Wednesday, December 30, 2015

TR and the Myth of the Piranha

A few days ago we went to the Shedd Aquarium with my dad and step-mom as an after-Christmas treat. That would have been fun in itself, but everything's better when unexpected presidential trivia works its way in.

As we were admiring---if that's the word one would use---the piranha tank, a helpful Aquarium worker explained how piranhas aren't nearly as dangerous as we think, and how that erroneous perception is due largely to Teddy Roosevelt.

It all began during TR's trip to the Amazon. (Speaking of Amazon, make sure to shop there through my affiliate link! This post brought to you by shameless plugging!) Anyway, the locals wanted to make a big impression on the former president, so they dammed off a portion of the river and caught a bunch of piranhas to throw in. Then they starved the fish for several days.

Not eating for several days could make anyone cranky, and the piranhas were no exception. When Roosevelt got there, the locals pushed a live cow into the river, and rest is history...just like the cow was once the piranhas sunk their teeth into it.

The Aquarium person said that piranhas are omnivores, and as long as they're fed, they're pretty docile. My dad asked her what would happen if he jumped into the tank and she said they'd probably ignore him. We didn't test the theory.

So piranhas might not be as vicious as we've been taught, but it's more fun to think that they are, so I'm going to keep on believing that. Thanks, Teddy Roosevelt!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Separated at Birth, part 11

Ho ho ho! Welcome to this special Christmas edition of Separated at Birth!

A long time ago I wrote a post about Benjamin Harrison and how I have to struggle to remember he exists. My aunt commented that this surprises her because she "always think[s] of him as the most grandfatherly president." She pictures him "surrounded by little kids listening to him tell stories." Then she said he reminds her of Edmund Gwenn, the guy from Miracle on 34th Street.

The thing that surprised me the most about her comment is that she has actually given thought to Benjamin Harrison. I didn't know that was something anyone had ever done. Ever.

I already had a "Separated at Birth" planned for Benjamin Harrison, but on my aunt's suggestion, I did another.

First, B. Harrison and Edmund Gwenn (I guess...I admit I've never seen the entire movie. I know, I know!)

Second, B. Harrison and Andrew Carnegie, who generally isn't as beloved as Santa Claus, but who did give a lot of money to charity and built libraries and stuff.

Merry Christmas from Presidentress, and Benjamin Harrison!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Presidential Christmas Carol 2015

Last year I started the grand tradition of rewriting a popular Christmas song to give it a presidential theme. The other day I posted last year's masterpiece, Cleveland the Creepy POTUS, and now it's time to reveal this year's offering, about Warren G. Harding.

So curl up next to the fire with a cup of hot chocolate and this photo of Harding. Gaze into his eyes and sing this song about him, set to the tune of Frosty the Snowman.

Warren G. Harding 
Was a suave, determined guy. 
He carried on with a bunch of broads,
One who was a German spy.

Warren G. Harding
Was a ladies' man they say.
Forget Teapot Dome, he liked to roam
And bed all kinds of dames. 

There was a girl from his hometown
Whom he was keen to hit on. 
And that is how he got involved
With a mistress named Nan Britton. 

Oh Warren G. Harding
Should have been a bit more cautious
But his whole plan was to get with Nan
All around his senate office. 

Humpity hump hump
Humpity hump hump
Look at Warren go. 
Humpity hump hump
Humpity hump hump
Was she looking for some dough?

Warren G. Harding
Learned Nan was in a family way.
But he said, "That's great, don't bloviate.
I'll help you with our babe."

Down by the seashore
Nan gave birth to Harding's daughter. 
She accepted things like coats and rings
And the cash that he'd allot her. 

He was elected president
But kept their secret life. 
Nan looked forward to the moment when
She'd hear him call her "wife."

Oh, Warren G. Harding
Had to take a trip out west. 
He went and died; people'd say Nan lied
And the truth would be suppressed. 

Scribble and scrawl all,
Nan wrote a tell-all
To make a formal plea. 
She said it was unfair,
She put it all out there.
What return to normalcy?

First, that ornament(s) up there? That's the 2014 White House Christmas ornament featuring a train that Harding took (and got to drive for a few minutes!) when he took his fateful trip out west. The train later carried his body back after he died in San Francisco. Good times!

