What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities

Khalid Elhassan - July 15, 2021

When President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, his wallet had no US currency. However, it contained a $5 Confederate banknote. He probably would not have been killed that night if he had not been assigned the Washington Metropolitan Police’s worst officer as a bodyguard. A bad cop in more ways than one, he abandoned his post at Ford’s Theater to go drink at a nearby bar. Following are thirty things about those and other lesser-known American presidential facts.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
Union and Confederate troops clash at the Battle of Franklin in Tennessee, 1864. Library of Congress

30. The Most Burdened President in American History

No American president before or since has ever faced challenges as varied and as difficult as did Abraham Lincoln. Chief among them was the Civil War, which killed about 700,000 to 900,000 people. Prorated to the current US population, that would be the equivalent of about nine to ten million dead Americans today. He had to handle that bloodbath without the vast support staff and civil bureaucracy available to modern presidents to ease and streamline their workload. He had to handle ineptness and incompetence by sundry generals, who dealt the Union cause setback back after setback and piled up defeat after defeat.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
President Abraham Lincoln, in the late 1850s before the start of his presidency, and after four years in the White House. Imgur

In addition to armed rebellion in the South, he had to contend with treason in the North. There were vicious attacks directed at him from both right and left, from the opposition Democrats and from within the ranks of his own Republican party, and accusations of incompetence and tyranny. There was disloyalty within his own cabinet, plots and schemes and terrorism, plus a serious threat of foreign war against Britain and France. In the middle of all that, a beloved son caught a fever and died, at the tender age of eleven years old. To top it all off, he had to cope with a crazy wife at home – a spouse who literally suffered bouts of insanity.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
The $5 Confederate banknote President Lincoln had in his wallet when he was assassinated. Library of Congress

29. America’s Most Tragic President?

After he went through hell, Abraham Lincoln finally prevailed, the rebellion was crushed, and the Union was preserved. He handled all the challenges that fate threw at him with, all things considered, nearly superhuman poise, grace, and dignity. The way in which he overcame so many adversities, and still retained his sanity and humanity to the end, was extraordinary. Less than a week after the main Southern army surrendered, when he could finally relax, he went to see a play at a theater, only to be assassinated by a sore loser Confederate.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
Abraham Lincoln in Richmond. National Portrait Gallery

In one of Lincoln’s pockets when he was shot was a crisp five-dollar Confederate bill. Most likely, it was a memento from a recent trip he made to Virginia, as the war in the eastern theater entered its final days and the Union Army entered Richmond. The president was in the vicinity when the Confederacy’s capital fell, made an impromptu tour of the ruins of the place, and took the banknote, worthless once the Rebel cause went down to defeat, as a souvenir.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
President Lincoln’s wallet. Library of Congress

28. The Contents of President Lincoln’s Pockets When He Was Killed

Abraham Lincoln had a white linen handkerchief on him when he was shot, with “A. Lincoln” embroidered in red. He had a pair of gold-rimmed glasses mended with a string, a pair of folding spectacles in a silver case, plus glass cleaner and buffer. He also had a pocketknife with an ivory handle. The arms on his glasses – he had one for reading and the other to correct his strabismus – often came loose. Lincoln probably carried the pocketknife to tighten them whenever that happened. There was also a sleeve button with a gold initial “L” on dark blue enamel, and a watch fob.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
President Lincoln’s pocketknife. Library of Congress

The Confederate banknote was in a brown leather wallet. People did not carry identity cards back then, so Lincoln did not have any. Oddly, the wallet contained no cash other than the worthless Confederate $5 note. Instead, there were eight newspaper clippings with positive coverage of his presidency. Given the difficulties and hostilities he faced on a daily basis, and the torrent of negativity directed his way, the president probably carried the clippings around to boost his morale and as a means of positive affirmation. The contents of Lincoln’s pockets were kept by his family for decades, then were donated to the Library of Congress in 1937.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
Secret Service agents bust counterfeiters in 1879. United States Secret Service

27. The Incompetent Cop Who Got a President Killed

That Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theater owes much to the fact that he had been assigned the most incompetent bodyguard to have ever been tasked with the protection of an American president. For much of America’s history, the protection of the country’s chief executives was very much an ad hoc affair. The Secret Service, created in 1865 to catch currency counterfeiters, was not tasked with the protection of US presidents until 1902, after the assassination of President William McKinley.

