“I desire to go to hell and not to heaven. In the former place I shall enjoy the company of popes, kings, and princes, while in the latter are only beggars, monks, and apostles.”—Niccolo Machiavelli’s last words
“Any fool can make history, but it takes a genius to write it.”—Oscar Wilde
Sometimes they were chosen by the people. Other times, by God (or so they say). Or they might have fought their way to the top. However it happened, a handful of people in the history of the world have ended up leading the rest of us. And these kings, queens, dictators, presidents, and more haven’t always acted in the best interests of the people. (Now there’s a resounding understatement!) Sometimes they’re corrupt, demented, or delusional. Or, they’re crazy beyond belief.
In fact, history provides many, many (too many) examples of leaders acting in ways that would not adhere to any societal norms. Now, it’s one thing if our Aunt Ida has a screw loose; that just means we have to keep her away from the expensive china during holidays. It’s a whole other thing if Aunt Ida is a prime minister, president, dictator, senator, queen, etc. Suddenly, her propensity for making her seventeen cats wear miniature hiking boots takes on a new significance. One would think that there were and are systems in place for keeping people like Aunt Ida from running large countries (or even small ones). But if you thought that, you’d be wrong.
So here you have it: the funny, frightening, bizarre, and dysfunctional lives of the people who run the world for us. (God help us all.)
What’s in a Name?
How nice to lead your country well and be bestowed with a nickname for eternity. For all intents and purposes, Catherine was indeed pretty great, and William sure did a lot to earn his moniker of “Conqueror.” But what if you weren’t so great and conquering?
Charles the Simple ruled France from 898–922. He was the son of Louis the Stammerer. He succeeded his cousin, Charles the Fat.
Ethelred the Unready (983–1016) gained his name for his inability to protect England from the Vikings, even though he had several years to prepare.
Louis XV ruled France from 1715–1774. At first he was known as the Well Beloved after nearly dying in 1744. However, his ineffective rule, which was a contributing factor to the French Revolution, and penchant for young women (he had affairs with several women, including five sisters) led to his new nickname by the time of his death: Louis the Well Hated.
Grover Cleveland, the only president to serve two nonconsecutive terms, was stubborn, strong-willed, and large—which earned him his nickname, Uncle Jumbo. He was also known as the Beast of Buffalo because of rumors that he beat his wife and mother-in-law (which he didn’t).
Henry IV was known as one of France’s greatest kings … and lovers. With more than fifty mistresses and several children, he was known as the Gay Old Spark.
Bloody Mary, Queen of England from 1553 until her death in 1558, received her nickname honestly. She had a propensity for burning religious dissenters at the stake.
Slick Willie (or Teflon Bill), also known as Bill Clinton, president of the United States from 1992–2000, got his nickname for his ability to dodge the many scandals that rocked his administration.
Old Hickory, Indeed
Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson got his nickname for being tough as old hickory. Well, just how tough was he? By the time he became president of the United States in 1829, he had been in at least seven duels and had the bullets rattling around in his chest to prove it. As a teenager, he and his brother were captured by the British during the Revolutionary War. During his captivity, he received sword wounds on his hand and head for refusing to shine a soldier’s boots. As president, he even survived an assassination attempt. On January 30, 1835, Richard Lawrence, an unemployed and deranged house painter, approached Jackson as he left the Capitol and fired at him. His gun misfired. He then pulled out a second pistol, which also misfired. By this point, Jackson was charging Lawrence. The sixty-seven-year-old president beat the would-be assassin with his cane and had to be restrained by aides.
As badass as all that was, his duel with Charles Dickinson in 1806 was even badder. He let Dickinson shoot first because he knew Dickinson was a better shot anyway. Jackson got hit in the chest, and then took careful aim and killed Dickinson.
SIDE NOTE: At Jackson’s funeral in 1845, his parrot had to be removed from the church because it wouldn’t stop cursing.
Charles D. B. King was president of the West African nation of Liberia from 1920–1930. He was challenged in 1927 during one of his reelection bids by Thomas J. R. Faulkner. King beat him by six hundred thousand votes, which is curious since there were only fifteen thousand registered voters at the time. King made the Guinness World Records for most fraudulent election in history.
Jefferson vs. Adams
One might think dirty campaigning a fairly modern invention; however, one of the dirtiest campaigns ever in American politics was the second contested presidential election ever. Thomas Jefferson was opposing John Adams in 1800, and although these two had been friends, by the end of the campaign they were bitter enemies. Adams’s Federalists charged that Jefferson cheated his creditors, robbed a widow of her pension, and acted a coward during the American Revolution. Rumors abounded that Jefferson would burn all the Bibles and tear down all the churches in America if he became president. He would also make marriage illegal and force all women to become prostitutes. One newspaper even wrote that if Jefferson became president, “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will all be openly taught and practiced. The air will be filled with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.” This was not exactly a ringing endorsement.
He are some other whoppers: He made sexual advances on a friend’s wife, had several affairs with married women while in France, and fathered several children with one of his slaves. (His enemies didn’t know that last one was true …) Perhaps worst of all, his opponents planted a story that he was dead. The report ended up in the Baltimore American on June 30: “It was last evening reported that the Man in whom is centered the feelings and happiness of the American people, Thomas Jefferson, is no more.” It took at least a week for Jefferson to get the word out that he was, in fact, quite alive.
Meanwhile, Adams’s camp was fighting off rumors that he was going to marry one of his sons off to one of King George III’s daughters and then turn the United States into a dynasty, with Adams as King John I. Adams was also called “old, querulous, bald, blind, crippled, toothless”—some of which were true! According to “sources,” Adams sent his running mate, General Thomas Pinckney, to Europe to procure four European women for their pleasure. Adams was able to dispel this rumor with a clever retort: “I do declare, if this be true, Pinckney has kept them all for himself, and cheated me out of my two!”
The Emperor of Whoopee Cushions
Varius Avitus Bassianus, also known as Heliogabalus, was Roman Emperor from 218–222 CE. He was only around fifteen when he became emperor, which can perhaps explain some of his indiscretions.
He supposedly entered Rome as emperor upon a chariot drawn by fifty naked slaves.
He replaced the god Jupiter with a god of his own choosing and then married a local vestal virgin, which was a flagrant breach of Roman law.
He liked to get party guests so drunk that they’d pass out. He’d then move them to a room filled with toothless leopards, lions, and bears so his friends would have a surprise waiting for them when they awoke.
He is credited with inventing an early type of whoopee cushion. He would place inflated animal bladders under his guests’ chair cushions at parties.
He married and divorced five women during his short reign, yet he also had time for his chariot driver Hierocles, whom he called his husband.
