Tag Archives: history

Dead President Fact Sheet

After reading the excellent “Dead Presidents,” I realized, because it was written thematically rather than sequentially, that I was a bit muddled on my presidential trivia facts. So I went back through the book, like a crazy person, gave myself homework, and made a list.

Here’s a bunch of trivia about the presidents you probably didn’t know. You’re welcome.


  • George Washington- a tomb was built for him in the Capitol rotunda, but he isn’t buried in it
  • John Adams- died on July 4 and was kinda terrible father
  • Thomas Jefferson- “the Sage of Monticello”; didn’t include his presidency on his obelisk’s list of personal achievements
  • James Madison- his grave went unmarked for two decades after he had to sell his land to pay off his stepson’s gambling debt
  • James Monroe- ran unopposed for reelection, the only president (besides Washington) to do so
  • John Quincy Adams- died in the House of Representatives of a heart attack/very vocal “NO” vote
  • Andrew Jackson- “Old Hickory”; his pet parrot cursed loud and long at his funeral and had to be removed
  • Martin Van Buren- known as “The Little Magician”
  • William Henry Harrison- died after 1 month in office, so soon his family hadn’t even made it up to Washington yet
  • John Tyler- known as “His Accidency.” He had to hire the first presidential bodyguards.
  • James K. Polk- micromanaged his Cabinet and the whole presidency
  • Zachary Taylor- was thought to have been poisoned, was disinterred in the 1990s…nope, not poisoned.
  • Millard Fillmore- official White House biography calls him an “uninspiring man”
  • Franklin Pierce- Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote his campaign biography; his son died in the days before he took office, leading his wife to believe Franklin had somehow caused God’s wrath to be directed at them
  • James Buchanan- he adopted his niece, Harried Lane, after her parents died; as he was unmarried, she served as first lady
  • Abraham Lincoln- “the Great Emancipator”; was taken on the “Great American Death Tour” after he died; the impromptu stage built for his funeral has been used in every state funeral since
  • Andrew Johnson- first impeached president, but he wasn’t removed! He hired the first presidential doctor.
  • Ulysses S. Grant- Mark Twain bought the publishing rights to his memoir
  • Rutherford B. Hayes- “Rud”; created the first presidential center to protect/display his papers and artifacts; his election was known as the “ugliest, most contentious election ever”
  • James A. Garfield- killed by an assassin–with an assist from his terrible doctors
  • Chester Arthur-“Dude President”; first act as president was to cry in a bedroom
  • Grover Cleveland- big supporter of Hawaiian independence
  • Benjamin Harrison- grandson of William H. Harrison but didn’t like talking about it; gave us the tradition of the White House Christmas tree; also he married his niece, which is pretty icky
  • William McKinley- Mt. McKinley (in Alaska) was named after the president by an opportunistic prospector who was trying to lobby for the gold standard; the name was reverted to the original Diwali this year
  • Theodore Roosevelt- his daughter Alice Roosevelt Longworth was considered one of America’s greatest political wits and she was a pretty rowdy teenager, too
  • William Howard Taft- that bathtub story? It’s not true! ….But he did stress-eat and develop sleep apnea while in the White House
  • Woodrow Wilson- buried at the Washington National Cathedral with Helen Keller and a few other notables
  • Warren G. Harding- had the first presidential celebrity pet, his dog “Laddie Boy”
  • Calvin Coolidge- “Silent Cal”; a fan of artisinal cheese; his dad swore him into office at 2 in the morning, upon which they went back to bed
  • Herbert Hoover- invented a sport called “Hoover-Ball”
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt- first to plan his presidential library while in office, including a paper mache sphinx head of himself (you’d have to read it, it’s too hard to explain)
  • Harry S Truman- gave personal tours of his presidential library
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower- “Ike”; a toymaker friend created a set of presidential toys/collectibles to celebrate Ike’s presidency
  • John F. Kennedy- his eternal flame was jerry-rigged together the day before; Jackie is personally responsible for the “Camelot” mythos
  • Lyndon B. Johnson- robot LBJ tells jokes in the presidential library, which was intentionally built as a “vigorous, male building”
  • Richard Nixon- titled his comeback plan post-Watergate “Wizard” and was eventually seen as an expert in foreign policy
  • Gerald Ford- said “I am a Ford, not a Lincoln”
  • Jimmy Carter- n/a
  • Ronald Reagan- “The Great Communicator”; shot by an assassin but lived because he had good doctors; the “Legacy Project” is a concerted effort to get something named after Reagan in every county of the U.S.
  • George H.W. Bush- n/a
  • Bill Clinton- still very much alive, but the book noted that his cat, Socks, has his ashes at Clinton’s library
  • George W. Bush – n/a
  • Barack Obama- n/a

