Right after the Louisiana Purchase, Thomas Jefferson began sending expeditions out West in earnest, to explore and bring back samples of that exotic, unknown land. Sure, plenty of explorers brought back boring stuff like maps or plant specimens, but not Captain Zebulon Pike, who decided to pick up two actual grizzly bear cubs.
Some men bring bottles of wine to a housewarming party; Zebulon brings assorted super-predators.
That's right: His "gift" to the president of the United States was two of the deadliest wild animals on the planet. Jesus, if Kinman's odd, serial-killer-esque arts 'n' crafts warranted a bit of concern, Zebulon's gifts should count as actual war crimes. And it's not like he was unaware of the danger or anything. He knew from the start that these were different from East Coast and European bears: In his letter, he stated that they were "considered by the natives of that country as the most ferocious animals of the continent." Out of sheer politeness, Jefferson kept the bears at the White House for two months while finding them a more permanent home in the Peale Museum. Well, either "politeness" or "fear of displeasing a man with a name as awesome as Captain Zebulon Pike who gives apex predators instead of cheese plates."
"Oh, thanks. Did ... did I do something to piss you off?"
It was the summer of 1801, and John Leland of Cheshire, Massachusetts, wanted to give his president an appropriate gift of his esteem. So, as anyone in their right mind would obviously do in such a situation, Leland persuaded his entire town to chip in with him and make a 1,235-pound cheese, and then transport it to the White House. That president? Why, Thomas Jefferson, of course.
Man, there's just something about that guy's face that apparently makes you want to give him crazy crap.
Via Wikimedia Commons
"Think he'd like an overcoat made out of interlocking mummified human hands? Let's get on that!"
All that milk (allegedly from over 900 different cows) was molded in a local cider press to make the final result: a 4-foot, 4 1/2-inch diameter and 15-inch thick cheese wheel fit for a president. There may have been an ulterior motive for the gift, though, seeing as how Leland specified, upon handing it over to the president, that it was made entirely without slave labor. It also bore the somewhat ominous motto "Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God." That, uh ... that seems like an awful lot of effort just to send a passive-aggressive note to a guy, but then, this was before the invention of Post-it notes and Twitter.
Thomas Jefferson, presumably while frantically motioning for somebody -- anybody -- to please come and take the furious cheese-monger activist away from him, cut out a large hunk and handed it to onlookers.
"Hey, if you have time, could you make us a couple of tons of crackers?"
And, in possibly the greatest instance of "pretending to like a gift" in history, Jefferson kept the cheese at the White House for more than two years. It was even served in a few congressional dinners, up until 1803, when the last of it was eaten with the "mammoth loaf," an equally absurdly large loaf of bread baked for him by the United States Navy. And then, by all accounts, everybody there got hammered on what we are going to assume were comically oversized beers.
Incidentally, the word "bro" was born that night.
Julien Blower also writes for the parody news site The Leaky Wiki.
For more presidential insanity, check out 7 Badass Animals Presidents Have Kept As Pets and 6 Presidential Secrets Your History Teacher Didn't Mention.