Before that, security for US presidents was quite lax. For example, on the night that Lincoln was assassinated, April 14th, 1865, only one man had been assigned to protect him: an inept and unreliable cop named John Frederick Parker. Back when Abraham Lincoln occupied the Oval Office, people were pretty blasé about presidential security. This, despite earlier close calls, such as an 1835 attempt to assassinate President Andrew Jackson, that was foiled only because both of the would-be assassin’s pistols misfired.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
Abraham Lincoln routinely rode around Washington without an escort. Javelina Time

26. The Lax Attitude Towards Presidential Protection

The overly-relaxed attitude to presidential security in the nineteenth century was nearly universal. Abraham Lincoln was, himself, quite cavalier about his personal safety – despite numerous threats and copious hate mail. In 1861, a plot was uncovered that sought to murder the then-recently-elected President Lincoln in Baltimore, on his way to take office in Washington, DC. In 1864, as Lincoln rode at night unguarded, an unknown sniper fired a rifle shot that missed his head by inches, and pierced his hat.

Despite that close call, the knowledge that many wished him ill in the worst way possible, and reports of numerous plots against his life, Lincoln often went about unescorted. The tall, bearded, gangly, and quite easily identifiable president sometimes walked alone at night from the White House to the War Department. He often attended church or went to the theater without bodyguards, and generally disliked the fuss of a military escort. On the fateful night of April 14, 1865, he was assigned a bodyguard – but an inept one.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
Officer John Frederick Parker was a member of President Lincoln’s security detail. Alchetron

25. One of DC’s Worst Cops Was Assigned to Protect Lincoln

By any measure, John Frederick Parker (1830 – 1890) was a bad cop. One of the first officers to join Washington’s Metropolitan Police Force when it was created in 1861, Parker stood out for his ineptness and unsuitability as a policeman. He was often brought before the police oversight board on a variety of charges, any of which could have gotten him fired. The most frequent accusation was conduct unbecoming an officer. He was let off each time with a slap on the wrist.

Parker’s infractions included but were not limited to the abuse of civilians. He was known to curse in public, frequent whorehouses, get drunk on the job, and sleep off his inebriation in streetcars instead of walking his assigned beat. Each time, he got away with no more than a reprimand. Despite that poor record, when in November 1864, the Metropolitan Police Force created the first permanent detail to guard the president, Parker was one of four officers assigned the task.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities

24. President Lincoln’s Bodyguard Left His Post at Ford’s Theater to Go Drink at a Bar

On the night of April 14, 1865, Washington Metropolitan Police Officer John Frederick Parker escorted President Lincoln and his wife to their box seats in Ford’s Theater. The bad cop then grabbed a seat in the hallway behind Lincoln in the theater but was unable to see the play from there. So he abandoned his post to watch from downstairs. The play bored him, however, so he left the theater altogether, to go grab a drink in a nearby bar.

There, Parker might have crossed paths with John Wilkes Booth, who was also at the bar for a last shot of liquid courage before he headed to Ford’s Theater. Booth, a famous actor, was a Confederate sympathizer. During the war, he lacked the courage of his convictions to take up arms and join the Confederate armies in the field. When it was all over and the Confederacy was defeated, he found enough courage – or at least bitterness – to finally act.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
John Wilkes Booth’s dramatic exit after he shot the president. Newsweek

23. Astonishingly, Officer John Frederick Parker Got to Keep His Job as a Policeman – and as a Presidential Bodyguard

John Wilkes Booth hatched a plot to assassinate President Lincoln and some of his key cabinet members, and on the night of April 14, 1865, he and his accomplices fanned out across Washington, DC. Booth’s coconspirators failed to carry out their parts of the plot, but Booth got into Ford’s Theater, where Officer John Frederick Parker had abandoned his post as presidential bodyguard to grab a drink at a nearby bar. Booth snuck into the president’s private box and shot Lincoln in the back of the head. He then made a dramatic escape and went on the run for twelve days.

A massive manhunt eventually tracked Booth to a Virginia barn, where he was killed in a shootout. It is unclear if Officer Parker ever returned to Ford’s Theater that night, or only found out about the assassination the next day. Parker was charged with failure to protect the president, but incredibly, the charge was dismissed and he kept his job as a Washington Metropolitan Police officer. He was even kept on the presidential protection detail for another three years before he was finally fired when he was caught once again asleep on the job.

