Photos: Presidential playgrounds

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  1. Lincoln's Cottage

    The newly renovated Lincoln's Cottage (formerly known as Anderson Cottage) is seen in Washington on Jan. 15, 2008.

    The stone abode, called Anderson Cottage after Maj. Gen. Robert Anderson, Fort Sumter's commanding officer at the outbreak of the Civil War, offered him a hilltop view of the capital, a breeze and an opportunity to read and write in serenity. Some authorities say he wrote some or all of the Emancipation Proclamation while in residence.

    The cottage was recently restored and opened to visitors. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Teddy Roosevelt's hunting trips

    Lover of big-game hunts, Theodore Roosevelt is shown beside an elephant he brought down in Africa in 1909.

    Roosevelt set the pattern for modern presidential vacations by mixing pleasure with lots of business. Starting in 1902, Sagamore Hill, his Oyster Bay home on the North Shore of Long Island, became the summer White House. While there, he organized the negotiations that ended the Russo-Japanese War, earning him the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize.

    (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Coolidge on horseback

    Calvin Coolidge rides a horse to the dedication ceremony of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota, Aug. 15, 1927. Coolidge vacationed for three months in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1927, fishing and riding horses in Custer State Forest in the southeastern corner of the hills.

    Retired AP writer Lawrence L. Knutson writes: "Wearing a Western hat, cowboy boots, fringed gloves and a business suit, Coolidge rode a strawberry roan named Mistletoe the three miles to Mount Rushmore from the town of Keystone" and dedicated the monument to presidents that would be carved in the granite.

    (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Hoover's passion for fishing

    Herbert Hoover fishes in New England, May 29, 1939.

    Hoover established a presidential retreat in the Blue Ridge mountains along Virginia's Rapidan River three hours from the capital. There, he indulged his passion for fly fishing, angling for speckled trout in clear mountain streams.

    Hoover declared fishing to be a "constant reminder of the democracy of life, of humility and human frailty — for all men are equal before fishes." His 164 acres eventually became part of Shenandoah National Park. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Roosevelt's Shangri-La

    Franklin D. Roosevelt, wearing a hat and waving, sails into Penobscot Bay, Maine, June 24, 1933. He is surrounded by sons James, wearing a dark sweater; John, directly behind the president; and Franklin Jr., right. Forced to give up the presidential yacht at the outbreak of World War II, Roosevelt relaxed at a former boys summer camp tucked into the foliage of Maryland's Catoctin Mountains. Roosevelt called the retreat Shangri-La, after the paradise hideaway in "Lost Horizon." (President Eisenhower would later rename it Camp David after his father and grandson.)

    In the lodge known as Bear's Den, he and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill planned for the Normandy invasion. He went to Shangri-La more than 20 times during his presidency. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Truman and Key West

    President Harry Truman, spending his vacation at the naval base in Key West, Fla., on Nov. 30, 1949, wears one of his signature caps and sporty shirt as he carries a walking stick on a stroll about the station.

    Truman loved wearing loudly colored, loose shirts during his 11 vacations at Key West, from 1946 to 1952. Americans sent him gift shirts in such great numbers that he had dozens laid out on the lawn for anyone on his staff who wanted one.

    He stayed at the Commandant's House on the naval base, enjoying a private beach, screened porches and a tropical garden with the presidential yacht Williamsburg docked nearby for his use. Truman favored long poker sessions and afternoon naps during his escapes from "the big white jail" in Washington. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Eisenhower tees off

    Dwight D. Eisenhower relaxes at the 18th hole during a golf game in Coral Gables, Fla., Sept. 10, 1947.

    Eisenhower was an avid golfer who made a beeline to the links at every opportunity. He played often at Burning Tree in Maryland, Augusta National in Georgia, Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, Newport in Rhode Island and Cherry Hills near Denver. By one account, he averaged three rounds a week.

    It was during Ike's 1955 vacation, the night after an aborted game at Cherry Hills, that he suffered a heart attack. Months later, after a hospital stay and rest at his Gettysburg farm, he was allowed to return to the game, on one condition: "My doctor has given me orders that if I don't start laughing instead of cussing when I miss these shots, then he's going to stop me from playing golf." (Henry Burroughs / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Kennedy on the waters

    John F. Kennedy takes the wheel of the Coast Guard yawl Manitou for a cruise along Down East Maine, Aug. 11, 1962, as Sen. Benjamin Smith, who took the senate seat vacated by Kennedy, stands at right.

    Kennedy vacationed at Cape Cod, Palm Beach, Fla., Newport, R.I., and Virginia's horse country. Perhaps his favorite spot was at the tiller of a sailboat. A sailor since boyhood, Kennedy enjoyed outings on the Honey Fitz, the 92-foot presidential yacht that could carry 40 guests. He'd swim off the side of the boat in warm waters during winter visits to Palm Beach.

    Kennedy celebrated his last birthday — his 46th — with cocktails and dinner aboard Sequoia, an all-wood, 104-foot motor yacht. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Bush's family retreat

    Former President George H. W. Bush, with a Secret Service agent behind him, pilots his speedboat Aug. 25, 2004, in the waters off Kennebunkport, Maine.

    Bush spent much of his childhood at the family's Kennebunkport estate. The property has been a family retreat for more than a century. (David Hume Kennerly / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Clintons take a stroll

    President Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton hold hands, facing daughter Chelsea, out for a family vacation stroll in field graced by trio of elk in Jackson Hole, Wyo., on Aug. 12, 1996.

