I’m OK, He’s OK…

We think you’re OK if you know where in the Hudson Valley this sculpture of a past president stands. I’m OK, He’s OK

He’s a benchwarmer for all eternity, sitting proudly in the village square, waiting at that bus stop in the sky. He was a leader among men, unless you’re measuring by height, for he was only 5 feet 6 inches tall. He grew up in our fair state, the son of a tavern keeper and farmer. He trod that familiar path well known to America’s most ambitious young men: first law school, then political activism of the “party machine” sort, then election to the U.S. Senate. From there, it was just a skip across to the President’s cabinet, where his shrewdly placed loyalties earned him two more appointments, and ultimately culminated in his election to the highest office in the land. Of Dutch descent, he was the first U.S. commander in chief whose ancestors did not hail from the British Isles. And he and Jefferson were the only two officials ever to achieve the political “triple crown,” serving as secretary of state, vice president, and president.

He was not, sorry to say, a great president. Like some we might mention, he stuck to his guns even when, clearly, the guns were aiming at his head. He ran into some economic problems — bubbles popped even back in those days, before Saudi oil figured into the equation. Hundreds of banks and businesses failed; thousands of people lost their homes. Americans weren’t happy, and it’s safe to say they didn’t feel duty-bound to reelect him.

Defeated, he returned to his New York estate, whence to plot his political comeback. He tried all the usual tricks. But by then there were other politicians on the scene — younger men with ideas that sounded fresh and new. After many years of politicking, the former president gave up. He caught pneumonia, and died at his Hudson Valley home in the summer of 1862.

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We don’t hear much about this president anymore. But as it happens we talk about him all the time: The phrase “OK” is said to have been coined by his hometown supporters during his successful presidential campaign. Last year, hometown supporters asked sculptor Edward Hlavka to hold the man’s place in bronze, commemorating his tenure as a faithful (if embattled) public servant.

Have you seen this memorial? If so, E-mail his name and its location to edit@hvmag.com. The first person to answer both questions correctly will win a prize.

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