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February 15, 2015

In 1960, on the prairie below Pike’s Peak, I shook hands with the President of the United States. I was attending the National Scout Jamboree in Colorado Springs, Colorado. President Dwight David Eisenhower spoke to the more than fifty thousand scouts. Senior Patrol Leaders from every troop were invited to stand along the roadway as the president’s car traveled through the city of tents. At one point, the man, affectionately known as Ike, got out of his convertible and shook hands with seventy or more of us. I was in that group.

In 1885, President Chester A. Arthur signed a bill making Washington’s Birthday a federal holiday. President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12 never became a federal holiday but was celebrated in many states outside the Old Confederacy. In 1968 Congress passed the Monday Holidays Act, moving the official observance of George Washington’s Birthday from February 22 to the third Monday in February. Many Americans call the holiday Presidents’ Day in honor of all of our Presidents.

President’s Day is an appropriate time for presidential trivia. Here are some facts that interest me.

George Washington was actually born on February 11, 1731, according to the Julian calendar. In 1752, Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar, making January the first month of the year instead of March. Accordingly, Washington’s Birthday jumped to February 22, 1732.

Several of our Presidents were related to other Presidents.

  • James Madison (the fourth president) and Zachary Taylor (the twelfth president) were second cousins.
  • John Quincy Adams (the sixth president) was the son of John Adams (the second president).
  • Benjamin Harrison (the twenty-third president) was the grandson of William Henry Harrison (the ninth president).
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt (the thirty-second president) was a fifth cousin of Theodore Roosevelt (the twenty-sixth president).
  • FDR was distantly related to a total of eleven United States presidents, five by blood and six by marriage.
  • George W. Bush (the forth-third president) was the son of George H. W. Bush (the forty-first president).  Twelve presidents were generals, including Washington and Eisenhower, before becoming commander-in-chief.
  • Barack Obama is our forty-fourth president. There actually have been only forty-three presidents. Grover Cleveland was elected for two nonconsecutive terms and is counted as both our twenty-second and twenty-fourth president.
  • Martin Van Buren was the first president born in the United States.
  • Two presidents were former college presidents, James Madison and Woodrow Wilson.
  • The oldest elected president was Ronald Reagan at age sixty-nine.
  • The youngest elected was John F. Kennedy at age forty-three. Theodore Roosevelt was the youngest man to become president. He was forty-two when he succeeded William McKinley, who had been assassinated.
  • The tallest president was Lincoln at six feet four inches.
  • Madison was the shortest at five feet four inches.Fourteen presidents first served as vice presidents.
  • James Buchanan was the only president never to marry.
  • Five presidents remarried after the death of their first wives. Two, Tyler and Wilson, remarried while in the White House. Reagan was the only divorced president.
  • Four presidents, Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, and Kennedy were assassinated in office.
  • Assassination attempts were made on the lives of Jackson, T. Roosevelt, F. Roosevelt, Truman, Ford, and Reagan.
  • Presidents Adams, Jefferson, and Monroe all died on the 4th of July. Calvin Coolidge was born on that day.
  • Here are some trivial facts that you may not have previously known about our presidents.
  • Eight presidents died in office. William Henry Harrison died after serving only one month.
  • Six presidents had no children. Tyler, the father of fifteen, had the most.
  • For two years a president and a vice president who were not elected by the people governed the nation. After Vice President Spiro T. Agnew resigned in 1973, President Nixon appointed Gerald Ford as vice president. Nixon resigned the following year, which left Ford as president, and Ford’s appointed vice president, Nelson Rockefeller.
  • We have elected eight left-handed presidents: James A. Garfield, Herbert Hoover, Harry S. Truman, Ford, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama.
  • The oldest living former president was Gerald Ford who lived to be ninety-three. The second oldest was Reagan, who also lived to be ninety-three years.
  • The college that has the most presidents as alumni, six in all, is Harvard. Yale is a close second, with five.
  • Jimmy Carter was the first president to be born in a hospital.
  • Eight presidents were born British subjects: Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, and William Henry Harrison.
  • Nine years after leaving the presidency, William Howard Taft was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
  • Twenty-six presidents were attorneys before becoming the chief executive.
  • When Lewis and Clark were exploring the West, two young bear cubs were sent to President Jefferson. He kept the bears as pets in a cage on the White House lawn and occasionally went on walks with them. Other strange presidential pets include John Quincy Adams’ alligator, James Buchanan’s elephant, and Teddy Roosevelt’s zebra.
  • John Quincy Adams regularly had an early morning skinny-dip in the Potomac River.
  • Grover Cleveland was present at the birth of his law partner’s daughter. When his partner died, Cleveland became the girl’s legal guardian. Several years later, they got married at the White House, and had a child, Ruth, who became the namesake of the candy bar Baby Ruth.
  • Calvin Coolidge had several unusual habits. Not only did he sleep nearly ten hours a day, but he also had strange morning ritual. He enjoyed having Vaseline rubbed on his head while he ate breakfast in bed.
  • Warren G. Harding liked to gamble. In one poker game, he bet the White House china and lost it all in one hand.
  • James A. Garfield was ambidextrous. It was said he could simultaneously write a sentence in Latin with one hand and write the same sentence in Greek with the other hand.
  • Ulysses S. Grant was given a twenty-dollar speeding ticket for riding his horse too fast on a Washington street.
  • William Howard Taft weighed more than 350 pounds. He got stuck in the White House bathtub. He had to be pried out and soon had an oversize bathtub installed.
  • At a White House dinner party, President Franklin Roosevelt regaled guests with a story. Magazine editor Fulton Oursler was in in attendance, and later hired mystery writers to flesh out a novel based on FDR’s tale. The story was then adapted into a movie, “The President’s Mystery.” FDR received screen credit.
  • While in the Navy, Richard Nixon noticed that his fellow sailors were winning money in poker games. Nixon had the best poker player in his unit teach him how to play the game. Within only a few months, Nixon had won close to $6,000. He reportedly used his winnings to fund his first congressional campaign.
  • In the 1940’s Gerald Ford did some modeling and even posed for the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine.
  • President Barack Obama collects Spiderman comic books, and has read every Harry Potter book.
  • Lincoln, Jefferson, F. Roosevelt, Washington, Kennedy, and Eisenhower are portrayed on our coins.

May I suggest that this Presidents’ Day might be a good time to start collecting presidential portraits? You’ll find their likeness printed by the United States Mint on paper currency.

  • George Washington on the $1 bill
  • Thomas Jefferson on the $2 bill
  • Abraham Lincoln on the $5 bill
  • Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill
  • Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill
  • Ulysses S. Grant on the $50 bill
  • William McKinley on the $500 bill
  • Grover Cleveland on the $1,000 bill
  • James Madison on the $5,000 bill
  • Woodrow Wilson on the $100,000 bill
  • Good luck with your collection!

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