Unusual Moments in Presidential History


Throughout American history, the presidency has been filled with a wide variety of characters. Each of them has had their own legacy, quirks, and secrets. On the third Monday in February, we take a day to commemorate the men who have served in the role over our nation’s 230+ year history.

Given that we have had 45 different men hold the office of President, odds are that some rather interesting or peculiar things have happened. Cormac O’Brien has discovered some of those oddball happenings, and compiled them into a book, Secret Lives of the U.S. Presidents.

Time Magazine published a few of those interesting bits of presidential history. This President’s Day, here are a few unusual moments from presidential history.

— In 1829, Andrew Jackson took the oath of office to become the seventh President. As a populist, a “man of the people” and not the Establishment, Americans from all over came to get just a glimpse of their new chief executive. At the inaugural ball, things went absolutely crazy when the masses decided to come along.

Cramming recklessly into the mansion, the surge of partiers clamored to be near the man of the hour and shake his hand. Bedlam ensued as they trampled on the furniture, ground food into the carpet, drank themselves bulletproof, fought and groped each other, helped themselves to “souvenirs” and ransacked the kitchen. Jackson decamped through a window to save himself. Desperate staff members finally put the booze out on the lawn to disperse the crowd, sparing the building from further harm.

Talk about starting off with a bang!

— On June 2, 1886, Grover Cleveland became the only President to get married while in the White House. He married a girl who was 28 years his junior at just 21 years old. Frances Cleveland became one of the nation’s most-loved First Ladies, but not before the entire White House was engulfed in scandal.

[I]t wasn’t just her grace or good looks or fluency in French that piqued everyone’s interest; it was also that “Uncle Cleve,” as she had long since dubbed Grover, was once her surrogate father. Indeed, the girl’s first baby carriage had been a gift from Cleveland, who practiced law with Frances’s father, Oscar. The little girl was just 11 when Oscar died in a carriage accident, at which time Cleveland stepped in as her guardian. After watching her blossom over the years into an extraordinary young woman, he eventually fell in love with his charge.

Because of the scandal of the event, reporters were banned from the wedding. Though they did make up for list time by spying on the newlyweds with binoculars while on their honeymoon.

— President Theodore Roosevelt, Rough Rider until the end, had a very unique hobby that no other President has rivaled.

Roosevelt loved all manner of physical exertion and martial workouts, and continued to pursue them even in the White House (a moniker for the executive mansion, incidentally, that he made official by being the first to include it on presidential stationary). Boxing was a favorite. Once, while sparring with a young naval officer in the White House, he was dealt a savage blow to the face that left him blind in his left eye. Months passed before he was able to work up the courage to tell anyone about it.

Imagine trying to hide that kind of injury in an age with cameras everywhere!

  1. President John F. Kennedy had terrible back pain as a result of a condition which multiples surgeries could not fix. In order to alleviate the pain, he took injections from a “dubious doctor.”
    He took to receiving injections from one Max Jacobson, a.k.a. “Doctor Feel-Good,” a Hollywood quack who specialized in doping celebrities. An unofficial part of the White House circle, working independently of the administration’s medical staff, Dr. Jacobson gave weekly and sometimes daily amphetamine injections to the president, whose pharmaceutical regimen could at various times include testosterone, oral and injected steroids, sleeping pills, phenobarbital and lidocaine injections.

Interestingly enough, on a trip to Vienna for a foreign policy summit, he took a large dosage of the injections, and the drugs caused him to mount an unimpressive performance while speaking. Nikita Khrushchev and the Soviets were watching, and based on that performance concluded JFK could be pushed around. They started sending missiles to Cuba shortly after that.

— After President Ronald Reagan survived an assassination attempt, his wife Nancy consulted an astrologer in order to keep him safe.

She promptly turned her astrology hobby into White House policy. Incredibly, the efforts of astrologer Joan Quigley (whose cover was “Joan Frisc” when calling the White House switchboard) were enlisted to determine the relative safety of every moment of the president’s schedule, from TV appearances to meetings with foreign heads of state. Quigley’s color-coded guidelines effectively determined the shape and rhythm of the Reagan presidency.

Did you know any of these strange facts? What others do you know of that were not mentioned? Share what you know with us!