Exclusive: About That Giant Ball On Parks and Rec Last Night

William Henry Harrison’s campaign gimmick inspired the prop—and a famous saying.

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Photo courtesy Grouseland
Photo courtesy Grouseland

If you watched Parks and Recreation last night, you saw the giant tin-and-paper ball on display beside Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler). And if you find yourself in Vincennes sometime soon, you might be able to see it in person.

The prop could revive interest in a long-lost factoid about Indiana: When William Henry Harrison ran for president in the mid-1800s, his staff rolled large spheres between towns on the campaign trail, giving rise to the phrase “keep the ball rolling.” None of the campaign balls survived, though, so his historic home in Vincennes, Grouseland, has never shown one of the artifacts to visitors.

Image courtesy Grouseland
Image courtesy Grouseland

Parks and Rec researchers came across the story of the campaign balls, built one, and featured it in last night’s episode, titled (what else?) “William Henry Harrison.” (The ball, though, was identified as President Benjamin Harrison’s—William Henry’s grandson, and the only other presidential candidate in history to employ the rolling-ball idea. See the photo, below.) That exposure was enough to delight Lisa Ice-Jones, Grouseland’s director. But then, two weeks ago, it got better when crates containing the deconstructed ball arrived at the mansion—a donation from the show.

Ice-Jones deserves some credit for Grouseland’s spotlight in the episode. Last year, she says, a Parks and Rec staffer ordered memorabilia from Grouseland’s website for inspiration, and then called to say the shipment never arrived. Jones overnighted a replacement—and threw in literature about the house, including a New York Times article from April 2014 titled “What Really Killed William Henry Harrison?” The next thing Ice-Jones knew, the producers were building an entire episode around the landmark.

Ice-Jones hopes to put the ball on display and use it to tell the story of what’s considered the first modern presidential campaign—the start of candidates traveling to connect with voters. First, though, she has to work out some logistics. For one, she estimates the ball to be about eight feet tall. “We don’t know if it’s going to fit in the house,” she says. One way or another, though, she’s determined to build on Harrison’s 15 minutes in pop culture—and keep this ball rolling.

Benjamin Henry Harrison's own campaign ball. He was the only presidential candidate to replicate William Henry Harrison's idea.
Benjamin Harrison’s own campaign ball. He was the only presidential candidate to replicate William Henry Harrison’s idea.

Photo courtesy Grouseland

 

See our Parks and Recreation final-season recap blog and more coverage here. The show’s series finale airs February 24 at 8 p.m. on NBC.

 

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