Needless to say, Heliogabalus was assassinated at the age of eighteen and was erased from all public records. He is remembered today for his “unspeakably disgusting life.”
Dude Looks Like a Lady
Edward Hyde, Viscount Cornbury, third Earl of Clarendon, (1661–1723), had a lot of names as well as a lot of peculiar habits. According to him, all he was trying to do was perform his job as provincial governor of New York and New Jersey. However, he was recalled to England in 1708. Why? His political enemies sent letters back to England that described Cornbury’s shortcomings. Was he an inept leader? Yes. Corrupt? A tad. However, the letters reported something else entirely. One stated that Cornbury had an “unfortunate custom of dressing himself in Womens Cloaths and of exposing himself in that Garb upon the Ramparts to the view of the public.” He would also sometimes lurk “behind trees to pounce, shrieking with laughter, on his victims.” Cornbury also supposedly opened the 1702 New York Assembly clad in a hooped gown with an elaborate headdress and fan—much in the style of Queen Anne. His reply when people remarked upon his attire? “You are all very stupid people not to see the propriety of it all. In this place and occasion, I represent a woman the Queen, and in all respects I ought to represent her as faithfully as I can.” A few twenty-first century historians now question whether Cornbury really dressed this way; however, there is a portrait of him in a dress hanging at the New York Historical Society.
While extramarital affairs seem to be part and parcel of being a leader, John F. Kennedy’s dalliances deserve a special place in history—especially since biographers are still playing the “did he or didn’t he and how often” game. Here’s the latest tally: Marilyn Monroe? Yes, but not as much as we think. Judy Campbell, reputed girlfriend of Mafia boss Sam Giancana? Big, scary yes. Jayne Mansfield? Yes. Angie Dickinson? Most likely, though she’s been coy about it. Mimi Beardsley, nineteen-year-old White House intern (hmm … sounds familiar)? Yup. How about his wife’s appointment secretary? Of course. Two press aides (at the same time)? Why not?! Ellen Rometsch, prostitute and probable East German spy? Yes—gulp.
Not one to let an international crisis get in the way of a good time (see previous sentence), Kennedy had time for some flirting during the Cuban Missile Crisis. While Kennedy was in the Oval Office with his Chiefs of Staff and Cabinet members nervously awaiting a response from Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, a woman walked in with some files. Kennedy stopped what he was doing to check her out. As she left the office, Kennedy turned to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and asked who she was. McNamara answered, “She’s filling in today.” Kennedy promptly asked him for her name and phone number.
Some researchers contend that Kennedy’s sexual appetite may have been caused in part by the drug he was taking for Addison’s disease, which listed among its side effects “increased virility.”
Kennedy even described what it was like for him to England’s Prime Minister Harold Macmillan: “If I don’t have a woman for three days, I get terrible headaches.”
Even though George Washington was a fine general and a highly regarded president, he still had his detractors. It was rumored that he had an illegitimate son, that Alexander Hamilton was his illegitimate son, that he had a British spy mistress, and that he had a romantic relationship with a young women whom he liked to call “pretty little Kate, the washer-woman’s daughter.” A man named George Washington Bowen even claimed to be the son of the father of our country and a prostitute. He wasn’t.
A Slave to Love
Richard Johnson was a hero in the War of 1812, a congressman (1804–1819), and a senator (1819–1829) representing Kentucky. He was also Martin Van Buren’s vice president (1837–1841), and unlike other politicians of the day, he had no problem letting folks know that he was in a romantic relationship with one of his slaves. In fact, he considered Julia Chinn, a light-skinned slave he inherited from his father, his common-law wife. Now, before you begin thinking of Johnson as a brave man who followed the laws of love above the laws of the land (it was illegal for a white person to marry a black person back then), read on. When Chinn died in 1833 of cholera, Johnson took up with another of his slaves. When she left him and ran off with another man, Johnson hired someone to capture her, and then he promptly sold her at auction. Oh, we’re not done. Then he began a relationship with the newly sold slave’s sister.
SIDE NOTE: Johnson had what is perhaps the worst campaign slogan of all time. While running for vice president, he campaigned with this nugget: “Rumpsey Dumpsey, Rumpsey Dumpsey, Colonel Johnson killed Tecumseh.” (He supposedly killed the Shawnee chief during the War of 1812.)
Genghis Certainly Khan
The Mongol Emperor Genghis Khan (1162–1227) once said, “The greatest joy a man can know is to conquer his enemies and drive them before him. To ride their horses and take away their possessions. To see the faces of those who were dear to them bedewed with tears, and to clasp their wives and daughters in his arms.” Well, according to a study in an article called “The Genetic Legacy of the Mongols,” Khan took his “clasping” seriously. The article states that nearly 16 million men living today in Asia carry Khan’s Y-chromosome, which means about 0.5 percent of the male population of the world is descended from Genghis Khan or his brothers.
Nero’s Greatest Hits
Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus was Roman Emperor from 54–68 CE and was known for his many tyrannical acts. However, he is probably best remembered for something he didn’t do: sing and play his lyre while Rome burned. In fact, he was out of town at the time, but returned upon hearing the news and personally took part in search and rescue operations. He also opened his palaces for the homeless and made sure survivors had provisions. Not bad for a guy who killed his mother and stepbrother, threw the requisite orgies, and started the whole Roman leader fad of persecuting Christians. He blamed them for the fire (deflecting the blame that was being placed on him) and, in the words of the ancient historian Tacitus, “covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination when daylight had expired.”
Oh, but that’s not all! What did Nero do with the area that had been destroyed by the fire? He built a gigantic palatial estate for himself. Named Domus Aurea, or Golden House, this one to three hundred–acre complex featured a pool the size of a lake, buildings shaped like cities, ceilings that rained perfume and flowers on guests, and a 120-foot statue of the man himself. Upon its completion, Nero supposedly said, “Good, now I can at last begin to live like a human being.”
Perhaps worst of all, Nero fancied himself an actor and singer. He gave public performances in which no one was allowed to leave until he was finished. Another ancient historian, Suetonius, wrote that pregnant women who went into labor had to give birth during his recitals and that men pretended to die so they could be carried out.
America’s Founding Fathers were the leaders who in words and deeds fought to create the United States of America. They signed the Declaration of Independence, fought in the Revolutionary War, and framed the Constitution. Today, they are revered as manly heroes with bad teeth who walked around wearing stockings and wigs. But, like the rest of the leaders in this chapter, they, too, acted badly.
THE GOOD: First US secretary of the treasury, aide-de-camp to George Washington during the Revolutionary War, and author of the Federalist Papers.
THE BAD: Became embroiled in a love affair with Maria Reynolds. Reynolds’s husband blackmailed Hamilton during the affair, even trying to secure a job in government from Hamilton. Hamilton published a detailed confession of his affair (too much information, Alex!) that shocked his constituents and his wife and damaged his reputation.