I actually got the idea to write this song shortly after finishing last year's song about Grover Cleveland. The names "Warren G. Harding" and "Frosty the Snowman" go so well together. At the time, I had planned on the song being more about Harding's affair with Carrie Phillips, the potential German spy, but that plan changed a few months ago when DNA testing showed that Harding really had fathered a child with Nan Britton.

In case you've forgotten from your high school history class, Teapot Dome is the name of a major scandal that took place during Harding's Administration. (It involved oil fields, not teapots or domes.) He probably didn't know about it, but since it happened on his watch, he gets the blame.

I wanted to work in the word "bloviate," one of Harding's favorites, and also the term "Return to Normalcy," Harding's campaign promise to help America get back to normal after World War I. (Dave Barry, in Dave Barry Slept Here, questions whether "normalcy" is even a real word. It is, but it sounds fake, doesn't it?)

Anyway, have fun singing this song while wrapping presents or baking cookies. If you go caroling this year, make sure you add it to your repertoire and see how people react!

As my New Year's Resolution, I promise to try to stop writing so much about Harding, because I know other people don't find him as fascinating as I do. We'll see how that goes.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Presidentress Gift Guide 2015

Happy Holidays, everyone! If you're looking for the perfect gift for the strange presidential pseudo-historian in your life, you've come to the right place! Below is a list of things that I love, meaning they would make great gifts for the special historical nerd in your life.

Note that some of the links (namely, the Amazon ones) are affiliate links. Buying stuff through those links helps support this blog at no extra cost to you. All the other links are non-affiliate links that do absolutely nothing for me, but that shouldn't stop you from buying stuff.

First up, any book by Sarah Vowell. I've written before about how she's one of my very favorite authors, and she should be one of yours, too. Her writing is funny and intelligent, the best combination in my opinion.

Some artwork from Veeptopus. Nothing says "holiday spirit" like a Vice President with an octopus on his head. I have a few pieces of Veeptopus artwork, and I won't rest until every home in America does.

Presidential building blocks. I don't actually own these, but only because I can't justify the cost. But maybe someone in your life is worth $88 to you.

Another one of my favorite things is J.D. and Kate Industries, the people behind Hottest Heads of State and the amazing online novel Senator Dracula (still in progress). Now you can show your support for Senator Dracula with a fantastic bumper sticker!

Presidential Pez Dispensers. Prez Dispensers? The Kennedy one only goes back, not back and to the left. (Too soon?)

Feeling like being charitable or supporting a non-profit? Presidentress has gift ideas for that, too.

The annual Christmas ornament from the White House Historical Association, this year honoring Calvin Coolidge, would look amazing on anyone's tree. The ornament looks like a little Christmas tree and includes tiny ornaments representing details about the Coolidges. For example, there's a raccoon in honor of Grace Coolidge's pet raccoon, Rebecca. (I'm not making that up.)

If an ornament representing Rebecca the Raccoon isn't enough for you, the Association also sells plush Rebeccas. (Still not making this up.)

And if you still can't get enough of presidential animals, you can help Mount Vernon "Buy a Mule for George." They're raising money to, well, buy some mules. You can donate in any amount, but a $50 donation will get you a stuffed mule.

Go out and stimulate the economy! (Or just follow these links and stay home while you stimulate the economy, because that's easier and more comfortable.)

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Cleveland the Creepy POTUS

Last year I gave my Facebook friends a very special gift: A Christmas carol about Grover Cleveland. Now, as the holiday season approaches once more, I share it with the rest of the world as well.

Stay tuned for another presidential Christmas song later in the month, too! (Presidentress: The gift that keeps on giving.)

With no further ado, here is Cleveland the Creepy POTUS, set to the tune of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer:

You know Taylor and Tyler and Arthur and Clinton
Wilson and Hoover and Truman and Nixon
But do you recall the most lowlife leader of all?

Cleveland the creepy POTUS
Had two very separate terms
And if you really knew him
It would likely make you squirm.

He date-raped a widowed woman 
Then she went and had his son.
He had her declared nutso
And locked away from everyone.

His best friend had had a kid. 
He watched her grow up. 
After the friend met his fate,
He wanted her to be his mate.

People thought he'd marry her mom
But he married her instead. 
Cleveland, the creepy POTUS
Your story cannot be unread.