Happy Presidents Day Everyone!
George Washington 1789-1797 Mr. Boller states in his book that Americans during and after Washington’s time held him in extremely high esteem. Throughout the 1800s he was almost deified as if he were somehow super-human. Most historians agree that Washington was very effective in leading the new government. His ability to work with congress in tackling many of the young nations problems set a standard for other presidents to follow.
At his funeral in 1799 Washington was eulogized by the Revolutionary War General Light Horse Harry Lee as being, “First in war, First in peace, and First in the hearts of his countrymen.” But what you might not know about Washington was that he was also often First at the Fire!
“Washington, it is said, was an enthusiastic fireman. He began running to fires when he was a kid and was still running to them in his old age. Only a few months before his death he was riding down King Street in Alexandria, Virginia when a fire was discovered near the market. He stopped his horse at once and yelled at some men who stood idly by, ‘It is your duty to lead in such matters! Follow me!’ Throwing his reigns to his servants he leaped to the ground and began pumping a (hand cranked) fire engine into which a few boys were languidly dumping buckets of water. Cheering citizens rushed to aid him, and within a few minutes the old engine was throwing the highest stream (of water) that had ever gushed from its pipe!” (Presidential Anecdotes page 23)
John Adams 1797-1801 and John Quincy Adams 1825-1829 It isn’t uncommon for fathers and sons to have disagreements, even heated arguments. The 2nd president John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams who became the 7th president were no exception. President Washington thought highly of the younger John Q Adams, so much so that he appointed him as the United States Ambassador to The Netherlands which happened to be the second country to recognize the U.S. after our declaration of independence. In 1796 Washington moved him to the new American Embassy in Lisbon, Portugal, however, when he stopped in London on his way to Lisbon, he learned that his father, who was now president, had changed his assignment and wanted him to go to the Embassy in Prussia.
According to Boller, The young diplomat was upset by the news. He thought it was improper to accept an appointment from his own father. He wrote his father an anecdote that he had heard in London. Louis XIV, the story went, expressing surprise at the stupidity of one of the ambassadors of his own court said, “He must be the relative of some minister.” Said young Adams, I have no desire to be the application for a similar reflection.” President Adams was angry when he read this, but mostly about being compared to a mere minister. He went on to tell his son that President Washington himself had said that J Q Adams was the most valuable public character we have abroad and he insisted that Adams not withhold merited positions from him simply because he was his son. - Presidential Anecdotes p 62
Naming of Children after presidents
There was an early American tradition of naming children after presidents. Quoting from a 2017 article in TIME Magazine by Merrill Fabry: In the U.S., presidents have long been seen as exemplars of national values, which made their names particularly meaningful, as they were both familiar and carried positive associations. Frank Nuessel, author of The Study of Names: A Guide to the Principles and Topics, says that sometimes a famous person will have “caught the consciousness of the public, and a lot of people name their children after a famous person hoping that by giving them this name they’ll have some of the characteristics of the person.” In a sense, says Nuessel, it’s sort of like “name magic, by using the name of a famous person, that will rub off on their child.”
The idea that a name could provide a link between a newborn and a great man continued at least until the mid-20th century. The John F. Kennedy Library has a small section of correspondence about babies named after him. Many letters speak of the honor it is for Kennedy and kindness of the parents to do so. One father wrote a handwritten letter to tell Kennedy of his newborn, “Yes we named it after you, and surely hope it brings you the very best of luck.”
So in that vein, my great-great-great grandfather was named John Adams. Not entirely sure if he was named after the president because John is a fairly common name but he was born in 1815, just a few years after John Adams’ presidency ended so it’s quite possible. Now his grandson—my great grandfather(1887)—was definitely named after a president, John Quincy Adams. He wanted to carry on the tradition and so named his 4th child John but since it was his 4th daughter he opted for the more feminine middle name of Nelle. John Nelle is my great aunt and still alive at 103. She was the baby of the family for a while until my grandfather was born. He was not named John but he did carry on the tradition and named his first son JQA, who named his son JQA, who then named his son JQA. So I have a great grandfather, uncle, 1st cousin and 1st cousin once removed named JQA. In spite of all that we are not related to the president. At least not directly.