THE UGLY: Fought a duel with Aaron Burr and died.
THE GOOD: First president of the United States.
THE BAD: As a young man, wrote several love letters to a married woman. Did anything physical happen between the two? Nobody knows for sure.
THE UGLY: He never chopped down a cherry tree and he didn’t have wooden teeth. (His falsies were carved from hippopotamus and elephant ivory.)
THE GOOD: Author of the Declaration of Independence, third president of the United States, and overall Renaissance man.
THE BAD: First president to propose the idea of a formal Native American removal plan. He also, according to historian Richard Morris, “detested intellectual women.” While giving a free pass to Abigail Adams, Jefferson was annoyed by “the political chatter of women in Parisian salons,” and wrote, “The appointment of a woman to office is an innovation for which the public is not prepared, nor am I.”
THE UGLY: While officially against slavery and the slave trade, he not only kept slaves and most likely fathered children with one of them, but he also believed blacks were inferior to whites “in the endowments both of body and mind.”
THE GOOD: Scientist, author, inventor, and US ambassador to France.
THE BAD: Womanizer and father to an illegitimate son who remained loyal to the British during the Revolutionary War.
THE WEIRD: Threw parties where guests had to drink from glasses wired to batteries. They’d get a shock after each sip. He’d also electrocute turkeys to the amazement of his guests and then feed it to them.
THE GOOD: First vice president, second president, delegate to the Continental Congress, and good ol’ Puritan at heart.
THE BAD: Signed the Aliens and Sedition Acts, which allowed the president to deport any foreigner he thought dangerous to the country and made it a crime to publish “false, scandalous, and malicious writing” against the government.
THE UGLY: Called “the crankiest Founding Father” by historian Jack D. Warren, Adams was a hater who had a gripe with just about everyone. Called Benjamin Franklin “the old conjurer” and fought with him throughout their lives. He believed Washington didn’t deserve the adoration he received and that Washington’s greatest talents were his looks, graceful movements, and his gift of silence.
The Dog Shogun
Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (1646–1709) was the fifth shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty of Japan. He was known as a religious man and a very strict ruler. And he liked dogs. Born in the Year of the Dog, he felt canines should be treated well. In a series of edicts on “Compassion for Living Things,” Tsunayoshi commanded his people to protect dogs at all costs. Under these edicts, if you injured, killed, or even ignored a dog, you could be put to death or be forced to commit suicide.
At one point, three hundred people were put to death in one month for failing to live up to the edicts, and anywhere from sixty thousand to two hundred thousand people were killed or exiled during Tsunayoshi’s reign for violations. Soon the city became so overrun with dogs that Tsunayoshi had fifty thousand dogs sent out from the city to live in special kennels where they were fed rice and fish each day—all at taxpayers’
I Like Big Butts
Ibrahim I was Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1640–1648. In the short time he ruled, he nearly single-handedly destroyed it all. He supposedly suffered from stress, though his obsession with extremely obese women may have relieved some of it. He sent his attendants out to find the largest woman possible. They returned with a 330-pound woman from either Armenia or Georgia. Ibrahim named her “Sheker Pare” (piece of sugar), gave her a government pension, and made her Governor General of Damascus. He supposedly drowned all 280 women in his harem after a rumor that another man had slept with some of them. Ibrahim was also seen feeding coins to the fish that lived in the palace’s pool. He was strangled to death in a coup in 1648.
William the Corpulent Conqueror
When one thinks of kings and queens, brave deeds, loyal attendants, and dignified ceremonies usually come to mind. None of these were in the cards for William the Conqueror, who suffered a fate worthy of a Monty Python skit. After attacking a French garrison in 1087, the once strong (and now fat) William got thrown off his horse and ruptured his intestines on the metal pommel at the front of his saddle. It took a little while to die, but once he did, things only got worse for the king. First, his attendants ran off after stripping the body of all valuables and removing all the king’s weapons and furniture. Then, during William’s funeral procession, his pallbearers had to drop him to go fight a fire. Finally, the king’s giant body, which had swollen considerably, didn’t fit in the stone sarcophagus reserved for him. The bishops attending the body pushed and squeezed to no avail. Finally, the stomach burst, showering everyone with dead body pieces. Everyone in the church made a run for it.
NOTE: Late in life, William fought more bravely in the dining room than on the battlefield. He became so corpulent that King Philip I of France said that he looked like a pregnant woman.
Peter I of Russia (1672–1725) deserved being called “the Great” for many reasons. He was the father of Russian modernization and expansion that transformed Russia into an empire and major European power. Unfortunately for Alexei, Peter was also father of … Alexei. Brought up by his mother, who didn’t much care for Peter, Alexei was torn from her at age nine, when Peter sent her to a convent. Alexei fled Russia as an adult, and when suspected of masterminding a plot to overthrow the tsar, he was tracked down, captured, and returned to his home country for a few rounds of torture. Alexei confessed during the torture, and died before he could be put to death. Thanks, Dad!
Nice Day for a Dwarf Wedding
In October 1710, the same Peter the Great had the pleasure of marrying off his niece Anna Ivanovna to Friedrich Wilhelm, Duke of Couland. He threw a lavish banquet that lasted two days. Soon after, he held another lavish wedding, this time for the royal dwarf Iakim Volkov and his dwarf bride. See, the six-foot, seven-inch tsar had a thing for dwarfs. Some might say he collected them. He had dwarf servants and entertainers surrounding him. He liked surprising his guests by having naked dwarfs jump out of giant pies, and some historians say he was interested in breeding a race of small people. So, needless to say, this dwarf wedding was a big deal for the tsar.
Back in August of 1710, he had instructed all the dwarfs in Moscow to be rounded up and sent to St. Petersburg. They were “given” to the lords and ladies of his court, who were told to care for them and make sure they were dressed in the latest Western fashion. When the wedding took place in November, seventy dwarfs were in attendance. During the ceremony, the full-sized guests remained on the sidelines and laughed—especially since Peter made sure that elements of the wedding resembled his niece’s recent nuptials. At the feast, the dwarfs sat at miniature tables in the center of the hall, while again the full-sized guests watched from the sidelines, roaring with laughter as the dwarfs danced, drank, and even brawled. Crazy? Certainly. Mean-spirited? Definitely. But was there a deeper meaning to his madness? Could it be that Peter was using the dwarf wedding as a mirror held up to the laughing lords and ladies, who, though they thought themselves cultured, couldn’t yet hold a candle to the European elite? Hmm …
SIDE NOTE: Not to appear overly attentive to people of diminutive stature, Peter also threw a wedding for a seven-foot, six-inch giant named Nicolas Bourgeois who he found in France. He then located a Finnish giantess for Nicolas, but since giants were more difficult to find than dwarfs, Peter didn’t insist on a basketball player wedding party. The tsar was disappointed when the couple didn’t produce any huge children, but he kept Bourgeois on salary just to have him show up at his wacky parties and ceremonies … sometimes dressed as a baby.
