Looking into presidential quirks
I recently toured the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas. Upon reflection, my wife and I both felt it represented a much slanted view of that time in history. Later that evening we held a holiday party with many of our Texas friends and the subject of the shining shrine to LBJ arose.
One friend in particular stated, “What a great president he turned out to be.”
My wife immediately took umbrage with his statement. “That’s certainly not how I remember him. I thought the whole display was political propaganda.”
I wasn’t as harsh in my assessment. I felt it was simply LBJ’s version of the truth. Of course he would pick and choose the things that put his presidency in the best light. What the visit to the library did for me was to pique my interest in the other presidents of our country, especially little known facts and quirks about them.
I found that I had some things in common with several of them. Like me, John Quincy Adams had a passion for skinny-dipping. He was well known for his early morning dips in the Potomac River.
One night at a wedding reception at the Moose Lake Golf Course, my neighbor’s out-of-town daughter idled over to me and whispered in my ear, “Are you still skinny-dipping in Sand Lake?”
Unlike President Adams, who had no concerns of privacy, I had no idea I could be observed through the lightly brush-covered lake.
One of the very rare things I had in common with President Nixon was our passion for playing poker. While serving in the Navy, Nixon had the best poker player on ship teach him the intricacies of the sport. Nixon soon became a card shark and later used poker earnings to finance his first political campaign.
President Warren Harding also shared Nixon’s passion for poker, but he was apparently no card shark. To the contrary, Harding once lost the entire White House china collection in one hand of poker.
James Garfield was our only ambidextrous president. That’s not so unusual in itself, but what is extraordinary is the fact that he could simultaneously write a sentence in Latin with one hand and in Greek with the other.
I discovered one on my favorite presidential quirks, not in the LBJ library, but at the movie theater one evening while watching “The Butler.” During the movie, an obscene scene came on the screen. LBJ was sitting on the "golden throne" with his pants to his knees and a telephone in hand. It was widely known among White House staffers that our shameless president would have people follow him to the bathroom to continue conversations.
Last, but not least, this presidential oddity involved not one, but two of our country’s leaders, Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. Although this widely-known tale has circulated ever since shortly after Kennedy was assassinated, I’ll relate it one more time.
Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846; Kennedy in 1946. Lincoln was elected president in 1861; Kennedy in 1961.
Both lost a child while living in the White House.
Both presidents were shot on a Friday. Both were shot in the back of the head.
Kennedy’s secretary was named Lincoln.
Both were succeeded by Southerners named Johnson. Like the two presidents, their successors were also born exactly 100 years apart. Andrew Johnson was born in 1808 while Lyndon Johnson was born in 1908.
Lincoln was shot in the Ford Theater. Kennedy was shot in a Ford Lincoln.
Both assassins were known by their three full names; John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald.
Booth ran from a theater and was caught in a warehouse. Oswald ran from a warehouse and was caught in a theater.
Lastly, Booth and Oswald were both assassinated before they came to trial.
The fact that any of this is actually newsworthy at all is only because the stories are about people who once were the president of the United States.