REWIND: Weird U.S. Presidents

- November 6th, 2012

UPDATE: I wrote this piece during the runup to the last presidential election in 2008. With all the heavy-duty pontificating going on, I figured it was time to lighten up a little with some presidential weirdness.

In honour of the current U.S. presidential campaign, here are some strange but true facts about former presidents. I know I’ve been harping on U.S. politics a bit too much lately, but I’ll bring it closer to home tomorrow with a blog on Five Things You Don’t Know About Toronto and the following day a blog on Toronto’s Shame. So stay tuned, but in the meantime enjoy this bit of frivolity:


Big Foot

1. George Washington had a dog named Drunkard.

2. And he (Washington, not the dog) had Size 13 feet.

3. At 5-foot-4, James Madison was the shortest president ever.

4. He was also the lightest, at 100 pounds.

5. The heaviest, at about 300 pounds, was Grover Cleveland, former mayor of
Buffalo. His nickname was Uncle Jumbo.


Uncle Jumbo, stuffed


P.T. Barnum’s Jumbo, really stuffed

6. Cleveland was the only president to be married in the White House. In
1886 Cleveland, age 49, married Frances Folsom, age 22. She was the youngest
First Lady. Cleveland was the executor of her father’s will and oversaw her
upbringing. Hmmmm.


Frances Folsom, 22


A White (House) Wedding

7. Five years before his marriage, Cleveland fathered an illegitimate child.

8. When he was drafted during the Civil War, Cleveland paid a Polish
immigrant $150 to take his place
 in the Union Army.


Millard Fillmore, thief, Buffaloogian, president

9. Millard Fillmore, another son of Buffalo, was an indentured servant,
close to a slave, as a child. My favourite line about him is this: “Millard
Fillmore taught himself to read by stealing books.” Now that’s presidential
material.

10. James Buchanan was the only president to remain a bachelor
throughout his life. As a young man, he was engaged to an heiress named Ann
Coleman
, but she suspected him of being a gold digger, broke off the
engagement and committed suicide by overdosing on laudanum.


James Buchanan, confirmed bachelor


William Rufus Devane King — now there’s a mouthful

11. Buchanan did, however, share a house in Washington, D.C., for 16 years
with his “special friend” (his words) William Rufus DeVane King, who served
as Franklin Pierce‘s vice-president during part of that cohabitation. Andrew
Jackson
 referred to King as “Miss Nancy” and “Aunt Fancy.” Buchanan’s own
postmaster general, Aaron Brown, called the two “Buchanan and his wife.”


John C. Breckinridge, sore loser

12. Buchanan’s vice-president was John C. Breckinridge. Breckinridge was one
of four candidates for president in 1860: He came third in the popular vote
and second (behind Abraham Lincoln) in electoral college votes. He then
joined the Confederate Army. One of his descendants is the author Gore
Vidal
, who wrote the gender-bending best seller Myra Breckinridge.

Raquel Welch as Myra Breckinridge/Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckinridge: The Website

13. The memoir of Ulysses S. Grant was the first national best-selling book
in the U.S. Mark Twain formed a printing company to publish it.

14. William Howard Taft had a cane made of 250,000-year-old wood.

15. Harry S. Truman sent his laundry to Missouri to be washed.

Now, I personally have doubts about the last one, so I’m throwing in a bonus
fact:

All of Dwight Eisenhower’s pajamas had the five stars of a general of the
army embroidered on their collars (Of course his pajamas had collars — you
don’t think Ike would sleep in T-shirts and boxers, do you?)

LINCOLN AND KENNEDY – WEIRD CONNECTIONS

The above facts are the product of my own noseying around. Now here are
some strange linkages between Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. I picked
this info up somewhere else and, if I could remember where, I would
certainly credit the author. I have double-checked the facts and they’re (almost — see the assassins’ birth dates) all true:

Abe Lincoln


JFK/White House photo

Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846.
John F. Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946.

Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860.
John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960.

Both Presidents were shot on a Friday.
Both Presidents were shot in the head.

Lincoln’s secretary was named Kennedy.
Kennedy’s secretary was named Lincoln.

Both were assassinated by Southerners.
Both were succeeded by Southerners named Johnson.

Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln, was born in 1808.
Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy, was born in 1908.

John Wilkes Booth


Lee Harvey Oswald/AP photo

John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Lincoln, was born in 1839. (Actually this is wrong, he was born in 1838.)
Lee Harvey Oswald, who assassinated Kennedy, was born in 1939.

Both assassins were known by their three names.
Both names are composed of 15 letters.

Lincoln was shot at the theatre named Ford.
Kennedy was shot in a car called a Lincoln made by Ford.

Booth ran from a theatre and was caught in a warehouse.
Oswald ran from a warehouse and was caught in a theatre.

A week before Lincoln was shot, he visited Monroe, Maryland.
A week before Kennedy was shot, he was visited by Marilyn Monroe.


Marilyn Monroe singing Happy Birthday to JFK in 1962/file photo

HERE’S A WEIRD NON-PRESIDENT:


Samuel J. Tilden, ultimate loser

Background:
Samuel J. Tilden was the Al Gore of the 1870s. Tilden had been a corporate
lawyer, but as first a state senator and later governor of New York state in
the early 1870s, he took on the powerful Boss Tweed machine in NYC and
cleaned up the political corruption of Tammany Hall. Tilden was the
Democratic candidate in the 1876 presidential election. His Republican
opponent was Rutherford B. Hayes. Tilden won a clear majority of the popular
vote, but the electoral college slates in three states were in dispute. The
final decision was turned over to an electoral commision of 15 members
appointed by the U.S. Senate (5), House of Reps (5) and Supreme Court (5).
The final count was 7 Republicans, 7 Democrats and one independent judge.
That independent judge, however, was elected to the U.S. Senate from
Illinois, and a Republican judge was appointed to the commission to replace
him. Surprise! The commission voted 8-7 along party lines to give the
presidency to Republican Hayes. Tilden retired into obscurity and died 10
years later.

Important fact:
On his death, Tilden — a lifelong bachelor — left most of
his $6 million estate to establish and maintain a free public library in New
York City. His relatives successfully challenged the will and got about half
the money. The remaining $3 million was still enough to fund the creation of
the New York Public Library
.

Semi-interesting fact:
The monument at Tilden’s gravesite in New Lebanon, N.Y., bears the
inscription “I still trust the people.”

Really interesting fact:
On his deathbed, Tilden confided to a friend that he had never slept with a woman in his life.

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