Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States, and in his younger days, “could hoist a small keg with one arm and drink from it,” Dr. James Cornelius, historian and curator at the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Sprngfield, said. “He was a young guy on the frontier where drinking was social, universal and there are enough stories to go around. We accept those stories as evidence of his strength and popularity, not of his love of drink.”
Presidents come and go, but their actions live on in history. While on the frontier, Lincoln collaborated with a man by the name of William Berry in New Salem, Ill.
“Lincoln’s name, though not in his handwriting, appears on the March 6, 1833 tavern bond, also known as a liquor license, along with his store partner’s, William Berry,” Cornelius said. “It is not known whether Lincoln was aware that Berry had gone and applied to the county commissioners for this license; but it was approved by the justice of the peace in New Salem, Mr. Bowling Green.” Cornelius went on to say the store only stayed open for one year, due to Berry’s drinking problem.
Regardless of what political side you’re on, we can all agree presidents have misspoken, whether it’s a speech that needed proofreading, or an offensive policy that made people cringe. During a speech given on education, President George W. Bush shocked audiences with a grammar mishap stating, “Rarely is the question asked, is our children learning?” But, this is a bipartisan issue, with President Barack Obama making a miscount during a meeting in Beaveton, Oregon. “Uh, I’ve now been in 57 states? I think one left to go,” Obama said.
President Donald Trump is also not immune to having a poor choice of words. During both his campaign and time in office, he’s made numerous controversial statements on immigration, including his infamous one on building a wall.
“I will build a great wall and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall,” Trump said.
The physical characteristics of past presidents have their own unique story. George Washington’s wooden teeth were a product of his time and the dentistry available to him. According to the national archives, “Washington lost his teeth as the result of cracking Brazilian nuts between his jaws. By the time he became President, he had but a single tooth left and a set of dentures fashioned from cow’s teeth.”
President William Howard Taft also has a tale of his own. “William Howard Taft, our heaviest president at 350 pounds, stood up to stretch his legs on Opening Day of the Washington Senators game against the Philadelphia Athletics on April 14, 1910,” said Bruce Evensen, the graduate director for journalism at DePaul who teaches the course “The Press and the Presidency.” “In deference to the President of the United States, members of the Secret Service and then others attending the game stood up as well. The publicity helped make the seventh inning stretch a baseball ritual.”
Evensen said there may have been seventh inning stretches before Taft rose in the seventh inning that day, but the fact that a president rose changed things in baseball.
While Taft packed on pounds, Theodore Roosevelt packed a punch. Roosevelt, unbelievably, had a bar fight on his hands at one point in his life, according to records found from the National Park Service. Roosevelt was quoted saying, “As I rose, I struck quick and hard with my right just to one side of the point of his jaw, hitting with my left as I straightened out, and then again with my right. He fired the guns, but I do not know whether this was merely a convulsive action of his hands, or whether he was trying to shoot at me.”
What’s even more fascinating than president’s characteristics, is how some of them died. James A. Garfield, our 20th president, has an assassination story unlike any other; “Garfield was shot in the back on July 2, 1881 while walking in the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station in Washington, D. C.,” Evensen said. “Garfield, however, initially survived the attack. He was treated at the White House by Dr. Willard Bliss. Bliss sent for Alexander Graham Bell, the 34-year-old celebrity well known for his invention of the telephone.”
Evensen said Bell heard loud and unusual sounds coming from Garfield’s body when he tried to use a device to find the lodged bullett inside. “Bell’s initial try apparently failed. When Bell took the wand, and placed it against a bullet held between the teeth of an assistant, his ‘induction balance’ sounded loudly,” Evensen said. “But when Garfield was rolled over onto his left side, Bell’s wand produced a series of strange and distorted sounds he couldn’t understand.”
On Aug. 1, with Garfield turned over to his other side, the same strange sounds continued to occur. A third attempt was made by Bell, but he failed to reach the White House in time. Garfield died from infection on Sept. 19. After the fact, a spring coiled mattress proved the culprit behind the strange sounds.
Students on DePaul’s campus have mixed reactions looking back at our presidential history. DePaul students and sisters Lily and Mary Zenger, have opposing viewpoints on past presidents. “I’m a big fan of JFK (John F. Kennedy),” freshman Mary Zenger said. “His speeches were iconic, and still go down in history today.” While Mary likes the iconic John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Lily likes Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt because of their environmental concerns and social outlook, respectively.
Despite popular belief, presidents are people too. They put their clothes on, one sleeve and one leg at a time.