1.One of George Washington's friends, the physician Dr. William Thornton, tried to bring him back to life.
Washington died of acute epiglottitis, a bacterial throat infection, in 1799. Thornton was summoned to treat him with an 18th century tracheotomy, which I think we can all agree would be a bummer, but he arrived after Washington's death.
Thornton's plan B involved a zombified George Washington. He proposed that they "thaw him in cold water," then "produce an artificial respiration" via "open[ing] a passage to the lungs by the trachaea," and as his grand and grim finale, "transfuse blood into him from a lamb." Somehow, no one was thrilled with this idea, and Dr. Thornton never got his mad scientist moment with the first president.
The specimens arrived in good shape, though the moose was missing a lot of its hair. Jefferson promptly sent them to a natural history center called the Jardin du Roi, in the hopes that they would contribute to a "positive image that would encourage immigration and commerce" to the United States.
But when the Americans were quickly defeated, the Madisons were forced to flee. The British found a victory feast intended for 40 guests, which they thoroughly enjoyed. They even toasted to "the success of his Majesty's arms" with Madison's "best wine."
After they were done, they burned down the White House.
5.James Monroe makes a cameo appearance in one of the most famous paintings of a (different) US president: Emanuel Leutze's 1851 work Washington Crossing the Delaware.
James Monroe is the soldier holding the flag. He was 18 years old during the crossing of the Delaware River in 1776.
The painting isn't particularly accurate. For one thing, Washington and his soldiers crossed the Delaware during a nighttime snowstorm, and for another, Leutze based the appearance of the river on the Rhine in Germany, "where he painted it."
6.In the warmer months, John Quincy Adams would skinny-dip in the Potomac River as part of his presidential morning routine.
In his diary, he wrote that he started his day with a 2-mile walk to the Potomac, followed by a swim and then a 2-mile walk home. The fact that he swam naked, while it may seem eccentric to us, was par for the course back in the day. According to what the historian Neal Millikan told Business Insider, "It wasn't really that odd that he bathed naked."
Anne Royall, "one of the first female journalists in the nation’s capital," once took the president's clothes while he was on his swim and wouldn't return them unless he allowed her to interview him. Naturally, Adams accepted her offer, and he answered her questions "with only his head showing above the water."
7.Andrew Jackson displayed a truly massive hunk of cheese at the White House for a year.
And at an 1837 party — his last as president — Jackson told everyone to help themselves. In his 1886 book Perley’s Reminiscences of Sixty Years in the National Metropolis, Benjamin Perley Poore wrote that, "When they commenced, the cheese weighed one thousand four hundred pounds, and only a small piece was saved for the President’s use. The air was redolent with cheese, the carpet was slippery with cheese, and nothing else was talked about at Washington that day."
8.Martin Van Buren's wife, Hannah Van Buren, died of tuberculosis 18 years before he became president, and Van Buren didn't mention her a single time in his "nearly 800-page published autobiography."
Van Buren never married again and spoke so little of his wife that when his second-eldest son wanted to name a child after her, he "asked his father to verify her name."
Van Buren's daughter-in-law Angelica Singleton, the wife of his son Abraham, filled the "social role" of First Lady. Since the Van Burens had a reputation as a loving couple, historians believe that Martin's silence can be explained by the fact that speaking about Hannah was "simply too painful."
It's the origin of the phrase, "Keep the ball rolling." Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd president and one of William's 25 grandchildren, later repeated the stunt in his successful 1888 presidential campaign.
The ball was referenced in the Season 7 Parks and Recreation episode "William Henry Harrison." (Though, if you look closely, this is actually a replica of the one Benjamin Harrison used. The year is '88, and it references "gallant BEN.")
10.John Tyler, who was born in 1790, has a grandson who is still alive today.
As of November 2020, Harrison Ruffin Tyler was 91 and living in a nursing home. In September of that year, his brother Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. died at the age of 95.
One of John Tyler's 15 children, Lyon Gardiner Tyler Sr., was born in 1853, when Tyler was in his early 60s. Lyon then had his son, Harrison, when he was 75.
11.James K. Polk was operated on without anesthesia when he was just a teenager.
Polk was a "sickly" child who suffered from "urinary stones" as a teenager. These stones were removed in a surgery that was performed "before the advent of modern antiseptics and anesthesia."
Instead, he drank some brandy to dull his senses.
12.Zachary Taylor was the first president to popularize the term "First Lady."
He used the term to eulogize Dolley Madison in 1849, when he said, "She will never be forgotten because she was truly our First Lady for a half-century."
Before then, the wife of a president was referred to as a "presidentress."
While the future president was running for the Senate in 1834, he wanted to appear "neutral" on the issue of slavery. So when he discovered that his sister Harriet owned two slaves — the 22-year-old Daphne Cook and her 5-year-old daughter, Ann — Buchanan feared political backlash.
