Editor’s Note: The “V&V Q&A” is an e-publication from The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. In this latest edition, Dr. Paul Kengor, the executive director of the Center, interviews Walter Eckman, author of the recent book, “Meet the Presidents” (Schiffer Books, 2011). Still searching for the perfect Christmas gift for the history buffs in your family? Start planning your summer road trip now with “Meet the Presidents.”
Dr. Paul Kengor: Walter Eckman, welcome to “V&V Q&A.” You have done a number of books. This one is truly unique, and a real joy. This is a book covering all of our presidents, a guide to presidential homes, libraries, and museums, almost a personal tour-guide of sorts, filled with biographical information, interesting historical facts, quotes, cartoons, attractive visuals. What’s your intention in writing this book?
Walter Eckman: First of all, Dr. Kengor, thank you for the opportunity to be involved in your V&V Q&A. “Meet the Presidents” includes all 43 presidents of the United States. The book provides an overview of the presidents’ journeys to the White House, their administrations, and a glimpse into their personal lives. The book is reader-friendly, written in a simple, straightforward style that includes attractive graphics and activities to tickle the brain. It is divided into three geographic regions representing the geographic grouping of our presidents: Pennsylvania to Maine, Virginia to Ohio, and southern and western states. My goal is to acquaint the readers with our forgotten and more obscure presidents and to enhance their knowledge of our better-known presidents. Readers will discover similarities and differences in these men, their struggles—both personal and political—and their foibles and achievements. Hopefully, their stories will enable readers to appreciate and evaluate the body of work of each. This book is a primer for some and an addendum for others.
Kengor: Personally, I think this is a wonderful book—a true educational resource. There was a niche here. Someone needed to write this.
Eckman: As a public speaker on U.S. presidents, I have talked to audiences both young and old. I’ve seen the fascination and interest in their faces, so the niche is broad based with pockets of special interest. History books inform readers but can sometimes leave them wanting more. “Meet the Presidents” informs but also entertains and, hopefully, stimulates an appetite for more presidential knowledge.
Kengor: The book is very family-oriented. It has a nickname game and what the cover bills as “fun assignments.” Do you envision this book as something a family can do together, especially as a summer vacation?
Eckman: The family is one of those groups of special interest I referred to. My goal is to reach varying age groups, including grandparents, parents, and children who will discover or rediscover these pivotal men as a unit while also enjoying the true stories, special tidbits, and timelines. I also envision senior citizens reminiscing about presidents past, a wide-eyed youth surprised by the struggles endured by many of these men, and the teenager discovering that difficulties can be overcome. My book was organized with travel in mind. I hope to entice readers to plan a “presidential vacation” that makes history come alive by having a genuine “touch and feel” experience. Recently, I met a group of five medical doctors in Canton, Ohio at the presidential site of William McKinley. In my conversation with them, they relayed that each year they meet at a different presidential location to expand their knowledge of the great men that ran our country.
Kengor: That question begs my next observation: This book seems ideal for home-schooling families. Is it aimed at homeschoolers?
Eckman: I believe “Meet the Presidents” is perfect for home-schoolers. Its easy style and fun and factual presentation will make learning an enjoyable experience. Home-schoolers will identify with those presidents who were home-schooled or perhaps self-taught like Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, and Andrew Johnson.
Kengor: This is a book that needs to be in presidential libraries and even American history sections of museums. Have you had any luck placing it in places like that?
Eckman: Yes! I’m happy to say the publisher has contacted all presidential sites, including the National First Ladies Library in Canton, Ohio, so visitors will find my book on their shelves.
Kengor: The publisher of this book, Schiffer Books, did a beautiful job. The folks there took your concept and ran with it. The visuals are terrific.
Eckman: After six years of mental gymnastics conceiving and writing my book, the final product from Schiffer Publishing is outstanding. The original cover is now the introduction page, and Peter Schiffer—second generation publisher—conceived and created an absolute home-run on our hard cover. I must give special recognition to my graphic designer, Dave Beverage. Dave’s ingenious implementation of graphics, color, and placement truly brought the book to life.
Kengor: Of all the presidential sites in this book, do you have a favorite, or a top two or three?
Eckman: I have affection for all the presidential sites. They represent our history. They represent our values and our changing culture. On the top of my list of presidential sites is the Reagan Library. The setting is idyllic on the Pacific coast, and having Air Force One hanging in the library is awe-inspiring. Nancy Reagan really did our president proud. Dwight Eisenhower’s home in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where he resided after his two terms in office, is the only home he ever owned. It is ironic that this World War II icon chose a. farm contiguous to the famous Civil War battlefield. Also ironic to “Ike” was the fact that both of his parents were Mennonite pacifists. Woodrow Wilson, son of a Presbyterian minister, was born in Virginia. His birthplace, an almost overly ostentatious manse, speaks to the opposite of the usual Spartan lifestyle typical of Protestant clergymen of the day. His financial status was made clearer by Wilson’s 1919 automobile, a Pierce Arrow with Princeton University’s insignia clearly displayed. I encourage my readers to delve into my book prior to their presidential site visits. They will be good to go and decide for themselves their favorite site.
Kengor: Walter, how can people purchase this book?
Kengor: Well, several of us here at Grove City College already own copies. My family home-schools. We’ll get a lot of mileage out of this. Walter Eckman, thanks for doing this book and talking to V&V Q&A.
Eckman: Well, thank you for getting my book, and thank you for this opportunity to talk about it.