Monday, February 18, 2008

President's Day

It’s Presidents’ Day, a holiday which itself has a weird and winding history. In honor of all of the U.S. Presidents who have graced the White House and fearlessly led our country, here (in no particular order) is a list of 10 of the weirdest things you (probably) never knew about some of our Commanders-In-Chief.

1. Franklin D. Roosevelt (President #32) was related in some way to 11 former U.S. Presidents.

2. James Garfield, the 20th president, was a professor of ancient languages; he was also ambidextrous. He is said to have been able to write in Latin with one hand while writing in Greek with the other.

3. John Tyler, the 10th president, fathered an impressive 15 children. He was in his 70s when the 15th child was born.

4. The tall stovepipe hat that Abraham Lincoln (President #16) is usually depicted wearing was, in fact, a useful wardrobe device. He stored important papers inside of it.

5. Our 17th President, Andrew Johnson, was born poor and could not read until the age of 17, when he met his future wife and she tutored him in reading, public speaking, and mathematics. He was later very nearly lynched in Virginia and forced to flee his home in Tennessee when he opposed the South’s secession from the Union.

6. The 22nd and 24th president, Grover Cleveland, was drafted in the Civil War but paid a substitute $150 to take his place so he could stay behind to care for his mother and sisters. Cleveland wasn’t widely criticized for this move: the Conscription Act of 1863 expressly permitted such a substitution.

7. Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president, was reported to be a very interesting character. When not having his head massaged with Vaseline during breakfasts in bed or riding his own mechanical bull, he was ringing the White House doorbell and then running off to hide.

8. So far, all American presidents have claimed ancestry limited to one or more of just seven nationalities: Dutch, English, German, Irish, Scottish, Swiss, and Welsh.

9. Grover Cleveland was the only president to openly admit that he had fathered an illegitimate child. When the allegations came out during his presidential campaign, he instructed his staff to tell the truth about the child. In reality, it was never determined whether Cleveland was the child’s real father; he paid child support because he was the only single man among the mother’s suitors.