Making Uncle Peter Proud
Anna Ivanovna, Peter the Great’s niece, ruled Russia from 1730 until her death in 1740. She didn’t care much for actually ruling Russia, but she enjoyed parties and tormenting the aristocracy. Her court included a nobleman who was not only forced to be her fool, but also had to pretend to be a chicken—all the time. But that wasn’t enough. She ordered an ice palace built for a marriage that she arranged (she liked arranging and throwing lavish weddings) between this “fool” and one of her elderly maids. Anna wasn’t done yet! The bride and groom had to dress as clowns, and then they and the wedding party had to sleep naked in the ice palace during a typically freezing-cold Russian night.
NOSOCOMEPHOBIA: Richard Nixon was deathly afraid of hospitals. In 1974, he initially refused to go to a hospital to get treatment for a blood clot. He said at the time, “If I go into the hospital, I’ll never come out alive.” (Wonder what the word for “fear of Richard Nixon” is.)
TAPHEPHOBIA: George Washington had no problem risking his life for American independence from Britain, but he was terrified by the prospect of being buried alive. Upon his deathbed in 1799, he made one of his attendants promise that his body would be left alone for two days after expiring, just in case. (But then again, due to the primitive nature of medical care at the time, it did happen every once in a while and wasn’t such a bizarre thing to be scared of.)
AEROPHOBIA: Kim Jong Il won’t fly anywhere due to his fear of flying. He travels mostly on his personal rail car. He has traveled as far as Moscow this way. Kim “got” his fear honestly: He was in a helicopter crash in 1976 in which he was seriously injured. Ronald Reagan and Joseph Stalin were also afraid of flying.
CLAUSTROPHOBIA: Muammar al-Qaddafi supposedly freaks out in confined spaces and is much more comfortable remaining outdoors in a tent than checked into a hotel. While attending a United Nations General Assembly meeting in 2009, Qaddafi tried to set up his tent in New York City in several different locations (Donald Trump even offered him some land to use).
AILUROPHOBIA: Afraid of cats? Then you’re an ailurophobe … just like Napoleon Bonaparte. Other famous ailurophobes included Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Adolf Hitler, Julius Caesar, and Benito Mussolini.
CYNOPHOBIA: Chancellor Merkel of Germany was bitten by a dog as a child, and has been deeply afraid of dogs since. Former Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, with this information in hand, once offered a dog as a gift to the chancellor. He would also let his black Lab sit in on their meetings.
TRISKAIDEKAPHOBIA: He may have said, “The only thing you have to fear is fear itself,” but Franklin Delano Roosevelt was afraid of something else: the number thirteen. He avoided hosting dinner parties with thirteen people, and he refused to travel on the thirteenth.
The Glass King
Charles VI was crowned King of France in 1380 at just eleven years old. At first, he was called Charles the Beloved, but by the end of his life, he was Charles the Mad. Most likely he suffered from schizophrenia, especially since his psychotic episodes began in young adulthood and included paranoid delusions.
His first known episode happened in 1392 while on a personal mission to avenge the attempted murder of one of his advisors. As he and his escort traveled through a forest, a page dropped the king’s lance, which made a loud noise. Charles drew his sword and yelled, “Forward against the traitors! They wish to deliver me to the enemy!” He then began hacking away at his small army, killing at least one knight and, most likely, several more. When finally wrestled to the ground, he quickly went into a coma.
Charles recovered, but his bouts continued. Other episodes included forgetting that he was king, not remembering his wife, claiming his name was George, running through the corridors of his palace (to the point where the entrances were barricaded), refusing to bathe or change his clothes for five months, thinking he was made of glass, and more. Charles died in 1422, and he most likely passed his illness to his grandson, Henry VI of England.
SIDE NOTE: Henry VI, King of England and disputed King of France, at one point became completely unaware of anything that was going on around him. This lasted for more than a year.
Take Me to Your Leader
Not one but two future presidents of the United States had close encounters with unidentified flying objects. We’ll begin with Jimmy Carter’s sighting. In 1969, while governor of Georgia, Carter claims that he and several other men were standing outside the Lion’s Club in Leary, Georgia, when they saw a strange red and green orb in the sky. I’ll let Jimmy tell you the rest.
“I don’t laugh at people anymore when they say they’ve seen UFOs. It was the darndest thing I’ve ever seen. It was big, it was very bright, it changed colors, and it was about the size of the moon. We watched it for ten minutes, but none of us could figure out what it was. One thing’s for sure: I’ll never make fun of people who say they’ve seen unidentified objects in the sky. If I become president, I’ll make every piece of information this country has about UFO sightings available to the public and the scientists.”
This was part of his speech at the 1976 Southern Governors Conference while campaigning for president.
Meanwhile, Ronald Reagan was the first US president to talk about the world uniting against a threat from “a power from outer space.” Some may have thought he was just losing his marbles, but he was speaking from personal experience. His first encounter happened before he was governor of California. He was on his way to a party at actor William Holden’s home in Hollywood when he and his wife, Nancy, pulled over to watch a strange light in the sky. They arrived at the party and told everyone of their UFO sighting. Reagan’s second sighting was in 1974 while aboard the governor’s private plane. They were heading toward Bakersfield, California, when one of his aides noticed a bright white light near the plane. Everyone aboard, including the pilot, watched in amazement as whatever it was then shot upward very quickly. Reagan actually told the story to the Washington Bureau Chief of the Wall Street Journal, Norman C. Miller. “It was a bright white light. We followed it to Bakersfield, and all of a sudden, to our utter amazement, it went straight up into the heavens.” Miller verified the amazing claim with the pilot, who corroborated it.
If aliens invade (or just come for a short visit), we’ll want to impress them with our fearless leaders. But for every Lincoln, Churchill, and Clinton, there are at least a couple Billy Carters in the woodwork. These are the people related to the important people, the ones who show who we really are as a race: numbskulls and imbeciles, drunkards and liars, failures and egomaniacs. In other words, they are a lot more human than their overachieving relatives.