His solution was to purchase and free the Cooks. But instead of, you know, actually freeing them, he instead forced them into indentured servitude: Daphne for 7 years, and little Ann for 23. James Buchanan Henry, Buchanan's nephew, later claimed that the former president did buy and free other slaves, but those stories are unverified.
16.Abraham Lincoln came this close to being a part of the most famous tale of cannibalism that America has to offer.
The Donner Party was an ill-fated group of settlers hoping to find a new life in California. When bad advice and even worse weather led them to get trapped in the Sierra Nevada Mountains for a long and brutal winter, the members of the party turned to cannibalism to survive. Only 45 people out of the original 89 actually made it to California.
And in his book The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny, author Michael Wallis claims that Abraham Lincoln was almost one of them. Lincoln wanted to go, but ultimately decided against it because of "his toddler son and pregnant wife Mary Todd Lincoln."
17.Andrew Johnson showed up absolutely wasted to Lincoln's second inauguration, during which he was sworn in as vice president.
Johnson spent the night before the March 1865 ceremony drinking whiskey, in an attempt to self-medicate his typhoid diagnosis. By the time he was sworn in, he was "red-faced and sweating." Then, Johnson was supposed to introduce president-elect Lincoln with a "short, polite" speech.
However, the combined effects of typhoid and a bunch of whiskey didn't make Johnson particularly courteous, and he instead "harangue[d] the distinguished crowd about his humble origins and his triumph over the rebel aristocracy." Then he kissed the Bible, or "slobbered the Holy Book with a drunken kiss," as one senator put it. Another senator recalled that Lincoln watched the scene with "unutterable sorrow."
This potent mixture was Grant's attempt to soothe the pain caused by his throat cancer and therefore give him the presence of mind he needed to finish writing his memoirs.
19.Paraguay loves Rutherford B. Hayes.
Maria Teresa Garozzo, the director of the Villa Hayes Museum, told NPR that after Hayes sided with Paraguay in a land dispute against Argentina, he "guarantee[d] its survival as a nation." She added, "Hayes is a giant. He is a spectacular, immortal figure for us."
The Villa Hayes Museum is located in the industrial city of Villa Hayes (which, translated from Spanish, means "Hayesville"). And the name of the state of which Villa Hayes is capital? Presidente Hayes.
Alexander Graham Bell, best known as the inventor of the telephone, had a solution: a "rudimentary metal detector" that he believed would be a "less barbarous method" than simply poking a dying man over and over again.
Bell examined the president twice, but couldn't locate the bullet, both because metal wires in the mattress interfered with the machine's reading, and the president's doctor only allowed him to search the right side of Garfield's body, where he thought the bullet was. Following the president's death, the bullet was located...on the left side of his body.
21.In 1854, a 24-year-old Black schoolteacher named Elizabeth Jennings refused to get off of a segregated "horse-drawn streetcar." She was late to church, where she played the organ, and said that she told the conductor, "I was a respectable person, born and raised in New York, did not know where he was born, and that he was a good for nothing impudent fellow for insulting decent persons while on their way to church."
When a police officer forcibly removed Jennings, she went public with her story. She wrote a letter about it that was published in both the New York Daily Tribune and Frederick Douglass' Paper, and her father, Thomas L. Jennings, got into contact with a young white lawyer to help his daughter fight back. That lawyer was Chester A. Arthur, the future 21st president.
Arthur won the case, and a judge ruled that non-white people couldn't be "excluded from public conveyances 'by any rules of the Company, nor by force or violence.'" Jennings' victory was the city's first step toward integration of public transport, and by 1860 "nearly all the city's streetcar lines were open to African Americans." Jennings, by then Elizabeth Jennings Graham, later founded New York City's first kindergarten for Black children.
Rose Cleveland had a romantic relationship with another woman, Evangeline Simpson Whipple, that "spanned nearly 30 years." Extensive love letters exchanged between the two "make clear that they were more than just friends."
They lived together as "true partners" in Tuscany toward the end of their romance, prior to Cleveland's death in the 1918 flu pandemic.
23.Benjamin Harrison purposefully didn't tell anyone whether he made South or North Dakota a state first.
He signed the "almost identical statehood proclamations" in 1889, and "covered and shuffled the documents before and after signing them." Afterward he declared, "They were born together — they are one and I will make them twins." Despite Harrison's attempts at twin-hood, North and South Dakota aren't tied for 39th place in the statehood race; they're listed alphabetically, with North Dakota taking the 39th spot and South Dakota taking the 40th. But there's really no way to know for sure which came first.
24.Grover Cleveland is the only president who served two nonconsecutive terms, so that means he's counted as two presidents (the 22nd and the 24th).
So here's another Grover fact: He once "disappeared for four days to have secret surgery on a yacht." Cleveland needed a tumor removed from his mouth, but due to both the stigma around cancer at the time and the fact that the country's economy was flailing, he thought it best if the people didn't know about their president's condition.
