This Presidents’ Day, Let’s Remember the Weird
There’s nothing new about drama from the White House.
By: Kelli Ballard | February 15, 2021 | 819 Words
It’s Presidents’ Day, a time to remember and honor past and present commanders in chief. Let’s take a moment to discover some of the quirks and feuds from previous presidents.
The Most Disliked President?
The tenth president, John Tyler, was not seen very favorably. After President William Henry Harrison died, Vice President Tyler felt that he should automatically take over, inspiring the 25th Amendment.
Tyler’s own party, the Whigs, expelled him, and all but one member of his own Cabinet resigned because of his policies. He was also the first president to face impeachment, but the attempt to impeach him failed. One newspaper editor dubbed Tyler a “poor, miserable, despised imbecile,” and The New York Times, in the former president’s obituary, called him “the most unpopular public man that had ever held any office in the United States.” At his passing, President Abraham Lincoln did not even give a mourning speech, and the flags were not set to half-mast.
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were great friends and enemies. The two Founders once went to William Shakespeare’s old home in Stratford-upon-Avon, where they chipped off a piece from one of the writer’s chairs so they could have a souvenir. But when it came to politics, that was a horse of a different color.
During an election year, the two were pitted against each other. Adams called Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow.” And if you thought that was rough, Adams warned via a political ad what a Jefferson presidency would mean:
“The air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood and the nation black with crimes.”
The two didn’t speak for years, but finally made amends in their old age. They even died on the same day, July 4, 1826, within hours of each other. Adams’ last words were “Thomas Jefferson survives,” not realizing Jefferson had beat him to the grave hours before.
Inauguration Gaffes and Mischief
Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant’s first inauguration in 1869 saw outright brawls. Apparently, the staff working the coat-check area couldn’t read the claim tickets, which angered the crowd as they waited impatiently to pick up their jackets. Fights broke out and some people were so frustrated, they left without claiming their belongings. Jim Bendat wrote in Democracy’s Big Day: The Inauguration of our President 1789-2009, that “Illiterate workers mixed up everyone’s coat claims, leading to fights among the men and tears among the women.”
Wanting to have a better experience – but failing miserably – for his second inauguration in 1873, Grant decided to add canaries to the festivities for the ball. He didn’t, however, take into account the freezing temperatures, which led to about 100 birds freezing to death.
Theodore Roosevelt was a fan of Abraham Lincoln, so much so that he wore a ring that contained a lock of Honest Abe’s hair during his second inauguration in 1905. He came by that gem as a gift from Secretary of State John Hay, Lincoln’s former personal secretary. During Lincoln’s autopsy, Hay reportedly paid $100 for six strands of hair to be removed. Later, Hay took one of those strands and had it mounted into a ring with an oval piece of glass over it.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
The 1950s was a popular era for cowboys with such charismatic actors as John Wayne, “The Duke,” lighting up the screen. Eisenhower wanted to bring some of that frontier magic to his 1953 inauguration by inviting Montie Montana, a movie star and rodeo rider. The rodeo rider showed off his talent by riding up to the parade stand on horseback and then lassoing the new president in front of a cheering crowd.
Unfortunately, Nixon took a page out of Grant’s not-to-do instructional manual and decided to encompass birds – or rather, the lack of them – into his Inauguration Day parade in 1973. The idea was to make sure pigeons wouldn’t ruin the big day by showing up and pooping on everyone. To achieve this feat, a chemical bird repellent was sprayed along the parade route. Unfortunately, that route became littered with dozens of dead pigeons.
It’s time to mix things up. Clinton did not want a traditional inaugural celebration complete with military cadets marching. For his momentous event, he instead had a reggae band and lawn-chair drill team in the parade. There was also a float with an Elvis Presley impersonator as well as members of Elvis’ original band.