Most of us are familiar with huge, headline-making presidential stories, from the fabled cherry tree to Watergate to the Clinton-Lewinsky affair. But in the White House and outside of it, these lesser-known stories about US presidents could each warrant their own movie. From multiple mistresses (looking at you, Warren G. Harding) to heroic acts of bravery, these captivating tales made us see these prior POTUSes in a whole different light.
You may think modern-day politics is as strange as it gets, but history proves that since the country's beginnings, the West Wing has seen plenty of drama. Buckle up, because you're in for a wild ride.
In the election of 1912, former president Teddy Roosevelt disliked Republican party candidate William Howard Taft so much that he decided to invent a new party - affectionately called the "Bull Moose Party" - and run for a third term. While heading out of his hotel to give a campaign speech in Milwaukee, WI, Roosevelt was shot in the chest while in an open-air car.
Luckily, the assassination attempt was thwarted by a makeshift bulletproof vest of sorts. Roosevelt's 50-page speech and spectacles case tucked in his jacket managed to slow the bullet as it entered his chest. Still, Roosevelt's staff planned to reroute to the hospital - as people tend to do when someone is bleeding profusely. Instead, Roosevelt insisted on going to the auditorium and delivering his 1-and-a-half-hour long speech, showing off his bullet-ridden stack of papers to the audience and famously declaring, "It takes more than that to kill a bull moose."
Roosevelt didn't win the election, but he did receive the highest number of votes of any independent candidate in history and cemented his status as a real-life legend.
- 2190 VOTES
Theodore Roosevelt Nearly Died Charting An Amazon River Tributary
A lifelong conservationist and adventurer, Teddy Roosevelt set off on a trip that nearly killed him in 1913. The 55-year-old former president had recently lost the 1912 election, where he'd been running for a third time. When he was invited by Argentina to do a lecture series in South America, Roosevelt decided to take things a step further.
He decided to team up with Brazilian explorer Colonel Candido Rondon to chart a tributary of the Amazon known as the "River of Doubt," which had never been charted by Europeans. When warned of the dangers, he responded, "If it is necessary for me to leave my bones in South America, I am quite ready to do so."
In late 1913, Roosevelt set out with a team including his son Kermit. The first portion of the expedition involved a two-month trek on land to get to their starting point on the river. Half the pack animals perished and several men fell ill of tropical diseases. By the time they reached the river, the dwindling supplies only allowed 22 men to proceed on the expedition.
On the river, the group faced the hostilities of nature: stinging flies, mosquitoes, and piranhas. At one point, Roosevelt was bitten by a snake, but its fangs only broke into his leather boot, rather than his skin. The rapidly moving water also caused trouble. Kermit's canoe was sucked into a whirlpool and fell down a waterfall. While he and another man managed to swim to shore, a third man drowned.
The human element of the trip proved dangerous as well. A group of natives stalked the group, and although they didn't harm them, they shot Rondon's dog with arrows. Then, a porter on the expedition team murdered another in the group after he was caught stealing food; the men abandoned the murderer in the jungle. Meanwhile, Roosevelt began to experience alarmingly high fevers after slicing his leg open on a rock. He repeatedly told the group to leave him behind to perish, but his son refused.
Roosevelt barely survived, and finished the expedition having lost a quarter of his body weight. The trip left him in poor health until his passing at age 60.
- 3257 VOTES
Warren G. Harding Had A Secret Love Child Shortly Before His Presidency
Long before the scandalous affairs of John Edwards or Bill Clinton, there was Warren G. Harding, another politician who didn't let a little thing like marriage get in the way of having multiple affairs. One of his mistresses, Nan Britton, was 31 years younger than Harding, and said the two began their relationship in 1917.
The affair continued for 6-and-a-half years, and in 1919, Britton gave birth to a child, Elizabeth Ann, whom she said was conceived in Harding's Senate office. Harding became president in 1921; Britton said the trysts continued in the White House in "a small closet in the anteroom." The president didn't meet his daughter, but provided financial support - at least while he was still alive. When he passed in 1923, Britton discovered he'd left nothing for her or her daughter, and wrote a tell-all book, The President's Daughter, to make ends meet.
Britton received heavy backlash, and many accused her of lying and defaming the late president's legacy, calling her a "pervert" and "degenerate." A feud continued between Harding's two lines of descendants. Nearly a century later, in 2015, genetic testing confirmed that Elizabeth Ann was indeed Harding's biological daughter.
- 4141 VOTES
Several US presidents have been assassinated, and several others have survived attempts, but none with more flair than seventh president Andrew Jackson, better known as “Old Hickory” - and for good reason, as one would-be assassin found out.
On January 30, 1835, Richard Lawrence came up to the 67-year-old Jackson as he left a congressional funeral and pulled a pistol on him, only to have the gun misfire. Jackson began beating the man viciously with his cane in retaliation, but Lawrence was able to pull a second gun from his jacket during the melee - which also jammed. By this point, aides were able to wrestle Lawrence away and into custody.
Jackson became convinced the attempt was made at the behest of his political enemies, even though all evidence pointed to Lawrence being a mentally unstable lone wolf. Still, Jackson spent the rest of his presidency paranoid of another attack - and his vice president, Martin Van Buren, started carrying two loaded pistols with him into the Senate.
George H.W. Bush’s pre-presidential career is well-known, but people often pay more attention to his role as CIA director than his time with the US Navy - even though the latter is likely far more exciting. Not only did Bush make a personal choice to enlist after the events of Pearl Harbor; he also went on to serve his country with distinction and, in one incident, a serious amount of bravery.
On September 2, 1944, Bush was piloting one of four bombers sent to attack the Japanese base on Chichi Jima. Right as the engagement began, his plane was hit by enemy fire, one of his crew members was killed, and his engine burst into flames. However, Bush saw the mission through and dropped his entire payload, scoring several direct hits. He then flew several miles before he and the remaining crewmate bailed out into the ocean. The other man’s parachute failed to open and he fell to his demise, leaving Bush as the only survivor.
- 6168 VOTES
During World War II, US Navy Lieutenant John F. Kennedy held his post on a patrol torpedo boat near the Solomon Islands. When a Japanese destroyer rammed the boat, he and many of his men were tossed into the water. The survivors swam to the nearest island along with JFK, who tugged one of his injured crewmates along by keeping the man's life vest strings in his mouth as he swam.
Days later, JFK directed his men through another swim in hopes of finding fresh water and food. While on this island, he and a companion set out swimming again to find some hope for survival, and encountered two men canoeing. The canoers transported a message that Kennedy carved into a coconut, a message that ultimately saved the stranded crew.
The coconut was preserved, and JFK even used it as a paperweight when he served as president.