Last week I interviewed Ronnie Elmore from Kansas State University, an expert on presidential pets, for a story that was published in last Sunday’s paper. One of my favorite things about being a journalist is talking to people who have that depth of knowledge about a very specific topic. Elmore shared a lot of stories that I didn’t have room to include in that story, and between that and Friday’s inauguration, I felt inspired to include a few extra presidential pet anecdotes from my notes, as well as some of my other favorite random facts about our nation’s leaders throughout history.
I mentioned that there were stables on the White House grounds until the 1920s. Elmore also said Warren Harding was the first president not to ride to his inauguration on horseback.
Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower owned a Weimaraner named Heidi.
Elmore said Mamie would frequently send Heidi in a chauffeured limo to Gettysburg from the White House by herself to keep the dog from messing up the house.
Harding had an Airedale terrier named Laddie Boy while he was president. After he was elected, Elmore said Harding sent 6-inch bronze statues of Laddie Boy to loyal supporters.
The statue holds a copy of the Mari on Star, which Harding owned, in his mouth. (Elmore’s wife found a copy of one of the statues at an antique store in Manhattan and bought it for him.) When Thomas Jefferson sent Lew is and Clark to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase, he also instructed them to look for wooly mammoths. Jefferson reportedly believed that they were not extinct and that they were living in the new western lands of the United States.
Woodrow Wilson’s wife Edith might have essentially functioned as
the first female president. After Wilson had a stroke in 1919, many requests went through his wife. Wilson was isolated during recovery, and Edith would go to him alone and return with his answer. Some historians theorize that she was the one calling the shots.
James Monroe and Alexander Hamilton exchanged letters that almost led to a duel after Monroe passed information about Hamilton’s affair with Maria Reynolds to a newspaper. Aaron Burr, who also was Reynolds’ divorce attorney, prevented that duel.
Burr himself was in a duel with John Barker Church, Hamilton’s brother-inlaw, in 1799. Burr famously killed Hamilton in a duel in 1804.
The death of Calvin Coolidge’s son in 1924 had a huge impact on the rest of his presidency. Calvin Jr. died after a blister he got playing tennis on the White House grounds got infected. It sent Coolidge into a deep depression that he never fully recovered from. He blamed himself for his son’s death, saying his son would not have died had he not been elected president.
John Adams was infamous for be ing paranoid, and Alexander Hamilton was a frequent target of his rages. Ad ams thought Hamilton was undermining him with his Cabinet secretaries (Hamilton was in fact communicating and offering advice to more than one). Adams wrote that Hamilton’s “gran diose schemes come, I’m convinced, from a superabundance of secretions, which he couldn’t find enough whores to absorb!”
According to West Point records, Eisenhower was disciplined for dancing. Ike was with a girl at a West Point
dance, and the couple whirled so fast around the floor that her skirt rode up. Eisenhower received eight demerits and was confined to his barracks.
Thomas Jefferson’s tombstone at his estate, Monticello, reads “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Inde pendence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia.” There is no mention of his having served as president of the United States.
In letters throughout his life, George Washington quoted the same Bible verse, Micah 4:4, almost 50 times. It reads “Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken.”