Q&A With NHPR Host Brady Carlson

This gravesite groupie made it his lifelong quest to visit presidential graves and memorials.
Courtesy of Brady Carlson

While most political junkies are obsessed with who’ll be running for president in 2016, NHPR host Brady Carlson has his finger stuck on the rewind button.

Carlson, the local voice of NPR’s iconic “All Things Considered,” has made it his lifelong quest to visit presidential graves and memorials — hoping to uncover obscure and offbeat stories that never made it into your high school history books.

“Our country has memorialized the presidents more than just about anyone,” Carlson says. “So much so that we almost don't notice when we drive down a street named after one of them, or pull out money that's got one of their faces on it. Why do we build these memorials and what does it say about us? And why are so many of them so weird?”

The radio personality recently returned from a Washington, DC, road trip — where he met the “Racing Presidents” baseball mascots — and is planning a more somber Dallas excursion in November to witness the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination.

He hopes to curate his observations in book form by Independence Day, 2014. The title hints that he won’t be a cheerleader or apologist for past administrations: “Presidents Who Lie (In State).”

Do you get caught up in NH Primary mania?

The New Hampshire Primary was fascinating to me even before I moved here. As a kid, I remember seeing a book showing Walter Mondale standing next to a giant ice sculpture of his own head. I'm still looking for whoever makes those sculptures — we could use some for the 2016 campaign!

When you’ve shared your project on Facebook, it’s taken on many forms — it's been presented as a blog, a book, a TV show and a Web series. Tell us about this evolution. 

The book is my primary focus now, but I'm going to keep coming back to the project over time, like Pete Townshend with "Tommy" or Mel Brooks with "The Producers." Coming in 2027: "Presidents Who Lie (In State): Live on Ice!"

What do you love about the Racing Presidents mascots at the Washington Nationals games and which one(s) could you beat in a race?

It would be a shame if the baseball team in DC didn't play up the presidents. If these real presidents were all alive at the same time, you'd hope that they'd hold races too.

I'm pretty sure the mascots could crush me in a race — even Big Bill Taft, who hasn't won a presidents race yet. When I saw them race, the Baltimore Orioles mascot tackled four of the five presidents — I'd need him to take out all five, and then I'd still probably choke.

How does the GEICO Gecko fit in your presidents picture — and do you think he enhances or detracts from the scene?

Enhances. Everyone I show the photo to says, "What the heck is that gecko doing there?" The photo is like a step away from Dada, because of the sponsor mascot.

Are your road trips solo journeys?

I try to bring my family when it's possible. My wife and I actually made Lincoln's tomb the first stop on our honeymoon.

What's your favorite discovery so far?

The James Buchanan Memorial in DC was a great find. Historians rate him hands down as the worst president of the bunch, and yet he got a memorial before Thomas Jefferson. It turns out that his niece, who also served as his First Lady, left money in her will to build him a memorial. And it's a nice one — in a beautiful park, with fountains and scenery and everything.

Have any dreams of running for political office?

I have dreams of running from political office. Nah, I don't ever want to run anything, except maybe a race against the presidential mascots in DC.

Categories: Q&A