A True Cincinnatian: William Howard Taft

If there is one thing Cincinnati is proud of, it’s being the home of the 27th President — and 10th Chief Justice — of the United States, William Howard Taft.

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His presence and spirit is immortalized throughout the city: William Howard Taft Road is a main street that connects a number of uptown neighborhoods; downtown, there are both the Taft Theater and the Taft Museum of Art.

His bronze likeness stands proudly on the campus of his alma mater, the University of Cincinnati, outside the College of Law.

His memory even lives on through Taft’s Ale House, a revived evangelical church-turned-restaurant, bar and brewery, whose logo immortalizes Taft’s infamous stuck-in-the-White-House-bathtub story. (Although I soon learned that infamous story is merely a myth.)

With all the remembrance of Taft throughout the city, lest we not forget that just one mile north of downtown stands the two-story Greek Revival house where Taft was born and grew up, which is now a national historic site and museum run by the National Park Service.

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One spring afternoon, I ventured down Auburn Avenue to visit the Taft historic site. As the large, stately house came into sight, the first thing I noticed was the color, and pictures do not do it justice. The house is a very unique shade of yellow: not quite mustard, not quite pastel. The best way to describe it is a dull shade of gold. Surely the Tafts did not want any passerby to miss the sight of their extravagant home.

Park rangers give guided tours through the house-turned-museum every 30 minutes. Strangely, there are no self-guided tours, but I preferred to have a guide anyway. My first impression as we entered the house was that the entryway was dark and not nearly as grand as I expected. There was a standard Victorian-style staircase against the left wall, and busy, beige-printed wallpaper lined the hallway.

However, once the ranger guided us into the room to the right of the entryway, I was immediately impressed by the elegant Victorian décor. Gold accents glimmered throughout the room: chandeliers, intricate picture frames, candlestick holders and more. The taupe scroll print drapes matched the regal, era-appropriate furniture. However, only a few small items including a silver tray were actually owned by the Tafts. That room was by far my favorite in the house; it provided a glimpse into the affluent lifestyle of the powerful Taft family.

The ranger then guided us through a few more rooms on the first floor: William’s father, Alphonso Taft, had a dark but stately office across the hall from the entryway, and there was a small bedroom/nursery that led into a generally empty room with some informational signs and artifacts.

It was in this room where our guide explained the origin of Taft’s infamous bathtub legend. The ranger explained that, by the time of Taft’s presidency beginning at age 52, Taft had very bad knees. There was one occasion when Taft requested help getting out of the bath, not because he was stuck, but because of his knees. Poor guy — what a sad legend to carry on when it was only a myth! Nonetheless, we Cincinnatians have embraced it; Taft is a true icon in our city.

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