Culture » Festivals

Happy Birthday, Mr. President



When Benjamin Harrison was elected president of the United States back in 1889, a gallon of milk cost 27 cents, a dozen eggs sold for 21 cents and a pound of bacon would set you back a quarter. Gas prices weren't an issue -- Henry Ford's Model-T wouldn't be mass-produced until 1908. And the smartest phone didn't even have a rotary dial.

To honor those simpler times and the legacy of Indiana's only U.S. president, this Saturday (Aug. 23rd) the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site will host its 39th annual Benjamin Harrison Ice Cream Social.

  • Courtesy Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site

Stacy Clark who has overseen the event for the past five years, says the annual extravaganza offers a fun way to engage the public and honor the legacy and times of President Harrison. The Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site hosts various events and tours of the home and grounds throughout the year to increase public understanding of and appreciation for the American system of self-government and the art and culture of American presidents. But this one in particular has homespun character that harkens back to the days of Harrison's presidency.

"We feel like it is a good way for families to celebrate our Indiana president," she says. "The ice cream social is a way to celebrate Harrison's legacy, the home and his birthday in a way we don't do every day."

While the event has previously fallen around the Fourth of July holiday, this year's event takes place in late August to coincide with a weeklong birthday commemoration of the nation's 23rd president. His actual birthday was Aug. 20th.

This year's theme is "Let's Move," aligning with the White House's initiative to encourage physical activity. That's a pretty good idea, considering the delicious "ice cream" options that will be provided at the event. Visitors also will have a chance to tour the late president's former residence and see what a "home gym" might have looked like more than a century ago.

"Another accessible part of the tour, in conjunction with our theme, is Harrison's exercise set which looks vastly different from what you may have in your garage or basement," Clark says. "It has a set of Indian Clubs (weighted bowling-pin shaped wooden pieces used for exercise) which would have been popular at the home. We will also have a juggler on the club who will talk about the evolution of the Indian Club."

In addition to viewing the exercise apparatus, visitors will also have access to the Harrison's kitchen. A period space, that will likely look quite different from a visitor's home kitchen.

"The cook will be in the kitchen," Clark says, referring to one of the costumed interpreters on hand. "That is by far the most successful room. Everyone still has a stove, everyone still has a refrigerator. You get to see how those things in your own home have changed, and you get the story told from the perspective of the Harrisons' cook."

Diane Crabtree has been a volunteer at the home for a number of years and looks forward to the annual event with her grandchildren.

"I liked the idea that it was a way to take your kids and have an old-fashioned holiday," she says. "My 9-year-old grandchildren have really enjoyed playing all those old-fashioned games that remind you a little of Conner Prairie. You can play stick games, do face paintings and things like that."

Crabtree said her grandchildren particularly enjoyed the interactive aspects of the day, which included filling out a booklet with information from Harrison's life by asking questions of the re-enactors. After completing the booklet, the kids get a prize.

  • Courtesy Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site

"The prize was nothing -- it was a Chinese finger trap -- but they absolutely loved it," she says. "The kids loved the prizes, and they loved the ice cream. They were shown how to make the ice cream the old-fashioned way, turning the handle rather than having an electric one. The band was playing, it was a fun little event."

Crabtree added it was enjoyable for everyone, regardless of their age.

"The kids loved it, but adults could find things they enjoy too," she says. "The band plays; they have a place where you can dance with the band. You can take a tour through the house, too."

One of the additions this year is that kids will be able to take home plants from the garden (such as radishes) that are like those that would have been planted during the Victorian era.

The house does not receive funding from the state or government, so the Ice Cream Social is one of the sites' fundraising events. Crabtree says it's is a win-win for everyone involved.

"It's kind of a fun back-to-the-past thing," she says. "It isn't a wild event, but it's having fun with your family."

The 39th annual Benjamin Harrison Ice Cream social will take place from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site. The cost is $12.50 for adults, $7 for children ages 4-11, and free for children 3and younger. For more information, contact Stacy Clark at

Teaser photo courtesy the Wikimedia Foundation.

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