A big election is coming up, and soon enough it will be time to say goodbye to the Obama family and hello to our 45th president. Though we have spent eight years with Barack Obama and know a lot about him–both about his career and his personal life–future generations will have a less intimate memory of Obama. They will remember him much the same way we remember former presidents– by their years in office, who was their Vice President and First Lady, and some of their major political accomplishments. Students very rarely learn about their personal lives, and as a result, most of us think of the U.S. Presidents as boring dead white guys. While most of them are certainly dead white guys, many of them were far from boring. Even some of the more “forgettable” presidents had their share of scandals, medical abnormalities, marital issues, and vicious pets (no, really). For example, everyone knows that Woodrow Wilson was the 28th president, in office from 1913 to 1921, but not everyone knows that he married his second wife, Edith, the year after his first wife, Ellen, died, or that he was in love with his first cousin and repeatedly asked her to marry him.
As we prepare to welcome another president into the White House, let’s l0ok back at some of our former presidents and their many quirks. You probably didn’t learn these fun facts in school; what you read here may surprise you!
20. Three Presidents Died On The Fourth Of July
Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Monroe all died on the Fourth of July. Jefferson and Adams died within hours of each other in 1826–50 years to the day since the Declaration of Independence had been signed. Reportedly, Adams’s last words were “Thomas Jefferson survives” even though Jefferson had passed away a few hours earlier at his home at Monticello. Monroe died five years later in 1831.
Some rumors even state that doctors tried to keep James Madison alive until the Fourth of July so that he could be the fourth president to have that distinction. If these rumors are true, the doctors were unsuccessful; Madison died on June 28th, 1836.
19. John Quincy Adams And Teddy Roosevelt Liked To Skinny Dip In The Potomac
The sixth and 26 presidents both enjoyed brisk swims in the Potomac River. While pretty much any story about Teddy Roosevelt could probably be true, people are usually surprised to hear that John Quincy Adams enjoyed being naked–well…pretty much anywhere, but especially in a very public area.
One of JQA’s biographers even writes that one time a female journalist named Ann Royall sat on the president’s clothes and refused to leave until he agreed to give her an interview–the first time a president granted an interview to a female journalist.
18. Monrovia Is The Only Foreign Capital Named After A U.S. President
James Monroe, like his friend Thomas Jefferson, believed in abolishing slavery, though this did not stop him from buying and owning slaves throughout his life. He believed that the best solution to slavery was to end it and send the “freed” slaves to Africa. During his presidency he became a prominent member of the American Colonization Society, a group that established the Republic of Liberia in Africa and sought to send freed slaves there. This was an unsuccessful endeavor, as most slaves by this point had been born in the United States and had no desire to go to a foreign country. However, the American Colonization Society did name the capital of Liberia Monrovia to honor President Monroe.
17. Martin Van Buren Didn’t Like His Wife
Martin Van Buren is not one of the more memorable presidents; of course, it’s hard to be when you’re succeeding a man like Andrew Jackson. Nevertheless, Van Buren had such a full life (in his opinion) that he was able to fill an 800 page autobiography–without mentioning his deceased wife of 12 years. Not even once. This seems strange, considering Hannah Hoes was his cousin and the mother of his children, and some have argued that this was because he wanted to respect her memory and protect her reputation. James Monroe wrote a whopping one line about his mother in his own autobiography, so perhaps there is a historical precedent. However, where Monroe named his daughter after his wife and mother, not even Van Buren’s son was able to fully recall his mother’s name; as an adult, he reportedly asked his father if her name was Hannah or Anna.
16. John Tyler’s Grandkids Are Still Alive
John Tyler was born in 1790–and two of his grandchildren are still kicking. Born 226 years ago, the 10th president sired children as late as his 70s. His fourth child (out of fifteen total), Lyon Gardiner Tyler, was born when John was 63. Lyon Gardiner, in turn, sired his sons Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. and Harrison Ruffin Tyler at the age of 71 and 75, respectively. Born in 1924 and 1928, Lyon Gardiner Jr. and Harrison Ruffin are both still alive and still operate the family home of Sherwood Forest Plantation in Charles City, Virginia, which is open to the public. Now that is one family with an impressive record of procreation and longevity.
15. Buchanan The Bachelor
James Buchanan has one interesting distinction; he is the only U.S. president to have never gotten married. He was briefly engaged to a woman named Ann Coleman, but after her death he appeared to have no interest in women whatsoever. Some argue that this disinterest began long before Ann Coleman; contemporaries and historians alike believe he was in a romantic relationship with fellow politician William Rufus King. The two men lived in a boarding house together for 10 years, and Andrew Jackson referred to them as “Miss Nancy and Aunt Fancy.” Aaron V. Brown even called King Buchanan’s “better half”. As if that wasn’t enough, their family members destroyed much of their personal correspondence, implying that there was definitely something to hide.