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Review: The President’s Shadow

The President's Shadow (Culper Ring, #3)The President’s Shadow by Brad Meltzer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Before the rest of this review, let me say that I deeply enjoy Meltzer’s premise with this series. It’s basically, “wow, presidential history is really neat, let me make it into a mystery novel about a nerdy archivist!”

I totally love that.

This book? I only kinda liked. It just didn’t grab me like some of the others have, and I found one character flat-out annoying, another hard to relate to, and a third predictably mustache-twirling. I’d still really like to have dinner with the protagonist, but the rest of the book was just…meh. Maybe it’s always been that way and I just now noticed it, but the chapters in this book were remarkably short and jumpy, and it kept me from feeling like I could really get into the story when I knew I’d just be jumping heads in about 2 pages. I feel like Meltzer was reaching for something more ominous for this one, but it just fell flat for me. Maybe I can jump back on the bandwagon with the next book.

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Review: America in So Many Words

America in So Many Words: Words That Have Shaped AmericaAmerica in So Many Words: Words That Have Shaped America by Allan Metcalf

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A book for word nerds if there ever was one! America in So Many Words is a marvelous diversion for those who love both history and language. It examines particularly American words and phrases from the colonies’ founding up through 1998, explaining a bit of etymology, usage, and sometimes an example of it in original writing. It is extensively researched and just downright delightful. It even features two appendices, one organized by year and one by word.(Ex. 1998’s word is “millennium bug,” even though it probably should have been the much-catchier “Y2K bug.” But it had enough foresight to explain the term two years early!)
I’m marking this book as “read” even though it’s actually a work-in-progress. It’s just not a book you’re going to sit down and read straight through in one sitting. It reads like a cross between an encyclopedia and a dictionary, except you’ve probably never chuckled or said “ah ha!” from either one as much as you will with this book. I’m keeping it in my bathroom, to be honest, because one to two entries provide more diversion than any magazine could, with the added bonus of making that time educational and productive.
Though you may prefer to put it on your desk, I do recommend American language-lovers at least page through it. It’s been my go-to source for watercooler conversation and “did you know” questions. If you even think you may be intrigued by the true origins of “hot dog” or the critical place the phrase “log cabin” has in the American presidency, you’ll need this book in your collection.

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Review: I Am Jackie Robinson

I am Jackie RobinsonI am Jackie Robinson by Brad Meltzer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you have kids, or love history, or just love great books, you need to read all of Brad Meltzer’s “I Am…”/Ordinary People Change the World books. It won’t take you long, and it’s so worth it.

I bought “I Am Jackie Robinson” and “I Am Abraham Lincoln” as gifts for a baby shower, but I’m one of those people that reads anything she can get her hands on, so upon picking them up I immediately read them. They are powerful, colorful, accessible, historically accurate (works cited at the end, even!), and inspiring.

Each book features an American hero telling their life story from their perspective. The hero is drawn as a little-kid version of themselves, even as the people they interact with move from children to adults. In addition to the more serious story type, characters talk with each other through cartoon bubbles, leading to both poignant and funny details that would be fun for a kid to read aloud while a parent/friend reads the main text.

The hero talks about an experience he/she had as a child (in Jackie’s case, not being allowed to swim in the local pool because he was black; for Lincoln, it was kids abusing a turtle) that has resonance in their later life. Jackie’s sense of injustice helped him learn to be brave, the character value that “I Am Jackie Robinson” teaches; Abraham Lincoln learned to use his voice to have an impact.

