Herbert Hoover, the 31st President, Dies at Age 90

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | September 20, 2014

Add to History Board Share Print

Herbert Hoover, dying at ninety, had longer than most presidents to give vent to a sentiment a great many of them felt: here, out-of-office, he says he is “once of Washington D.C. –  now fortunately elsewhere.” Why that was so, is the story told here, between the lines…

Even in death, Herbert Hoover could not win. Dying on October 20, 1964, in the first year of his tenth decade, he still came in second – this time, in the longest-lived President stakes, losing to John Adams, who bested Hoover by 176 days. (Since then, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, at age 93, place first and second.) Nor did Hoover’s 31 years, 231 days of life after serving his single term as president set a record; Jimmy Carter, out of office since 1981, overtook him two years ago. Hoover, it would seem, simply had no luck up against the numbers. “1929” was the worst of them, marking as it did his assumption of the presidency that March, and the stock market’s crash that October – a catastrophe which ushered in a decade of economic and social collapse. Hoover’s name became, overnight, synonymous with disaster and despair. Shanty towns were Hoovervilles, newspapers layered for warmth were Hoover blankets, cardboard used to line worn shoes were Hoover leather – even the symbol of pennilessness, an empty pocket turned inside out, was called a Hoover flag… It’s little enough wonder, then, that he describes himself, as exhibited in a rare autograph sentiment here,  as “once of Washington D.C. – now fortunately elsewhere”

Hoover at Idlewild Airport in New York, 1959. Bettemann Archive/Corbis.

But if Hoover had good reason to rue the conditions which he faced in Washington – one-quarter of the population unemployed, one-quarter of the banks failed, one-quarter of the farms foreclosed, to name but a few – most presidents have also, sometime or other, despaired of the job. George Washington, after all, assumed the office feeling, he said, like a culprit being led to a place of execution. It wasn’t long, then, before the incumbents of the White House – faced with intrusive job supplicants, as well the problems of governance: region against region, extreme political factionalism, a savage press – began to think of the presidency as a prison. John Tyler, in 1842, actually used that word: prison. “I have scarcely been able to leave the [White] House” he declared in a letter, complaining that even when he “could escape from the prison of my office”, he felt forlorn. Benjamin Harrison, by the end of the century,  and down to the last month of his term, counted the days until he could leave. “I can get along I think until I am released on the 4 March,” he wrote. “The strain  has been very hard – & I do so long to get out of this House.” Hoover, then, though politically damned, would seem to have appreciated the personal blessing in being out-of-office – as reflected in this pithy post-presidential self-assessment:

 Herbert Hoover Once of Washington D.C. Now Fortunately Elsewhere.

Hoover, not incidentally, must have liked where he was – for he took the time to handwrite this epigrammatic address. Lover of the typewriter, hater of the wasted moment, he once estimated that he wrote 10,000 letters a year – of which, incredibly, almost none were autograph.  He doubted that he’d written a dozen autograph letters in his whole life, he said: and while that is a not true, it is not true by very much. Hoover’s autograph, in any form, is excessively rare; as president, he claimed that he only wrote “one per annum.” None of them were as wryly self-aware, however, as the eight-word sentiment featured here.

HERBERT HOOVER. 1874 – 1964. The 31st President of the United States.

Autograph Sentiment Signed, 1 page, octavo, no place, August 19, no year [circa mid-to-late 30’s]. Rare.

JOHN TYLER. 1790 – 1862. The 10th President of the United States.

 

Manuscripts Related To This Article