He was a gifted student, a high-school basketball star, devout Christian, successful farmer, and—oh yeah—president of the United States. How can one live up to an older brother like that? In Billy Carter’s case, you don’t. During Jimmy Carter’s presidency, his younger brother, Billy, was often in the news, and always for the wrong reasons. Known as a colorful, hard-drinking, good ol’ boy with his “Redneck Power” T-shirt, Billy first cashed in by endorsing Billy Beer, the first (and only) beer named for a president’s family member. He was then caught urinating on an airport runway in full view of the press and foreign dignitaries. He once participated in and judged a world championship belly flop competition. Finally, there was Billygate (one of the first of many “- gates” to follow Watergate): Billy accepted money from the Libyan government in return for his influence with his brother. He was eventually registered as a foreign agent of the Libyan government.
Mary Todd Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s wife, was known to be slightly unhinged, and later in life she was actually institutionalized by her son Robert. For one thing, she had a clothing obsession: in one four-month period she supposedly bought three hundred pairs of gloves. She was quick to anger and often took it out on her husband: at least once she threw stove wood at him, and another time chased him out of their home in Springfield, Illinois, with a butcher knife. She also spent exorbitant amounts of money redecorating the White House while the Civil War was going on.
Thomas Jefferson’s brother Randolph seemed like a nice enough fellow. Thomas clearly loved him and helped him out financially throughout his life. However, while Randolph, like his famous brother, graduated from the College of William and Mary, he evidently did not share his brother’s genius. A former Monticello slave, Isaac Jefferson, recalled in 1847 that Randolph was “one mighty simple man (who) used to come out among black people, play the fiddle, and dance half the night.” Some historians believe it is Randolph and not Thomas who sired children with the slave Sally Hemings.
Sam Houston Johnson was the younger brother of President Lyndon Johnson and, like Billy Carter, lived in his brother’s immense shadow. Sam had a drinking problem, and when he was drinking, he liked talking—to anyone who would listen, particularly the press. Lyndon solved the problem temporarily by forcing his brother to live at the White House so he could keep an eye on him. When returning to the White House (which Sam called “the penitentiary”) after a night of drinking, Sam would look for some cameras, hold his wrists together as if they were cuffed, and yell, “Back to my cell!”
Richard Nixon’s brother Don dreamed of starting a fast-food chain called Nixonburgers. He accordingly accepted and never repaid a $200,000 loan from Howard Hughes. Richard, his paranoid brother, consequently had his brother’s phone tapped.
Neil Bush has the distinction of being an embarrassment to two presidents. As a son of one president and brother to another, Neil brought to the table shady business dealings, liaisons with prostitutes, a savings and loan scandal, several poorly run businesses, and a messy divorce that included allegations of voodoo. The historian Kevin Phillips said in a Washington Post story on Neil, “He’s incorrigible. He seems to be crawling through the underbelly of crony capitalism.”
Ah … Caligula
I bet you were wondering when I’d get to this guy. Of all the crazy rulers throughout history, Caligula’s the one who set the bar so high for all the other mentally unstable monarchs, dictators, and presidents out there. Caligula ruled the Roman Empire from 37–41 CE, which isn’t a long time to get your crazy on, but he worked quickly as he took Rome on a wild ride, until his own bodyguards finally had the good sense to assassinate him.
He rose to the throne amidst the usual political maneuvering and bloodletting and was widely hailed at first as “our star.” The ancient historian Philo describes the first seven months of Caligula’s reign as “completely blissful.” He granted bonuses to the troops, recalled political exiles, threw gladiator battles for the populace, and even focused his attention on political reform. Then something happened. Some historians say he had a brain fever. Others argue that Caligula, much like his distant cousin Alexander the Great, suffered from epilepsy, and that after an unusually violent attack, Caligula was a changed man. Here’s an incomplete list of some of the crazy and cruel actions attributed to Caligula:
Accused his father-in-law, Gaius Silanus, and Gemellus, grandson of the previous emperor, of treason and forced them to commit suicide.
Kept his favorite horse, Incitatus, inside the palace in a stable carved out of ivory. He threw parties in the horse’s name and the horse dined with the guests. His attempts to install his horse as a priest and consultant are usually seen today as attempts at humor and mockery.
Had hundreds of ships tied together to make a nearly three-mile temporary floating bridge so he could ride across the Bay of Naples on horseback, which he did for two straight days. Why? Supposedly as a child, a seer said he had no more chance of becoming emperor than of crossing the bay of Baiae on horseback. He showed them!
Announced he was a god and ordered the building of temples and statues in his honor. He sought to force the Jews to worship him and even ordered statues of himself to be placed in the Temple of Jerusalem. (These plans were wisely never carried out.) He was known to dress up as Apollo, Mercury, and even Venus.
Opened a brothel in the imperial palace.
Used spectators as lion bait when the games he was throwing ran out of criminals. Five rows of fans were pulled into the arena and devoured.
Declared war on Poseidon, god of the ocean, and brought back chests full of worthless seashells as booty.
Beat a citizen who insulted him with a heavy chain—every day for three months. He only stopped because the man had become so gangrenous that he smelled horribly. So Caligula had him beheaded.
Tortured countless people. He was partial to sawing people by filleting them at the spine. Or he’d restrain a prisoner upside down and chew on his testicles while the prisoner was still in ownership of them.
Most likely committed incest with all three of his sisters. When one of his sisters died, he had her deified.
SIDE NOTE: Caligula, whose real name was Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, was nicknamed “Caligula” as a baby by Roman soldiers. His father, the general Germanicus, would take the young boy with him on military campaigns and dress him up in a miniature soldier’s uniform. The soldiers called him “little soldier’s boot,” or Caligula.
An Emperor’s Appetite
Justin II, Byzantine Emperor from 565–578 CE, had a lot on his plate. War (most of it disastrous for his empire), political restlessness, and financial ruin finally took a toll on Justin, and he cracked. Before abdicating the throne, he had taken to biting his attendants while being pulled through his palace on a wheeled throne. In fact, rumor has it he didn’t just like biting people—he also liked eating them.
The Fairy-Tale King
Most likely not mad—merely eccentric—Ludwig II, King of Bavaria, ruled from 1864 until his death in 1886. He hated public functions, insisting on watching full-scale operatic performances by himself because he didn’t like people staring at him. He liked traveling the countryside to converse with the common folk he met along the way. He also used all of his personal fortune to build several elaborate, fairy-tale castles. Ludwig built the Residenz Palace in Munich, complete with an elaborate winter garden with a lake on the roof; New Swan Stone Castle, a Romanesque fortress in his hometown of Hohenschwangau, featuring wall paintings depicting scenes from Wagner’s operas; Linderhof Castle, an ornate neo-French rococo-style palace; and Herrenchiemsee, a replica of Louis XIV’s seven hundred–room palace at Versailles that was never finished because Ludwig ran out of money. He also had plans for several other over-the-top palaces.