14. Millard Fillmore Married His Teacher
Plenty of us have fantasized about marrying our teachers–for Millard Fillmore, he made that fantasy a reality. As a young man, the 13th president married the woman who had been his teacher. In fairness, Fillmore was New Hope Academy’s oldest student at 19 while Abigail Powers was 21. Their relationship presumably began during or right after the six months Fillmore attended the academy; however, their courtship would continue for six years before they finally married in 1825. Their marriage lasted for 27 years, during which time they had two children, Millard and Mary, and Abigail supported her husband through his presidency. She died 26 days after her husband left office.
13. Ulysses S. Grant Smoked 20 Cigars A Day
No, you read that right: eyewitnesses record that Ulysses S. Grant smoked 20 cigars a day during wartime. In times of peace, he sometimes dialed down to 7. How Grant even found time to smoke that many cigars a day is unfathomable, especially as General-in-Chief of the army and then president. His habit was so well known that after he defeated Confederate forces in Tennessee, the war-torn citizenry were so grateful that they sent him 10,000 cigars! If he continued smoking 20 a day, that would have gotten him through almost two years. Grant died in 1885 of throat cancer. Are you surprised?
12. James A. Garfield Was Ambidextrous
Not only was James A. Garfield ambidextrous, he was also multilingual. The 20th president was fluent in Latin and Greek, and he could write in both languages at the same time. No, really. Garfield would sometimes entertain friends by having them ask him a question, and he would write the answer in Latin in one hand and Greek in the other. At the same time.
11. Chester A. Arthur Owned 80 Pairs Of Pants
Known by some as “Elegant Arthur”, Chester A. Arthur was one of the country’s most stylish presidents, largely due to the fact that he owned 80 pairs of pants during his time in the White House. With that kind of inventory, it was unlikely he ever repeated outfits. If he wore two pants a day every day, he could well over a month without wearing the same pair. If he owned as many shirts as he did pants, he could have easily gone through his entire term without repeating a specific outfit.
10. You Can Visit Grover Cleveland’s Tumor
I mean, who doesn’t want to visit a tumor?
The story behind Grover Cleveland’s tumor is actually a fascinating one. During his second term in office, Cleveland noticed a small bump in the roof of his mouth. After his physician confirmed that it was a cancerous tumor, the president announced that he was taking a four day long “fishing trip” on his friend’s yacht; in reality, a team of six physicians boarded the yacht with Cleveland and removed the ping pong ball-sized tumor, as well as part of his jaw, hard palate, and five of his teeth. They replaced the missing hard palate with a rubber palate in a second surgery and no one was the wiser.
A journalist from the Philadelphia Press named E.J. Edwards released an article two months later about the surgery, a story he had confirmed with one of the physicians. The White House insisted that the president had a few bad teeth removed but that the surgery had been nowhere near the scale Edwards reported. Edwards was decried as a sham for years; it wasn’t until 1917 that one of the doctors who had operated on Cleveland released an article confirming Edwards’s story- one that the White House finally admitted was true.
9. The Presidents Had Weird Pets
Most people probably know Bo and Sunny Obama, and before that everyone loved Socks. But not all the White House pets have been cute and cuddly. Thomas Jefferson reportedly owned two bear cubs; John Quincy Adams owned silkworms, the weirdo. He was also one of two presidents to have an alligator in the White House, Herbert Hoover being the other. Martin Van Buren owned two tiger cubs while Benjamin Harrison owned two opossums that he named Mr. Protection and Mr. Reciprocity. Teddy Roosevelt owned, among others, a badger, a bear, and a hyena. Calvin Coolidge wins the prize for “weirdest collection of animals”; not only did he have raccoons, a black bear, a bobcat, a duiker, a wallaby, and a pygmy hippopotamus, but he also had two lion cubs named Tax Reduction and Budget Bureau.
Not only did the presidents have oddball pets, but they also had oddball names for their completely normal pets. Washington named his dogs Sweetlips, Scentwell, Vulcan, Drunkard, Taster, Tipler, Tipsy, and Cornwallis. John Adams continued the tradition by naming his dogs Juno, Mark, and Satan, and he had a horse named Cleopatra (happy horse, to bear the weight of Adams). Andrew Jackson named some of his horses Lady Nashville, Sam Patches, and Truxton. John Tyler named his own canary after himself. Millard Fillmore demonstrated a rare sense of humor by naming his two ponies Mason and Dixon. Ulysses S. Grant named his wartime mount Jeff Davis. William McKinley had a parrot he named Washington Post, and he had two kittens named Valeriano Weyler and Enrique DeLome.