<S> John Adams 1797-1801 and Thomas Jefferson 1801-1805 When Adams ran for re-election in 1800 he was defeated by Thomas Jefferson. Abigail Adams wanted desperately to be known as the first First-Lady to live in the new Presidential Mansion, and so for two months up until the end of Adams’ term the couple camped out in the unfinished building that became the White House. Adams took the loss hard and for many years afterward he and Jefferson were not on speaking terms. However, in their later years, through a mutual friend named Benjamin Rush, the two aging patriots rekindled their friendship and exchanged several letters with each other.
During the summer of 1826, the nation was anticipating the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Both Adams and Jefferson were in failing health. Near the end of June, Adams was visited by Daniel Webster. When Webster asked how Mr. Adams was feeling he replied, “I have lived in this old and frail tenement a great many years, it is very much dilapidated, and from all that I can learn, my landlord doesn’t intend to repair it.” Boller continues: By Independence Day Adams was confined to his bed. At dawn he awakened and a servant asked him, “Do you know, sir, what day this is?” “Oh yes,” responded Adams, “it is the glorious Fourth of July. God Bless it. God bless you all” then he lapsed into a coma. Early that afternoon Adams awakened and exclaimed feebly, “Thomas Jefferson survives!” They were his last word and he ceased to breath about sunset. Presidential Anecdotes p 27
What he didn’t know was that several hundred miles away, Jefferson was also on his deathbed. On July 3, 1826, Jefferson was confined to his bed and sinking rapidly. At eleven that even he whispered, “This is the Fourth?” Nicholas P Trist, his young lawyer friend who was at the bedside couldn’t bring himself to say “not yet” and remained silent. “This is the Fourth?” Jefferson asked again. This time, Trist nodded his assent. “Ah” breathed Jefferson with look of satisfaction on his face, then sank into a deep sleep. The next day, July 4th, a little before 1:00 p.m. he ceased to breathe. Presidential Anecdotes p 39
The coincidence of Adams’ and Jefferson’s death on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence came as an astonishing surprise to Americans. Many ascribed the remarkable coincidence as a sign of divine authority. Daniel Webster wrote, “this striking and extraordinary coincidence is evidence that these men’s lives had been gifts from Providence to the United States; and offers proof that our country and its benefactors are objects of His care.”
Five years later, the nation was stunned again when James Monroe, the last of the original patriots, passed away on July 4, 1831.
<S> Andrew Jackson 1829-1832, 1833-1837 One of our most colorful presidents, Andrew Jackson was raised by a woman who has been referred to as a Spartan Mother. Jackson’s father, also name Andrew Jackson, had been a farmer in Ireland. In 1765 he sold his farm in Ireland, and along with his wife Elizabeth (Betty) Hutchinson Jackson and their two small sons Hugh and Robert emigrated to America. They found their way to a Scotch -Irish community in the border area between North and South Carolina. In March of 1767 Andrew Jackson Sr was killed in a logging accident leaving his wife pregnant with the future president. Betty Jackson raised her three sons in the Appalachian wilderness during the hardships of the American Revolution.
When Andrew was about five, his mother saw him crying one day. “Stop that, Andrew,” she ordered. “Don’t let me see you cry again! Girls were made to cry, not boys!” “Well, then, mother, what are boys made for?” asked Andy. “To fight!” she told him. After that, he never cried again. When Andy was about twelve and going to school one day, a fellow about eighteen or nineteen stopped him and gave him a severe thrashing. Andy’s uncle wanted to have the young man arrested and prosecuted for assault and battery. “No, sir!” exclaimed Jackson’s mother. “No son of mine shall ever appear as a complaining witness in a case of assault and battery! If he gets hold of a fellow too big for him, let him wait till he grows some and then try it again!” – Presidential Anecdotes p 71
Both of Jackson’s brothers died fighting in the American Revolution. Betty Jackson volunteered to go to Charleston to help nurse captured American soldiers who were languishing on British prisoner of war ships in Charleston harbor. There she contracted cholera and died. Andrew was only 14 when he lost his mother. He always remembered her final words of advice to him before she left. She warned him not to lie, steal, or quarrel as long as his manhood was not in jeopardy. She also cautioned him not to look to the courts for relief against slander. “Settle them cases yourself” she advised.
