Tuesday, August 14, 2018

A Dead President Makes Answer to the President's Daughter (Book Review)

I have discovered an amazing piece of 1920s fanfiction.

I can't remember how I stumbled upon the existence of this book, A Dead President Makes Answer to the President's Daughter, but when I did, I knew I had to have it. I couldn't find much information about it, but the idea that it involved a deceased Warren G. Harding discussing his alleged mistress's book was too good to pass up.

Unfortunately, it's not still in print. The book, written by Anton Shrewsbury Jenks, was published in 1928 by the Golden Hind Press, and is not readily available. Thankfully I was able to find one (in decent shape, no less) for a reasonable price on Amazon.

Some quick backstory in case you're not familiar: Warren G. Harding had at least two well-known affairs. One of them was with a woman named Nan Britton, who, after Harding's death, wrote a book called The President's Daughter to reveal the truth about his having fathered her child, and also as a means of supporting that child, as Harding had not left an inheritance for them.

Britton's book, published in 1927, understandably caused quite a stir. The book was considered so shocking and lascivious that Britton had to self-publish it, and authorities attempted to ban its sale. So naturally, it became an instant hit.

That brings us to this gem, published just months later: A Dead President Makes Answer to the President's Daughter.

I was surprised by how small this book is: 94 pages, but the story doesn't really begin until page 15, the type and margins are large, and there are a lot of blank pages. I read the whole thing in well under half an hour. But that's okay because I realized I was holding an early-20th-century equivalent of McSweeney's-style satire. And it is phenomenal.

The premise is that the author (Jenks) is visiting relatives with his wife and children, but he decides to return home alone for the night. When he gets home, he plans on having a drink but finds the frigidaire has broken down and isn't producing ice, so he decides to go to bed instead. That's when his wife's book, The President's Daughter, catches his eye and he decides to read it.

He becomes enthralled with the book, but after a few hours he also feels physically uneasy, as though something is in the room with him. That's when he realizes the ghost of Warren G. Harding is sitting in his bedroom.

The two men get into a lengthy conversation about the book and the question of Harding's alleged child. Harding seems despondent at not knowing what to think, and he reveals that it was St. Peter himself who alerted him that he had a child. It turns out that there are two levels of heaven, and the higher one is reserved for those who had offspring. If Harding is able to become convinced that the child is his, he will be able to move to that higher heavenly level.

Now, at this point I was confused because the whole premise of Britton's book is that Harding did know about the child. So how did this ghost first hear about it from St. Peter?

I turned the page to find that Jenks wondered the same thing, and that's what he asked Harding: Didn't you know? Harding's response is basically that he let Nan believe that he believed her, but he wasn't really sure what to think. Jenks asks if he believes Nan was with another man, and although Harding is offended that Jenks would question Nan's honor, at the same time, he can't rule out the possibility.

"I worried constantly about her. Whenever we met I kept warning her. I wanted her to exercise the greatest care as to where she went, dined, and slept. God knows I wanted her all to myself. But how could I honestly believe that she was all mine when I saw her so rarely and the world seemed to want her so much?"
With these words the dead man's head sank into his arms. He was weeping softly and bitterly.

Ultimately, Harding cannot know for sure whether the child is his, and he also decides the upper level of heaven is probably too pious anyway and he's better off staying where he is. Then he disappears.

Shocked by what had just happened, and also overwhelmed by the sudden odor of decay, Jenks rushes back to his relatives' house. He arrives in time for breakfast and regales them with the story of meeting Warren G. Harding's ghost. His wife, less than pleased with the whole thing, doesn't believe he had a supernatural encounter. When they get home, she realizes the broken refrigerator is leaking ammonia, the source of both the smell and the hallucination. The book ends thusly:

"But the conversation!" I lamented. "Surely you don't think it utterly valueless?"
She shrugged her pretty shoulders.
"It depends on what people will pay for that sort of thing. You should be able to sell a million copies of that conversation at a dollar and a half a copy."
And the rest is history, as they say. 

Frankly, the whole thing is brilliant. The quick turnaround to take advantage of a hot topic, some "charming" 1920s misogyny, subtle references to Harding's lack of culture, several tongue-in-cheek references to the importance of "a Senator from Ohio," the trolling at the end... It was truly glorious.

