Lifestyles

EIGHINGER: Presidential knowledge they didn't teach in school

Posted: Feb. 22, 2012 7:14 am Updated: Mar. 21, 2012 9:15 am

February is always a month filled with celebrating two of our most famous and recognized presidents, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. But Abe and George were not the only interesting fellows to live in the White House.

There have been 43 different presidents, and quite a few have incredibly interesting back stories. It's kind of like getting to know more about all of the "American Idol" contestants. Consider some of the following the next time you are trying to stump your best friend:

º James Buchanan was the only president to never marry, yet I cannot find one reference about him also being the smartest president. (Yeah, that's not going to score me many points on the home front tonight.)

º I think we all knew Lincoln was tallest president at 6-foot-4 but who was the shortest? James Madison was only 5-foot-4, making him the Spud Webb of those who have inhabited the Oval Office.

º John Tyler had three distinctions. He did not belong to a political party while president, was a grand-uncle of Harry Truman and had the most kids of any president -- 15. (Somewhere down the line, the Octomom must be some sort of cousin.)

º John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were the only presidents to sign the Declaration of Independence -- and they both died on its 50th anniversary on July 4, 1826. (This is one of the strangest of these strange presidential facts. It's the stuff of those paranormal movies. Adams was also older that any other president at his death at 90 years, 247 days.)

º Before the advent of anesthetics and antiseptic practices, James Knox Polk survived a gallstone operation at age 17. (OK, if you find this incredibly astounding, raise your hand. I'm not saying low pain thresholds run in my family, but I have a grandson who last year fainted at just the thought of getting a shot. Face first, right on the ground.)

º For some reason, Millard Fillmore, the 13th president, has been the butt of a lot of jokes over the years and I don't know why. The guy seems pretty upstanding. When Fillmore moved into the White House, it didn't have a Bible, so he corrected that oversight. He and his wife, Abigail, installed the first library at the White House, plus the first bathtub and kitchen stove. Fillmore could not read Latin and refused an honorary degree from Oxford University, saying a person shouldn't accept a degree he could not read. (So how did the first 12 presidents take a bath?)

º Harry Truman's mother, a Confederate sympathizer, refused to sleep in Lincoln's bed during a White House visit.

º While president, Ulysses S. Grant was one of the more colorful commanders-in-chief. He was once arrested for driving his horse too fast and was fined $20. Grant once said he knew only two songs, "One was Yankee Doodle and the other wasn't." He smoked 20 cigars a day, which probably caused the throat cancer that resulted in his death. (He sounds like he could be a cast member on "Jersey Shore.")

º While president, Warren G. Harding played golf, poker twice a week, followed baseball and boxing, and sneaked off to burlesque shows. (Wow. All of a sudden, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton don't look so bad.)

-- seighinger@whig.com/221-3377

 

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