Between 1969 and 1974, when there was nothing especially urgent to report, newspapers used to routinely publish articles about ten-year-old Little Leaguers or 95-year-old nursing home residents or 38-year-old insurance salesmen named Richard Nixon, which would describe how these otherwise ordinary Americans coped with having the same name as the President – the jokes they would hear, the raised eyebrows when they would fill out a form or sign a hotel register (back in the days when hotels had registers), etcetera.
Articles like these are frequent whenever a new President takes office. Or were frequent, that is, for it seems fairly likely that the forty-fourth President is the only person in this country named Barack Obama. (A situation with which I can sympathize, as I appear to be the only person on Earth with my name, although there are Robert Nedelkovs in Canada and Australia.)
And so it is that the New York Times website has taken to running posts about people around the country named for President Obama’s forty-two predecessors. (Remember that Grover Cleveland was the twenty-second and twenty-fourth President.) The site has already posted about an African-American in New York named George Washington, and a fellow named Calvin Coolidge who is a distant relative of the thirtieth Chief Executive. (As, indeed, is the case with just about everyone named Coolidge in the country, including the popular actress Martha Coolidge, whose usual onscreen roles are about as far removed from the persona of Silent Cal as can be imagined.)
The other day, the site posted about Richard Nixon, for decades a firefighter in Atlantic City, New Jersey, who now lives in retirement not far away in Brigantine. There’s nothing especially out of the ordinary in the post – as I said, it’s much the same as the articles that used to appear four decades ago. But it does show that in this age when we hear so much about the decline of print, online journalism does follow the traditions of its predecessor in various small ways.