Excellent Presidential Trivia From the Great Richard Lederer
- 2008 Feb 22
This, ladies and germs, is the one and only Dr. Richard Lederer, dressed as formally as he knows how.
Lately (with How To Observe Presidents Day: Don't Work, and How To Get Over The Post-Presidents Day Blues) we've have been talking trivially about presidents. Now let's talk about presidential trivia! And who better to bring into that conversaton than esteemed best-selling author Richard Lederer, who, as it happens, just published a book that ... well, looks like this:
How cool is that timing?
Please find below but a taste of the content of Presidential Trivia, which Rich was kind enough to send me when I wrote and asked him for it. (Rich and I are friends, see. As I feel like I bore you with about four times a blog, we have a book out that we co-wrote called Comma Sense, the Amazon page of which is here. [I also once wrote/excerpted a truly hilarious bit about Comma Sense in When Punctuation Goes Really, Really Wrong. ] If anyone cares to know how I, a total nobody, came to co-author a book with the Total Somebody who is Dr. Richard Lederer, lemme know, and I'll do Le blog de' post about it.)
And now, from Presidential Trivia, I am pleased to bring you:
Q. What two presidents died on the very same day?
A. Our second and third presidents, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, political rivals, then friends, both died on July 4, 1826, exactly fifty years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
As Jefferson lay weak and dying in his home in Montecello on the evening of July 3, he whispered, “Is this the Fourth?” To quiet the former president, his young lawyer-friend, Nicholas Trist, answered, “Yes.” Jefferson fell asleep with a smile. His heart continued to beat until the bells and fireworks of the Fourth rang out and exploded the next day.
At dawn of that same day, Adams was dying in his home in Quincy, Massachusetts. A servant asked the fading Adams, “Do you know what day it is?” “Oh yes,” responded the lion in winter. “It is the glorious Fourth of July.” He then lapsed into a stupor but awakened in the afternoon and sighed feebly, “Thomas Jefferson survives.” He ceased to breathe around sunset, about six hours after Jefferson.
Q. Who was the first president born in a hospital?
A. On October 1, 1924, Jimmy Carter became the first president born in a hospital. All previous presidents were born at home.
Q. What is “Tecumseh’s Curse”?
A. Seven presidents elected in years that end with a zero (intervals of 20 years) died in office --William Henry Harrison, elected in 1840, Abraham Lincoln (1860), James A. Garfield (1880), William McKinley (1900), Warren G. Harding (1920), Franklin D. Roosevelt (1940), and John F. Kennedy (1960).
First noted in a Ripley’s Believe It or Not book published in 1934, this string of untimely presidential deaths is variously known as the curse of Tippecanoe, the zero-year curse, the 20-year curse, and Tecumseh’s curse, Tecumseh being the Native American chief defeated by William Henry Harrison at the battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980 and shot by John Hinckley, Jr., almost continued the deadly sequence but survived and broke the curse. Reagan was the only sitting president to survive a bullet wound.
Q. Who was the youngest man ever to have served as president of the United States?
A. If your answer is John Fitzgerald Kennedy, you’re not quite correct. Kennedy was, at the age of forty-three, the youngest man ever to have been elected president, but Theodore Roosevelt became president at forty-two, when William McKinley was assassinated. When TR’s second term was over, he was still only fifty years old, making him the youngest ex-president.
Q. Now that you know the identity of our youngest president, who was our oldest president?
A. The average age at which America's presidents have taken office is fifty-four. Ronald Reagan became president at sixty-nine, older than anyone else, and left office at seventy-eight. Before Reagan, Dwight Eisenhower had been the only president to reach the age of seventy while in office. William Henry Harrison attained the office at the age of sixty-eight but died only a month later.
When Ronald Reagan died at the age of 93 years and 120 days, he was our longest-lived president. But, on November 12, 2006, Gerald Ford surpassed that record and lived another month and a half. Amazingly, our third longest-lived president is John Adams, who was born in 1735 and who lived for 90 years and 8 months, followed by Herbert Hoover, 90 years and 2 months.
And now some stuff from the section of Presidential Trivia entitled "Our Literary Presidents":
During the administration of Dwight Eisenhower, James Michener, author of Hawaii, The Source, and other mega-sellers, was invited to a celebrity dinner at the White House. Michener declined to attend and explained: “Dear Mr. President: I received your invitation three days after I had agreed to speak a few words at a dinner honoring the wonderful high school teacher who taught me how to write. I know you will not miss me at your dinner, but she might at hers.” Michener received a handwritten reply from the understanding Ike: “In his lifetime a man lives under fifteen or sixteen presidents, but a really fine teacher comes into his life but rarely. Go and speak at your teacher’s dinner.”
Perhaps the most iconic tale of presidential virtue is that of young George Washington admitting to his father that he chopped down a cherry tree in the family garden: “I cannot tell a lie, father, you know I cannot tell a lie! I did cut it with my little hatchet.” This episode, which lives on in almost every grammar school across our fair land, is in fact almost certainly fiction. The story was made up out of whole cloth by Parson Mason Locke Weems in his biography The Life, Death, and Memorable Actions of George Washington, published immediately after the president’s death.
One of the best known of American poems begins:
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won.
In this poem by Walt Whitman, the captain is Abraham Lincoln.
Ulysses S. Grant claimed to smoke seven to 10 cigars a day. When word got out of the president’s love of stogies, people sent him more than 10,000 boxes of cigars. Grant finished his 200,000-word Memoirs only a few days before his death from throat cancer, so he never saw the work published. Grant’s cancer and the forfeiture of his military pension when he became president bankrupted his family, but his popular autobiography ultimately brought in $500,000 for his family.
Personal Memoirs: Ulysses S. Grant remains one of the finest accounts of the Civil War ever written. Grant’s book was published with the help of his friend Mark Twain in 1885, the same year that Twain came out with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Herbert Hoover wrote approximately 16 books, including one called Fishing for Fun and to Wash Your Soul. John F. Kennedy is the only president to receive the Pulitzer Prize – for his book Profiles in Courage. But it is Jimmy Carter who is our most writerly president, having authored about 20 books, many of which have been best sellers. Carter wrote most of his books after his presidency and some with his wife Rosalynn as co-author. In 2003, Carter authored the novel The Hornet's Nest, a fictional story of the Revolutionary War in the South. Carter remains the only president to have written a novel.
Offer your own trivial insights here.