55 WTF Facts About US Presidents
Have things got a little weird in U.S. politics lately? Yes. Yes, they have. But even if things have never got this nuts before, know that every president has been bizarre in their own unique way. Some were corrupt. Some were heroic. And some, of course, were just really, really horny.
1. George Washington
George Washington was struck by lightning in the womb. When his mother Mary was pregnant with him, lightning hit the house, jolting her and also hitting a guest directly. The guest died, and the silverware she held fused to her body. As for Mary, her fetus magically transformed into George Washington.
2. Andrew Jackson
When an assassin failed to shoot Andrew Jackson in 1835, the president fought back against the attacker, beating him with the cane he always carried with him. Later examination showed nothing wrong with the assassin's guns to explain the misfire, so he may well have succeeded the second time he pulled the trigger, had Jackson's cane not stopped him first.
3. Lyndon Johnson
The most important fact to know about Lyndon Johnson was how often he showed off his penis, which he named "Jumbo." One time, when reporters asked him why Americans were in Vietnam, he said, "This is why!" and pulled Jumbo out of his pants.
4. Bill Clinton
When Bill Clinton left the White House, he trashed the Oval Office as a parting prank on George W. Bush. His minions stole doorknobs, broke the "W" on keyboards, and filled drawers with glue (at least, we hope it was just glue). The following administration launched a year-long investigation to sort out exactly what had happened.
5. Grover Cleveland
Grover Cleveland might have won his election because of a rainstorm. The entire race came down to New York, and a massive storm on Election Day convinced Republican voters upstate to stay home.
6. Ronald Reagan
The worst movie Ronald Reagan acted in, according to Reagan himself, was 1939's Code of the Secret Service. And yet this movie inspired a kid named Jerry Parr to go on to join the Secret Service. In 1981, agent Parr saved Reagan when John Hinckley Jr. shot him with a revolver.
7. Gerald Ford
8. James K. Polk
James K. Polk was convinced England planned to seize California. So he kept all his attention on California rather than sorting out Texas, leading to the Mexican-American War. England never had any plans to seize California.
9. Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant was scared of blood, unable to even look at raw steak. He was also too embarrassed to let anyone see him naked, even when he was camping while at war. Late in life, he bragged that no one had seen him naked since he was a boy -- apparently including his wife, though they'd had a child together.
10. George H.W. Bush
George H.W. Bush tricked First Lady Barbara into thinking the Department of Justice was investigating her for porn possession. He forged a letter on official stationery and summoned her to court over sexy images found in their home (apparently, an unnamed aide had printed the porn).
11. Barack Obama
In 2011, someone fired at the White House while Barack Obama was inside. The Secret Service didn't respond, thinking it was a car backfiring. No one realized what had happened till days later when a housekeeper spotted the shattered glass.
12. William Howard Taft
A burglar broke into William Howard Taft's home and stole his revolver, plus money and jewelry. He used the proceeds of the robbery to buy a boat, and he lured at least ten sailors aboard -- and murdered them with Taft's gun.
13. Abraham Lincoln
In 1832, Abraham Lincoln was part of a militia that saw no combat. Mostly, they just got drunk. And when they ran out of whiskey, they armed themselves and raided the officers' booze stash. As punishment, Lincoln had to carry a wooden sword for two days.
14. John F. Kennedy
15. Calvin Coolidge
The Secret Service installed a special bell that Calvin Coolidge could ring during emergencies. Coolidge took to ringing and then hiding behind a pillar so agents couldn't find him. They soon had to confiscate the bell from him, but he continued the same trick with a buzzer in his office, now ducking under the desk from whoever came to answer it.
16. Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson had a stroke in 1919, and doctors said work would kill him. Instead of getting the VP to take control, First Lady Edith Wilson secretly took on the president's duties for six weeks. Women would not even get to vote until the following year.
17. Grover Cleveland
Grover Cleveland was the sheriff of Erie County, New York, and his job involved executing prisoners. He considered it his duty to carry out the sentence personally, earning him the nickname "the Buffalo Hangman," which presumably propelled him all the way to the White House.
18. William Henry Harrison
Many candidates have attacked their opponents as elitist, but Willian Henry Harrison did so by attacking Martin Van Buren for installing a bathtub in the White House. Harrison himself, meanwhile, campaigned with fliers showing him in front of log cabins and drinking hard cider. He actually didn't care for cider, and he lived in a mansion.