Ludwig racked up millions in personal debt, and that, along with his eccentricities, was enough for conspirators to seek to get rid of him. A laundry list of bizarre behavior was compiled (including childish table manners, making his groomsmen dance naked at moonlit picnics, and talking to imaginary friends), doctors were engaged to pronounce Ludwig insane, and on June 10, 1886, a government commission deposed the king. By the thirteenth, he was dead. To this day, no one knows if he committed suicide or was murdered. He is remembered favorably today, especially by Germany’s tourist industry.
SIDE NOTE: Ludwig’s brother Otto became king next; however, he never truly ruled because he suffered from severe mental illness. I can’t verify this story, but it’s too good to pass up. The insane king-in-name-only supposedly started each day by shooting a peasant. His attendants, not wanting to upset him but not wanting to make a daily sacrifice either, made sure the pistol was loaded with blanks, and then they’d dress someone up like a peasant and have them drop dramatically to the ground after the shot.
While campaigning for the presidency, someone once threw a cabbage at William Howard Taft. He quickly responded, “I see that one of my adversaries has lost his head.”
Dorothy Parker, seated next to President Calvin Coolidge at a dinner, supposedly remarked, “Mr. Coolidge, I’ve made a bet against a fellow who said it was impossible to get more than two words out of you.” He replied, “You lose.” Upon his death, Parker was said to have remarked, “How can they tell?”
During the Civil War, President Lincoln was annoyed at general George McClellan’s hesitancy to engage the enemy. Lincoln wrote to him, “If you don’t want to use the army, I should like to borrow it for a while.”
“When the president does it, that means that it’s not illegal.” —Richard Nixon
“I have left orders to be awakened at any time in case of national emergency, even if I’m in a Cabinet meeting.”—Ronald Reagan
“I have often wanted to drown my troubles, but I can’t get my wife to go swimming.”—Jimmy Carter
The Blunder of the World
Frederick II of Hehenstaufen was one of the most powerful Holy Roman Emperors of the Middle Ages. He was known as the Wonder of the World for his incredible knowledge and curiosity, love of literature and science, his skeptical views about religion, and for his ability to speak at least six languages. While ruling much of Europe and throwing together the occasional Crusade, he had time for indulging his curiosity with some fairly cruel (even by Middle Ages standards) science experiments.
As a linguist, he wished to know whether people were born with a natural language that was suppressed when they learned the language of the land. In other words, what language did Adam and Eve speak? Hebrew? Greek? Latin? Frederick sought to answer this question by ordering a number of infants raised without any adults talking to them—at all. He ordered, “foster-mothers and nurses to suckle and bathe and wash the children, but in no ways to prattle or speak with them.” The experiment was considered a failure, for “the children could not live without clappings of the hands, and gestures, and gladness of countenance, and blandishments.”
As a religious skeptic, Frederick wanted to know if humans had a soul. So he shut a prisoner up in a cask to see if the soul could be observed escaping a hole in the cask as the prisoner died.
How does digestion work? Well there’s one way to find out: “He fed two men most excellently at dinner, one of whom he sent forthwith to sleep, and the other to hunt; and that same evening he caused them to be disemboweled in his presence, wishing to know which had digested the better: and it was judged by the physicians in favour of him who had slept.”
(All quoted material is from the thirteenth-century Italian Franciscan Salimbene’s Chronicles.)
Hobbies and Quirks
These hobbies and quirks of our leaders wouldn’t necessarily make them unfit for office, although they should raise a few eyebrows.
King Charles II, ruler of England in the 1600s, collected mummies of dead Egyptian pharaohs. He liked to cover himself in mummy dust, hoping it would make him as great as they were.
John Quincy Adams liked to relieve the stress of the presidency with an early morning swim. Each morning he would remove his clothing and jump in the nearby Potomac River. (Yes, times were different back then.) One morning, a reporter named Anne Royall snuck up on the president, snatched his clothes, and sat on them. She said she would only give the clothes back if he gave her an interview. Adams loathed talking to the press, but he answered her questions while standing deep in the river. This was perhaps the first presidential interview conducted by a female reporter. Teddy Roosevelt also swam naked in the Potomac—with members of his Cabinet.
James Garfield was the first ambidextrous president of the United States. However, not only could he write with both hands, if you asked him a question, he could simultaneously write the answer in ancient Greek with one hand and Latin with the other.
Warren Harding had a bit of a gambling problem. At one point he lost a whole set of White House china while playing poker. His advisers were known as the Poker Cabinet. Harding was also particularly fond of Laddie Boy, his pet Airedale. Laddie had his own servant and sat at his own chair during Cabinet meetings.
Calvin Coolidge liked to hide in the White House shrubbery and then jump out and scare his Secret Service agents. Coolidge also had an electronic horse installed in the White House. He rode it every day. Finally, Coolidge also enjoyed wearing Indian headdresses and Boy Scout uniforms, and he had a pet raccoon that liked to reside on his shoulders.
Jimmy Carter may have been considered the first US “bubba” president, but not only did he study nuclear physics in college, but he can read two thousand words a minute.
Kim Jong Il, the de facto leader of North Korea (the official leader being his long-dead father), loves movies. His collection of videotapes and DVDs is said to be twenty thousand and growing. His favorite movies include the James Bond series, anything featuring Godzilla, Rambo, Clint Eastwood’s In the Line of Fire, and the Friday the 13th movies. In 1978, he had South Korea’s most famous movie director, Shin Sang-ok, kidnapped (along with his movie star wife). He then forced them to make movies for North Korea until they escaped in 1986.
Violence in the House
These days, the most dangerous thing that can happen to a wayward US senator, congressman, or other politician is that they end up in jail. That wasn’t always the case.
On May 22, 1856, Preston Brooks, Democratic congressman from South Carolina, walked into the Senate chamber to find Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts at his desk. Brooks said, “Mr. Sumner, I have read your speech against South Carolina, and have read it carefully, deliberately, and dispassionately, in which you have libeled my state and slandered my white-haired old relative, Senator Butler, who is absent, and I have come to punish you for it.” Brooks then proceeded to beat Senator Sumner senseless with a metal-tipped cane.
Sumner, who was angry about the escalation of violence in Kansas over the issue of whether to admit Kansas to the Union as either a free or proslavery state, called the proslavery militia from Missouri “murderous robbers.” He then went on to slam Butler, saying that he spat and stammered when he talked, which was in a sense true, since Butler had had a stroke. Butler’s cousin, Brooks, then took matters into his own hands.
The inch-thick cane was smashed to splinters, and the bloody Sumner cried out, “I am almost dead, almost dead.” Brooks was finally restrained. The resulting Senate hearing failed to muster enough votes to expel Brooks; however, he resigned. Then he ran for reelection to fill the vacant seat he had just vacated. He won. Meanwhile, it took Sumner three years to recover from the attack. Brooks received many new walking sticks from his supporters.