Also Read:

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
Washington Times front-page coverage of the White House homosexual ring scandal. Veterans Today

22. The Forgotten Homosexual Harlotry Scandal of President George Herbert Walker Bush’s White House

President George Herbert Walker Bush is not usually remembered for scandal. However, one of the most salacious scandals to ever occur in a modern administration occurred while he occupied the Oval Office. The kind that would dominate news cycles for months on end today. A scandal about homosexual harlotry being solicited with White House Officials. The recent Pizzagate conspiracy theory about the involvement of Hillary Clinton and senior Democrats in a child trafficking ring run out of the basement of a Washington, DC, pizzeria (which had no basement) is pretty nutty. However, there was a time when soliciting explicit activity actually involved the White House.

It began on June 29, 1989, when the capital’s conservative newspaper, The Washington Times, dropped a bombshell about a homosexual harlotry ring that reached into the White House. The headline, which took up the entire front page’s top, announced: “Homosexual Prostitution Inquiry Ensnares VIPS With Reagan, Bush: ‘Call Boys’ Took Tour of the White House“. The details were equally salacious, and described a federal investigation into a homosexual harlotry ring whose clients included key officials of the Reagan and Bush administration, and US military officers. Some of the clients had the kind of access that enabled them to arrange 1:00 AM White House tours for their friends, who included male SWs.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
The White House. History

21. A Scandal’s Mysterious Disappearance

In a nutshell, while George H. W. Bush served as vice president and as president in the 1980s, male and female sex workers (SW) routinely waltzed in and out of the White House. Even if Bush himself had not partaken – and the Washington Times hinted that he actually might have – it is highly unlikely that he was unaware of what took place all around. Especially since he had once headed the Central Intelligence Agency. Pentagon officials told the Washington Times that, throughout the 1980s, military and civilian intelligence were worried that “a nest of homosexuals” high in the Reagan and Bush administrations might have been penetrated by Soviet agents.

The concern was that young male SWs were used to compromise senior officials, and render them vulnerable to blackmail. It was a huge story, and then… it simply disappeared. The US Attorney in charge of the inquiry, who had initially cooperated with the Times, suddenly clammed up, and the newspaper’s access to details dried up. The investigation quietly gathered dust, before it was finally shelved, and just as quietly, dropped. It illustrated how Washington could effectively circle the wagons to snuff out a scandal that threatened to splatter dirt far and wide.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
George H. W. Bush in 1969. United States Congress

20. President Bush’s Mistresses

President George H. W. Bush came across as pretty bland, but there was at least some spice and salacious fodder in his private life: the long-term mistresses he kept for decades. Before he became Ronald Reagan’s vice president and succeeded him in the Oval Office, Bush I’s public service life included stints as a Congressman, an ambassador, and as CIA Director. Throughout his public career, few knew that Bush, whose campaign platform included a family values plank, and who had been endorsed by The Moral Majority, had mistresses.

Bush was not a compulsive womanizer – nowhere close to the levels of a JFK or LBJ. Instead, he maintained a few discrete relationships, which his wife Barbara tolerated because he was discrete, never humiliated her, and usually carried on his affairs out of town so as not to jeopardize his marriage. But he did carry on affairs – and they tended to be long-term ones. An example was one he carried out with an Italian woman, whom he kept in a New York City apartment in the 1960s.

Also Read: 10 Historic Presidential Affair Scandals.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
George H. W. Bush and Jennifer Fitzgerald. Fallbrook

19. George H. W. Bush’s “Other Wife”

President George H. W. Bush usually kept his mistresses far away, but that changed when he encountered Jennifer Fitzgerald, a 42-year-old short, blond, and pretty divorcee. She worked as an assistant to one of Gerald Ford’s aides, and Bush was smitten when he met her. In 1974, Bush was appointed ambassador to China, and he had Fitzgerald join him there as his secretary. He told friends that he chose her to act as a buffer between him and Henry Kissinger’s State Department, but few bought it. As one embassy staffer put it: “I don’t know what skills she brought to the job. She certainly couldn’t type“.

