Democracy Dies in Darkness

On Leadership

Ghosts and the vice presidency

March 13, 2016 at 11:37 AM

(Backgrounds by Craig & Karl for The Washington Post; Photo by Amy King/The Washington Post)

Though 175 years have passed since John Tyler was sworn in as president following the death of William Henry Harrison, Tyler's grandson—Harrison Tyler—is still alive today. He lives near Richmond, Va., and still holds the family home that President Tyler bought nearly two centuries ago.

For the newest episode of the Presidential podcast, we visited Harrison Tyler, who had gone just days before to visit his grandfather's grave at Hollywood Cemetery along the James River in downtown Richmond.

Tyler had a stroke two years ago that has left him unable to recall much of his family history and his unique connection to the American presidency. (Not only is it remarkable that a grandson of the 10th president is still living today, but he is also the great grandson on his mother's side of 9th president William Henry Harrison.)

While Tyler's own memory has faded in recent years, others remind him regularly of his presidential connections. When visiting the cemetery, visitors asked him for his photograph. And the Tyler family home has lately been getting calls and letters requesting his signature, in an unspoken acknowledgement that, at 88 years old, he is a rare close relative of America's beginnings.

Listen to the newest episode of Presidential to hear about our trip to visit the Tyler family—and the ghost they say still haunts the president's home. We also use this episode of the series to explore and explain the history of the vice presidency with guests Joel Goldstein, a professor at the Saint Louis University School of Law, and historian Barbara Bair from the Library of Congress.

While our plans for presidential succession are now well established, at the time of Harrison's death the country hadn't yet experienced a crisis of this sort in the White House. The constitution had some ambiguity about the role that vice presidents should play in the scenario, and it was Tyler who settled the issue by immediately declaring himself the new president of the United States.

Here's the latest episode:

In previous episodes of the Presidential podcast, we've explored topics like the catchy campaign song of William Henry Harrison and the violent life of Andrew Jackson. The podcast is hosted by Lillian Cunningham, editor of The Washington Post's On Leadership section.

As listeners tune in each week, the podcast reveals the ways in which our collective sense of what's 'presidential' has evolved over the years and how each president—esteemed, loathed or nearly forgotten—has something to tell us about what it takes to hold the nation's highest office.

A new episode comes out every Sunday. Here's how to follow along:

Lillian Cunningham is the creator and host of the "Presidential" and "Constitutional" podcasts. She was previously a feature writer for and editor of The Washington Post's On Leadership section, for which she received two Emmy Awards for her interviews with leaders in politics, business and the arts.

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