By Dennis Minich
Monday we celebrate Presidents’ Day, what back in the day was actually two holidays: Washington’s Birthday and Lincoln’s Birthday. Back when we observed the two birthdays, I never really wondered why Lincoln’s Birthday deserved special recognition. You really didn’t do anything special and there certainly was no special foodstuff. Washington’s Birthday was slightly more festive, my mother always baked a cherry pie, a nod to the cherry tree little George may or may not have cut down.
At some point, someone decided all presidents needed to be celebrated, so they picked a Monday in February that floats between the two birthday observances and gave us a day to celebrate all 46 of the gentlemen (term used loosely) who have held the office.
I had a professor in college, one I didn’t care for a great deal, but one I will admit taught me some stuff. One of his ongoing lectures was Martin Van Buren was never president. He would blabber about this just about every week without ever explaining why. Then he would brag to his fellow instructors he had convinced us of this historical inaccuracy, even though no one bought into his nonsense. But that being said, there was a justification for his comments.
If someone were to ask the presidents in order, most everyone can get George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Most can take it a step further with James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. After rolling off the first seven, most people are stumped.
Maybe its easier if you take the list in reverse order: Biden, Trump, Obama, George W. Bush, Clinton, George Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy, Eisenhower, Harry S Truman (note Truman’s name must always be written in bold type in Missouri), Roosevelt, Hoover and? Getting those last 16 might be a task for some, but not that surprising. So, we know 16 presidents at the end; seven at the beginning and then know there were some people like Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Grant thrown in somewhere. With 46 guys having held the office, that leaves about half living primarily in obscurity.
Knowing about half does help with some trivia: for example: we know the first assassinated was Lincoln, we know the only one from Missouri is Truman, one was from Kansas, but was elected as a Pennsylvanian: Eisenhower, and the only one to never be elected president or vice president: Ford.
There could be so much more trivia: There is one who was very rotund; there was one who was single; there was the first one to travel abroad, and one who served two non-consecutive terms. But since we cannot remember their names, their contributions to history must be pretty meaningless. So, Monday we pay homage to 25 guys we can name and another 21 who have faded into the mists of history.
Just because I want my readers to be smarter than the average human being, here are a couple tidbits to help make your trivia skills better. When working in reverse order, Calvin Coolidge preceded Hoover. When asked to name in order, remember following Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Adams and Jackson was none other than Martin Van Buren, who indeed was the eighth president of the United States. Extra credit is awarded if you know William Henry Harrison came ninth, but was in office only a month.