Out of these two books, I most enjoyed the Jackie Robinson book. It does nothing to diminish the difficulty of discrimination; in fact, it will be a good vehicle for modern kids to understand the unfairness of segregation. Jackie’s sadness grabbed my heart and twisted; I cried a little at the end of the story.

Maybe Jackie’s story was just particularly powerful for me because of a small amount of family history: my grandfather met Jackie while Jackie was playing college ball. He tells the story like it was no big deal at all–my Pop was more interested in the ballfield owners’ daughter–but it’s a connection to the past that makes him more important in my mind. And his courage and resilience–as well his athletic excellence!–are just undeniable.

I look forward to buying more of these books for all the kids in my life, and I hope you’ll read and share them with a young (or old!) reader in your house, too.

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And then I got to meet Brad Meltzer! He’s on tour for his new book, President’s Shadow. We picked up a copy and I’m really excited to read it, but my husband called dibs. That’s fair, he “discovered” Meltzer for our household. Meltzer was incredibly nice, gregarious, and full of incredible facts. He seems like he’d make a great drinking buddy!

Meeting Brad Meltzer

I’m making my “OMG I’ve just met Brad Meltzer” face; he’s making the “OMG a reader” face!

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Published Young: Famous Folks Published Before They Turned 25

If you want to feel bad about yourself today, take a moment to read through this list of people who published great works of fiction before they turned 25.

Though it doesn’t always include the masterworks people eventually became famous for, this list is long enough and covers enough people you were forced to read about in school to make you feel a bit off about yourself. For example, both Mr. and Mrs. Shelley–of Frankenstein and Queen Mab lore–F. Scott Fitzgerald, Truman Capote, Brett Easton Ellis, Michael Chabon, Norman Mailer, Jane Austen, Gore Vidal, and more that I hadn’t heard of previously.

While it’s important, and in some ways helpful, to remember that youth does not have to be an impediment to success–that it can be the fire that burns the writer on to greatness–don’t beat yourself up too much if you’re older than 25 and still haven’t published or made it big yet. Remember, you’re the majority.

Plus, a lot of those folks didn’t live that long, anyway: Percy Bysshe Shelley got to be 29; Mary Shelley only hit 54; F. Scott Fitzgerald scraped by to 44; and Austen only cracked 42. Read a different way, they got published only at the middle of their lives.

Here’s to many more birthdays!

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Garden Journaling with Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson is my favorite president. Sure, he had his faults, things we completely disagree with with our modern sensibilities (and rightfully so), but he was a contemplative man with a thirst for knowledge. And I’ve always thought he was just generally cool. He designed his house! He was personally involved in the Corps of Discovery expedition (better known as “Lewis & Clark’s trip”). He was pretty sure they would find wooly mammoths out there (I bet his was pretty disappointed when they came back without the mammoths, though…)

And, it turns out, he kept incredibly meticulous notes on his garden/plantation. He was an observational scientist who was willing to try out new things and keep records of the results. We know things about his era that would otherwise be lost to time if it weren’t for his careful notes. Plus, his garden is now used as a seed bank for rare plants.

A page from Jefferson’s garden journal

As it turns out, I’ve started a garden recently. My brother Ryan and I have taken on a plot at a community garden, and we’re excited to have a “real” garden (the herb garden on my porch is nice, but not exactly a vegetable mecca).

We talked about what to plant for awhile –squash, zucchini, tomatoes, bell peppers, other hot peppers, green beans, eggplant, and two varieties of sunflowers. Maybe sweet potatoes, but we’re having trouble finding the slips–and debated where to plant, etc. Then my brother joked that we needed a garden journal because TJ had one.

Being modern folks…we have a garden GoogleDoc. But, in keeping in the spirit of the thing, we’re writing it as if we were Jefferson.

Ex. “Hottie plant was selected for its humorous name and possible appeal to Ryan. Covered plants assiduously with organic material and watered three times as prescribed by our father.

Ryan may have made a mistake in joking about the journal; so far, I’m enjoying that almost as much as the garden part. And it will help us keep track of who has watered and when, so it’s practical to boot.

I’ve never really kept a garden before, and I’ve certainly never journal-ed about it. Any gardeners out there? Any favorite tips to offer?

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