Fitzgerald arrived in Beijing on December 5, 1974, and the next day, Bush took her for a twelve-day “diplomatic conference” in Hawaii. Unlike his previous affairs, which Barbara Bush had turned a blind eye to, the situation with Fitzgerald was more than a dalliance. As described by a close family friend: “It wasn’t just another woman. It was a woman who came to exert enormous influence over George for many, many years. … She became, in essence, his other wife … his office wife“. Barbara burned her love letters with Bush, which she had treasured since World War II, and went into a severe depression.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
George H. W. Bush, then Director of the CIA, addresses his smiling wife Barbara while his mistress Jennifer Fitzgerald is seated to the right, with her arms crossed. Daily Mail

18. The Extramarital Affairs of President Bush I Were Open Secrets, But Caused No Scandal

George H. W. Bush’s stint in Beijing was brief, and after a year, President Gerald Ford asked him to become his CIA Director. Bush accepted, but only on condition that he be allowed to bring Jennifer Fitzgerald with him as his confidential assistant. A memo in Ford’s Presidential Library, dated November 23, 1975, states: “Please advise me as soon as you have completed office space arrangements for George Bush and Miss Fitzgerald“. Bush traveled around the world as head of the CIA, and took Fitzgerald with him, while Barbara Bush spiraled into a deep depression that brought her to the brink of suicide on multiple occasions. The extramarital relationship continued, even as Bush indulged in other dalliances such as an intense but brief affair with a young photographer amidst the 1980 presidential campaign.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
President George H. W. Bush. The White House

When the Reagan-Bush ticket won in 1980, Fitzgerald was brought along as a member of the vice-presidential staff. Tongues wagged, but Bush was deaf to them, and he kept his mistress by his side during his eight years as vice president. When he ran for president in 1988, Bush appointed Fitzgerald as his liaison to Congress, and when he won the election, he made her his chief of protocol. Amazingly, although it was an open secret that Bush I had a mistress during his years as vice president and president, no scandal ensued. The affair finally ended after The New York Post exposed it amidst Bush’s failed 1992 reelection campaign.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
President Theodore Roosevelt on the campaign trail in 1904. The Press Democrat

17. When Teddy Roosevelt Was Shot

Theodore Roosevelt, the youngest person to ever become US president, decided in 1908 that two terms were enough. So he did not run for reelection that year and instead groomed his close friend William Howard Taft to succeed him in the Oval Office. By 1912, however, Teddy, or TR as he was often known, had come to regret his decision to walk away from the White House. So he returned to the campaign trail and ran for president as a candidate of the Bull Moose Party.

On October 14th of that year, Teddy Roosevelt made his way to a podium at the Milwaukee Auditorium to make a campaign speech and opened with the unremarkable statement “Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible“. Next, however, he delivered one of the most remarkable lines ever uttered on the stump: “I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have been shot“. As the horrified audience gasped, Teddy Roosevelt unbuttoned his vest, to reveal a bloodstained shirt beneath.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
Former president Theodore Roosevelt on the campaign trail in 1912. Library of Congress

16. The Speech That Saved Teddy Roosevelt’s Life

A stunned Milwaukee audience processed what Teddy Roosevelt had just told them about his having been shot, and gaped at the sight of the bloodstained shirt beneath his unbuttoned vest. The former president then topped his previous statement with an even more memorable one: “it takes more than that to kill a bull moose!” Teddy Roosevelt then demonstrated what had saved his life that day, when he pulled out a hefty fifty-page speech from his coat pocket, that was pierced through with a bullet.

He continued: “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“. Just about any other candidate – except maybe Andrew Jackson – would have keeled over in shock or at least bid the audience adieu before rushing to seek medical care. Not Teddy Roosevelt.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
John Flammang Schrank in police custody. Fine Art America

15. The Former President Who Saved the Life of His Would-Be Assassin

Teddy Roosevelt assured his Milwaukee Auditorium audience: “I give you my word, I do not care a rap about being shot; not a rap“. He then delivered a fiery speech that lasted for ninety minutes. A ninety-minute fiery speech, even as he had a bullet hole in his chest. The assassination had been attempted at 8 PM, as the former president got into an open-air car outside his hotel, and waved his hat at the crowd. Just then, the darkness was lit up by a flash from a .38 Colt revolver.