19. Millard Fillmore
Speaking of bathtubs, presidential lore long said Millard Fillmore was the first commander-in-chief to install a tub. Actually, this was just a joke H.L. Mencken wrote in 1917 (his article also claimed British bathtubs weren't big enough for American men), but it was taken seriously for decades.
20. James Madison
James Madison and a bunch of other founding fathers came super close to dying on Christmas Eve in 1776. A spy named Moses Doan was about to reveal their location to the Germans fighting on behalf of the British. But the colonel in charge turned him away because he didn't want to pause his poker game.
21. Richard Nixon
22. Calvin Coolidge
When First Lady Grace Coolidge learned that a rooster can mate dozens of times a day, she said, "Please tell that to the president." Calvin visited the farm next, learned this rooster had a different hen each time, and said, "Tell that to Mrs. Coolidge." Okay, that story might be apocryphal, but this part's fact: Animals' renewed interest in sex when new mates arrive is now officially called the Coolidge effect because of Coolidge's alleged preference for fresh partners.
23. Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was good friends with James Reed, one of the patriarchs behind the famously cannibalistic Donner Party. In fact, Lincoln was interested in moving to California around the time the Donner Party set off, so there was a good chance he could have joined them (and died, or turned cannibal) -- but Mary Todd was pregnant, so he stayed put.
24. James Garfield
James Garfield had the support of Henry Ford at the ballot box. At least, that's what Henry Ford said in court in 1919. Ford was suing the Chicago Tribune for $1 million for calling him "ignorant," and Tribune lawyers questioned him on various topics to test their claim. Given that Garfield got assassinated years before Ford was eligible to vote, the testimony did little to dispel accusations of ignorance.
25. Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson received two grizzly bear cubs as a gift from an explorer he'd sent west. He kept the bears in the White House for two months.
26. George Washington
At 14, George Washington wanted to join the British navy. Had his mother not vetoed the idea, he wouldn't have been around to lead the Continental Army, and he might even have ended up commanding the British Navy during the Revolutionary War.
27. Martin Van Buren
Martin Van Buren became president because of a dispute over dinner party etiquette. A friend of Andrew Jackson was getting shut out of parties because he'd married a widow. Jackson took his side, and when no one else in his cabinet but Van Buren did, Jackson got rid of them all and groomed Van Buren as his successor.
28. Theodore Roosevelt
29. John Adams
John Adams made the following claim about what would happen if voters elected Thomas Jefferson: "Prostitutes ... will preside in the sanctuaries now devoted to the worship of the Most High." Later, he expanded his claims to say that Jefferson would enforce the "teaching of murder robbery, rape, adultery, and incest." Jefferson was Adams' vice president.
30. Chester A. Arthur
Chester A. Arthur was the victim of an early birther conspiracy. His opponents said he was actually born in Canada but stole the identity of a brother born in Vermont. Arthur became president when James Garfield was assassinated, so people were primed to be suspicious of him.
31. John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy took nude photos of the many paramours he had over at the White House. And then he ordered Secret Service agents to frame the pics, using the same official gallery that Jackie employed to restore the White House's portraits.
32. James Monroe
While James Monroe was a student at the College of William and Mary right before the American Revolution started, the British governor stocked his mansion with an arsenal of weapons. Monroe raided the place, stealing hundreds of guns and swords for the local militia.
33. Harry S. Truman
Harry Truman was convinced the White House was haunted. One time, he had the Secret Service investigate mysterious knocking. Another time, he thought he heard the ghost of Teddy Roosevelt arguing with Andrew Jackson. He spent his final three years in office living in a different residence.
34. James Buchanan
James Buchanan was a repeated sufferer of what was known as National Hotel Disease. Staying in D.C.'s National Hotel tended to give people violent diarrhea, as well as weirder symptoms like an inflamed colon and a swollen tongue. With no official diagnosis, people speculated that his opponents were trying to assassinate him.
35. Donald Trump
36. Richard Nixon
When Richard Nixon was stationed in the Pacific during World War II, he set up his own casino bar. He liked gambling so much that one time, Charles Lindbergh landed on the island and wanted to meet him, but Dick turned the invite down in favor of a card game.