So who was this Anton Shrewsbury Jenks? I have no idea. I suspected it was a pseudonym because it just sounds like a pseudonym, and when I looked him up I discovered my suspicions were correct. In the book, Jenks refers to himself as a journalist, but there seem to be no records of anyone with that name, other than this one book. There is speculation that Jenks might really be Samuel Roth, publisher of erotica, political exposés, pornography, and more. Roth appears to have thrived on running afoul of the law and was imprisoned at least five times for distributing obscene literature. He even found himself a potential witness in the Alger Hiss trial.

Thanks to recent DNA evidence, we know that Warren G. Harding was, indeed, the father of Nan Britton's child. If that means he has now made it to the higher level of heaven, I hope it's not too boring for him.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Harding: Before it was Cool

Did you know that yesterday was the anniversary of Warren G. Harding's untimely demise? And did you know that today is the anniversary of Calvin Coolidge taking the oath of office to fill Harding's place?

Celebrate the occasion with my brand-new shirt (inspired by @potus_geeks). Warren G. Harding: He was president before it was Coolidge.

The design is available in both black and white type, and shirts are available in unisex and women's cuts, depending on your preference. The design is also available on items other than shirts, such as mugs, stickers, and miniskirts. (Warren would have appreciated that last one.)

Items are available at Redbubble, and you can use this link to save $10 on a $30 purchase. (First-time customers only.)

While you're shopping, be sure to look for the Raise a Glass to Freedom shirts (available in regular or rainbow colors) and create a whole Presidentress-approved wardrobe.





Saturday, June 9, 2018

Raise a Glass to Some New Shirts


More than a year ago, my friend Becky (who you'll remember from various escapades) and I decided we needed a Fourth of July t-shirt with the Statue of Liberty raising a glass to freedom. I didn't get on it in time for last Independence Day, but I did for this one. Barely.

Now you, too, can order your very own Raise a Glass to Freedom shirt (or tons of other items) from Redbubble.

I created two designs because I couldn't decide which I liked more: a "classic" and a "rainbow." You can purchase the classic design here, and the rainbow design here.


Shirts start at just a smidge over $19, and you can choose from various cuts and colors. There are plenty of other cool things, too, like mugs, phone cases, and vinyl stickers.


The rainbow design would also be great for Pride Month, and if you hurry, you can have something delivered before the end of June! (If I were a better planner, I would have had all this ready weeks ago.)

So join the growing ranks of Raise-a-Glass shirt owners. Tomorrow there'll be more of us, and that's something they can never take away.


Friday, June 1, 2018

Presidentress Turns 3!

Can you believe this blog is three years old already? They grow up so fast.

Each year I like doing a quick recap of my most popular posts of the year. Unfortunately, Google's analytics don't actually show me the most popular posts of the past 12 months, so instead I'll just go with my most popular posts of all time and assume they correspond accordingly.

#5 this year is...well...it's my post on Presidential Penis Nicknames. Appropriately, it was the idea for that post that inspired the blog's creation in the first place. Anyway, you're welcome.

#4 is Cubs, Trump, and Armageddon. I understood why this one was popular last year, but I'm a little surprised it's maintained its popularity. I guess the good news is that the world did not actually end. Yet.

#3 finds us taking a look at Thomas Jefferson's Killer Sheep. This one was on the list last year, too, and I still don't understand what makes it so popular. Although I suppose wool is a pretty hot topic.

This year's runner-up is my crocheted Alexander Hamilton Doll. I am really proud of that, so I'm happy to see it up there.

And returning to the #1 spot this year is my post about DIY Presidential T-Shirts...not so much for Herbert Hoover, but for the Disney possibilities. Whatever. I'd like to think at least some people have made president shirts using the technique.

Thanks for joining me for another year!


Thursday, April 19, 2018

Herbert Hoover's Mystery Cow

A lot of people know the story contained in W. P. Kinsella's book Shoeless Joe, either because they've read the book or have seen the movie based on it: Field of Dreams. A less-known but possibly even better book of Kinsella's is The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, about a man who devotes his life to proving (despite a lack of evidence or anyone else's recollection) that the Chicago Cubs played a bizarre exhibition game against a local Iowa team in 1908. I can relate to that guy, because I know of the existence of another Iowan thing that no one else remembers: a cow.