More Violence in the House
On January 30, 1798, two congressmen who didn’t care for each other, Matthew Lyon (a Republican from Vermont) and Roger Griswold (a Federalist from Connecticut), started shouting at each other. (Nothing new there.) Then things took a turn for the worse when Lyon spat tobacco in Griswold’s face after Griswold called him a coward. The Federalists moved to expel Lyon, and the House spent two long weeks debating it. Lyon apologized and the House fell short of the number of votes needed for expulsion.
The next day, Griswold, who was obviously not happy with the apology or the vote, decided to settle the matter himself. He rushed across the House floor and, with his brand-new hickory walking stick, began beating on Lyon. Here is Griswold’s account: “I gave him the first blow—I call’d him a scoundrel and struck him with my cane, and pursued him with more than twenty blows on his head and back until he got possession of a pair of tongues [i.e. tongs], when I threw him down and after giving him several blows with my fist, I was taken off by his friends.”
Here’s an even better account from Representative George Thatcher of Massachusetts: “I was suddenly, and unexpectedly interrupted by the sound of a violent blow. I raised my head, and directly before me stood Mr. Griswald [sic] laying on blows with all his might upon Mr. Lyon, who seemed to be in the act of rising out of his seat. Lyon made an attempt to catch his cane, but failed—he pressed towards Griswald and endeavored to close with him, but Griswald fell back and continued his blows on the head, shoulder, and arms of Lyon [who] protecting his head and face as well as he could then turned and made for the fire place and took up the [fire] tongs. Griswald dropped his stick and seized the tongs with one hand, and the collar of Lyon by the other, in which position they struggled for an instant when Griswald tripped Lyon and threw him on the floor and gave him one or two blows in the face.”
One House member said Congress had been reduced to “an assembly of gladiators.” Griswold, not content to leave things alone, got in the last word: “I might perhaps have given him a second beating but the House was called to order.”
Even More Violence in the House
Even thought it was outlawed, by the late 1700s dueling had become an accepted (if idiotic) form of resolving political disagreements and preserving honor. Even Abraham Lincoln was once challenged to a duel. Lincoln chose swords as the weapon, and thankfully all was resolved before the duel. Nevertheless, there were dozens of duels from the 1700s until around the end of the Civil War, when dueling finally fell out of favor. Politicians killed in duels included the governor of Georgia in 1789, Alexander Hamilton (1804), Senator Armistead Mason of Virginia (1819), US District Attorney Joshua Barton (1823), North Carolina Congressman Robert Vance (1827), and more!
The threat of violence during congressional sessions was so real that by 1835, Vice President Martin Van Buren wore a brace of pistols when presiding over the Senate.
John Fox Potter, Republican congressman from Wisconsin just prior to the Civil War, had a nickname. He was called “Bowie Knife” Potter due to an incident during the spring of 1860. Basically he offered to fight Roger Pryor, congressman from Virginia on the following terms: “Bowie-knives and a dark room, and one of us to die.” The duel never took place, but Potter received several Bowie knives as gifts from sympathizers (including a four-pound, six-and-a-half–foot folding knife) as well as a nifty new nickname.
In one of the last physically violent episodes in US politics, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina and Ralph Yarborough of Texas wrestled for more than ten minutes outside a Senate hearing room over the 1964 Civil Rights Bill. Both were sixty-one years old at the time, but Thurmond, who was quite physically fit, pinned Yarborough at least twice.
Tricky Dick Tricked by Dick
Dick Tuck has been a political consultant for American politicians for more than fifty years. And although he has worked on political campaigns for Adlai Stevenson, John and Robert Kennedy, and many others, he is best known as a political prankster and Richard Nixon’s arch nemesis. Many historians called Nixon’s administration paranoid, and if that were indeed the case, Dick Tuck had a hand in making it that way. Here’s a list of some of Tuck’s Nixon pranks.
In 1950, while Nixon was running for California senator, Tuck, who was working for Nixon’s opponent, got himself hired as a Nixon campaign worker. Tuck was put in charge of organizing campaign rallies. At one such rally at UC Santa Barbara, Tuck booked an extremely large auditorium (a capacity of four thousand), yet did very little to promote the event. Fewer than fifty people attended. When the speech was over, Nixon asked Tuck his name and told him, “Dick Tuck, you’ve made your last advance.”
In 1956, during the Republican National Convention where Nixon was running for reelection as Eisenhower’s vice president, Tuck hired garbage trucks to drive by the convention center with signs that read “Dump Nixon.”
After the first Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960, Tuck hired an elderly woman to don Nixon buttons and approach Nixon as he got off the plane. While TV cameras were rolling, the woman hugged him and said, “Don’t worry, son! He beat you last night, but you’ll get him next time.”
During the 1960 presidential campaign, Nixon went on a whistle-stop tour of California. While giving a speech on the caboose, Tuck allegedly disguised himself as a railway employee and waved the train out of the station while Nixon was still talking.
In a 1962 campaign visit to Chinatown, San Francisco, Nixon spoke to a crowd while children holding welcome signs stood behind him. However, Tuck planted one sign that said “What about the Hughes loan?” which was a reference to a loan the reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes made to Nixon’s brother. Nixon grabbed the sign and ripped it up … on camera. (This prank backfired slightly when Tuck found out later that the sign actually said, “What about the huge loan?)
In 1968, Tuck hired a pregnant African-American woman (some accounts say he hired several pregnant women) to wear a T-shirt with Nixon’s slogan and walk through a Nixon rally. What was the slogan? “Nixon’s the One.”
Tuck is mentioned in the Nixon tapes! An October 1972 Oval Office tape caught Nixon saying, “Dick Tuck did that to me. Let’s get out what Dick Tuck did!”
Many historians say that Nixon’s desire to out-Tuck Tuck led to his department of dirty tricks and the resulting Watergate scandal. During the Senate Watergate Committee hearings, Nixon’s former chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, passed Tuck at the Capitol and said, “You started all of this.” Tuck replied, “Yeah, Bob, but you guys ran it into the ground.”
Note: Tuck ran for a California senate seat in 1966. His campaign slogan was, “The Job Needs Tuck and Tuck Needs the Job.” When he lost, his concession speech included this gem: “The people have spoken … the bastards.”
Lord of All Beasts
Although he was known as the Butcher of Uganda for his brutal rule of the country during the 1970s, he preferred to be known as His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular. During his reign, he had around three hundred thousand people tortured and/or killed. And although it has been debated, it’s been reported that he kept the heads and other body parts of some of his victims in a refrigerator and once told his minister of health that he found human flesh rather too salty.
Amin was Uganda’s light heavyweight boxing champion from 1951–1960.