<S> John Tyler 1841-1845 (From Smithsonian Magazine website)
John Tyler, born in 1790, was the first vice president to become president due to the death of the president. William Henry Harrison was elected president in 1840. At age 68 the hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe was the oldest elected president at the time. To allay whispered concerns about his age, Harrison gave a two hour inaugural address in a blizzard without wearing an overcoat or top-hat. Three weeks later he developed pneumonia and died on April 4, 1841 having served only one month as president.
Tyler was at home in Virginia playing a game with his boys when a courier rode up to his house with the message that Harrison had died. Tyler believed that the constitution stated that he was now the president, however some in congress argued that he should not be called President, but mere Acting President. But Tyler claimed all of the rights and privileges of the chief executive. The precedent he set has been followed by all vice presidents since then. That didn’t stop some members of Congress referring to him as, “His Accidency.”
John Tyler married his first wife, Letitia Christian Tyler in 1810. Together they had four daughters and three sons to live to maturity. Letitia died from a stroke on Sept 10, 1842 during Tyler’s time as president. On June 26, 1844, Tyler married Julia Gardiner. Tyler was 53, Julia was 23 and actually younger than three of Tyler’s children. Together they also had seven children.
Their 5th child, a son named Lyon Gardiner Tyler born in 1853 became an educator and was president of William and Mary College. His first wife, Anne, died in 1921. Like his father, Lyon also remarried a much younger woman named Sue Ruffin. She was, in fact, 35 years younger than Lyon. Together they had two sons, Lyon Gardiner Tyler who was born in 1925 and died in May of 2020, and Harrison Ruffin Tyler who was born in 1928 and at the time of this recording is still alive at the age of 92! That’s correct! President John Tyler who was born in 1790 has a grandson who is still alive!
<S> Zachary Taylor 1849-1850 General Zachary Taylor had been a professional soldier for forty years before he entered politics. Nicknamed “Old Rough and Ready” he was loved by the men who served under his command. He had a tremendous reputation for not taking himself too seriously. Even though he led numerous successful military campaigns, he remained humble and kind. He was well known for his avoidance of military pomp and ceremony. He didn’t like wearing his officer’s uniform. This often led to him being mistaken for a simple farmer rather than the gifted military leader that he was.
Once, during the Florida campaign, Taylor stopped off in a tavern at Newmansville with officers on his staff for a glass of beer. A young man on his way to report for duty entered the place and approached their table. Fresh from West Point, he wore a linen duster to protect his uniform. Taylor, as usual, was wearing a home spun sack coat and a broad brimmed straw hat. “Well, old man,” said the young man as he sat down, “how are the (Seminoles) now?” “I believe sir,” Tyler replied, “that they are giving considerable trouble.” “They are, are they?” said the young man. “We will have to see to that. I am an army officer and I am on my way to take a hand. Have a glass of beer with me, Old Codger, you and your neighbors.” Taylor and his companions rose, toasted the young man, and then boarded the stagecoach, leaving him alone in the tavern. A day or so later, when the young West Pointer reported for inspection, he faced the “Old Codger” in a colonel’s uniform. Horrified, he stumbled through the ordeal and afterward asked some of the other officers what he could do to make amends. “Oh, with Colonel Taylor, just forget it,“ they told him. But the young man did not feel like letting the matter drop, so he went to Colonel Taylor’s tent to apologize. “My young friend, said Taylor calmly, “let me give you a little piece of advice which may be of advantage to you. Never judge a stranger by his clothes.” Presidential Anecdotes p 108
<L> William Howard Taft 1909–1913 Despite being the only man to serve as both U.S. president and Supreme Court chief justice, Taft was better known for his size. Weighing in at around 350 pounds, Taft was famously fat and there is a story about him becoming stuck in a white house bathtub. That story is however most likely just that: a story or a tall tale. There is no documentary evidence to back it up and the story didn’t arise until two decades after Taft left office.
In his book, “Dead Presidents: An American Adventure into the Strange Deaths and Surprising Afterlives of Our Nation’s Leaders,” author Brady Carlson says, “The funny part is that while Taft was president, the White House got a tub that was so big a president couldn’t possibly get stuck in it.”