An aide grappled with the would-be assassin and prevented him from firing another shot, before the crowd joined in. The culprit was a nutjob Bavarian immigrant named John Flammang Schrank. He would have been lynched on the spot if Roosevelt had not intervened, and ordered: “Don’t hurt him. Bring him here. I want to see him. Roosevelt then asked Schrank “What did you do it for?” When Schrank said nothing, Teddy Roosevelt told the crowd to turn him over to the police.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
The speech and glass case that saved Teddy Roosevelt’s life. Flickr

14. Teddy Roosevelt Decided That a Bullet in His Chest Was No Reason To Not Give a Speech

After he was shot and the would-be assassin was turned over to the police, Teddy Roosevelt reached inside his shirt and fell around to check on the damage. His probing fingers eventually encountered a dime-sized hole, and told an aide “He pinked me“. The former president then coughed into his hand a few times, and when he saw no blood, he determined that his lung had not been pierced. He then directed that he be driven to the Milwaukee Auditorium to deliver his scheduled speech.

The hefty speech, squeezed into Roosevelt’s jacket pocket, had combined with a glass case and a dense overcoat to slow the bullet. It was later recovered lodged against his fourth rib, on a trajectory to his heart. As to the shooter, Schrank acted because of a dream, in which the assassinated President William McKinley had urged him to avenge him and kill his vice president and successor, Roosevelt. Schrank was found legally insane, and institutionalized until his death in 1943.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
Gerald Ford on the cover of Cosmopolitan in 1942. Grapefruit Moon Gallery

13. The President Who Used to Be a Model

When he was president, Gerald Ford earned a reputation as the biggest doofus until then to ever occupy the Oval Office. He also had the distinction of being the only American president to have never won a national election. Ford was not elected vice president, but got the job when Nixon selected him to replace a VP who had resigned because of a scandal. Then Ford became president when Nixon, in turn, resigned because of another scandal. However, there was a time, in the days before Ford became a go-to gag on Saturday Night Live, when he was actually cool.

Long before he got into politics, Gerald Ford had been a college football star. He played center, linebacker, and long snapper for the University of Michigan Wolverines when they won national titles back to back in 1932 and 1933. After graduation, he turned down offers to play in the NFL for the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions. Instead, he went to law school, and to help make ends meet, capitalized on his good looks and worked as a male model. He was good enough to make the cover of Cosmopolitan. Eventually, he became a partner in a modeling agency.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
President Gerald Ford, left, with Pele. Hoje e Media

12. Gerald Ford’s Salacious Scandal

Other than the perception that he was a klutz, Gerald Ford was an unremarkable president, and his best-known presidential act was the pardon of Richard Nixon. However, if contemporary reporters had dug into his private life with the same eagerness today’s reporters devote to politicians’ private lives, Ford would probably be remembered for a juicy scandal, as well. To wit, he had an affair with an East German spy named Ellen Rometsch, directed by her country’s intelligence to befriend powerful American politicians and report back. The press did not find out about the affair at the time, but J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI’s creepy director did, and he blackmailed Ford with it.

Ellen Rometsch married a West German air force sergeant, and accompanied him to Washington when he was assigned there. In DC, she got a job as a hostess at a salon organized by Bobby Baker, an aide to President Lyndon Johnson, as a private club for male politicians. Rometsch arranged for hookers and went on dates with some of the members herself. A stunner who looked like Elizabeth Taylor, Rometsch got Baker to introduce her to then-president John F. Kennedy. It was not long before they got it on. As Baker put it: “She really loved oral s*x. … She went the White House several times. And president Kennedy called me and said it’s the best head-job he’d ever had, and he thanked me.”

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
President John F. Kennedy was among those who hooked up with Ellen Rometsch. Jewish Business News

11. The Spy Who Shagged Not One, But Two US Presidents

Ellen Rometsch got around, and her wild and intimate escapades extended beyond JFK. Another of the seductress’ conquests was future president Gerald Ford, who was then a Congressman. After Kennedy was killed, Ford was appointed to the Warren Commission that investigated the assassination. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was frustrated with the Warren Commission because it did not share information with him. However, he had dirt on Ford: his affair with Rometsch. So he used that to blackmail the future president and got him to share the Commission’s findings with the FBI.