The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum just opened a new temporary exhibit about farming. One of the features is a fake cow that visitors can milk. Because my 6-year-old is a wee bit obsessed with cows right now (and because he also loves Iowa and Herbert Hoover), I'm definitely going to try to make it there.

But learning about this new exhibit also reminded me of another Hoover-cow experience, the one that has turned into a bit of a mystery.

Many, many years ago, just after graduating from high school, I set out with my mom on a long, meandering road trip from Ohio to California. Along the way we stopped at numerous roadside attractions and lots of museums, including presidential and presidential-ish sites.

After stops in Norwalk, Ohio; Terre Haute, Indiana (Eugene V. Debs' home); Michigan City, Indiana (no idea what we did there); Chicago (lots of things); and Galena, Illinois (Ulysses S. Grant's home); we finally headed into Iowa, where attractions like the Field of Dreams movie site awaited us. But our first stop was in West Branch for the Hoover Museum.

We went through the museum and then went outside to walk around the buildings that are part of the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site. I honestly don't remember much about the museum or the buildings, but what I remember very clearly is the cow.

There was a cow. It was along a path and behind a wooden fence. I don't recall there being any other animals, and I also don't recall there being any other people. It was kind of eerie. The cow was just hanging out, so I went over to it. It mooed at me and let me pet its nose. I'm pretty sure that was the first time I'd ever touched a cow (and, come to think of it, possibly the last).

There was definitely a cow.

We finished with the grounds, we went on to do lots of other things in Iowa along the old Route 66, and I got to California and life went on.

I've been back to the Hoover site a few times now. When I first took my family, I recounted to my kids how I'd met a cow and hoped it was still there, but alas it wasn't.

So the other day when the Hoover Museum tweeted a picture of the fake cow, I asked them about the real cow that used to live there...but they have no recollection of its existence.

I have an excellent memory, but I started to wonder if maybe I'd seen the cow at a different presidential museum. We had gone to two others on the trip: Lyndon Johnson's and, I'm assuming, Eisenhower's. I say "assuming" because until a few months ago, I would have told you we'd gone to Truman's, but as I recently learned, we had not. The only other presidential museum along our route would have been Ike's. So it's possible the cow was there, and it's possible my memory isn't as good as I thought it was. But somewhere, there was a cow.

I eliminated the possibility of the LBJ museum because that was toward the end of our trip, and the cow was definitely earlier. The Eisenhower museum does appear to have a house on its grounds, and feasibly that's the one I remember seeing behind the cow. Could it have been an Eisenhower cow and not a Hoover cow? I asked the Ike Museum on social media, but they also don't remember a cow.

So now I don't know where the hell the cow was, but I know it existed, and I'm still pretty convinced it was at the Hoover Museum, but I'm leaving Ike open as a possibility.

If anyone else visited the Hoover or Eisenhower Museums in the mid-1990s and remembers there being a cow, please let me know. Or if you happen to work at the Hoover Library and Museum, Hoover National Historic Site, or Eisenhower Library and Museum and want to look into this more closely, I'd really appreciate it. Because it's driving me crazy.


Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Win an Autographed Copy of "Hottest Heads of State"!

***Update! This contest is now closed. The winner is Brittany S.!***

A while back, I brought you a review of the hottest new book of the year: Hottest Heads of State. If you're not familiar with it, the book is essentially a teen-heartthrob-magazine of U. S. Presidents, but with actual information and a lot of humor. (It should be noted, though, that while it mimics a teen magazine, the book is intended for adults, not actual kids. One might think this designation would be obvious, but I was in Washington, D.C., shortly after the book was released and found it shelved in the children's section of a fairly major institution. I'm looking at you, National Museum of American History.)


If you like American history and you like laughing, Hottest Heads of State is the book for you! The review linked up above goes into more detail, so read it if you need more convincing. (And if you're too lazy to read the review, that might indicate you're also too lazy to read the book, but I'm not judging.)

I'm pleased to announce that I have a copy of Hottest Heads of State to give away to one lucky winner---and it's autographed by the authors, J.D. and Kate Dobson!