37. Franklin Pierce
During the Mexican-American War, Franklin Pierce's horse reared so hard that his saddle crushed his testicles, and he passed out. This haunted him for the rest of his political career, as opponents and newspapers questioned whether a man who'd fainted was strong enough to lead.
38. Dwight D. Eisenhower
Many military leaders (including even George Patton) skipped on visiting concentration camps, figuring they'd spare themselves the horrors. But Dwight Eisenhower insisted on touring them so he could give firsthand accounts to reporters and get as many as possible to come and document everything to prove deniers wrong.
39. Warren Harding
Warren Harding wrote long sexy letters to his wife's best friend, with whom he carried on an affair for 15 years. In these letters, he referred to his sexual organs as "Jerry" and hers as "Mrs. Pouterson." She and her husband blackmailed Harding with the letters, and the RNC agreed to pay them off.
40. Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was a terrible public speaker. He needed to annotate his copy of the Declaration of Independence so he could pronounce the words, and he delivered only two speeches during his presidency -- his two inaugural addresses. Rather than recite the State of the Union, he submitted it to Congress in writing, and his immediate successors followed his example.
41. William McKinley
The ghost of William McKinley appeared to John Schrank, telling him to take revenge on McKinley's killer -- Theodore Roosevelt. So thought Schrank anyway (actually, someone else had murdered McKinley; also, Schrank was insane). Schrank shot Roosevelt. A speech in Teddy's pocket blocked the bullet.
42. Andrew Johnson
43. John Tyler
John Tyler was born in 1790, just a little after the American Revolution, yet he has a grandson living today. Harrison Ruffin Tyler is 91, his father Leon was 71 when he was born, and John Tyler was 63 when Leon was born. Until very recently, John Tyler had multiple living grandchildren -- Leon Jr. died at 95 on September 26.
44. Zachary Taylor
When he became president, Zachary Taylor had never voted. He just wasn't very interested in politics. But he had huge success in the Battle of Buena Vista against Mexico, so the Whig party drafted him as their candidate. He never campaigned, and he had no platform, so voters gave him the benefit of the doubt and elected him.
45. Benjamin Harrison
Benjamin Harrison's father was dug up by grave robbers. Ben's brother investigated a chop shop, looking for an unconnected body that had been stolen, then he spotted their dead father hanging naked in a chute.
46. Theodore Roosevelt
After the presidency, Teddy Roosevelt journeyed into Amazon, carrying a lethal dose of morphine that he planned to take if he got sick. And he did get sick with fever, as well as from a wounded leg. But his son convinced him that his corpse would just weigh them down, so he fought it out.
47. Herbert Hoover
Herbert Hoover had a rule that said he should never have to see any servants. As a result, the many members of the White House staff had to hide whenever he approached, jumping into closets or sinking into bushes.
48. Ronald Reagan
In 1938, Ronald Reagan applied to join the Hollywood Communist Party. They rejected him because they considered him too patriotic to the US (and also just too annoyingly talkative). He grew to hate communists after this and tried ratting out fellow actors for communist ties.
49. Rutherford B. Hayes
50. Franklin D. Roosevelt
During the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt announced that the White House would be eating simple food in solidarity with the nation. Unfortunately, the menu they came up with (eggs with "meat scraps"; skimmed milk blended with cornmeal) was absolute garbage compared with what even the most desperate Americans were eating.
51. George W. Bush
George W. Bush asked various advisors how much the Iraq War would cost. Some said it would pay for itself, while Cheney estimated $1.7 billion. One adviser pegged the cost as much higher -- $200 billion. Bush fired him. The war ended up costing about $2 trillion.
52. Lyndon Johnson
Lyndon Johnson owned an Amphicar, a car that also functioned as a boat. He did not tell people about its secondary function. Instead, he'd routinely drive into lakes, terrifying his passengers who thought they were all about to drown.
53. John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams used to hurt himself as punishment. He'd take ice-cold baths and then scrape himself with horsehair. He considered himself a failure, and even after finishing his term as president, he said, "I can scarcely recollect a single instance of success to anything that I ever undertook."
54. John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy wore a corset the day he was assassinated. This is actually the reason he died. Without the corset holding him stiff, the first bullet would have knocked him forward, so the second fatal one would have missed.
55. Jimmy Carter