Think you know everything there is to know about the U.S. presidents? Think again. Author and History Channel documentarian Rick Beyer brings us The Greatest Presidential Stories Never Told: 100 Tales From History to Astonish, Bewilder and Stupefy (Collins, 212 pages, $18.95)...
Chances are you'll have heard one or two of these tales — I knew the origin of Abe Lincoln's beard before picking up this book, for example, and that Jimmy Carter reported a UFO sighting — but for the most part, they're fun facts and interesting conversation starters.
Here are a few of the more interesting things I learned:
* Actor Alec Baldwin descended from the same Mayflower passenger (John Howland) as Franklin Roosevelt, George Bush and Humphrey Bogart.
* Thomas Jeffferson introduced the handshake into presidential politics, causing a stir with high-ranking diplomats who preferred to be bowed to.
* John Quincy Adams had a morning ritual I'm sure hasn't been practiced in the White House since: skinny dipping in the Potomac River.
* First ladies Julia Tyler and Sarah Polk were responsible for the tradition of the song "Hail To The Chief" marking the entrance of the president.
* Ulysses S. Grant was the only president to ever receive a speeding ticket while in office — for riding his horse-drawn buggy too fast. The fine was $20.
* First lady Caroline Harrison let loose an army of ferrets to get rid of a rat problem in the White House.
* Theodore Roosevelt, a poor speller since childhood, attempted to change the spelling of 300 words for White House purposes. He was mocked and chided by Congress and the press. The idea didn't take.
* Before Elvis left the building on the day of his historic photo op, he gave President Richard Nixon a big bear hug.