The hidden facts behind our presidents

Published 2:01 pm Saturday, February 17, 2018

In honor of President’s Day on Monday, here are some trivia facts about some of our commanders-in-chief.

Martin Van Buren is OK

Martin Van Buren (1837-41) was nicknamed “Old Kinderhook” and would frequently initial documents with “OK.” Because of this, “OK” has since been synonymous with approval.

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His accidency

When John Tyler (1841-45) ascended to the presidency following the death of William Henry Harrison (1841), the Constitution didn’t specify if he was supposed to serve the remainder of Harrison’s term or temporarily until a special election could elect a new president. Tyler insisted on the former, going so far as to refuse opening mail addressed to “Vice President Tyler” or “Acting President Tyler.” Tyler’s critics referred to his as “His Accidency.” The passage of the 12th Amendment resolved the issue of presidential succession.

The saddest presidency

Franklin Pierce (1853-57) had the saddest presidency. His wife, Jane Pierce, hated politics and Washington, D.C., and their marriage became strained when she learned he had lied to her about actively seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. Their only surviving child, 11-year-old son Benjamin Pierce, was killed in a train accident before his inauguration. Jane never got over Benjamin’s death and spent much of her time on the second floor of the White House writing letters to her dead son.

A wink from Buchanan

James Buchanan (1857-61) had a wryneck that caused his head to tilt to the left. He was nearsighted in one eye and farsighted in the other. To compensate, he would shut one eye depending on where he was looking. It was said that some people mistook this as a form of flirtation.

No HUG for Grant

Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877) was born Hiram Ulysses Grant. Mortified at the idea of going to West Point with the initials “H.U.G.” on his footlocker, Grant applied as Ulysses Hiram Grant. Representative Thomas Hamer, who wrote Grant’s appointment recommendation to West Point, mistakenly wrote down “Ulysses S. Grant,” the “S” standing for Simpson, his mother’s maiden name. Grant like the idea of having “U.S.” in his initials, so the name stuck.

The left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing

President James Garfield (1881) was fluent in German, Greek and Latin. He was also ambidextrous and could write in Greek with one hand and Latin in the other at the same time.

Silent Cal

Calvin Coolidge (1923-29) was known as “Silent Cal.” A popular anecdote states that Coolidge was attending a party in Washington, D.C., where a woman told him she bet her friend she could get him to say three words. Coolidge replied, “You lose.”

Mr. Truman

Harry Truman’s (1945-53) mother-in-law, Madge Gates Wallace, never approved of her daughter’s marriage to him, believing Bess Truman had married beneath her social standing. Wallace always referred to him as “Mr. Truman,” even when he was president.

The Eisenhower irony

Dwight Eisenhower (1953-61) grew up to be the supreme allied commander during World War II despite his mother, Ida Elizabeth Stover, being a pacifist. She once punished Eisenhower after she caught him reading books about war.

So little time

When Lyndon Johnson (1963-69) had nothing to do, he would call press conferences where he complained about having no time to accomplish what he wanted to accomplish.

A game of chance

While serving as an officer in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Richard Nixon (1969-74) won a great deal of money in a poker game. He used that money to fund his successful 1946 congressional campaign.

Born a king

Gerald Ford (1974-77) was born Leslie Lynch King, Jr. His parents separated 16 days after his birth and later divorced. His mother, Dorothy Ayer Gardner, married Gerald Rudolff Ford in 1916. Ford legally changed his name when he was 22, but spelled his middle name as “Rudolph.”