Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
Museum marking Reagan’s birthplace over a period-restored bank in the historical district of Tampico, Ill.
Ronald Reagan’s birthplace, a second-story apartment over what was once a small-town tavern in Tampico, Ill., is today marked by a museum. John Adams’ birthplace is a national park. Even Rutherford B. Hayes, whose birthplace is today covered over by a BP gas station, merits a metal plaque commemorating the location.
But while most of America’s 44 presidents have tourist attractions or monuments of some kind marking their birthplaces, President Barack Obama – for several reasons – may not be granted the honor. Three obstacles in particular stand in the way:
First, though Obama maintains he was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, the exact location of his birth hasn’t been disclosed to the public.
Second, it has been reported that Obama was born in a hospital, and thus far, only one of the American presidents born in a hospital has so much as a sign commemorating the location.
Third, in an exclusive interview, the National Park Service described to WND the slough of red tape and practical obstacles that may prevent Obama’s birthplace from ever being honored by the NPS.
The first obstacle to commemorating Obama’s birthplace, of course, is that unlike America’s first 43 presidents, the exact location of Obama’s birth is unknown.
As WND reported, the White House insists Obama was born in Hawaii but has thus far refused to verify which hospital the president claims as his birthplace or whether the letter – purportedly from President Obama claiming Kapi’olani – is, in fact, real.
In October last year, WND sought answers to the hospital question by retaining a top private investigator with extensive FBI training and tasked with visiting both the Queens Medical Center and the Kapi’olani Medical Center to investigate claims that Obama birth certificates existed at either hospital.
The private investigator, however, reported that sheriff’s deputies were stationed at both hospitals to fend off press inquiries about Obama’s birth certificate.
Even if Obama affirmed that he sent the letter to Kapi’olani and earlier reports of his birth at Queens were mistaken, however, there would still be obstacles with erecting any sort of monument or museum at the site.
Jimmy Carter’s birthplace, the former Wise Sanitarium in Plains, Ga.
Only three other U.S. presidents have been born in hospitals: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and of them, only one has a marker of any kind honoring the location.
Carter was the first president to be born in a hospital, at Wise Sanitarium in Plains, Ga. The former hospital is now the Lillian G. Carter Nursing Center, named after the president’s mother, who worked there as a registered nurse, but to this day, no plaque or monument otherwise denotes the facility as Jimmy Carter’s birthplace.
The National Park Service operates a park in Plains, honoring Carter’s boyhood farm, but not the birthplace.
President Clinton was born in a hospital in Arkansas that has since burned down and is the only hospital birthplace of a president currently displaying a marker.
The third president born in a medical facility, George W. Bush, was welcomed into the world in 1946 at the Grace–New Haven Community Hospital – later renamed the Yale–New Haven Hospital – in New Haven, Conn.
No plaques or monuments mark the hospital as Bush’s birthplace, though the communications office does have a 2-page information packet on the birth and the history of the hospital at the time, including a biographical paragraph on the doctor who attended the 43rd president’s birth.
“Margaret (Maggie) Tyler, M.D., delivered the president,” the packet explains. “Dr. Tyler was a member of the New Haven Hospital and then the Grace–New Haven Hospital medical staff in the department of obstetrics and gynecology from about 1922-1949. She served a residency in obstetrics at New Haven Hospital from 1919-21 and joined the staff in 1922 as an associate obstetrician.”
As WND reported, however, for President Obama, information on the attending physician or even the name of the hospital has been shrouded behind a veil of privacy restrictions, and the president has been unwilling to authorize release of the information or his long-form birth certificate, which would reveal the kind of details readily disclosed by Bush’s birthplace.
For several American presidents, honoring their birthplaces has gone beyond merely erecting a plaque to reserving the land as a national park.
Birthplace of John Adams at the Adams National Historical Park
The birthplace of our second president, John Adams, for example, in what was originally called Braintree, Mass., was acquired by the National Park Service in 1947 and turned into the 14-acre Adams National Historical Park. Incidentally, our sixth president, John Quincy Adams, was born literally right next door, and his birthplace is part of the park as well.
George Washington’s birthplace in Westmoreland County, Va., was authorized as a national monument in 1930. Though the home he was born in burned to the ground in 1779, its foundation was excavated in 1936 and is now marked with crushed oyster shells that visitors might recognize its size and shape.
But a variety of obstacles prevent some birthplaces from being incorporated by the National Park Service.
David Barna, chief of public affairs for the NPS, explained to WND the hurdles that must be crossed before the NPS is “handed the keys” to a new park to then “mow the grass forever.”
Barna explained that for a property to become a national park, a member of Congress must push through an appropriations bill approving a certain amount of money to study the feasibility of creating a national park or monument.
“We have 391 individual properties as units of the National Park Service now,” Barna told WND. “We study a potential new property to see if we can buy it, if the public can access it and so forth. Then we make a recommendation back to Congress as to whether it would be a good addition to the park system. Historically, Congress takes our advice about half the time, and half they don’t.”
Barna also explained that there are two committees on Capitol Hill, the authorizers and the appropriators. Consequently, some properties can be authorized as new park sites but lack the appropriated funds to make the plan a reality.
For example, Ronald Reagan’s boyhood home was authorized in 2002 to be a national historical site, Barna said, but since it belongs to a private owner unwilling to sell at the NPS’ terms, the project is currently in limbo. Barna told WND the NPS currently has seven outstanding projects that have been authorized but not appropriated, including Clinton’s birthplace in Hope, Ark.
Even after Congress has granted all the approvals, however, a designer of the facility must be contracted, the design approved, private funds to finish the project raised and the construction completed.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, completed 38 years after it was authorized
“The FDR project in Washington, D.C., for example, was authorized in 1959, and it took until 1997 before the memorial was built,” Barna told WND. “Congress has also set up a commission and authorized a Dwight D. Eisenhower monument. We have the site, are raising funds and have had authorization since 2002. But as of yet, we have no design for the project.”
Finally, Barna explained, it’s likely fewer and fewer presidential historical sites will be made into national parks or monuments at all.
“In the last 30 or 40 years, presidential libraries have become popular,” Barna told WND. “The libraries are not connected to the U.S. government, but private enterprises. It’s been pushed to go in that direction, so we may see fewer presidential sites as part of the park system.”
When asked if Congress has moved to honor Obama’s birthplace yet, Barna said no.
“We haven’t been asked to study Bush or Obama yet,” Barna told WND. “Clinton’s authorization just happened in 2009, so it tends to lag a bit.”