According to History.com, “… just weeks after Taft’s 1908 election, the captain of a warship carrying the president-elect to inspect the Panama Canal re-quested a super-sized bathtub capable of holding the heftiest man ever to occupy the Oval Office. Since no “Taft-size” basin could be found, a Manhattan company specially crafted the largest solid porcelain tub ever made for an individual. It was more than seven feet long, 41 inches wide and weighed a ton—literally. A photograph in the February 1909 issue of the journal Engineering Review showed the pond-like presidential bathtub with four men sitting comfortably inside.”
The article goes on to say that “Newspapers reported that similarly spacious tubs were installed in the White House, on Taft’s presidential yacht and inside his brother’s summer home in Texas.”
<L> Warren Harding 1921–1923 Another presidential rumor is that William Harding death may have occurred because he was poisoned by his wife. Harding was voted into office in 1921 and on the evening of August 2, 1923—halfway through his third year in office—President Warren Harding died in a San Francisco hotel room at the age of 57. He was a popular president and people shocked at the suddenness of his death demanded answers from doctors. The decision by Harding’s wife, Florence, to skip an autopsy for her husband, and have his body embalmed one hour after his death, really set the rumor mill to churning.
Later, in 1930, Gaston Means, an embittered, former Harding Administration official, published a book entitled “The Strange Death of President Harding.” In the book, along with other tall tales and scandals, Means claimed that Florence Harding murdered her husband by poisoning him. Gaston Means however was well known to be notorious conman, liar and bootlegger. He died in prison in 1938, after being convicted for a con he tried to pull related to the Charles Lindbergh Jr. kidnapping.
Angry at not being paid what was owed to her, Mr. Means’ ghostwriter, May Dixon, later exposed the book as complete fabrication. Still rumors are hard things to kill and speculation surrounding Harding’s death are still being debated to this day. But there were five doctors at the hotel attending to Harding and it had been determined before Harding’s death that he had an enlarged heart and that he tired easily. Most historians today accept that Harding died from a heart attack brought on by ample evidence of his apparent cardiac problems.
<L> Dwight Eisenhower 1953–1961 He was the first president to use a helicopter while in office.
Helicopters had been in use by the military since 1944 and at Eisenhower’s suggestion, the Secret Service approved of the use of helicopters for a means of more efficient and safer travel for the president. On July 12, 1957, Eisenhower became the first president to employ the new aviation technology when he rode in a two-passenger Bell H-13J helicopter to Camp David as part of a test of White House evacuation procedures. During his second term, he regularly used helicopters to fly to Camp David and his farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
<L> Speaking of Camp David, the camp got its name from good Old Ike.
The site was originally a camp for federal employees and their families but in 1942, during WWII, fear that it was not safe for President Roosevelt to cruise on his presidential yacht lead to the camp being turned into a presidential retreat. It was the perfect destination because it was secluded, mountainous and a welcome break from the oppressive summer heat of the nation’s capital. Roosevelt referred to the camp as Shangri-La. When Eisenhower took office he felt the camp was an unnecessary luxury and had plans to close it down but after visiting at the urging of a cabinet member he changed his mind because he enjoyed it so much.
He took offense at the name though saying, “Shangri-La was just a little fancy for a Kansas farm boy.” He then re-named it after his father and his grandson, both named David. There was talk of the name reverting to "Shangri-La" after Eisenhower's presidency, but President Kennedy squashed that and the retreat remained known as Camp David.
<L> Gerald Ford 1974–1977 Once locked himself out of the White house. Ford loved dogs and after he took office, he wanted to adopt a family dog. He had a friend call a breeder for him. The breeder was reluctant to send a dog to just anyone so when asked for specifics about the family the friend replied, "The couple is friendly. They're middle-aged, and they live in a white house with a big yard and a fence around it. It's a lovely place." The breeder relented and that is how a Golden Retriever, lovingly named Liberty became top dog at the White House.
One night, the trainer was absent, and Liberty woke Ford at 3 a.m. to be let out. When the official first dog business was done they attempted to get back inside the White House, but the elevator was turned off after dark. Ford decided to take the stairs. Liberty was not happy about this as she was very pregnant with nine puppies at this time. When they managed to get to the second floor, they realized the door was locked. You could get out but not in! They trudged up to the third floor only to find that door locked as well. They had to go all the way back down the stairs. By that time the secret service was finally aware that someone was moving around and they turned the elevator back on and brought the president and pregnant pup back inside.