Teddy Roosevelt, to the surprise of no one, wins the award for most out-there pet names: while Bill the Lizard and Emily Spinach the garter snake were undoubtedly named by his daughter, Alice, we have to wonder who decided to name their hen Baron Spreckle and their macaw Eli Yale. His bear was named Jonathan Edwards, and the family’s Guinea pigs were named Admiral Dewey, Bishop Doane, Dr. Johnson, Father O’Grady, and Fighting Bob Evans.
8. The ‘S’ Doesn’t Stand For Anything
A lot of the presidents are known by their first name, middle initial, and last name. James A. Garfield. Chester A. Arthur. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Franklin D. Roosevelt. John F. Kennedy. Harry S. Truman. Most of the time, these middle initials stand for something. Not so with Harry S. Truman. As it turns out, the ‘S’ doesn’t stand for anything. Reportedly, Truman’s parents wanted the ‘S’ to stand for one or both of his grandfathers, Anderson Shipp Truman and Solomon Young. Deciding to reach a compromise, they simply gave him the middle initial. Sounds like his parents would have been good bi-partisan politicians!
7. LBJ Had Meetings In The Bathroom
Lyndon B. Johnson didn’t like to waste time. He had telephones installed all over the White House, including the bathroom, so that he could work twice as hard as some of his predecessors. But his efficiency didn’t stop there; he even forced aides and reporters to follow him into the bathroom so that he could, erm, take care of business. Talk about being all business… Efficiency was probably not the only factor at work, though; apparently LBJ enjoyed intimidating others, and what could be more intimidating than a man forcing you to look him in the eye while he takes a dump?
6. Ronald Reagan Was Most Nearly Perfect
Everybody knows Ronald Reagan had a successful acting career long before he became president; his combination of good looks and charisma made him an appealing figure, not only for movie goers but also for…his fellow students? In 1940, while an undergraduate, Reagan won the award for “Most Nearly Perfect Male Figure” from the University of California. His prize? To pose nearly nude for an art class. Wonder why he never listed that among his achievements when campaigning for office… As the “Teflon President” the ridiculousness of it all probably would not have stuck to him.
5. All Of The Presidents Had Siblings
No, really! It seems bizarre that over the course of 227 years, none of the 44 presidents has been an only child. Not one. Though many consider FDR, Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama to be only children, all of these men have half-siblings, so technically none of them are only children. This trend will probably continue; the Democrat and Republican nominees for the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, both have siblings.
Single children, beware; every year that it doesn’t happen,your chances of becoming commander in chief drop exponentially. Maybe our presidents needed a little sibling rivalry to get them going in the first place!
4. Abraham Lincoln Was A Bartender
People will sometimes praise a president by saying “he seems down to earth, like you could grab a beer with him.” Well, Abraham Lincoln was the only president who could have grabbed a beer for you. While he lived in New Salem, Illinois in the 1830s, he was the co-owner of a tavern named Berry and Lincoln. Lincoln and his business partner, William F. Berry, obtained a license for $7 that allowed them to sell spirits. The business didn’t last long, mainly due to Berry’s alcoholism and Lincoln preferring to read rather than deal with people (what a relatable bartender), and after Lincoln entered politics he denied ever having sold spirits because he thought it would damage his reputation.
3. Andrew Jackson Got Into 100 Duels
Andrew Jackson is one of those people who has a thousand stories circulating about him and any of them could be true. Jackson is believed to have been involved in 100 duels during his lifetime, most of them to defend the honor of his wife. Rachel Jackson’s first marriage had not been fully dissolved by the time she married Andrew; though Rachel did not realize this at the time, rumor quickly spread that she was a bigamist. Rachel suffered a heart attack while her husband was in office- Andrew firmly believed it was due to the attacks made on her character. Rumor has it that Jackson kept 37 dueling pistols ready at all times-just in case.
2. William McKinley’s Good Luck Charm Got Him Killed
William McKinley liked to wear red carnations in his lapel for good luck. He would never know how lucky they really were until he was attending a Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. He gave the carnation in his lapel to a little girl and was shot only moments later. He didn’t even die a painless death; his death was drawn out over eight days. It seems the president’s superstition wasn’t so far off from being true after all.
1. Calvin Coolidge Liked To Prank His Staff
“Silent Cal” is not known for his sense of humor (or much of anything, for that matter), but he did have one. The 30th president reportedly liked to press every buzzer in the Oval Office, hide, and watch while his staff came running. He would then step out and say that he had just wanted to see who was working. Talk about keeping people on their toes!
Another story about Coolidge says that a woman attending a state dinner once bet the laconic president that she could make him say three words before the evening was over. Coolidge then leaned over and said, “You lose.”
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