As described by a contemporary: “Hoover had this tape where Jerry Ford was having oral s*x with Ellen Rometsch. You know, his wife had a serious drug problem back then… Hoover blackmailed Ford to tell him what they were doing“. As to Rometsch, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy got wind of an FBI investigation into her as a suspected spy, that entailed a hard look at her trail of seductions through Washington. To avert a political scandal similar to the then-recent Profumo Affair which had rocked Britain, RFK had Rometsch quietly deported back to Germany.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
Andrew Jackson in 1824. Wikimedia

10. The Toughest US President

Andrew Jackson was probably the toughest American president, ever. A prickly cuss, he was easily offended, and would just as soon kill a man as look at him. He led men into combat, slaughtered Redcoats by the hundreds, and dueled with anybody who rubbed him wrong. Literal duels, as in ritually face off against somebody with loaded pistols, take aim and open fire at a given signal. And not once, or twice, but many, many, many times. The total number of Jackson’s duels is unknown, but estimates range from a low of 13 to over 100. His most famous duel occurred in 1806 when he got into a tiff with a man named Charles Dickinson, who was reputed to be America’s best shot. Jackson still called him out.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
Andrew Jackson’s duel with Charles Dickinson. Owlcation

At the duel, Jackson stood stock still, and allowed Dickinson to fire first. Dickinson took careful aim, and put a bullet in Jackson’s chest. It wounded Jackson, but did not kill him. He recovered, took aim, and pulled the trigger – but the pistol stopped at half cock. By the rules, that did not count as a shot. So as a horrified Dickinson waited, Jackson cleared the pistol, then took deliberate aim once more. Again he pulled the trigger, and again there was a mishap. He checked pistol and powder once more, took aim, and pulled the trigger. Third time was the charm, and Dickinson fell, mortally wounded. Jackson recovered and went on to greater things, but Dickinson’s bullet remained in his chest for another nineteen years.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
President Andrew Jackson, circa 1835. The White House

9. The President Who Almost Beat His Would-Be-Assassin to Death

By the time he was elected president, Andrew Jackson’s dangerous reputation had been so well established, that only a crazy person would try to assault him. However, America never had a shortage of crazy people, and one of them became the first to attempt a presidential assassination when he went after Jackson. Richard Lawrence, a house painter, often muttered angrily to himself about Andrew Jackson. On January 30, 1835, witnesses saw him cackle to himself as he sat in his shop before he suddenly exclaimed “I’ll be damned if I don’t it!“, got up, and exited. “It” was to kill Jackson, which Lawrence tried to do when he ambushed the president outside the Capitol building.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
President Andrew Jackson almost beat his would-be assassin to death. Medium

Lawrence waited behind a pillar, and when Jackson passed by, took a shot at his back. The pistol misfired. Lawrence pulled out a second pistol and tried another shot, only to get another misfire. By then, Jackson had realized what Lawrence was up to, and was understandably pissed off. Although he was 67-years-old at the time, pretty old by the day’s standards, an enraged Jackson fell upon the much younger Lawrence, and proceeded to bludgeon him with his cane. Bystanders probably saved the would-be assassin from getting pummeled to death when they intervened to restrain the president, and hustled Lawrence off to the safety of prison.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
Warren G. Harding. Wikimedia

8. Warren G. Harding’s Time in the White House Was Short, But His List of Scandals Was Long

Warren G. Harding (1865 – 1923) is consistently ranked amongst America’s worst presidents. His administration, from 1921 until his sudden death in office in 1923, is best remembered for a slew of scandals, both private and official. The biggest one was Teapot Dome, in which Harding’s Secretary of the Interior took bribes to lease oil fields to oil companies at low rates, without any competitive bids. Other scandals involved his Attorney General who took bribes from bootleggers, and his director of the Veterans Bureau, who enriched himself with massive graft.

As to Harding himself, revelations about affairs with mistresses inflicted yet more damage on his reputation. After the recent blizzard of scandals, shenanigans like those of Harding and his administration would probably occupy the news cycle for a few days, tops. However, the 1920s were more innocent, and such scandals shook the country. Between the corruption and the details of salacious escapades with his mistresses, Harding’s public regard, which had been exceptionally high at the time of his death, took a nose dive and was replaced with contempt.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
Warren G. Harding and Carrie Fulton Phillips. Imgur

7. The President and Jerry

In 1899, Warren G. Harding began to work his way up the political ladder from Ohio state senator, to failed Republican nominee for governor, to winner of a 1914 election to the US Senate. Throughout most of his political career, he had carried on an affair with Carrie Fulton Phillips. As historians discovered from love letters that he wrote her, Harding referred to his penis as his “private chief of staff”, but more often he referred to it as “Jerry”.