The operation worked, and it remained a closely guarded secret for over two decades, until one of Cleveland's doctors, William Williams Keen, finally came clean.
At the Pan-American Exposition of 1901, McKinley was shot by the anarchist Leon Czolgosz two times at close range, with one bullet entering his stomach and the other hitting a coat button and bouncing off. People heard McKinley tell the furious crowd, "Go easy on him, boys!"
McKinley was operated on by a gynecologist who lacked the right surgical experience to save him. The doctor who should've operated on him was in surgery, and when he was told he was needed elsewhere, said to the voice on the other side of the phone, "Don’t you see that I can’t leave this case, even if it were for the president of the United States?" The voice, "now lost to history," then told him it was for the president.
But it was too late, and after a few days of looking like he was recovering, McKinley died from gangrene in his pancreas and stomach.
26.Theodore Roosevelt's daughter was an absolute badass.
Alice Lee Roosevelt was a "headline-maker, risk-taker, rabble-rouser, and trendsetter" who became a national celebrity during her time in the White House. Alice often carried a snake in her purse named Emily Spinach, and smoked cigarettes on the White House roof when her father banned her from doing it inside.
Alice's popularity resulted in her working as a hostess and diplomat for Roosevelt's administration. She remained a fixture in the capital city after the end of her father's presidency, and was nicknamed "the other Washington Monument" for it.
Theodore Roosevelt once said, "I can do one of two things. I can be President of the United States, or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both." (He chose being president.)
Taft's New Haven home was robbed in 1920 by Carl Panzram, "one of America's most vicious serial killers." Panzram sold everything he stole but the handgun, which he then put to grim use by murdering around 10 sailors he lured aboard a yacht (purchased with the proceeds from his theft of Taft's home).
When the boat was sunk in a storm, Panzram survived but the gun was lost. He was ultimately executed in 1930, after confessing to killing "at least 22 people." Taft died the same year.
28.Woodrow Wilson's wedding ceremony was catered by Chef Boyardee.
Kind of. The chef's real name was Hector Boiardi, an Italian immigrant who eventually started the canned pasta company and became the inspiration for its brand identity. But before Chef Boyardee, Boiardi really did cater Wilson's reception at West Virginia's Greenbrier Hotel.
29.Warren G. Harding nicknamed his penis "Jerry."
Yup. That historical tidbit was discovered when love letters he wrote to his mistress Carrie Fulton Phillips were finally released to the public in 2014.
Previously, his family sued a biographer to keep the letters out of the public sphere. The New York Times described the released documents as "unabashedly carnal" and "perhaps the most sexually explicit ever by an American president."
30.Calvin Coolidge loved his pet raccoon, Rebecca.
In 1926, a person from Mississippi gifted the Coolidge family the raccoon and suggested that it "be served up for Thanksgiving dinner." But she was just too cute to eat, and for Christmas, Coolidge gifted her "an embroidered collar with the title, 'White House Raccoon.'"
During the 1927 White House Egg Roll, First Lady Grace Coolidge showed off Rebecca to gathered children while the raccoon was on a short leash or in her arms. According to the First Lady, Rebecca loved nothing more than "playing in a partly filled bathtub with a cake of soap.”
In his younger days, Hoover worked as a mining engineer in China, and picked up only around 100 words of Mandarin while he was there. Lou Henry, on the other hand, studied the language carefully, and as a result "had a good grasp" on it.
32.Franklin Roosevelt once saw Winston Churchill naked.
There are a couple of different versions of this story, but here's the gist. Churchill came to stay at the White House during the holiday season of 1941–42. Together, Roosevelt, Churchill, and other Allied diplomats and leaders worked on a "joint declaration that they [the Allies] would fight the Axis powers together, and that none would negotiate a separate peace."
Roosevelt came up with the idea to call it a "A Declaration by the United Nations." He was so thrilled with this turn of phrase that he rushed into Churchill's quarters, ignored an aide who told him that Churchill was bathing, and discovered a prime minister in the buff.
In one version of the story, Roosevelt joked, "Don't mind me." And in another, Churchill got out of the bath and said, "The prime minister of Great Britain has nothing to hide from the president of the United States!" That's probably apocryphal, though.
33.Harry Truman hated Dumbo.
Well, not exactly. But he did refuse to get on the Dumbo ride when he visited Disneyland in 1957, because as a Democrat, he didn't want to be photographed having the time of his life in an elephant, otherwise known as the symbol of the Republican Party.
34.Dwight D. Eisenhower prepared a speech that he intended to give to take responsibility if the 1944 Allied invasion of Normandy failed.
It read, "Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone." He underlined "mine alone."
The invasion didn't fail, and Eisenhower never had to give the speech, but it remains a creepy artifact of an alternate history.
