Kevin Pilley takes on a ‘Hillgrimage’ through the United States, following the path of Hillary Clinton.
Once there was Hope.
Now there’s Park Ridge. “Hillgrimages” are as popular as “Billgrimages”.
The party faithful and the compulsive-obsessive Instagrammers and Snapchatters stretch their selfie sticks as far as they will go and take photos of themselves under the “Rodham Corner” sign at the intersection of Wisner Street and Elm in Cook County, Illinois.
They pull faces outside “The Wonk’s House” in Park Ridge, an upper middle-class but not very quiet suburb about 10 miles north-west of downtown Chicago, under the approach path to the city’s O’Hare Airport.
Park Ridge is a significant if not sacred neighbourhood. It is where Harrison Ford grew up.
It is also the childhood home of the wife of the 42nd President and the only First Lady to be subpoenaed and fingerprinted by the FBI.
The first First Lady of the United States to have a postgraduate degree from Yale.
The first woman to be elected as a US Senator and the first Grammy-winning Democratic Party Presidential nominee who is a US Marine reject, a frustrated astronaut, a former Alaskan cannery fish descaler, a self-described “Rorschach Test” and the daughter of a fabric store owner and homemaker.
As well as an ex-Republican.
Hillary Rodham Carter Clinton campaigned for Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater in 1964.
The Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement (particularly the speeches of Martin Luther King) and her opinion that the Richard Nixon campaign against Nelson Rockefeller included “veiled racism” prompted Hillary Clinton to leave the Republican party in 1968.
She worked in the Carter Administration.
Bill Clinton put Arkansas on the map. Hillary too.
They have made it a tourist destination. Pre-Clintons, Arkansas was backwater, rural Nowheresville.
You didn’t run for public office. You ran for the state line.
Prior to the Clintons, the most famous thing to have been born and to grow up in Arkansas was the world’s biggest-ever watermelon. All 255lbs of it.
Before Bill and Hillary, all Arkansas could boast was producing more broiler chickens and less rocket scientists per capita than any other US state.
So short of homegrown attractions was Arkansas that its official brochure actually boasted of having milk as its state beverage as well as some of North America’s prettiest sedge.
The state now boasts a bauxite museum, the birthplace of “Walmart”(Bentonville) and, at the eastern edge of the state, Johnny Cash’s boyhood home at 4791 West Country Road, Dryess.
But Arkansas’ biggest draw and tourist revenue magnet is the “Clinton Heritage Trail” featuring Bill-and-Hillary related places of interest.
The fairytale story of Hempsted County’s favourite son began in 1946.
The ex-President’s actual birthplace, the Julia Chester Hospital on south Main Street in Hope, is no longer there which says much for his much-vaunted healthcare programme.
It is now a funeral home which says even more.
His two boyhood homes at 117 S. Hervey (where he lived from 1946-1950) and 321 W.13th are major landmarks and tourist must-sees. Busloads of fans visit them every day. South Hervey features a replica of an Oval Room rug.
In Hope you can visit the graves of Bill’s parents and grandparents, Eldridge and Edith Cassidy, who looked after him after his father died in a car crash and before his mother married Roger Clinton, a local car dealer.
The Clinton Route (affectionally known by some as the “Clinton Teen Boy Trail” ) takes you to “National Historic Sites”, scenes of keynote speeches, momentous soundbites, extraordinary feats of gladhanding and self-indulgent saxophone solos.
It takes you to his old schools, the Park Place Baptist Church where he was baptised and on to 1011 Park Avenue, Hot Springs where he moved at the age of eight.
You can visit “Bathhouse Row” and the 1924 “Arlington Hotel” where he had his junior and senior proms. Al Capone holidayed there in the 1930s.
After Yale (Connecticut), where he met Hillary, William Jefferson Blyth Clinton became professor of law at Fayetteville in his home state where Hillary, graduating from Yale in 1973, also got a job in the prestigious “Rose” law firm.