In one letter, Harding wrote to Phillips: ” Jerry — you recall Jerry…— came in while I was pondering your notes in glad reflection, and we talked about it…He told me to say that you are the best and darlingest in the world, and if he could have but one wish, it would be to be held in your darling embrace and be thrilled by your pink lips that convey the surpassing rapture of human touch“. He ended the affair after fifteen years in 1920, amidst his campaign for president.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
Nan Britton and her daughter by President Warren G. Harding. New York Times

6. Warren G. Harding Used Secret Service Agents as Lookouts While He Got it on in White House Closets

Warren G. Harding’s affair with Carrie Fulton Phillips was low key. A more explosive one was with Nan Britton. After Harding’s death, she wrote a tell-all book, The President’s Daughter, in which she alleged that the deceased chief executive had fathered an illegitimate daughter upon her. Britton described salacious details that make the Clinton and Monica Lewinsky affair look like amateur hour. Among other things, Warren G. and Nan got it on in White House closets, with Secret Service agents posted as lookouts.

After she gave birth, Nan alleged that Harding had paid her $500 a month in child support – a considerable sum back then. Harding’s family rushed to defend what was left of his reputation and denied the affair. They painted Britton as a liar, and claimed that the 29th president had been infertile, and so could not have possibly fathered a child upon her. Things remained in a he-said-they-said standoff until 2015 when a DNA test conclusively proved that the daughter, Elizabeth Ann Blaesing, was indeed, Harding’s child.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
John Quincy Adams. The White House

5. A Very Smart Man’s Very Silly Belief

John Quincy Adams, like his father and America’s second president John Adams, was a brilliant man. Before he, too, became president, JQ Adams was a great diplomat – perhaps America’s best diplomat ever. His accomplishments included a stint as ambassador to Russia, and he served in the delegation that negotiated an end to the War of 1812. JQ Adams also served as Secretary of State, in which capacity he negotiated the acquisition of Florida, and played a key role in the establishment of the Monroe Doctrine. He also served in both the US House of Representatives and the US Senate and became an early leader of the opposition to slavery.

Still, we all have our faults, and while JQ Adams was clearly an intelligent man, he had some blind spots. One of them was his belief in the Hollow Earth Theory. It was considered ludicrous even in his own time and sounded as whacky as the Flat Earth or Q-Anon strikes rational people today. As its name indicates, Hollow Earth claimed that our planet is not a solid rock, but more like a ball. It had concentric layers separated by empty spaces, that were probably inhabited by people. Adams not only believed that balderdash but wanted to prove it at the taxpayers’ expense.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
The hollow earth, as envisioned by Symnes. Wikimedia

4. The Newton of the West

The Hollow Earth Theory was concocted by a charlatan named John Cleves Symmes, Jr., a veteran of the War of 1812. He moved to the frontier, where he reinvented himself as a scientist and became known as the “Newton of the West”. In 1818 he published Symmes Circular No. 1, in which he wrote: “I declare the earth is hollow, and habitable within; containing a number of solid concentrick spheres, one within the other, and that it is open at the poles 12 or 16 degrees; I pledge my life in support of this truth, and am ready to explore the hollow if the world will support and aid me in the undertaking“.

Each concentric circle supposedly contained a subterranean world, all of them heated and illuminated by a sun-like object at the Earth’s center. Symmes then hit the lecture circuit, and lobbied the government for an expedition to the poles, where he claimed the openings to the hollow earth’s interior were located. Educated people scoffed, but many, including John Quincy Adams, took it seriously. Indeed, he promised to back an expedition to explore the hollow earth during his successful 1824 presidential campaign.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
A mole person. Atomic Surgery

3. The President Who Wanted to Find Mole People

Like other believers in the Hollow Earth, John Quincy Adams assumed that the hollow planet’s internal concentric spheres must be inhabited by humans or human-like beings: de facto mole men. JQ Adams was interested in the natural resources beneath the earth, and like Symmes, he wanted to establish trade with the hollow earth’s inhabitants. Symmes’ expedition actually made it to the US House of Representatives’ agenda and came up for a vote. The proposal was defeated, 56 to 46. It was a win for sanity, but still: about 44% of America’s Congressmen wanted to spend taxpayer money to try and contact mole people.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
President Andrew Jackson rejected his predecessor’s hollow earth beliefs, because he believed that the earth was flat. Physics World