After receiving a message from God in a dream, Amin decided to make Uganda a “black man’s country.” He expelled the up to eighty thousand Indians and Pakistanis in the country.
He wore specially designed tunics that were lengthened so that he could wear more World War II medals.
Amin wiped out entire villages and had their bodies thrown in the Nile. Workers had to keep fishing the bodies out in order to stop the ducts at a nearby dam from becoming clogged.
In 1974, he praised Adolf Hitler and condemned the Jews in front of the United Nations General Assembly.
In 1976, he declared himself “the uncrowned King of Scotland.” He also liked to wear kilts.
Amin once wrote to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, “Dear Liz, if you want to know a real man, come to Kampala.”
After the British broke diplomatic relations with his regime, Amin said he had beaten the British, and then considered himself Conqueror of the British Empire.
The United States didn’t end diplomatic relations with Amin until 1978—seven years into Amin’s reign of terror.
A Real Stinker
“Maybe if I hadn’t been so fastidious, I could have changed history,” Lina Basquette once remarked. But she would have had to put up with a lot….
Basquette was an American actress known for her long-ranging career, which began in the silent film era, and her nine marriages. She received a fan letter from Adolf Hitler in 1929 that proclaimed her his favorite movie star after seeing her performance in The Godless Girl. In 1937, she was even invited to Germany, and she accepted. She met with Hitler and reported that he made a pass at her. Basquette recounted, “The man repelled me so much. He had terrible body odor; he was flatulent. But he had a sweet smile, and above all, he had these strange penetrating eyes.” When Hitler got too close for her comfort, Basquette declared that she kicked him in the groin and then told him she was part Jewish. There was no one else present, so it’s impossible to corroborate the story; however, in a 1989 profile, the New Yorker found all the other claims she made about the visit to be accurate. Plus, it’s an awesome story, and if it isn’t true, it should be.
Behind Every Strong Man …
Rutherford B. Hayes’s wife, Lucy, began the beloved tradition of the Easter Egg Roll at the White House. She, however, was not so beloved of State Department officials because of her insistence on not serving alcohol at state dinners. The officials nicknamed her Lemonade Lucy and spiked oranges with rum punch behind her back and served them with dinner.
President William McKinley’s wife, Ida, hated the color yellow and banned it from the White House. She even ordered gardeners to pull up all the yellow flowers. Ida suffered from seizures, though that didn’t stop her from crocheting hundreds of slippers for veterans of the Civil War: blue slippers for Union vets and gray for Confederate vets. Nobody got any yellow slippers, that’s for sure.
Who was one of the most powerful woman of the sixteenth century? Diane de Poitiers, mistress to King Henri II of France. Henri was married to Queen Catherine, but he let Diane sign documents, appoint ministers, and even hand out titles. A British medical journal reported in 2009 that de Poitiers most likely died from consuming too much gold, which at the time was believed to preserve one’s youth.
Edith Wilson, wife of President Woodrow Wilson, was so traditional in her views that she was against women’s suffrage. But that didn’t stop her from continuing with her husband’s administration after he suffered a debilitating stroke. She lied to Congress and said Wilson was only suffering from “temporary exhaustion,” and then set it up so that all memos and correspondences from the president’s cabinet went through her. This went on for several months. Edith was also a ninth-generation descendant of Pocahontas.
After the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, his wife, Nancy, would consult with an astrologer to tell them which days were good and which should be avoided. This advice would then affect the president’s schedule to the point that his chief of staff, Donald Regan, complained. She worked tirelessly for Regan’s dismissal. Nancy also controlled access to the president and encouraged him to hold conferences with Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev.
John Wayne Gacy, democratic party activist, director of Chicago’s annual Polish Constitution Day Parade, volunteer clown, and notorious serial killer, met with first lady Rosalynn Carter twice in 1978. They had their picture taken together both times, and she signed one of them, “To John Gacy, Best Wishes.” The signed photo later became a major embarrassment to the United States Secret Service because Gacy was wearing an S pin in the photo, which indicated that he had received special clearance from the Secret Service.
“If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”—attributed to Harry Truman
Over the years, the US presidents have brought much with them to the White House: their wives, their children, their grandchildren, their mothers-in-law, their obsessions, and best of all … their pets.
Thomas Jefferson had more than thirty White House pets, including two grizzly bear cubs. They were a gift from the explorer Zebulon Pike. The bears didn’t stick around for long, as Jefferson saw fit to send them to a museum in Philadelphia.
John Quincy Adams kept a pet alligator in the East Room of the White House. It slithered around and chased visitors. He also had silkworms.
Andrew Jackson kept fighting cocks. No word if he had any cock fights at the White House.
Martin Van Buren kept two tiger cubs for a short time.
The Lincolns let their sons Willie and Tad keep their pet goats in their rooms. They also had dogs, a rabbit, a horse, and a turkey.
Andrew Johnson fed the white mice he found in his White House bedroom.
Benjamin Harrison had a goat, a collie, and two opossums named Mr. Reciprocity and Mr. Protection.
Teddy Roosevelt’s brood brought a veritable zoo to the White House. Their animal retinue included badgers, mice, raccoons, pigs, parrots, dogs, cats, baby bears, snakes, a one-legged rooster, a kangaroo rat, and a Shetland pony named Algonquin that once had the pleasure of riding the White House elevator. Oh yeah, I almost forgot the spotted hyena named Bill. It was a gift from the emperor of Ethiopia, and Roosevelt taught it tricks and let it beg for scraps at the dinner table.
William Taft had two cows, Mooly Wooly and Pauline Wayne. At least one of them lived in the White House kitchen, since Taft was quite fond of fresh milk. Really fresh.
Woodrow Wilson kept a herd of sheep that he let graze on the White House lawn. He also had a ram named Old Ike that liked to chew tobacco.
Calvin Coolidge had Rebecca and Horace, raccoons; Ebenezer the donkey; Smoky the bobcat; Tax Reduction and Budget Bureau, lion cubs; Billy the pygmy hippo; several dogs; canaries; a wallaby; a small antelope; and a black bear.
Herbert Hoover one-upped J. Q. Adams by bringing two crocodiles to the White House.
Franklin Roosevelt once accidentally left his Scottish Terrier, Fala, behind when visiting the Aleutian Islands. Roosevelt was criticized after then spending thousands of dollars to send ships back to find the dog. As Roosevelt was running for his fourth term in office, he had to address the issue. He said, “You can criticize me, my wife, and my family, but you can’t criticize my little dog. He’s Scotch, and all these allegations about spending all this money have just made his little soul furious.” All was then forgiven, and he won the presidency.
Lyndon Johnson got into trouble when he was photographed holding up his two beagles, Him and Her, by their ears.