News & Politics  
comments_image Comments

Which President Grew Pot? 9 Surprising Things You Might Not Know About U.S. Presidents

From holding séances to playing Naked Cowboy in the White House, here's a tribute to surprising presidential behavior.
 
 
Share
 
 
 
 

It's President's Day and just like every year, lists ranking the legacy of the 44 U.S. presidents proliferate. But we thought it would be fun to show you the wild side of the White House.

1. Calvin Coolidge, Naked Cowboy. The former Republican governor of Massachusetts may win the award as the oddest man who ever inhabited the White House. Known for his laconic style, “Silent Cal” snoozed through much of his presidency and kept special pets around, including Rebecca the Raccoon. Coolidge was fond of playing cowboys and Indians, once having himself photographed dressed as a Sioux Indian chief. But his weirdest pastime was hopping on and off a mechanical horse in his underpants, sometimes donning a cowboy hat for kicks. Coolidge acquired the electrically operated horse in 1925, and kept it in his dressing room. He could pull a lever and increase the intensity of his ride. This was long before the film Urban Cowboy popularized the mechanical bull, so we give Coolidge points for being ahead of the trend curve. Yeehaw!

2. William Howard Taft, aka “Big Lub." Nicknamed Big Lub by his college mates, President Taft, at 6’2” and weighing over 300 pounds, was quite a big boy. And he needed a big bathtub. According to a story that has never been definitely proven, he once got stuck in the White House bathtub because of his girth. We do know that he had to have a larger tub brought in for his use. Despite his size, he was said to bust a mean move on the dance floor.

3. Abraham Lincoln and the Spirit World. In the mid- to late-19th century, Spiritualism was huge in America, and many believed that contact with the spirit world was possible. Raised in backwoods Indiana, Lincoln had a strong mystical side and put a great deal of stock in dreams and omens. He once wroteto his friend Joshua Speed that he had always been the superstitious type, and is reported to have feared the number 13. A Spiritualist herself, Mary Todd Lincoln held séances right in the White House. Though she seems to have been the more ardent enthusiast, Lincoln is reported to have attended at least some of her séances. The president's ghost is said to have haunted the White House since his death.

4. Thomas Jefferson’s Shopping Addiction. He wrote the Declaration of Independence and stoked the fires of revolution in France. But what you might not know about this American renaissance man is that Jefferson was perpetually in debt. The world-class shopaholic adored fine wine and pimping out his pad, the neoclassical mansion Monticello. He filled it with snazzy furniture, rare books, archaeological specimens, and expensive art, including 63 paintings and seven terracotta busts. He also liked to invite his friends -- sometimes as many as 50 at a time -- over to party. Wealthy friends often had to lend him money and he even received – and promptly pissed away -- a cash infusion from Congress, which bought part of his book collection. Toward the end of his life, Jefferson developed a cockamamie plan to sell lottery tickets to save Monticello, which was a bust. He left his family battling a mountain of unpaid bills.

5. James Buchanan, Guilty Bachelor. Buchanan was America's only bachelor president. But he almost tied the knot in 1819 to Anne Caroline Coleman, a beautiful and fabulously wealthy iron heiress from Philadelphia. Until something went horribly wrong. Coleman broke off the engagement and died a week later, probably by suicide. Buchanan refused to speak about what happened, but some think Coleman heard rumors that the young politician was spending time with another woman. Others thought she decided that Buchanan only wanted her for her money. In any case, she died at 23 and Buchanan swore off marriage for life.

6. William Henry Harrison and the Stupidest Presidential Death. The Democrats were absolutely brutal to Harrison while he was running for president, calling him "Granny Harrison, the petticoat general" (for quitting the army before the War of 1812) and accusing him of having too much enthusiasm for hard cider. After all that, he won the presidency, taking office on a cold, wet day and delivering the longest inaugural speech in U.S. history -- a full two hours. Unfortunately he refused to wear a hat or overcoat, and consequently caught pneumonia. He died a month into his term.

7. The Straight Dope on George Washington. The father of the nation grew weed. That’s right. George Washington grew hemp at Mount Vernon as one of his three primary crops and promoted its growth. In the late-18th century, hemp was grown mainly for its industrial value and for soil stabilization. It was not yet popular for recreational use. No one really knows whether Washington indulged in this side of the herb. But he was certainly interested in recreational substances. He was a beer enthusiast and also young America’s leading brewer. A handwritten recipe for his favorite home brew survives.

8. Grover Cleveland, Draft Dodger. President Grover Cleveland was a draft dodger. That's not unique among U.S. presidents, but Cleveland actually hired someone to enter the service in his place during the Civil War. He paid George Benninsky, a 32-year-old Polish immigrant, $150 to serve in his stead, a move that was perfectly legal at the time, if not quite heroic. James Blaine, his political opponent, seized on this fact to ridicule Cleveland, until it was revealed that Blaine had done precisely the same thing himself.

9. John Quincy Adams, Skinny Dipper. JQA was possibly bonkers and frequently depressed. But the sixth president took naked swims in the Potomac during the wee hours to give himself a boost. In addition, Adams' detractors accused him of offering his childrens' nanny as a royal mistress while serving as Minister to Russia. To be fair, that is probably not true. But this is: Adams kept an alligator at the White House.

Lynn Parramore is an AlterNet contributing editor. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of 'Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture.' Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.