35.John F. Kennedy's brain is missing.
Following JFK's autopsy, his brain was stored in the National Archives, which apparently has a section for brains. But in 1966, someone noticed that it was gone.
Some conspiracy theorists think that the brain went missing because it "would have proved Kennedy was not shot from the back by Lee Harvey Oswald, but from the front," but author James Swanson told the Guardian that he believes JFK's brother Robert took the organ to "conceal evidence of the true extent of President Kennedy's illnesses, or perhaps to conceal evidence of the number of medications that President Kennedy was taking."
36.Lyndon B. Johnson owned a "land-to-water" vehicle known as an Amphicar, and he used to trick passengers into thinking that they were all going to crash and drown in it.
Johnson wouldn't reveal the car's amphibious nature, and when he started driving toward the water, he'd scream, "The brakes don’t work! The brakes won’t hold! We’re going in! We’re going under!"
Of course, then the car would smoothly transition to the water, keeping its passengers safe (if a tad traumatized).
37.Richard Nixon tried to jazz up the uniforms of the White House staff, but gave up the idea after he was mocked by the press.
The media compared the white-and-gold costumes to those you might see in a "banana republic," and a short while after he instated them, Nixon gave up.
The uniforms ultimately ended up in the possession of a nearby high school's marching band.
38.There are only two attempted female presidential assassins in history, and they both tried to kill Gerald Ford "within 17 days of each other."
First, there was Lynnette “Squeaky” Fromme, a 26-year-old follower of Charles Manson who thought killing Ford would win her the cult leader's approval. On September 5, 1975, she pointed a gun at Ford, but a Secret Service agent wrestled it away from her before she fired. She said, "It didn't go off. Can you believe it? It didn't go off."
Ford went ahead with his scheduled afternoon meeting with California governor Jerry Brown and didn't even mention his brush with death until they finished "talking business."
Seventeen days later, Sara Jane Moore tried to assassinate Ford, but the one shot she fired missed. Oliver Sipple, an ex-Marine and bystander, saved the president's life when he grabbed Moore's arm after she raised it to fire. Both Fromme and Moore were sent to the same prison for their technically unrelated but nearly identical crimes.
39.Jimmy Carter believed he saw a UFO in 1969, describing it as "the darndest thing I’ve ever seen." During his presidential campaign in 1976, he pledged to release "every piece of information" about UFOs to the public.
But after he won, Carter decided against releasing the documents, explaining that the information had "defense implications" that could "pose a threat to national security."
40.Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev made a deal that if the US were invaded by aliens, the Soviet Union would come to its aid.
Reagan posed the question at the 1985 Geneva Summit, and the world leaders agreed that the Cold War could be put aside in the case of an extraterrestrial attack.
41.George H. W. Bush despised broccoli so much that he banned it from Air Force One and (accidentally) started a feud with some Californian farmers.
In 1990, Bush said, "I do not like broccoli...and I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m President of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli!” Which, fair.
Except not really, according to some proud Californian broccoli farmers. They sent 10 tons of broccoli to the White House to protest the president's position on their veggie of choice. That's 20,000 pounds of broccoli, most of which was promptly donated to "local homeless shelters."
42.Bill Clinton only sent two emails while he was president.
During a speech at the Wired for Change conference in 2011, Clinton said, "I sent a grand total of two emails as president: one to our troops in the Adriatic, and one to John Glenn when he was 77 years old in outer space. I figured it was OK if Congress subpoenaed those."
The email to Glenn read in part, "Hillary and I had a great time at the launch. We are very proud of you and the entire crew, and a little jealous."
43.Tom Petty sent George W. Bush a cease and desist letter to get him to stop playing his song at campaign rallies.
The song in question was "I Won't Back Down," which Petty later played at the home of Bush's opponent Al Gore.
44.Barack Obama is insured against crocodile attacks (in Australia, at least, which tends to be where they're a problem).
Afterward, Obama said in a speech to Australian and US troops, "I was just presented with the most unique gift I have ever received as president — crocodile insurance. My wife, Michelle, will be relieved."
Trump Airlines, which started in 1988 and folded in 1992:
Trump: The Game, which was discontinued after two years when the company sold "less than half the 2 million units" it expected to:
And Trump Steaks, which were pulled from the shelf after two months of "abysmal sales."
46.Finally: When a teacher mocked a young Joe Biden over his stutter, his mother, Catherine, took exactly zero prisoners.
Biden once said about his stutter, "I can think of nothing else that has ever stripped me of my dignity as quickly and as profoundly and as thoroughly." The teacher, who was a nun, called the future president "Mr. Bu-bu-bu-Biden." Biden, understandably pissed, responded to the teasing one day by simply walking out.
His mother later told the nun in question, "If you ever speak to my son like that again, I’ll come back and rip that bonnet off your head."