You might think that the guy currently living in the White House is pretty out there. But ‘out there’ is nothing new for Presidents of the United States. These are the weirdest facts about former presidents that everyone should know.
1. Magic bullet.
John F. Kennedy (1961-63) remains one of the most admired presidents, despite his relatively brief tenure. Although he’s still a venerated figure half a century after his death, there are a number of troubling details about his life that still are not generally known.
Everybody knows that Kennedys life was cut tragically short, but few people realize he was actually a very sick man before that. For starters, the president suffered from acute colitis and prostatitis. He also had Addisons disease, which prevents the body from properly regulating levels of sugar and sodium.
The president sometimes used crutches because he suffered from osteoporosis in his lower back. Although he worked hard to hide it, the pain was sometimes so intense that he could barely dress himself or tie his own shoes.
To combat this litany of medical concerns, President Kennedy was on as many as taking medications at any given time, including codeine, Demerol, methadone, Ritalin, and a host of barbiturates. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, when one wrong move could have precipitated nuclear war, Kennedy was taking steroids, anti-psychotics, antihistamines, and antibiotics.
Remarkably, those close to him say that despite the medley of medications he was forced to take, Kennedy never allowed his condition to affect his performance.
2. Of course his last name was ‘Harding’.
Before his personal letters were unsealed in 2014, Warren G. Harding (1921-23) was generally remembered as the most corrupt president not named Richard Nixon. But since the contents of those letters became public, Harding has joined the vaunted ranks of the pervert presidents.
Harding had at least two extramarital affairs, one of which produced an illegitimate daughter whom Harding paid for but never met. His love letters to his long-suffering mistress reveal a man who was passionately in love. And liked to call his penis Jerry.
3. Not the Grover from Sesame Street.
Grover Cleveland (1885-9, 1893-7) only liked one thing more than being president, and that was the ladies.
Cleveland had had a child out of wedlock, and the scandal broke during his first presidential campaign. Instead of denying it (there was no Maury Povich around to make you take a paternity test in those days) Cleveland owned up to his lovechild. His honesty actually helped him win.
He had another, far creepier relationship though. Before becoming president, one of Clevelands close associates died, leaving him as guardian of an orphaned 11-year-old girl. 10 years later, Cleveland married her at the White House, and she became the youngest First Lady in history. President Woody Allen, anybody?
In another weirdly creepy exchange, Cleveland once spoke with a young Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He told the boy: “I am making a strange wish for you. It is that you may never be president of the United States.” Wish again, Grover.
4. Johnson&Johnson: NOT a family company.
Whatever else you want to say about Lyndon Johnson (1963-69) he was a pretty weird dude.
For one thing, he loved to give people gifts. “Thats nice,” I heard you say. It might have been, except the gift he most liked to give was the electric toothbrush.
Doris Kearns, one of his biographers, reports that he gave her a dozen electric toothbrushes over the course of a decade. According to President Johnson, he gave toothbrushes so that people would think of him “first thing in the morning and last thing at night.”
Johnson was brazen with his staff and associates, and seems to have enjoyed making them uncomfortable whenever possible. His aides claimed that he would frequently lead them into the bathroom and carry on conversations with them while he did his business.
Colleagues in Congress recalled that if you found Johnson in the bathroom finishing up at a urinal, you might be in for a bit of a show. The president liked to turn around when he was done relieving himself, still brandishing his penis, and wave it at whoever had walked in. He called his member Jumbo, and liked to ask people if they’d “ever seen anything that big in [their] lives.”
If thats not weird enough for you, Johnson also had a soda fountain installed at the White House that only dispensed Fresca.
5. Look out, Lincoln.
James Buchanan (1857-1861) is often rated among the worst presidents in history. But political legacy notwithstanding, he might have accomplished a feat that would be tough to repeat – even today. Buchanan might well have been the first gay president.
Buchanan never married, but he did have a close friend with whom he lived for a decade – a senator from Alabama named William King. Andrew Jackson called the two of them “Miss Nancy and Aunt Fancy” when they weren’t around – understood at the time as a clear homophobic reference.
After King left him to move to France, Buchanan wrote the following: “I am now solitary and alone, having no companion in the house with me. I have gone a wooing several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any one of them.”
6. Riding under the influence.
Franklin Pierce (1853-57) was one of the most forgettable presidents. Its safe to assume he didnt remember much about his own reign either, because he was a raging alcoholic. On one occasion, Pierce was allegedly arrested for running over an elderly woman with his horse while he was trashed. Charges were never brought. I guess its a good thing cars hadnt been invented yet.
7. You can’t account for taste.
You might think Richard Nixon (1969-74) has already been forced to give up all his secrets. You would be wrong. It turns out that Nixons favorite thing to eat was cottage cheese, which he liked to pair with either pineapple or ketchup. If you ask me, thats worse than Watergate.
8. Taft Punk.
We all know that the Teddy bear was named after Teddy Roosevelt, but did you know they made a stuffed toy and named it after President William Taft (1909-13). It was called the Billy possum, and it was meant to replace the teddy bear. Unfortunately (?) it never took off. But why a possum? The answer is pretty disgusting.
