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The Nine Lives of Andrew Jackson

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It's a wonder Andrew Jackson was able to defeat the British during the War of 1812. And found the modern Democratic Party. And become President of the United States. After all, Jackson should've died many, many times before he had the opportunity to do any of those things.

Little Orphan Andrew

The sun rarely shined on Andrew Jackson's childhood. At 14, Andrew and his brother, Robert, were captured, starved, and abused by the British during the Revolutionary War. After finally being released, they were forced to trek 45 miles to a POW camp in the rain. Robert was so sick that he was slung over the back of a horse. Andrew, meanwhile, was left to trudge through the mud—barefoot, without a jacket, and delirious with smallpox. Their mother eventually negotiated for the boys' release, but Robert died only two days after reaching the family home. Bedridden for months, Andrew pulled through miraculously.

Once Andrew had been nursed back to health, his mother left to tend sick prisoners of war in Charleston Harbor, 160 miles away. There, she succumbed to cholera and died. Since his father had passed away before he was born, Andrew suddenly found himself a penniless orphan. He moved to the town of Salisbury, N.C., where he scrubbed the floors of a law office by day and roamed the streets by night, stealing signposts and moving outhouses where no one could find them.

The Hot-headed Gunslinger

The next 100 times Andrew Jackson should have died were in duels of honor—the old-fashioned variety, where sometimes men fired their pistols into the air and sometimes they didn't. Often, these run-ins were instigated by talk of Jackson's wife, Rachel, who'd previously been with an abusive husband. Jackson valiantly rescued her from the nasty situation, yet the finality of her divorce at the time of their wedding was questionable at best. Needless to say, this was a sore spot for Jackson, and he wasn't afraid to draw his pistol at any mention of it. In fact, things only got worse when he decided to run for president, as it became the topic of a massive smear campaign. Rachel was called a bigamist more times than she could handle, and she died of a heart attack before she could even make it to the White House.

Although not all of Jackson's duels were near-death experiences, at least two of them were. Once, for instance, he was shot squarely in the chest. Normally, that sort of thing would signal the end of a duel, but Jackson simply staunched the wound with a handkerchief, and then shot and killed his opponent. The bullet, however, was lodged so close to Jackson's heart that it couldn't be removed, and he suffered from chest pains and excessive phlegm for the rest of his life. In another fight, two bullets shattered Jackson's arm and left shoulder. Doctors wanted to amputate, but Jackson refused for fear it would ruin his military career.

The War Hero

Jackson also should've died at some point during his glory days on the battlefield. He became a national hero for "clearing out" the American Indians from the South and for defeating the British at the Battle of New Orleans in early 1815, but General Jackson also fought less glorious battles against malaria, diarrhea, and starvation. In one campaign against the Creek Indians in 1813, he survived on nothing but acorns.

The Enormously Popular President

andrew-jackson.gifThe combination of Jackson's humble roots and military success made him wildly popular in the rough-and-tumble early days of the United States. Winning the Oval Office by a landslide in 1828, he was proclaimed "The People's President" in much the same way the British proclaimed Diana "The People's Princess." America's six previous presidents were born rich and had been well-educated, whereas Jackson had once cleaned floors for a living. But the citizens who loved Jackson nearly killed him, too. On Jackson's inauguration day, a mob of well-wishers rushed the White House lawn to shake hands with him. The crowd became so thick that the president would have been crushed to death if his friends hadn't formed a protective ring around him to shield him from the mob.


Of course, no matter how popular a president is, there are always those eager to take him down. In 1835, Jackson was leaving the Capitol building when a demented misanthrope named Richard Lawrence approached him with a raised pistol. Too shocked to move, the president watched as Lawrence fired a shot. Nothing happened. Then the assailant produced a second gun and fired. Again, nothing happened. Horrified, onlookers wrestled Lawrence to the ground and held him until he could be taken into custody. Only later would the strange truth become known that both pistols had been properly loaded. Odds of two misfires in a row: 1 in 125,000. The expression on Lawrence's face: Priceless.

Jenny Drapkin is the Senior Editor of mental_floss magazine. We've been serializing "All The Presidents' Secrets," her fantastic feature from the September-October 2007 issue. (Would you care to subscribe?)

Previous Installments: Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Johnson, Rutherford B. Hayes, Calvin Coolidge, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt.

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FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images
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Animals
Fisherman Catches Rare Blue Lobster, Donates It to Science
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FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images

Live lobsters caught off the New England coast are typically brown, olive-green, or gray—which is why one New Hampshire fisherman was stunned when he snagged a blue one in mid-July.

As The Independent reports, Greg Ward, from Rye, New Hampshire, discovered the unusual lobster while examining his catch near the New Hampshire-Maine border. Ward initially thought the pale crustacean was an albino lobster, which some experts estimate to be a one-in-100-million discovery. However, a closer inspection revealed that the lobster's hard shell was blue and cream.

"This one was not all the way white and not all the way blue," Ward told The Portsmouth Herald. "I've never seen anything like it."

While not as rare as an albino lobster, blue lobsters are still a famously elusive catch: It's said that the odds of their occurrence are an estimated one in two million, although nobody knows the exact numbers.

Instead of eating the blue lobster, Ward decided to donate it to the Seacoast Science Center in Rye. There, it will be studied and displayed in a lobster tank with other unusually colored critters, including a second blue lobster, a bright orange lobster, and a calico-spotted lobster.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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Courtesy Murdoch University
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Animals
Australian Scientists Discover First New Species of Sunfish in 125 Years
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Courtesy Murdoch University

Scientists have pinpointed a whole new species of the largest bony fish in the world, the massive sunfish, as we learned from Smithsonian magazine. It's the first new species of sunfish proposed in more than 125 years.

As the researchers report in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, the genetic differences between the newly named hoodwinker sunfish (Mola tecta) and its other sunfish brethren was confirmed by data on 27 different samples of the species collected over the course of three years. Since sunfish are so massive—the biggest can weigh as much as 5000 pounds—they pose a challenge to preserve and store, even for museums with large research collections. Lead author Marianne Nyegaard of Murdoch University in Australia traveled thousands of miles to find and collected genetic data on sunfish stranded on beaches. At one point, she was asked if she would be bringing her own crane to collect one.

Nyegaard also went back through scientific literature dating back to the 1500s, sorting through descriptions of sea monsters and mermen to see if any of the documentation sounded like observations of the hoodwinker. "We retraced the steps of early naturalists and taxonomists to understand how such a large fish could have evaded discovery all this time," she said in a press statement. "Overall, we felt science had been repeatedly tricked by this cheeky species, which is why we named it the 'hoodwinker.'"

Japanese researchers first detected genetic differences between previously known sunfish and a new, unknown species 10 years ago, and this confirms the existence of a whole different type from species like the Mola mola or Mola ramsayi.

Mola tecta looks a little different from other sunfish, with a more slender body. As it grows, it doesn't develop the protruding snout or bumps that other sunfish exhibit. Similarly to the others, though, it can reach a length of 8 feet or more. 

Based on the stomach contents of some of the specimens studied, the hoodwinker likely feeds on salps, a jellyfish-like creature that it probably chomps on (yes, sunfish have teeth) during deep dives. The species has been found near New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and southern Chile.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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