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February 17, 2018

Several weeks ago, on the anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America, I shared a story in this column that impressed one of our grandsons. I repeat it here.

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.

February is sometimes called the month of the presidents.

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.

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 forty-third president) was the son of George H. W. Bush (the forty-first president).

Twenty-six presidents were attorneys before becoming the chief executive.

Twelve presidents were generals, including Washington and Eisenhower, before becoming commander-in-chief.

Nine years after leaving the presidency, William Howard Taft was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Barack Obama was our forty-fourth president. Donald Trump is our forty-fifth 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.

Eight presidents were born British subjects: Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, and William Henry Harrison.

Martin Van Buren was the first president born in the United States.

Jimmy Carter was the first president to be born in a hospital.

Two presidents were former college presidents, James Madison and Woodrow Wilson.

The college that has the most presidents as alumni, six in all, is Harvard. Yale is a close second, with five.

The oldest elected president was Ronald Reagan at age sixty-nine until Donald Trump who was seventy.  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 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 tallest president was Lincoln at six feet four inches. Madison was the shortest at five feet four inches.

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.

Fourteen presidents first served as vice presidents.

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. Ford appointed as vice president Nelson Rockefeller.

James Buchanan was the only president never to marry. Five presidents remarried after the death of their first wives. Two of our Chief Executives, Tyler and Wilson, remarried while in the White House. Reagan and Trump are the only two divorced presidents.

Six presidents had no children. Tyler, the father of fifteen, had the most.

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.

Eight presidents died in office. William Henry Harrison died after serving only one month.

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.

  • 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.
  • When Grover Cleveland became president he was a bachelor. He married twenty-one-year-old Frances Folsom during his first term in office. Frances was the daughter of Cleveland’s former law partner. Becoming First Lady at age twenty-one, she remains the youngest wife of a sitting president.
  • 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. He must have also been multilingual.
  • 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
  • President Barack Obama collected Spiderman comic books, and read every Harry Potter book.
  • Lincoln, Jefferson, F. Roosevelt, Washington, Kennedy, and Eisenhower are portrayed on our coins.

May I suggest that this 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
  • 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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