Monday, February 18, 2013

Presidents Day

Although I'm not a fan of February's capricious winter weather,
I do appreciate all the holidays and celebrations it brings.
And today we have another: Presidents Day.

photo courtesy of

According to
President's Day was established in 1885 
to honor George Washington's birthday, February 22nd.
In 1971, congress passed a law moving many holiday observances to Monday
so American workers could have a 3-day weekend,
and that resulted in Washington's Birthday commemoration
being switched to the 3rd week of February.
And while they were moving things around on the calendar,
some folks decided that Lincoln's birthday should be moved to the same day.
And soon someone had the idea 
that we should celebrate all the US presidents on this day.
And here we are.

So in honor of Presidents' Day,
put together a video of presidential fun facts.
Here are a few I found interesting:
John Tyler, one of our Virginia presidents, fathered 15 children.

Richard Nixon Playing Piano in Beverly Hills in 1962 - Dusty Trice
 Nixon photo from 

Richard Nixon played several musical instruments,
including piano, clarinet, violin, cello, accordion, and the saxophone.
Somehow it's hard for me to imagine Nixon holding forth on the accordion 
with a rendition of "Beer Barrel Polka."
James Madison, also a Virginia president,
was the first to wear long pants instead of knee-britches.
John Quincy Adams was the first president to be photographed,
but judging from his photos, saying "cheese" for the camera
wasn't in fashion yet.

photo from

Chester A. Arthur had sideburns, called mutton chops, down to his lapels.
There are other photos of Arthur with shorter chops, 
so it appears he reconsidered his look at some point.
Probably the most fascinating item in the video 
is that Martin Van Buren was bilingual and spoke English publicly, 
but Dutch was his native language, which he spoke at home.
He grew up in Kinderhook, New York, a state settled largely by the Dutch.

photo from

And what about George Washington who started the roll of presidents
and the Presidents Day holiday?
In the book The Surprising George Washington, 
historian Richard Norton Smith tells us a number of interesting facts.
Washington introduced the mule to the US; he loved pineapple and Brazil nuts.
He won a unanimous vote in the electoral college.

He also traveled the country in a white carriage 
and the coachman sat in a leopard-skin box.
He was accompanied by a valet, footmen, saddle horses,
and his white horse Prescott.
Whenever he entered a settlement, he was announced with trumpet and bugle.
His "publick" was delighted to be honored with a visit from the nation's leader.
 (source: Paul Johnson, citation below).

But everyone didn't love Washington.
According to Paul Johnson in his book George Washington: The Founding Father,
John Adams, Washington's vice president and later president in his own right,
called Washington "Old Muttonhead." 
This is because in Adam's estimation,
Washington was little more than an actor playing a role,
understanding little about the intricacies of running a government.
Timothy Pickering, secretary of state to Washington, was even more unkind,
accusing Washington of sleeping during cabinet meetings, 
not writing his own speeches,
and most belittling of all, saying that Washington needed chalk marks on the floor
to show him where to stand during receptions.
By today's standards, all minor infractions, 
if considered infractions at all.

Irrespective of political criticisms, most historians agree
Washington performed his duties admirably and was a man of high character.
Johnson cites this quote about Washington made by Tobias Lear,
described by the author as the man who kept [Washington's] records.
According to Lear, Washington was "almost the only man of an exalted character
who does not lose some part of his respectability
on an intimate acquaintance."
And that's a good reason to celebrate.

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