Weird History
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15 Facts About Presidents That Sound Made Up But Aren't

October 15, 2020 6.9k votes 1.1k voters 44.8k views15 items

List RulesVote up the presidential facts that seem more like fiction.

Few figures in history are as well-documented as those who have held the office of the presidency of the United States, and that means that the internet is already loaded with weird presidential trivia and countless strange presidential facts. But when it comes to presidential did-you-knows, there’s weird and then there’s weird - with some claims fully pushing the bounds of credulity.

There are endless apocryphal tales out there about each of the presidents, but the best stories are those that only sound made up, but are actually true. Nothing defines a larger-than-life presidential personality better than personal details so lurid that they’re truly stranger than fiction. Quite literally speaking, you can’t make this stuff up!

  • Photo: Edwards & Anthony / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    John Tyler became the 10th president of the United States when William Henry Harrison passed after only 30 days in office - which is a tad poetic, given what Tyler would later become noteworthy for. No other president has ever produced more legitimate children than Tyler, who sired 15 in total. The last of them was Lyon Gardiner Tyler, born in 1853 when John was 63 years old.

    Lyon Gardiner passed in 1935, but his son Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. lived until 2020, when his demise was met with incredulity - surely, it wasn’t possible that the 10th president’s grandchild had been around this long. What’s even more amazing, however, is that another grandson, Harrison Ruffin Tyler - ironically carrying the name of John’s short-lived predecessor - is still alive as of this writing.  

    Hard to believe?
  • Photo: Jean Leon Gerome Ferris / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    There was once a time, prior to their presidencies, that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were the best of friends, touring Europe together without a care in the world. In fact, during a 1786 trip to William Shakespeare’s house in Stratford-upon-Avon, Adams and Jefferson were so carefree that they chipped off a chunk of Shakespeare’s chair to take home as a souvenir. 

    At the time, Adams wrote:

    Stratford upon Avon is interesting as it is the Scaene of the Birth, Death and Sepulture of Shakespear. Three Doors from the Inn, is the House where he was born, as small and mean, as you can conceive. They shew Us an old Wooden Chair in the Chimney Corner, where He sat. We cutt off a Chip according to the Custom.

    One must note, however, that if it truly were custom for visitors to take large chunks of the chair with them, there wouldn’t be a chair left at all by the time Jefferson and Adams made their visit.

    Though political differences would drive a wedge between the two pals, they would make up in their retirement years and become even greater friends. Adams’s last words were reportedly, “Thomas Jefferson still survives” - but he was wrong, as Jefferson had himself passed just a few hours earlier. The date? When else but July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of independence. 

    Hard to believe?
  • Photo: Unknown/The New York Times photo archive / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Theodore Roosevelt first became president of the United States because William McKinley was assassinated while he was serving as vice president, and then he won a second term in the election of 1904, during which he promised not to run for a third term thereafter. He stuck to that promise through the 1908 election, but decided to run again in 1912, first losing the Republican primary to the incumbent William Taft and then running at the head of a brand-new party, the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party. It was on this campaign that Roosevelt would experience his greatest moment of infamy in a long and infamous life. 

    On October 14, 1912, a saloon owner named John Schrank - who had become obsessed with Roosevelt after a nightmare convinced him Roosevelt was responsible for McKinley’s assassination - walked up to Roosevelt as he exited a Milwaukee hotel on route to a campaign event and fired a .38-caliber revolver right into his chest

    The bullet found its target, but only after passing through Roosevelt’s glasses case and 50 pages worth of notes in his breast pocket, which slowed it considerably and likely saved Roosevelt’s life. Then, the former president coughed into his hands to check for blood, found none, and continued on to the Milwaukee Auditorium, where he delivered an 84-minute speech that began with the following lines:

    Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don't know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose. But fortunately I had my manuscript, so you see I was going to make a long speech, and there is a bullet - there is where the bullet went through - and it probably saved me from it going into my heart. The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best.

    The bullet stayed lodged in his ribs throughout the rest of his unsuccessful campaign, and until his passing in 1919.

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  • Photo: Naval History & Heritage Command / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    George H.W. Bush’s pre-presidential career is well-known, but more attention is often paid to his role as CIA director than his time with the US Navy - even though the latter is arguably far more exciting. Not only did Bush make a personal choice to enlist after the events of Pearl Harbor, but he also went on to serve his country with distinction and, in one particular incident, a serious amount of bravery.

    On September 2, 1944, Bush was piloting one of four bombers sent to attack the Japanese base on Chi Chi Jima. Right as the engagement began, Bush’s plane was hit by enemy fire, one of his crew members was killed, and his engine burst into flames, but Bush saw the mission through and dropped his entire payload, scoring several direct hits. Bush then flew several miles before he and the remaining crewmate bailed out into the ocean - though the other man’s parachute failed to open and he fell to his demise, leaving Bush as the only survivor.

    Hard to believe?