There are several ways to enter, as outlined below. If you don't want to take your chances on winning a book for free, you can pay money for one right now on Amazon. Again, not judging.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
The Fine Print/Terms and Conditions

1. This contest is open to humans age 18 or older who have a U.S. mailing address.
2. Members of my household and my immediate family are ineligible.
3. My cousin Christina is also ineligible because I already gave her a copy and she's not going to get another one out of me.
4. The contest runs from 12 a.m. Eastern April 4, 2018, to 12 a.m. Eastern April 11, 2018.
5. A winner will be chosen at random within 72 hours of the end of the contest and will be contacted based on information provided when entering. If the winner does not respond within 7 days, a new winner will be chosen.
6. The book will be mailed via USPS within a week of my receiving the winner's address. The book will probably be sent media class---it depends on how much postage is. Maybe the winner will luck out and I'll send it Priority.
7. I'm not responsible for the prize once it leaves my possession.
8. This contest is void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. Always wear sunscreen.
9. This autographed copy of Hottest Heads of State was provided to me by the authors for the purpose of this giveaway. I have not received compensation to run this giveaway or for my review.


Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Cooking with the Presidents: Chicken Pudding

When I saw that Mount Vernon had posted a Facebook video for something called "Chicken Pudding," my first thought was, "Ewww." But I gave the video a chance, and it quickly became apparent that chicken pudding isn't too much different from, say, a chicken pot pie or something along those lines.

Here, you can see for yourself. (I also give the recipe below if you don't want to watch the video.)



The main difference between this and the pot pie I've made in the past (besides the lack of crust or vegetables) is the addition of eggs...which is also what makes it a pudding, I suppose. I'm always in favor of extra protein, though, so I decided to make this for Presidents Day.

The video tells you pretty much all you need to know, except for the amount of broth. In the comments to the video, Mount Vernon specified about 1/2 cup. I decided to add a little dried thyme to the mixture, also, because it seemed like it needed something. And instead of roasting my own chicken on a spit, I picked up a rotisserie chicken at Ye Olde Jewel Osco, and I shredded it instead of cubing it.

Here's the recipe I wound up using:

Chicken Pudding

1 cooked chicken, shredded or cubed
1/2 c butter
1/2 c flour
1/2 c broth
2 c milk
4 eggs
salt, pepper, thyme to taste

Preheat your oven to 350

In a bowl, mix together the eggs and milk, and set aside.

Melt the butter in a large pan, then whisk in the flour. Cook for a couple minutes until it darkens a bit.

Whisk in the broth and incorporate it well.

Slowly add the milk/egg mixture and whisk well to combine. Add seasoning.

Remove from heat, add the chicken, then transfer to a pie plate. Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes.

***

While I was making this, my daughter came into the kitchen to ask what smelled so good. I told her I was making a chicken pie because somehow that sounds more appealing than chicken pudding. She said she couldn't wait for dinner. I was glad she was enthusiastic because my last attempt at a Mount Vernon recipe hadn't gone too well.

The pudding emerged from the oven looking and smelling pretty appealing. I let it cool for about 20 minutes before cutting into it, since that's what I usually do with casseroles and whatnot to keep them from running. I'm not sure that was entirely necessary with this, though. It wound up being firm and not runny at all, probably thanks to all those eggs.


I wasn't sure whether I was supposed to scoop out the servings or slice them like a pie. I wound up doing a scoop-slice hybrid.

I served the pudding with biscuits and honey-glazed carrots. In retrospect I would have gone with a lighter, less sweet vegetable because the pudding was pretty dense, and the biscuits and honey just made everything heavier. It also looked kind of monochrome. Not to go all Iron Chef, but it needed something acidic.


That said, the pudding actually tasted pretty good, and my kids seemed to enjoy it a lot. In fact, they liked it so much that halfway through the meal I decided to tell them it was really called Chicken Pudding...and then they suddenly stopped eating. After moaning for a couple minutes about how gross that was, they resumed eating again, and they ate the leftovers the next night without complaint. (Surprisingly, the leftovers actually tasted a little better than the fresh-baked pudding/pie.)

This isn't a fancy dish, but it's a hearty one, and it's worth checking out if you want to make something George Washington might have eaten. (And trust me, there are a lot of things he would have eaten that sound---and probably taste---a lot less appealing than "chicken pudding.")