7 Little-Known (And Completely Unverified) Facts About U.S. Presidents
Today, the nation celebrates Presidents' Day, the most important holiday of all time. No other national holiday has such a clear purpose or overall popularity. Therefore, why not recognize this momentous occasion with a look back at some of our greatest presidents, and learn some facets of their biographies that you may not have been taught in school.
7. Franklin Pierce (1853-57) Pierce was the only president who admitted suffering from a crippling fear of bare feet -- his own as well as others'. His podophobia was so severe that he would wear boots while bathing. He once accidentally walked into Vice President William R. King's office while King was clipping his toenails and had to be hospitalized immediately; he was shocked into silence for two full months and had to communicate solely through writing.
6. Chester A. Arthur (1881-85) A lover of practical jokes, Arthur invented what is considered the prototype of the whoopee cushion, which he would surreptitiously sneak into the halls of Congress and place on an unsuspecting senator's chair prior to a particularly important vote. Arthur would wait at the back of the chambers for the crude eruption, to which he would invariably shout, "The Speaker recognizes the distinguished gentleman from Fartadelphia!"
5. James Monroe (1817-25) Monroe's compulsive masturbation regularly made him late for cabinet meetings, and even though it was something of an open secret, he would inevitably come prepared with an excuse. Cabinet members rarely, if ever, shook his hand.
4. Richard Nixon (1969-74) Struggling with the mounting loss of lives in Vietnam, Nixon was the first president to consider using a non-human army. He tasked the Rand Corporation with completing a cost-benefit analysis of training and arming a single platoon of rhesus monkeys, which would then be airdropped into Phuoc Tuy Province to assist human infantrymen engaged in the Battle of Binh Ba. Although the monkeys performed particularly well during combat simulation at Parris Island, "Banana Company" met a gruesome fate when the human colonel overseeing their drop from the A-37 Dragonfly realized too late that no one taught the monkeys how to open their parachutes. 3. George Washington (1789-97) While it's widely known that Washington had wooden false teeth, fewer realize that his entire lower half was also fashioned from Spanish cedar. Washington was gravely wounded during combat operations in the spring of 1778; military surgeons had no choice but to perform an experimental and extremely dangerous procedure whereby Washington's body was amputated below his pancreas and replaced with a slab of yellow poplar.
While the surgery saved his life, the poplar proved too fragile and splintered after only two weeks. Surgeons replaced the prosthesis with the stronger Pacific dogwood, but its rigidity prohibited Washington from sitting down, and his men had to prop him against a wall at a 45-degree angle every night so he could sleep. This was eventually replaced with West Australian eucalyptus, shagbark hickory and Norway spruce, before Washington ultimately settled on the Spanish cedar.
2. William Howard Taft (1913-21) Our nation's only albino president, Taft was extremely sensitive to sunlight and often had Vice President James S. Sherman shield him with an umbrella during his infrequent trips outside the White House. Taft was also sensitive to his staff's often rude chatter, and he would often overhear the kitchen staff refer to him as "White Shadow" or "William Howard Freak." Taft only gave one press conference, to disastrous results, on the White House steps: His translucent skin made him blend into the background, and the assembled reporters were frightened by the experience of hearing Taft's disembodied voice lay out the reasons why he had vetoed a bill that would have imposed higher tariffs on produce from South and Central America.
1. Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-81) Remarkably, Hayes never actually existed, but was actually a fictitious character created by a mysterious cabal of Freemasons embedded within the United States Congress. The persona of "Hayes" was portrayed by a series of well-compensated thespians who were contractually barred from revealing the truth. Descendants of these Freemasons would subsequently invent Gerald Ford.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.