The American presidency must be one of the hardest jobs in the world. No wonder that some Presidents historically sought relief in very strange ways. From having vaseline rubbed on your noggin to fighting in over 100 duels to feeding your pet bird from your mouth, here are some fun facts about past American presidents.
Ulysses s. Grant was arrested for driving his horse too fast and was fined $20.
Here’s an excerpt from an article about the incident from The Washington Post, written by J. LeCount Chestnut on November 7th, 1925.
William West is the horseman who once arrested a president. He forced President Ulysses S. Grant to go with him to the police station where he booked the chief executive on charges of speeding. Grant was driving his favorite team of horses at what West thought was excessive speed. He ordered the president to stop, chased him down, gave him a lecture in approved modern traffic cop style, and then arrested him.
Grant and West became solid pals after the incident, and in one of their frequent chats West informed the president that he, too, was a speed maniac and that while off duty he had been arrested more than 20 times for speeding!
Grant had quite a history as a speed demon. He was arrested twice in 1866 for reckless driving before he was in the White House.
Coolidge loved having his head rubbed with petroleum jelly while breakfasting in bed.
Coolidge practiced this bizarre behavior believing that it was good for his health.
After taking over the presidency upon the death of Warren G. Harding, Coolidge assembled a menagerie that would rival most zoos’ collections. He had six dogs, a bobcat, a goose, a donkey, a cat, two lion cubs, an antelope, and a wallaby. The main attraction in his personal zoo, though, was Billy, a pygmy hippopotamus.
Jimmy Carter reported seeing a UFO.
In 1973, future President Jimmy Carter filed a report with the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP), claiming he had seen an Unidentified Flying Object (UFO) in October 1969.
During the presidential campaign of 1976, Democratic challenger Carter was open about his belief that he had seen a UFO. He described waiting outside for a Lion’s Club Meeting in Leary, Georgia, to begin, at about 7:30 p.m. when he spotted what he called “the darndest thing I’ve ever seen” in the sky. Carter, as well as 10 to 12 other people who witnessed the same event, described the object as “very bright [with] changing colors and about the size of the moon.” Carter reported that “the object hovered about 30 degrees above the horizon and moved in toward the earth and away before disappearing into the distance.” He later told a reporter that, after the experience, he vowed never again to ridicule anyone who claimed to have seen a UFO.
During the presidential campaign of 1976, Carter promised that, if elected president, he would encourage the government release “every piece of information” about UFOs available to the public and to scientists. After winning the presidency, though, Carter quickly backed away from this pledge, saying that the release of some information might have “defense implications” and pose a threat to national security.
Later on, a ufologist concluded that what Jimmy had seen was actually the view of Venus on a very clear night.
Warren G. Harding had a lot of sex.
He once almost got caught having sex with a maid by his wife…while he was in a White House closet.
The most famous of his relationships was with Carrie Phillips, which started in 1905, despite the fact that both were married. The couple’s hilariously steamy love letters were opened to the press in 2014. During the 1920 presidential election, the Republican National Committee essentially bribed Carrie and her husband to stay out of sight, sending them on a free trip to Asia with $20,000 in cash.
Harding didn’t even bother to keep his affairs much of a secret, telling a private group of reporters:
“It’s a good thing I am not a woman. I would always be pregnant. I can’t say no.”
Rumors range from Andrew Jackson being in anywhere from 20-100 duels
Before ever becoming president, Jackson fought 103 duels–mostly defending the integrity of his wife. As a result, Jackson is said to have kept 37 pistols ready to be used in a duel at all times.
Although not all of Jackson’s duels were near-death experiences, at least two of them were. Once, for instance, he was shot squarely in the chest. Normally, that sort of thing would signal the end of a duel, but Jackson simply staunched the wound with a handkerchief and then shot and killed his opponent. The bullet, however, was lodged so close to Jackson’s heart that it couldn’t be removed. As a result, he suffered from chest pains and excessive phlegm for the rest of his life. In another fight, two bullets shattered Jackson’s arm and left shoulder. Doctors wanted to amputate, but Jackson refused for fear it would ruin his military career.
Thomas Jefferson had a pet bird that would eat from his mouth.
Birds were Jefferson’s favorite animal. During his time in the White House Jefferson wrote observations on the types of birds that he spotted in the area. In a letter to a friend he wrote, “I sincerely congratulate you on the arrival of the mockingbird. Teach all the children to venerate it as a superior being which will haunt them if any harm is done to itself or its eggs.”
Jefferson’s favorite pet was Dick the Mockingbird. He kept Dick’s cage in a special area in his study, among plants on a windowsill. Jefferson often left Dick’s cage open and allowed him free range of the room. Dick would perch on Jefferson’s couch and sing him to sleep after following him one by one up the stairs. Dick liked to sit on Jefferson’s shoulder as Jefferson hummed and worked. Jefferson even put food between his lips and the mockingbird would swoop down and take it from him. Dick and Jefferson did duets together. Jefferson was the one on the violin.
Abe Lincoln’s voice was described as “shrill“, “feminine” and having a strong country accent.
That shrill voice nonetheless carried well into crowds and allowed him to still be an effective public speaker.
When Harold Holzer was researching his 2004 book Lincoln at Cooper Union, he noticed an interesting consistency in the accounts of those who attended Lincoln’s speaking tour in February and March 1860.
“They all seem to say, for the first ten minutes I couldn’t believe the way he looked, the way he sounded, his accent. But after ten minutes, the flash of his eyes, the ease of his presentation overcame all doubts, and I was enraptured”
Grover Cleveland personally performed several executions.
His nickname was “The Buffalo Hangman” because of executions he carried out while sheriff of Erie County, New York in the 1870s. He had the option of hiring someone to do the executions for him, but declined, saying it was his responsibility. He did evade military service in the Civil War by paying a substitute $300, which was not an uncommon practice at the time.
Fun fact: A body part of Grover Cleveland’s resides at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia. It is his “secret tumor,” an epithelioma removed from the roof of his mouth during his second term.
James K. Polk was elected on a promise that he would serve only one term.
Polk was a huge believer in Manifest Destiny and you can thank him for the state of Texas. Polk promised he would accomplish everything he promised within one term, and he did! During his tenure, America’s territory grew by more than one-third and extended across the continent for the first time.
He only got about 4 hours of sleep per night and died very shortly after his term ended. He was also known for being boring. He once wrote an entire essay on the proper etiquette of shaking a man’s hand.
Siobhan O’Shea is a freelance writer. She writes about pretty much everything but especially likes to bring readers’ attention to new tech, marketing, human behavior, and other oddities.