President’s Day 2017: 45 Presidential Oddities

Happy President’s Day 2017… 45 bits of arcane trivia for you to pursue on this day for two of our favorite Chief Executives.

  1. President Washington refused the executive salary, then set at $25,000. Today, that would be a value of $650,000!  According to Forbes, through George W. Bush, Washington was the wealthiest of our presidents having an estimated modern $525 million net worth.
  2. John Adams was the only president to have the defended the enemy in court.  Prior to outbreak with hostilities with England, the soldiers accused of firing into the crowd that became the Boston Massacre could not find a lawyer to work their case.  Adams took it, because the people should respect the Rule of Law.  He essentially won the case, saving the soldiers and officer from death and nailing acquittals for most and a lesser charge for the Captain in charge
  3. Thomas Jefferson wasn’t above being a fanboy.  He and Adams, on a trip to England, visited Shakespeare’s home and chipped off a piece of the Bard’s chair to keep as a souvenir.
  4. James Madison, despite being all of 5’4″ and 100 pounds (at a time when the average male was 5’87”), took his role as Commander-in-Chief seriously and jumped on his horse and led men into the field during the War of 1812.
  5. James Monroe was the last president never to have been photographed and was the last president to die on the 4th of July (Adams and Jefferson died 5 years earlier on the 50th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
  6. John Quincy Adams was once trapped by a reporter while swimming in the Potomac River… naked. The reporter was female, and she hid his clothes in order to score an interview.  It is not known if her story was considered fake news.
  7. Andrew Jackson fell in love with a woman who was — or wasn’t — on the market.  Rachel Jackson’s abusive and accusative husband filed for divorce, which was quite rare in the day. Her relationship with Jackson happened during this time and was the cause of duels as Jackson was accused of improprieties with a married woman.
  8. Martin Van Buren, coming from Old Kinderhook, New York, had campaign signs that hailed his hometown with O.K. and, legend has it, this is where the phrase OK originated.
  9. William Henry Harrison, the first of Ohio’s eight (alleged) Presidents, died in office after giving a near two hour inaugural address in a driving March rain without an overcoat.  His address clocked in at 8,445 words. He picked up a bug that he couldn’t shake and died a month later. Harrison would be joined by Garfield, McKinley and Harding as Ohio presidents who died in office.
  10. John Tyler had the biggest family of all the presidents, a full 15 children, but struggled in his term to be recognized as the actual president.  Just a half-century into the Constitution, it was contested that the Vice President would become the permanent president.  Some felt that the Veep would hold down the fort until a new President was appointed by Congress.  Tyler prevailed.
  11. James Polk was the first president to have Hail to the Chief announce the arrival of the Chief Executive.  While it was first used publicly for an event for John Q. Adams, and it did announce the arrival of John Tyler briefly, it was for Polk where it became routine.  And it was at Mrs. Polk’s request that it would be done so (and it was Mrs. Tyler who requested the song for her husband John).
  12. Cherries or milk are believed to have taken the life of our second president while in office.  Zachary Taylor washed down the fruit with some iced milk and, with the lack of knowledge of bacteria at the time, took ill and never recovered.
  13. Millard Fillmore married his school crush… except that it was his teacher, not another student.  And he was 19.
  14. Nathaniel Hawthorne is every student’s bane, with the Scarlet Letter as required reading.  His death came while on vacation with Franklin Pierce, one of the nation’s least remembered (and least popular) presidents.
  15. James Buchanan is alleged to be the nation’s first gay president.  Lots of evidence points to a close relationship with Alabama senator Rufus King.  But at that time in history, men frequently spoke of each other in terms that would make folks uncomfortable today and would often share beds — albeit not for romantic purposes as beds weren’t always commonplace.
  16. In what might be considered a Trump-like characteristic, Abraham Lincoln obsessed with his height and being the tallest in the room.  He would often challenge other tall folk to go heel to heel and measure up.  His stovepipe hat was intentional to increase the illusion of his height.  At 6’4″, Lincoln is remarkably still the tallest president.  While Donald Trump comes in at 6’2″.  Lincoln was a full 8″ taller than the typical male at that time, Trump is only a few inches above normal height.
  17. Andrew Johnson and Abraham Lincoln had exactly one conversation prior to Lincoln’s assassination. John Wilkes Booth placed a note in the hotel where Johnson lived that hoped to implicate him in the conspiracy plot.
  18. Although the claim Ohio places is tenuous as he barely lived in Ohio long after his birth, the second Ohioan to inhabit the White House smoked upwards of 20 cigars a day and, to no surprise, died from throat cancer.
  19. Rutherford B. Hayes was President Trump a century-plus earlier.  He lost the popular vote by a quarter-million votes but won the Electoral College by a single vote. Hayes wouldn’t banish reporters from the White House, but he did banish alcohol.
  20. James Garfield’s parlor trick, of being able to write Latin with one hand and Greek with the other… at the same time, wasn’t enough to keep an assassin from taking his life earlier in his first year in office. The second dead president from Ohio, two more will follow.
  21. The man could certainly dress.  Chester A Arthur owned over 80 pairs of pants (at a time when the common man may have owned a couple).  It earned him the nickname Elegant Arthur, which in modern times has folks questioning his sexuality.
  22. Grover Cleveland was the first president to win three straight elections.  Problem was, the middle election victory was with the popular vote and not the Electoral College.  This makes Cleveland the only president to serve two, non-consecutive, terms of office.
  23. Benjamin Harrison, the most dubious of Ohio’s claimed presidents (he was “born” here but never really lived here), may be the only president whose father’s dead body was stolen from the grave and sold to Ohio Medical College for experiments.  It was recovered and reburied.
  24. Grover Cleveland, part two… had a tumor from his upper mouth removed (epithelium) and it is on display in a museum in Pennsylvania.
