History classes have not done a great job of ridding American consciousness of popular presidential myths. Everything from our presidents’ most famous speeches to their most embarrassing moments has inspired legendary stories that aren’t backed up by facts. Some lies are the product of age-old misunderstandings, while others began as deliberate hoaxes. Here are some famous stories you may have heard about six US presidents that aren’t true.
1. William Henry Harrison probably didn’t die of pneumonia.
According to this myth, William Henry Harrison’s rambling inauguration speech led to his demise. The story goes that the ninth president caught a fatal case of pneumonia after delivering a record-breaking 8,445-word speech at his swearing-in ceremony on a rainy day in March 1841. This resulted in the second superlative of his presidential career: the shortest stint in the White House, lasting about a month before his untimely demise.
The truth is, the condition that killed him was more mysterious than most people realize. His own physician, Thomas Miller, wrote: “The disease was not considered a case of pure pneumonia; but since it was the most palpable condition, the term pneumonia offered a succinct and intelligible answer to countless questions about the nature of the attack.
His symptoms, which included severe constipation and abdominal distension, have since been linked to poor drinking water at the White House. In the 1840s, the building drew its water from a spring located downstream of a sewage discharge, leading modern doctors suspect that Harrison succumbed to enteric fever (or typhoid fever), caused by the bacteria inside.
2. George Washington’s teeth weren’t made of wood.
George Washington needed dentures after losing all but one of his teeth by the time he took office in 1789, but contrary to popular history, they weren’t made of wood (in fact, the wood was rarely used to make dentures at the time). Washington had several sets of fake chompers during his life, which may have been made from materials such as ivory, horse teeth, brass, and silver alloy. There have even been instances where real human teeth have been used, possibly from enslaved people. at Mount Vernon. So where does this myth come from? After prolonged use, Washington’s tinted dentures may eventually take on a brownish, wood-like color.
3. William Howard Taft didn’t get stuck in a tub.
William Howard Taft was the heaviest US president in history, weighing 330 pounds at one point. It inspired nasty myths about his time in the White House, but there’s no evidence behind the famous story that he got stuck in a bathtub and needed six men to free him. . We know of at least one embarrassing bathing incident in the president’s history that can be verified. In 1915, Taft was walking into his hotel bath when he spilled enough water on the floor to cause a leak on the lower level. He later joked about the situation while gazing out over the Atlantic Ocean, commenting, “I’ll get a piece of this fenced off someday and then I’ll venture to say there won’t be an overflow.”
4. John F. Kennedy wasn’t called a jelly donut when he said, “I am a Berliner.”
He is cited as one of the biggest presidential misfires in history: When John F. Kennedy said “I am a Berliner(or “I am a Berliner”) during a speech in front of the wall in West Berlin on June 26, 1963, he mistakenly called himself a jelly doughnut in a foreign language, rather than expressing his unity with the German citizens present.
While it’s true that Berliners is a word for jelly donut, it was not the preferred term in and around Berlin at the time. Even taking into account the double meaning of the word, JFK always expressed what he meant in the right way. Ich bin Berliner That’s how most Berlin natives would express the sentiment, but the president was actually showing a complex understanding of German when he added the indefinite article. His version of the sentence using a is more typical of recent transplant recipients, or non-residents wishing to show solidarity with the city.
No one watching his speech that day would have misinterpreted the phrase, but it didn’t stop The New York Times and other outlets to launch the line as a mistake years later.
5. Abraham Lincoln did not write the Gettysburg Address on an envelope.
the Gettysburg Address is one of the most famous political writings in history, and the myth that abraham lincoln written on the back of an envelope on the train to Pennsylvania makes it even more impressive. There is simply no truth in that. The president began writing his speech in July 1863, shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg, and went through several versions (on plain letterhead) before his November 19 speech. He may have made some last minute changes once he got to Gettysburg, but the majority of his work was completed before the trip. (The train would have been too bumpy to do much writing anyway.)
6. No, Theodore Roosevelt did not ride a bull moose.
Although Theodore Roosevelt was known as the leader of the bull moose partyhe never actually ridden a moosedespite this famous picture you’ve probably seen on social media over the years. This image of Teddy Roosevelt riding a moose across a river is actually a pre-Photoshop fake done the old-fashioned way with glue and scissors. It was originally made as part of a political poster featuring the three 1912 presidential candidates above an animal that best represented their party – Taft, the Republican, was edited to ride an elephant and Democrat Woodrow Wilson was on top of a donkey. .
In light of Roosevelt’s actual accomplishments, it’s easy to see why this fantastic story was easy to believe. The president didn’t tame a wild moose, but he explored the jungle, filled the White House with exotic animals and gave a speech after being shot in the chest.