In January 1909, while he was still president-elect, Taft attended a celebratory banquet in Atlanta. Asked what he preferred to eat, Taft requested “possum and taters.” And so they fed the future president sweet potatoes topped with an 18-pound cooked opossum, which Taft reportedly gobbled up with such rapacious delight that his lawyer had to tell him to pace himself.
This is where the ridiculous (and short-lived) idea of replacing teddy bears with ‘billy possums’ came from.
9. Duel and unusual.
Andrew Jackson (1829-1837) is best known for the trail of tears, his dreadful temper, and being on the $20 bill. But he was also a bird lover. In particular, Jackson had a pet parrot that he taught how to curse. Allegedly, the parrot was in attendance at Jacksons funeral, but had to be removed because it kept cawing four-letter words while the president was being laid to rest.
Jackson was also an unusually prolific dueller, even by the standards of his time. Its estimated that he was involved in approximately 100 duels. On one occasion, Jackson took a bullet so close to his heart that it could not be safely removed. It stayed lodged in his chest for the rest of his life.
10. Hostile takeover.
In the long and salacious history of the presidency, John Tyler (1841-45) is possibly the most unsavory person ever to occupy the office. Tyler was not elected. He took over the office after his predecessor, William Henry Harrison, died 33 days into his presidency.
At that time, it had not been established that the vice-president should take over for the president if he were unable to perform his duties. But John Tyler wasted no time in seizing his opportunity. Without seeking the consent of his cabinet, Tyler declared himself president.
And what a president he was. He was wildly unpopular, even among his own party (from which he was expelled). He drove almost his entire cabinet to resign in protest of his policies. He was the first president to face impeachment proceedings. Worst of all, when the Civil War broke out, Tyler defected to the Confederacy.
Because he was considered a traitor, Tylers death was not even acknowledged by the United States government. The New York Times called him “the most unpopular public man that ever held any office in the United States.” In his obituary.
11. Naked ambition.
John Quincy Adams (1825-1829) swam naked in the Potomac River every morning at 5 AM. An enterprising early American journalist named Anne Royall heard about this peculiar ritual. She had repeatedly been refused the chance to interview the president, so she decided to catch him in a compromising position.
One morning, while Adams was skinny dipping, Royall wandered down to the bank of the river, sat on his clothes, and refused to return them until he agreed to grant her an interview. Thats how Anne Royall became the first woman ever to interview a president.
Apart from his fondness for skinny dipping, John Quincy Adams also earns a place on the (surprisingly long) list of presidents who kept bizarre pets in the White House. In Adams case, it was an alligator, which was gifted to him by his friend the Marquis de Lafayette. Adams kept the enormous reptile in the East Room of the White House, where he reportedly took delight in showing it off to his terrified guests.
12. Two in the Bush.
George W. Bush (2000-2008) was better known for coining terms than his father George H. W. (1989-1993). But Bush Senior did manage to inspire a new word in the Japanese dictionary: Bushusuru which translates roughly as to pull a Bush. What does that mean? It means to throw up, which President Bush did onto the Japanese Prime Minister at a meeting in 1992.
13. Nobody puts Teddy in a corner.
Teddy Roosevelt (1901-1909) was famously one of the most energetic presidents. He liked to live what he called “the strenuous life.” To him, that meant maintaining a rigorous physical regimen on top of his presidential responsibilities.
Roosevelt liked to box. Even while he was president, he would bring in sparring partners a few times a week to keep up his form. This continued until one of them punched him in the face so hard he actually went blind in his left eye. After that, he decided to tone things down a bit and took up judo.
Like some other presidents, Teddy also had a fondness for swimming naked in the Potomac River. Unlike the others, he enjoyed doing it in the wintertime.
14. Hayes’d and confused.
Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-81) is surely one of the most peculiar presidents. By rights, he never should have taken the office at all. He lost the popular vote by 250,000, and he lost the electoral college too.
But then the delegates decided to make him president anyway. He ‘won’ the electoral college by a single vote after a series of back-room negotiations. They struck a deal to make Hayes president.
After the Civil War, Union troops had remained stationed in the south. The Democrats, then the dominant party in the south, agreed to allow the Republican Hayes to become president in exchange for him withdrawing those troops.
This compromise lead to the presidents unflattering nicknames: Rutherfraud and His Fraudulence.
15. Keep your Coolidge.
Calvin Coolidge (1923-29) had a number of peculiar habits. He liked to have vaseline rubbed onto his head (stay with me) while he ate breakfast. He also makes the list of presidents who kept bizarre pets in the White House. He had two raccoons, who he sometimes let run freely through the corridors of power. He also raised chickens at the White House, but for food rather than company.
16. Hoover be dammed.
Herbert Hoover (1929-33) was one of the most unpopular presidents in history. That was partly because he had the misfortune of being elected on the eve of the Great Depression, and partly because the public perceived him as an extravagant and out-of-touch multi-millionaire.
During the dog days of the depression, Hoover feasted on seven-course meals in the White House dining room while ordinary Americans went hungry.
