Potomac fever tends to afflict former senators, members of Congress and others attracted to governmentalpower who want evermore to stay in this city where it is pervasive. But had you noticed how it tends to repel ex-presidents?
John Quincy Adams, the sixth president and son of the second (and previously a senator) did come back from Massachusetts to serve 17 years in the House of Representatives. Andrew Johnson, the 17th president, came back briefly as a senator from Tennessee, only to die five months after his return.
Of the 15 past presidents in this century, only two stayed on in the capital: William Howard Taft, who went on to become chief justice, and the ailing Woodrow Wilson, who lived his three remaining years in a house at 2340 S St. NW that is now maintained as a museum.
What brings these historical footnotes to mind is a charming, informal history -- called "The First 100 Years!" -- of the Gridiron Club, written by James S. Free to mark the 100th anniversary of that institution of leading newspapermen and, since 1975, of newspaperwomen who stage annual roasts of incumbent presidents.
Free, a retired Washington correspondent of the Birmingham News, collected some marvelous anecdotes, including former president Theodore Roosevelt's statement, appropriate here, to the club after leaving office in 1909: "Washington is no place for an ex-president."
The Gridiron's first president in 1885 was Ben Perley Poore, a New England correspondent, of whom we have recently written. He's the fellow caricatured here with the beard, by present-day cartoonist Bill Mitchell.
Poore, Free recounted, "loved to tell bawdy stories. Still, even this fondness served a useful negative purpose. It prompted Gridironers early on to bar ribaldry from their dinner programs."
One of the most unlikely of guests broke the rule -- Jimmy Carter, then a presidential hopeful, who in 1975 told a joke of the outhouse variety. The audience groaned. Carter, sitting down, told Katherine Warren, wife of the Gridiron's then-president, Lucian Warren, "My wife told me not to tell that story." She replied: "Your wife was right."