Mo Rocca with lively thoughts about our deceased presidents

This Presidents Day Weekend, the "Sunday Morning" presidential scholar-in-residence discusses his visits to the final resting places of our former chief executives.

Video Transcript

JANE PAULEY: Back to the presidency now. With some lively thoughts about our deceased presidents, from presidential scholar in residence, Mo Rocca.


MO ROCCA: Over the years, I've honored our past presidents by visiting as many as I can. Here I am with Andrew Jackson, Herbert Hoover, John Tyler, Franklin Pierce, James Garfield, James Monroe, Harry Truman, William Howard Taft, Martin Van Buren, and Millard Fillmore. Now, James Buchanan is buried in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I know I probably should have tucked my shirt in, but sorry, he was a really lousy president. I mean, the guy just let seven states secede under his watch.

James K. Polk resides in Nashville, so of course, I had to bust out the rhinestones. Presidential graveside factoid, Woodrow Wilson is the only chief executive buried in our nation's capital. Most ex-presidents want to leave town as soon as possible.

A pattern I've noticed, some of our least impactful presidents have the most impressive digs. Chester Alan Arthur's resting place is so elegant. And how about the tribute to Warren Harding, one of our lowest-ranked presidents? I visited Marion, Ohio, back in 2012. When President Harding died, the scandals that would define his presidency hadn't yet come to light. He was still a popular guy. Hence, the size of this monument.

Of course, our first-tier presidents have some pretty spectacular monuments. Here I am with my parents at the base of the Washington Monument. When I visit any of these sites, I try to imagine the times in which that president lived. What did people back then care about? How did that president reflect their values?

The president isn't just an executive. He, and one day, she, is a symbol of the American people. By the way, if you're looking to visit a former president and get your steps in, might I suggest the memorial to William McKinley in Canton, Ohio? 108 steps. Rocky Balboa could have trained there.