He and his wife were also notoriously difficult on their attendants. The first couple insisted on being served by Marine officers who were all the exact same height. It was said that Hoover demanded never to see his servants. Whenever his staff heard him coming, they would jump into closets for fear of incurring his wrath.
Extravagant and out-of-touch? Why would they ever think that?
17. Easy come, easy go.
William Henry Harrison (March-April, 1841) has the dubious distinction of delivering the longest inauguration speech in history (over 90 minutes) and following it up with the shortest presidency. He died of pneumonia 33 days into his first term.
18. Wig out.
Washington was famously a thorn in the side of the British, but things might have turned out differently if they had just hired him. Before he became a patriot, Washington actually applied to be an officer in the British Army, but was turned down. They werent interested in the future president because he wasnt born in England.
They further alienated Washington (and others) by announcing that colonists who fought for Britain in the Revolutionary War wouldnt receive land grants – only Brits would. These slaps in the face are what initially turned Washington against the English.
Weve all seen portraits of Washington with his rosy cheeks and his fancy wig. Only that wasnt a wig; it was his real hair. He just powdered it so much that it looked like a wig.
19. Tomato, Tamata.
Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) had many accomplishments as president, but one you might not have heard about was bringing tomatoes to America. In his time, the popular fruit/vegetable/sauce was not available in the U.S. Jefferson tried tomatoes for the first time in France, and decided to bring some seeds home with them.
Jefferson was nearly killed by an artist late in his life. The artist was attempting to make a plaster cast of the presidents face. Some of the plaster must have obstructed Jeffersons airway, because he nearly suffocated to death. That would have been his death mask had a butler not noticed him banging against a chair in an attempt to get someones attention.
20. Milk on the rocks.
Zachary Taylor (1849-1850) decided to celebrate the Fourth of July in what might seem like a pretty tame way: sitting in a field, eating cherries and drinking iced milk. (Im not sure what that is. Is it what it sounds like? Because it sounds gross.)
The point is, President Taylor didnt even light a single firework. Unfortunately, he was still living too close to the edge. There must have been something wrong with the milk or cherries, because Taylor took ill and died just a few days later.
21. Sounds like he filled plenty.
Millard Fillmore (1850-1853) is famously boring (if thats even possible). But one interesting thing about this most mediocre president is the fact that he married his school teacher. Admittedly, its not as creepy as it sounds. She was only two years older than him. I guess they didnt have teachers college in the early 1800s. Or, you know, a modern sense of sexual morality.
22. Ol’ Fancy Pants.
Chester A. Arthur (1881-85) may not be much of a looker by todays standards, but he was considered pretty swanky in his day. He was known as Elegant Arthur because he owned 80 different pairs of pants (which is over 300 pairs of pants today if you adjust for pants inflation).
Arthur also completely redecorated the White House. In order to fund it, he sold off 24 wagonloads of historical artifacts from the house, including a pair of Lincolns pants. Or maybe he kept them for himself. In that case, I guess he would have had 81 pairs.
23. What in carnation?!
William McKinley (1897-1901) was a superstitious president. He wore carnations everywhere he went, because he considered them to be good luck. On September 6, 1901, he encountered a little girl. In a kind gesture, he gave her his carnation. The following week, he was shot by an assassin and killed.
24. First woman president?
Woodrow Wilson (1913-21) led the United States through the World War One. In 1919, he embarked on a tour of the nation, hoping to sell the American people on his version of the Treaty of Versailles (which would formally end WWI) and the League of Nations (the precursor of the United Nations, which was Wilsons idea).
During this tour, Wilson seems to have overexerted himself. He suffered a series of strokes, which nearly destroyed his eyesight and mobility. For the remainder of his presidency, he was heavily dependent on his wife, Edith. In fact, speculation has swirled to this day about the extent to which Mrs. Wilson was the de facto president from 1919-21.
25. Founding father twice over.
While James Monroe (1817-1825) was President of the United States (1817-1825), he actually helped to found another country. Monroe supported the creation of Liberia in west Africa, which was intended to be a sovereign state for freed former slaves. Liberia has had a very turbulent history, but it still exists today. Monroe was so crucial to the founding of the country that its capital city is named after him: Monrovia.
26. Ford focus.
Gerald R. Ford (1974-77) succeeded Nixon as president after the latters resignation. Ford was the only president whose name never appeared on a presidential ballot.
There have only been two women in American history who attempted to assassinate a president. Both made their attempts on President Gerald Ford. Both attempts were made in California in 1975. Within three weeks of one another.
One of the would-be assassins was Squeaky Fromme, who was a follower and girlfriend of psychopathic cult leader Charles Manson. The other attempt was made by Sara Jane Moore, a deranged political radical who had been identified by police as a potential threat prior to the attack.
President Ford was not wounded in either attack.
27. Star Wars.
Ronald Reagan (1981-9) was advised by many people, but one in particular stands out.
In the 1970s, Nancy Reagan met an astrologer named Joan Quigley. After the attempt on the president’s life, Mrs. Reagan contacted Quigley and asked if she could have predicted the attempt. Quigley replied that she could have done.
From that point on, basically ever major decision was cleared with Quigley, who would cast horoscopes to check that the alignment of the stars would not hurt the president’s chances of successfully running the country.