<L> Jimmy Carter 1977–1981 In August of 1979, just before the frenzy of the 1980 campaign began in earnest JC was taking some time to himself and fishing on a lake near his home in Plains, GA. That was where he was attacked by a killer rabbit. (Monty Python, anyone?). At least that was the story press secretary Jody Powell told reporters.
But Carter played it down a bit in a 2015 interview with Howard Kurtz. “Wild rabbits … all of them know how to swim,” the former president explained. The rabbit, being chased by hounds, leapt into the water and began swimming toward his boat. Carter simply used a paddle to shoo the rabbit away.
Photo courtesy of the Jimmy Carter Library
“There was nothing to it,” Carter told Kurtz. “When Jody told it, it became a very humorous and a still lasting story. Lots of people that had tame bunny rabbits threw them in swimming pools and said their rabbits could swim, too.”
The episode, known comically as Rabbit-gate, became a huge deal and influenced how voters perceived Carter — and not in a good way. Carter did not win re-election. Perhaps in some small way due to an aggressive, panicked bunny rabbit.
Cartoon from the Tri City Herald
<L> Ronald Reagan 1981–1989 was nearly strangled by a chimp.
As everyone knows RR was an actor before he became president. A source of embarrassment for him after he took office was a movie he had done called “Bedtime for Bongo” that featured a Chimpanzee. Johnny Carson called the movie “a favorite of old movie buffs and Democrats.” Reagan’s critics said he was the first president to be out-acted by a chimp.
The chimp playing Bongo was actually a female chimp named Peggy that was trained to perform hundreds of actions on command including crying, snarling and puckering up for a kiss.
One day on set Reagan’s necktie for some reason became a focus point for the chimp and she grabbed it with both hands and started to pull. Reagan’s startled reaction was to pull away which worsened the situation. He began to struggle to breathe as the tie tightened more and more in the tug of war. He was able to eventually get the necktie out of Peggy’s grip but by then the knot was so tight that a crewmember had to come to Reagan’s aid with a pair of scissors and cut him free.
<L> George W. Bush’s 2001-2009 close brush with death brought on by a pretzel.
In January of 2002 George W. Bush was enjoying some down time watching football alone in his living quarters. He was snacking on pretzels when all of a sudden, the president was waking up on the floor with his two dogs looking at him funny. He had apparently passed out after a pretzel went down funny. He hesitates to call it a choking incident since he was able to breathe when he woke up. He immediately got checked out by doctors who concluded that he’d had a “neurally mediated vasovagal (vay zo vay gul) syncope (sink o pee).” Basically the errant pretzel triggered the vagus nerve, the nerve that controls the heart, which caused a drop in blood pressure and heartrate. Coupled with the fact that George W. typically had a low resting heart rate to begin with this caused the loss of consciousness resulting in a cut and bruised face as he hit something on his fall off the couch.
Thankfully he was able to get himself up to seek medical attention. If he had actually choked and was not able to breathe it’s very likely he would have died before anyone noticed his distress.
<S> William McKinley 1897-1899, 1899-1901, 1901
I especially love this story as kindness is half of our closing motto here at Remnant Stew. One evening President McKinley was having a hard time deciding which of two equally competent men to appoint to an important diplomatic post. Suddenly he recalled an incident that had occurred on a stormy night many years before when he was a young congressman from Ohio. He had boarded a streetcar in Washington D.C. and had taken the last empty seat at the rear. At one point an old washer woman carrying a heavy basket boarded the car and stood forlorn in the aisle. One of the men whom McKinley was now considering for the post had been sitting right in front of the old lady, but shifted his newspaper in such a way as to seem not to see her. McKinley went down the aisle, picked up the basket of washing and led the old lady back to his seat. The man with the newspaper looking down, did not see this. After reflecting upon this event, McKinley selected the other man for the position. “This candidate never knew,” said McKinley’s friend Charles G. Dawes, who reported the story, “ that this little act of selfishness, or rather this little omission of kindness had deprived him of that position which would have crowned his ambitions of a lifetime.