Thursday, June 14

Tippecanoe and the Tyler Two

Harrison Tyler and his Presidential granddad
By Grant Davies

On this day in 1790, the tenth President of the US, John Tyler, was born. (Actually, it wasn't on this day at all;  the real date was March 29th, but I needed a segue into the story, so I made that part up.)

But this story has very little to do with Tyler anyway, and everything to do with how quickly time passes. It's about how events that happened so very long ago are really more recent than we perceive.

Time flies when you're having kids, and John knew quite a bit about how to make that happen. He had fifteen of them. And he was living proof that "the little blue pill" isn't necessary for everyone who desires to procreate at an age when lots of people in modern times are renewing their AARP cards.

John didn't need pills or cards; all he needed was a wife thirty years younger than him and the inclination to keep up with her. His first marriage lasted twenty-nine years and only ended when his wife, Letitia, passed away after suffering her second stroke. They had eight children, so the stroke isn't a total shock. It could just as well have been exhaustion.

Pretty soon John got lonely, and after about a year and a half, he married again. The second marriage was to a girl in her twenties, Julia Gardiner, who didn't waste too much time before she began turning out little Tylers apace. Her efforts almost tied the first Mrs. Tyler's record, but she came up one short at only seven. It may have saved her life. (That eighth one is a killer.)

Anyway, to cut to the chase, one of her last children was Lyon Gardiner Tyler, and he must have inherited the old man's lust (and endurance), because he fathered a few kids himself at an advanced age. Lyon was born in 1853, fathered Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. in 1924, and then Harrison Ruffin Tyler in 1928. By my calculations, that makes him 75 years old when he last had a reproductive evening.

Those last two guys are still alive, and by all recent reports they have all the marbles they started with. They are active, fairly non-political, and give a pretty decent interview. And Harrison - presumably named after the President who died and left his granddad to be the first VP ever to ascend to the top - even retains his sense of humor about the proclivities of his family.

In 2004, statues of his great-grandfather (a Governor of Virginia who used to kick back with a buddy named Tom Jefferson), his grandfather (the 10th President of the US), and his father (the President of the College of William and Mary) were dedicated in a new garden on the campus of William and Mary. After the dedication ceremony he decided to take a stroll in the garden which had just been named to honor his family.

During his walk he came across two students near the statues who seemed to be having a "feel" for history. Pointing to the busts, he told them, "That's my father, that's my grandfather, and that's my great-grandfather, and they could not be any happier about what you all are using this for."

So the next time you hear someone at your local watering hole saying, "I know a guy who knew a guy, who blah, blah, blah", you might remember these two guys, who might actually say in all truthfulness, "my granddad was born in 1790. Whadda ya mean you don't believe me? Well try this, he was the President of the United States too!"

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