• U.S.

Brief History: Presidential Vacations

2 minute read
Nate Rawlings

President Obama will cap his summer by taking two trips to the shore. First comes Florida, where he will show support for the embattled Gulf Coast. The Obamas will then return to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, where a year ago, they relaxed at a $50,000-a-week, 28-acre (11 hectare) resort. Presidential vacations have not always been so peripatetic. Early Presidents typically traveled to nearby farms to escape Washington’s stifling summers and flee the mysterious (and allegedly toxic) fog that formed on the Potomac.

Not every vacation has been a welcome diversion. In 1881, James Garfield was shot while leaving Washington and died two months later on the Jersey Shore. In 1923, Vice President Calvin Coolidge was vacationing at his family home in Vermont when Warren Harding died in California. Coolidge’s father, a notary public, swore him in as President at 2 a.m. next to a kerosene lamp; the house lacked electricity.

For the past century, Americans have dutifully tracked the time the Chief Executive spends away from the White House, but most presidential breaks are now working trips. Both Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush, for example, ran parts of their respective wars from Texas ranches. And many modern Presidents have used vacations to sharpen their image; Ronald Reagan and Bush spent time clearing brush to portray a connection to their roots. Jimmy Carter, the President who took the least time off (only 79 days), found respite in his hometown, returning often to his peanut farm in Plains, Ga. There, he would toss softballs around and fish from a rowboat on his pond. As Obama escapes Washington after a tough summer, he will rely on his own choices of recreation–golf and basketball–to relax before what will likely be an even tougher autumn.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com