TALLMADGE, Ohio – Welcome to the childhood home of President Brian Jordan.
Here is where the presidential seed was sown.
Before President Jordan even started kindergarten, his grandma Nancy bought him a presidential rummy set. She bought them so they could play cards, but President Jordan didn’t care about the game.
Instead, the 4-year-old lined the cards across the living room carpet and memorized the names and faces.
By sixth grade, President Jordan was reciting the Gettysburg Address and could name all the U.S. presidents’ names in order – backward or forward – in less than 60 seconds.
As the president’s been known to say, “The fascination stuck.”
And, here, just down the hall, is the Presidential Library.
President Jordan’s dad built this 16-by-20-foot room when his son was just 14. Within a couple years, the room was already too small to hold his collection of history books and memorabilia.
This is an original, signed copy of President Jordan’s first book. Believe it or not, he started writing it when he was 12. Most kids were still playing with Matchbox cars then.
Maybe someday Brian Jordan’s father will be giving this tour of his home in Tallmadge, Ohio. Maybe someday people will come from all over the country to see where their president took his first baby steps.
But for now, Jordan is just 17, too young to even vote. So, instead, he’ll kick back in his brown leather chair in the Presidential Library and work on his next book.
Sitting in that big chair, feet propped up on his wide desk and fingertips pressed together in a steeple in front of his chest, Jordan does look like he belongs in the Oval Office rather than a high school classroom.
But his shy smile, baggy Levi’s and old Nikes are the marks of a teen, not a commander in chief. And he says he doesn’t have political aspirations now, anyway.
He just loves studying the presidents.
One president captured Jordan’s interest more than the others, and he’s spent all his teen years researching the 14th U.S. president: Franklin Pierce.
Jordan’s book, Triumphant Mourner: The Tragic Dimension of Franklin Pierce, is the first full-scale biography of Pierce in 70 years.
“He was a terrible president, but he needed a re-evaluation,” Jordan said, noting Pierce’s actions brought on the Civil War.
The years, the research, the letters to archival libraries, the calls to the Library of Congress, ended up being worth it.
Dorrance Publishing Co. published Jordan’s 142-page book in November.
There are critics, for sure. A New England man called Jordan an “idiot.” President Pierce wasn’t worthy of another biography, the angry man claimed.
Jordan wasn’t fazed.
Especially when a letter of praise came from President George W. Bush.
“I encourage you to continue to set high goals and work for worthy causes,” Bush wrote.
If only the president knew how easy that is for Jordan.
Working for “worthy causes,” has been Jordan’s life.
At 12, Jordan gave his first speech. Buttoned up in a Civil War frock coat, he described the Battle of Gettysburg to a Civil War roundtable.
Now he talks about battles and heroic men and not-so-heroic men. He speaks at Civil War roundtables, museums and local clubs.
He will also give the keynote speech this summer in New Hampshire for President Pierce’s bicentennial birthday.
But not everyone is so attuned to history.
Isn’t he frustrated when people give him a blank-eyed stare when he mentions specific Civil War battles?
“History illiteracy is a travesty for us,” Jordan said. “It’s a shame because we can learn so much from our leaders’ mistakes. If we don’t reflect on this, we’re doing ourselves a great injustice.”
So he will work to teach them.
After he graduates high school next year, his college of choice is none other than Gettysburg College and his major, of course, will be in history, with a Civil War studies minor.
Maybe he’ll be a professional historian, and maybe he’ll be a professor.
“My goal is to re-light the fire for American history.”
The high school junior has two more books in the works and countless book ideas in his head.
Enough to keep him more than busy, he said.
Jordan isn’t just interested in learning about historical battles. He wants to preserve them.
The teenager is in the highest donation level for the Civil War Preservation Trust.
Battlefields are being developed at a rate of 1 acre every 10 minutes, he said. Something has to be done.
So he donates all the money he can to save them.
Last year he even held a fund-raiser at his high school and talked about why battlefields need to be saved.
Eighty-eight people came to listen. By day’s end, he raised $1,300 in donations for the trust.
Jordan has no chance of meeting many of his heroes. Most of those presidents are long gone. But he did get a chance to meet another role model: C-SPAN’s chairman, Brian Lamb.
Lamb’s secretary set up the appointment, and Jordan and Lamb spent the better part of an hour going back and forth about politics. They talked about the books on Lamb’s shelves. Jordan could barely catch his breath.
“They were like college buddies talking,” Jordan’s dad said.
At the end, Jordan sat in Lamb’s chair, looked out the window and took in the view – of the U.S. Capitol.
Jordan was 14.
That wasn’t Jordan’s only connection with C-SPAN. He just got word of even bigger news.
For a contest, Jordan described how C-SPAN has changed his life. Brian Lamb’s secretary called to say Jordan was picked as one of five national winners.
As a prize, the C-SPAN mobile studio is coming to Tallmadge High School so students can tour the bus and learn about politics.
Plus, later this year, Jordan will appear in his own segment of Washington Journal – a show known for that same view of Capitol Hill.
A teen with this much ambition has to have supportive parents. And Jordan does.
Half the miles on Ralph and Terri Jordan’s vehicles are from journeying to Civil War sites. Jordan has visited 52 Civil War battlefields and the homes or tombs of 23 presidents.
Terri wouldn’t mind going to Disneyland. But since age 4, her son has insisted on “historical vacations.”
Most people take two hours to tour a site; Jordan takes four days, she says.
They may joke about their son dragging them across battlefields, but it’s obvious he’s lit that “fire” he talks about in his parents. And his grandparents.
Remember, it was his Grandma Nancy who sparked this history flame with those presidential rummy cards.
So Nancy and Richard Klar jumped into history, too. In fact, Jordan and his grandparents took a 17-day road trip in 2002. In addition to putting 3,000 miles on the car, they stopped at 15 battlefields and five presidential sites.
But his parents showed the ultimate dedication in their son’s interest: Their bathroom is decorated in a presidential motif. Complete with a display case. And a spotlight. Right next to the sink and toilet.
“As we say, welcome to the childhood home of President Brian Jordan,” his father laughs.
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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* To order Brian Jordan’s book on 14th president Franklin Pierce, visit www.amazon.com or call Jordan at 330-630-2474.
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