JQ Adams did not give up. He tried to get Congress to reconsider and did what he could to gather support and resources for the expedition. However, he served only one term, before he lost the 1828 election to Andrew Jackson. The newly elected president promptly abandoned his predecessor’s attempts to reach the center of the hollow earth. Which was not a surprise, since Andrew Jackson thought the Hollow Earth Theory was hogwash. Instead, Jackson believed that the earth was flat.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
Marilyn Monroe. Associated Press

2. The President, His Brother, and a Blond Bombshell

Of all of President John F. Kennedy’s numerous affairs, none would probably produce as massive a media frenzy today as his affair with Marilyn Monroe. It would make the media circus that surrounded Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, or Trump and Stormy Daniels, look tame. The blond bombshell caught Kennedy’s eye after she made a spectacular entrance at a New York dinner party held in his honor in early 1962. He was immediately attracted to her, and they hooked up in Palm Springs soon thereafter. However, she took it more seriously than he did, and was not discreet. Her sultry “Happy Birthday” performance for JFK during a fundraiser in Madison Square Garden – in the presence of his wife, no less – fueled the rumor machines.

Tongues wagged about the barely concealed affair between the president and the actress, but fortunately for JFK, his era’s media was nothing like that of today. Nonetheless, the gossip caused Kennedy to back away from Monroe and end things – to him, she was just one among dozens of pretty women he had slept with. To Monroe, he was the only president she had slept with, and she was not about to give up that easy. She repeatedly called the White House and tried to rekindle the affair, until JFK sent somebody to convince her that it was over and that she needed to stop.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
Marilyn Monroe in 1962 between RFK, left, and JFK, right. Wikimedia

1. When JFK Passed Marilyn Monroe On to RFK

After President John F. Kennedy was done with Marilyn Monroe, he basically passed her on to Robert F. Kennedy, his younger brother and the United States’ Attorney General. RFK’s image was that of a happily married and devoted husband, with a large and steadily growing family that eventually had eleven children. He was viewed as the most family-oriented and straitlaced of the Kennedy brothers, so if his relationship with Monroe had hit the news, there would have been a jarring contrast between that public perception and an affair with the iconic cultural symbol.

Her unexpected death a few months later would have made things even more explosive. The coroner ruled that Monroe’s 1962 death was a probable suicide with an excessive dose of barbiturates. However, there were plenty of conspiracy theories then and since that alleged the involvement of JFK or RFK in her death. The sudden death of a former mistress of the president, who then became the mistress of his brother, the Attorney General and the president’s right-hand man? That would have made for a media-feeding frenzy today.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Cheat Sheet – Shocking Sex Scandals of Former US Presidents

Encyclopedia Britannica – Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

Grunge – US Presidents Who Were Really Weird People

Heavy – Jennifer Fitzgerald: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

History Collection – Mistakes That Shaped America

History dot Com – When Teddy Roosevelt Was Shot in 1912, a Speech May Have Saved His Life

Independent, The, January 21st, 2009 – Gerald R Ford

Library of Congress – The Contents of Abraham Lincoln’s Pockets on the Evening of His Assassination

New York Post, March 30th, 2019 – Barbara Bush Contemplated Suicide Over Husband’s Alleged Affair With Aide

New York Times, June 30th, 1989 – US Official Quits in Escort Service Inquiry

Politico, November 19th, 2013 – Sex in the Senate: Bobby Baker’s Salacious Secret History of Capitol Hill

Ranker – All of the Contents of the Odd Contents of Abraham Lincoln’s Pockets the Night He Perished

Sandburg, Carl – Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years (1929)

Sandburg, Carl – Abraham Lincoln: The War Years (1939)

Smithsonian Magazine, April 7th, 2010 – The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln: Lincoln’s Missing Bodyguard

Smithsonian Magazine, May 7th, 2015 – John Quincy Adams Once Approved an Expedition to the Center of the Earth

Times, The, September 19th, 2004 – Mistress of Influence: Bush’s ‘Other Wife’

US News & World Report, May 24th, 2013 – What They Found in Lincoln’s Pockets the Night He Was Shot

Washington Post, August 1st, 1989 – The Bombshell That Didn’t Explode

Wikipedia – Richard Lawrence (Failed Assassin)