Site
2038 Auburn Ave. , Cincinnati, Ohio 45219
Open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily
Visitor Information 513-684-3262
Admission and parking are free