You can stroll the University of Arkansas campus and Waterman Hall where they courted. You can visit the “D-lux Café” ( now “36 Club Uber”) where the couple are meant to have engaged in energetic discussions about the future of the world and volubly cared about the world.
There are many park benches where they might have once sat.
For only $8 admission, you can snap yourself in front of a replica of Hillary’s wedding dress in their first home on 930 West Clinton (formerly California Boulevard) , a 1930 Tudor Revival bungalow where they married on October 11, 1975.
The Clinton Home Museum’s phone number is 877-BIL- N-HIL. The museum also a First Ladies Rose Garden to which Bill might soon be making a contribution of his favourite cultivar. There are also homes on L and Midland Streets.
The end of Arkansas’s “Billhillgrimage” love-in visitor attraction experience is the state capital and Little Rock’s 1950 Georgian-Colonial Governor’s Mansion where he was governor for 12 years.
He was first elected at the age of 32. It used to be an institute for the blind.
Tours can be arranged. To see the buildings Louis XV1 chandeliers, silver from the USS Arkansas and a 1770 Waterford grandfather or “cabinet” clock.
The Old State House is where Bill announced his bid for the presidency in 1991 and delivered his acceptance speeches in 1992 and 1996.
The 1908 Arkansas Gazette Building served as his campaign headquarters during the 1992 presidential election.
There are gift shops everywhere. The best-selling T-shirt in fishing-mad Arkansas (“The Natural State”) is still “The Best Way To A Man’s Heart Is Through His Fly”.
There is also a museum. Or rather Little Rock’s huge “ William J. Clinton Presidential Centre and Library” which chronicles the couple’s extraordinary “ life of service”.
It contains his beloved “Cadillac One” car, intimate photos of the family’s pets and a Valentine’s message from Hillary.
There is also a reconstruction of the White House’s Oval Room.
The Clintons have an apartment above the library overlooking the river and the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge.
Illinois boasts the home of Ohio-born Ulysses S. Grant in Galena and Ronald Reagan’s childhood home in Dixon, as well as Lincoln’s house in Springfield and Barack Obama’s senator’s mansion on South Greenwood Drive, which is inaccessible to the public.
A popular Obama place of worship is his old hairdressers, “The Hyde Park Hair Salon” on the University of Chicago campus, as well as restaurants like the “Valois Diner”, “R.J.Grunt’s” and “Spiaggia”.
Not to be undone by Arkansas, “The Land of Lincoln” now has its own leg of the “Clinton Trail” starting at Hillary’s nativity site of the now abandoned Edgwater Hospital at 5700 N.Ashland Avenue.
The Windy City’s Hillary tours take in her former family two-storey home (sold in 1987) at 235 Wisner which she shared with younger brothers Hugh and Anthony.
And her schools — the Eugene Field Elementary School at 707 Wisner, Maine East School on W. Dempster (where, years earlier, fellow Oak Ridger Harrison Ford was the first sports announcer on its student radio station) and Main South High —where Hillary the wonk (swot) was voted “most likely to succeed”; and where she began her social justice activism”, organising a babysitting group to look after the children of migrant Mexican workers in rural Illinois.
The tours tell you that Hillary used to sometimes come to class in the ninth grade wearing her Girl Scout uniform.
There is also Prospect Avenue’s 1928 Art Deco“Pickwick Theatre” movie palace.
Sadly, despite Hillary’s ringing endorsements and schmaltzy memories of its onion rings and burgers, her favourite “Pickwick Restaurant” next door has closed. Hillary accepted the post of Secretary of State from President-elect Obama at the Chicago Hilton.
She attended the private, all-women, liberal-arts Wellesley College in Massachusetts.
This is where she worked on her political agendas in and she made her famous “breakout” militant commencement speech on behalf of the Class of ’69 and the youth of the Western world.
Contemporaries remember a young lady who knew where she wanted to go and how she wanted to get there and what it would take.
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