    The Clintons' summer vacation spot of choice was Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. They went there on their first presidential vacation in 1993. (Dirck Halstead / Getty Image) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. George Bush goes to Crawford

    President Bush enjoys a bike ride during a vacation on his ranch on Aug. 24, 2007, in Crawford, Texas.

    An avid fitness enthusiast, Bush would start the day fishing for perch on his pond at 6 a.m. Later, he would ride his mountain bike on trails he hand-built around his 1,600-acre ranch.

    After lunch and with the afternoon heat rising above 100 degrees, Bush would gather senior staff and the most hardy of his Secret Service protective detail for a afternoon of cutting cedar out on the wilds of his ranch. (Charles Ommanney / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Obama takes in the sights

    President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and their daughters Sasha and Malia tour Hopi Point at Grand Canyon National Park Aug. 16 in Arizona.

    Obama is heading to Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, an island playground for the rich frequented in years past by presidents Clinton and Ulysses S. Grant, for his first presidential vacation.

    (Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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updated 8/18/2009 12:02:22 AM ET 2009-08-18T04:02:22

Early presidents went home to their farms. Later ones scattered to the seashore.

Presidents have been bailing out of Washington's steamy summers ever since Thomas Jefferson gazed out the White House windows and watched a white fog roll in, widely believed to be toxic.

Presidents need vacations as much as the next guy, maybe more so.

Harry Truman played poker on the porch in Key West, Fla. Ronald Reagan rode horses at his mountain ranch in California. John Kennedy sailed the Atlantic.

Vacations give presidents a break from the pressures of Washington and — sometimes — a fresh way to connect with voters.

It was no coincidence that Bill Clinton and his family went hiking in Yellowstone National Park when he needed to shore up his appeal in the West. Or that Woodrow Wilson kicked back in Pass Christian on Mississippi's Gulf Coast when he needed southern Democrats.

There doesn't appear to be any big political strategy behind Barack Obama's decision to head for Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, an island playground for the rich frequented in years past by presidents Clinton and Ulysses S. Grant. Obama, whose vacation on the island begins Sunday, has visited twice before. More typically he has vacationed in Hawaii, where he was born and spent time as a child.

For president-watchers, his choice of a Vineyard vacation marks a change from the eight-year Texodus. George W. Bush spent 490 days of his presidency at his secluded ranch in Crawford, Texas.

While Bush's trips to the ranch may not have been politically calculated, they helped shape his image as a boots-wearing everyman rather than an Ivy League graduate with a New England pedigree.

"Most Americans don't sit in Martha's Vineyard, swilling white wine," Bush once said, when asked why he vacationed in one of the hottest spots in the nation in the hottest month of the year.

Clintons no stranger to island
The Clintons couldn't get enough of the vineyard. They were island regulars through the highs and lows of Clinton's presidency.

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On their first presidential vacation there in 1993, they were photographed happily sailing, golfing and exploring the island's restaurants and scenery together.

Five years later, it was a different story. The Clintons headed for the island just hours after the president publicly confessed to an inappropriate relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky. This time, photographers snapped pictures of Chelsea Clinton walking to the helicopter hand-in-hand with her two parents, serving as a buffer of sorts between an unhappy husband and wife.

When the family reached the vineyard, Hillary slept in the bedroom; Bill on the couch.

"Buddy, the dog, came along to keep Bill company," Mrs. Clinton wrote in her memoir. "He was the only member of our family who was still willing to."

Vacations may offer a respite from Washington's heat, but they can't erase the burdens of a president's job.

As Bush observed early in his tenure: "The funny thing about his job, is that the job seems to follow you around." That was as he left the golf course in Maine for an intelligence briefing and staff meeting.

White House historian William Seale said presidential getaways invariably turn into working vacations.

"You get the ocean and the breeze, but you've still got the work," Seale said. "You're not going to be un-president for a while, as appealing as that might be."

Welcome break for some
Teddy Roosevelt ambitiously mixed work and play, becoming the first president to vacation with an extensive White House staff and communications. It was at his annual summer getaway, at Oyster Bay on Long Island, N.Y., that he secured a peace deal between Japan and Russia that won him the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize.

An ardent sailor who gave up the presidential yacht in World War II, Franklin Roosevelt retreated to Shangri-La, now Camp David, to work on his stamp collection — and plans for the Normandy invasion with his guest, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

For some presidents, even a trip across town has provided a welcome break: For three summers, Abraham Lincoln and his family retreated to a cottage at a military complex on the outskirts of Washington.

Anderson Cottage at the Soldiers' Home is where Lincoln spent a full quarter of his presidency, sometimes meeting with visitors there in his slippers. It is believed he wrote the Emancipation Proclamation there, and it is where he got word of the triumph at Gettysburg.

Lincoln commuted the three miles to the White House daily, visiting the cottage for the last time on April 13, 1865, the day before his assassination.

Washington closes down
Seale said the earliest presidents were mostly farmers, and would head home during the summers to check on their crops.

Jefferson's frequent trips to his Monticello plantation in Virginia made it perhaps the most famous "second White House."

Victorian era presidents favored the Jersey shore — James A. Garfield died there in 1881, two months after being shot at the Washington train station as he prepared to depart for a seaside resort.

Early on, Seale said, leaving Washington in the summer was considered a necessity for health reasons. The fog that formed on the marshes near the White House was called the "White Lot," and believed to be lethal.

"Washington pretty much closed down in June until mid or late September," Seale said.

James K. Polk was a rare exception who decided to stick it out through Washington's summers, according to Seale.

He died just months after retiring, his death widely blamed on the "white gases."

More on: Martha's Vineyard   |  Crawford Ranch

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