CHARLES CITY, Va. — John Tyler was the first vice president elevated to the presidency on the death of the chief executive and the first president to marry in the White House. Nearly 175 years later, two of his grandchildren are still around.
Harrison Ruffin Tyler, 89, is one of two living grandsons of President John Tyler, who was born in 1790, one year after George Washington was sworn in as president.
Just three generations — President Tyler, his son Lyon Tyler, and grandson Harrison — span almost the entire history of the United States.
We met Harrison and his son William at President Tyler’s Virginia estate. We asked William if people find it hard to believe that his father is the grandson of the 10th president.
“I find it hard to believe,” he laughed. “I think it had to do with second wives.”
Here’s how it happened. John Tyler became president in 1841. He had eight children with his first wife, who died while he was in office. At 52, he married 22-year-old Julia Gardiner. They had seven children, for a total of 15 — the most of any president. He was 63 when son Lyon Tyler was born, whose first wife also died. Lyon also had a very young second wife, and was 75 years old when Harrison Tyler was born in 1928.
William showed us around Sherwood Forest Plantation, a home President Tyler renovated with his wife Julia in mind. She was 30 years younger and liked to party. William says the house is also haunted. He showed us a spot on a wall where you can see what looks like a young woman.
“You can see the curls coming down and a bonnet on top of her head,” he said. “It’s clearly a young girl, there’s no doubt.”
The ghostly image remained even after being painted over.
John Tyler served in the House, Senate and as vice president before becoming president. His biggest accomplishment was the annexation of Texas. But political ambition does not run in the family.
Both William and Harrison joked they don’t want that job. “I know better,” William added.
So instead of making history, William prefers to preserve it.
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