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

October 15, 2020 5.0k votes 833 voters 33.2k 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!

  • One Of John Tyler’s Grandsons Survived Until 2020 - And Another Still Lives
    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.  

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  • Thomas Jefferson And John Adams Stole A Piece Of Shakespeare’s Chair Together, And They Passed On The Exact Same Day, Which Was The Fourth Of July
    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. 

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  • As A WWII Pilot, George H.W. Bush Completed A Bombing Run With His Engine On Fire
    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.

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  • While Touring Europe, Young JFK Said Fascism Was ‘Right For Germany’ And Praised ‘The Nordic Races’
    Photo: Cecil W. Stoughton / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    John F. Kennedy dropped one of his most famous lines in 1963 when he declared “Ich bin ein Berliner,” but that wasn’t his first visit to Germany. A younger Kennedy also toured the country in 1937, 1939, and 1945, and what he had to say during those trips was significantly more controversial. 

    In 1937, Kennedy wrote:

    I have come to the conclusion that fascism is right for Germany and Italy. What are the evils of fascism compared to communism?

    The towns are all charming which shows that the Nordic races appear to be definitely superior to their Latin counterparts. The Germans are really too good - that’s why people conspire against them - they do it to protect themselves.

    Those words read as though they had been written by Adolf Hitler himself, who coincidentally was someone else who JFK was sure to heap praise upon. In 1945, after touring some of Hitler’s favorite locales, Kennedy opined that:

    Anyone who has visited these places can imagine how in a few years, Hitler will emerge from the hate that now surrounds him and come to be regarded as one of the most significant figures ever to have lived. There was something mysterious about the way he lived and died which will outlive him and continue to flourish. He was made of the stuff of legends.

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