Hail to the Chiefs

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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)...

The Greatest Presidential Stories Never Told

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.

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My favorite presidential facts are still that Theodore Roosevelt let his son ride a horse up the steps in the White House, abd Calvin Coolidge took three months off to fish in South Dakota.

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This page contains a single entry by Teresa Budasi published on November 13, 2007 7:13 AM.

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