Grave Sightings: Thomas R. Marshall

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Stacy Conradt

Every time we so much as touch a toe out of state, I’ve put cemeteries on our travel itinerary. From garden-like expanses to overgrown boot hills, whether they’re the final resting places of the well-known but not that important or the important but not that well-known, I love them all. After realizing that there are a lot of taphophiles out there, I’m finally putting my archive of interesting tombstones to good use.

If you’re anything like most of the world, you don’t remember vice presidents. The ones who later went on to be president, sure. But the men who never went beyond second-in-charge tend to fade into the annals of history.

Thomas R. Marshall, vice president to Woodrow Wilson, is one worth remembering. It wasn’t his political prowess that was notable—Time actually listed him as one of the worst Veeps of all time.

Marshall, also the 27th governor of Indiana, was known for his lackadaisical attitude toward the vice presidency and his dry wit. This combination produced some of the best one-liners to ever come out of the White House.

Inscribed in a book he gave to Woodrow Wilson:

“From your only vice.”

On Indiana's ability to produce Vice Presidents:

"[Indiana] has surely furnished as many first-class second-class men as any state in the Union."

To people taking the White House tour and peering into his office:

"If you look on me as a wild animal, be kind enough to throw peanuts at me."

On the needs of the country:

As senators were saying, “America needs this, America needs that,” Marshall quipped, "What this country really needs is a good five-cent cigar!”

On retirement:

"I don't want to work, [but] I wouldn't mind being Vice President again."

When he was finally free of his dreaded duties, Marshall went back to Indianapolis and opened a law practice. He was appointed to the Lincoln Memorial Commission and the Federal Coal Commission, but resigned from both to write a humorous memoir. Though many politicians use an autobiography as a chance to attack their foes or spill dirty White House secrets, Marshall’s Recollections of Thomas R. Marshall: A Hoosier Salad did neither.

Marshall died of a heart attack on June 1, 1925, but to him, that wouldn’t have been a reason to mourn. Marshall reserved his sympathies for the people who took his job. When Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge were elected to office, Marshall sent Vice President-elect Coolidge a wire saying, "Please accept my sincere sympathy."

You can find him, plus two more vice presidents and one president, at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.

See all entries in our Grave Sightings series here.

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August 17, 2014 - 2:00pm
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