One day, about 6 years ago, I was listening to Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me when the panelists started joking about the Vice President shooting someone. “That’s weird,” I thought, “Why are they talking about Aaron Burr?” It took me a minute to realize they meant Dick Cheney, who was the current VP. And it’s not like I hadn’t heard about the hunting accident, because I had. That was the moment when I realized I was doomed.
As an atheist and American history nerd, President’s Day is as close to a religious holiday as I get. So as is tradition, here is my list of ten fun and interesting Presidential History Facts.
1. Bulletproof. In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt was campaigning for a third go as President under his newly-formed Bull Moose Party. Before a speaking engagement in Wisconsin, a man shot Roosevelt in the chest. The bullet was slowed by the copy of the speech in his breast pocket. Upon checking that he was not bleeding from the mouth, he insisted on speaking. With a pierced lung, he got up to the podium and, waving his blood-soaked pages in the air, shouted that it would take more than a bullet to stop a Bull Moose. Roosevelt spoke for 90 minutes before agreeing to go to the hospital. (This is merely the coolest of all of the TR is a Bad Ass anecdotes.)
2. Pus Reports. After James A. Garfield was shot in 1881, he was taken to a coastal town to get well. The nation was so captivated by the ailing President that his doctors issued daily reports to the press on Garfield’s condition. The reports were short and often focused on how much pus was oozing from his wounds. Garfield finally succumbed to death on September 19th, 1881.
3. Presidential Pets. Many Presidents have had dogs but Calvin Coolidge practically had a zoo. His pets included two kittens, several dogs, an antelope, a wallaby and a pygmy hippo. Coolidge also had two raccoons, Rebecca and Reuben, which he let roam around the White House, much to annoyance of the staff.
4. Pajamas. Thomas Jefferson believed in a casual, approachable government. When British Diplomat Andrew Merry arrived at the White House in full military uniform, Jefferson received him in his slippers and dressing gown. Merry was offended, thinking it was a jab at the British government. For the duration of his Presidency, Jefferson often greeted guests in his pajamas. (That is my kind of President.)
5. Every 80s Child Probably Remembers When Bush Senior Went to Japan. While on a state visit to Japan in 1992, President George H.W. Bush complained he felt ill before going to dinner with Japanese Prime Minister Miyazawa. On live TV broadcast, Bush vomited in Miyazawa’s lap and then fainted. The faux-pas caused the Japanese media to coin the term *“bushu-suru”* or “to do a bush,” meaning to embarrass oneself by vomiting in public.
6. Bathtub Maintenance. William H. Taft was elected in 1908. At six foot two and over three hundred pounds, he was too big for the White House bathtub and had a larger one installed. The new tub measured seven feet long and three feet five inches wide and was said to be large enough for four normal-sized men.
7. The Whiskey Rebellion. Soon after Washington took office, the new US government enacted a Whiskey Tax to help pay for the Revolution. Furious about being taxed—taxation was used as propaganda to incite the war—people began forming small militias and threatening rebellion. Washington decided forcibly taking down these militias would tear the new nation apart before it began. Instead, he mounted his white horse and marched an army of 1200 men down through Pennsylvania. The show of force quelled the uprisings and America accepted that taxes are an inevitable part of life. You’re welcome.
8. Jackets Are For Sissies. William Henry Harrison’s inauguration day, March 4, 1841, was freezing and wet. Since no President before had given their Inauguration Address in a coat and hat, Harrison refused to wear them. He spoke for two hours in the cold and caught pneumonia. He died thirty days later, on April 4, making it the shortest Presidential term in history.
9. Peanut Farmer Becomes President. Jimmy Carter worked as a peanut farmer before becoming the Governor of Georgia and eventually President. Floating along in his Inauguration Parade in 1977 was a giant peanut-shaped balloon.
10. Poker. Warren G. Harding decided to host a gambling night in the White House for a few of his friends. During one hand the betting got high and Harding ran out of money. Instead of folding, Harding bet the White House’s china. He lost and so did the nation.
Originally printed in the City Collegian, a newspaper that was systematically killed by school politics.