  25. Ohio’s William McKinley sometimes cracks the top 20 list of best President’s ever, but his second term was cut short by an assassin’s bullet (the third of Ohio’s four to die in office). Residing in Canton, McKinley had a fondness for Carnations that extended to his presidency, where he wore them daily in his suit jacket. Moments after handing his carnation to a young lady at an event, he was gunned down and died a week later.
  26. Theodore Roosevelt, the youngest president ever to be President (at age 42), was also shot.  He took a bullet while giving a speech, told the audience he had been shot, then finished the 90-minute speech before seeking help.
  27. William Howard Taft was a sizable figure… Teddy Roosevelt’s hand-picked replacement for president was felt to be destined for greatness… but… with the average dude weighing in at 150 pounds, the 330-pound Taft is oft remembered for getting stuck in the White House bath tub. The replacement tub fit four regular Joes. Perhaps the metaphor is what sticks, as Taft, who is the only of the 45 to go from POTUS to SCOTUS, never recalled his time in the Oval Office fondly and wanted to be remembered for his time leading the court. Certainly Roosevelt soured on Taft, running against him on the Bull Moose ticket splitting the vote and leaving the path open for Woodrow Wilson to win the White House.
    Image result for william taft bathtub
  28. While some say it’s hard to judge a president on today’s standards, the actions of one President are hard to digest in any time. Woodrow Wilson had curtains installed in Executive Branch offices so that African-american workers would be separated (and not seen) by fellow working whites. Wilson also had blacks in the executive branch frozen or demoted. Yale University just this month removed Wilson’s name from a campus building over protest of the racist tendencies of our 28th President.
  29. A media maven, divorce, adultery, scandal, unexpected death and the Oval Office.  A New York Times best-selling piece of historical fiction?  Nope. Ohio’s Warren G. Harding, the last of the Ohio presidents (and also last Ohioan to die in office), never was keen on being president. And maybe he had been better off had he not won.  Teapot Dome scandal aside, which forever places him among the worst presidents ever, Harding’s time in office was certainly a story that would feed our modern sense of scandal and sex.  His once-divorced wife, Flossie, helped create a public image for Harding and ran/manipulated things behind the scenes. Meanwhile, Harding himself was having numerous affairs, often known to Flossie. His biggest though, with Carrie Phillips, was on-going while running for President. Harding’s sudden death on a presidential tour of the West is sometimes viewed skeptically with some accusing Flossie of poisoning her husband. The inside story surrounding Harding’s (brief) time in office far surpasses what was actually accomplished.
  30. Calvin Coolidge was either a tough boss or a horrible practical joker.  At times he would light up the White House notification buttons all at once to see would show up… while he hid to check on who was actually working.
  31. Herbert Hoover had the perfect way to speak privately with his wife. Having lived in China earlier in their life, they would speak Cantonese in the White House to avoid being understood.
  32. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was not the Roosevelt the family wanted in the Oval Office.  Wife Eleanor was FDR’s 5th cousin, and niece to Teddy.  FDR was never fully welcomed into the family and the Roosevelt clan loudly campaigned against FDR.
  33. Truman was the first president since Washington to live outside the White House.  By the time he took over, the White House was crumbling and he had to move across the street to the Blair House while the Executive Mansion was gutted and rebuiltImage result for white house renovation truman
  34. Dwight D Eisenhower owned a farm that was adjacent to the battlefield at Gettysburg.  Ike split time between here and Camp David when retreating from the White House during his terms in office.
  35. Like our current President, John F. Kennedy’s father gave his son $1 million (it was JFK’s 21st birthday gift) to get started in the world.
  36. While there has been much hay made of JFK’s ability to, well… make hay. Lyndon B Johnson had an equally active, well… Johnson. LBJ had an active jealousy of Kennedy’s alleged affairs and wanted to top that. Allegedly his aides nicknamed the girls he slept with his “harem.” In what sounds oddly familiar to modern times, Johnson would openly engage in locker room talk about his accomplishments with women, once got caught in the Oval Office during the act and at other times would, in an odd act of macho turf marking, show others how endowed he was.
  37. Richard Nixon loved to bowl so much he renovated the two lanes put in the White House by Truman with a modern single lane.
  38. Gerald Ford is the only president in history to become President without having won the election to be president. When Nixon’s VEEP Spiro Agnew was forced to resign over corruption charges, Ford was appointed to replace him as the Vice President.  Nixon’s ultimate resignation put Ford in the White House without having been on the ballot.  When he did in 1976 he was defeated by Jimmy Carter.
  39. Jimmy Carter was the first southern president since the Civil War and, interestingly, restored Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s citizenship (which was stripped following the war).
  40. While previous presidents had married divorced women (Andrew Jackson and Warren Harding), Reagan was the first President to have been divorced.  What might drive conservatives slightly batty is that Reagan was originally a Democrat, having supported FDR’s New Deal and only switched to the GOP in the 1950s.
  41. George H.W. Bush was shot down over the Pacific Ocean during World War II and amazingly survived in a squadron that had a 300% casualty rate for pilots.
  42. Bill Clinton worked alongside Steve Spielberg (and many others) in the failed presidential campaign of George McGovern. Just six years later at the age of 32, Clinton was elected Governor of Arkansas.
  43. George W. Bush was the owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team between 1989 to 1994.
  44.  Barack Obama is the first president to have lived for an extended period of time out of the country during his childhood.  Jefferson lived abroad as an ambassador, but in his adult life.
  45. Donald Trump is not the first president to be connected with the adult entertainment business, as Jimmy Carter was interviewed for Playboy during the 1976 campaign. But unlike Carter, Donald Trump went one step further with Playboy, appearing in a cameo role pouring champagne on the Playboy logo in soft-core pornographic video.

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