The Nine Lives of Andrew Jackson

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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These Sparrows Have Been Singing the Same Songs for 1500 Years
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Swamp sparrows are creatures of habit—so much so that they’ve been chirping out the same few tunes for more than 1500 years, Science magazine reports.

These findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, resulted from an analysis of the songs of 615 adult male swamp sparrows found in six different areas of the northeastern U.S. Researchers learned that young swamp sparrows pick up these songs from the adults around them and are able to mimic the notes with astounding accuracy.

Here’s what one of their songs sounds like:

“We were able to show that swamp sparrows very rarely make mistakes when they learn their songs, and they don't just learn songs at random; they pick up commoner songs rather than rarer songs,” Robert Lachlan, a biologist at London’s Queen Mary University and the study’s lead author, tells National Geographic.

Put differently, the birds don’t mimic every song their elders crank out. Instead, they memorize the ones they hear most often, and scientists say this form of “conformist bias” was previously thought to be a uniquely human behavior.

Using acoustic analysis software, researchers broke down each individual note of the sparrows’ songs—160 different syllables in total—and discovered that only 2 percent of sparrows deviated from the norm. They then used a statistical method to determine how the songs would have evolved over time. With recordings from 2009 and the 1970s, they were able to estimate that the oldest swamp sparrow songs date back 1537 years on average.

The swamp sparrow’s dedication to accuracy sets the species apart from other songbirds, according to researchers. “Among songbirds, it is clear that some species of birds learn precisely, such as swamp sparrows, while others rarely learn all parts of a demonstrator’s song precisely,” they write.

According to the Audubon Guide to North American Birds, swamp sparrows are similar to other sparrows, like the Lincoln’s sparrow, song sparrow, and chipping sparrow. They’re frequently found in marshes throughout the Northeast and Midwest, as well as much of Canada. They’re known for their piercing call notes and may respond to birders who make loud squeaking sounds in their habitat.

[h/t Science magazine]

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18 Smart Products To Help You Kick Off Summer
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Whether you’re trying to spiff up your backyard barbeque or cultivate your green thumb, these summertime gadgets will help you celebrate the season from solstice to the dog days.

1. ROSÉ WINE GLASSES; $60

Rosé Wine Glass
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Wine not? When the temperature rises and beer isn’t your thing, reach for the rosé. Riedel’s machine-blown SST (see, smell, taste) wine glasses will give the sparkly stuff ample room to breathe, making every refreshing sip worthwhile.

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2. NERF N-STRIKE ELITE SURGEFIRE; $25

Nerf SurgeFire
Hasbro

Why It’s Cool: The N-Strike Elite SurgeFire (say that five-times-fast) sports a pump-action rotating drum for maximum foam-based firepower and holds up to 15 Nerf darts in its arsenal.

Find It: Hasbro Toy Shop

3. BUSHEL & BERRY PLANTS; $34

plant
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: You don’t need to have a green thumb to create a brag-worthy garden this summer. Besides producing snackable mid-season berries, these open-growing bushes can be planted immediately for easy set-up to make you look like a botanical pro.

Find It: Amazon

4. INFLATABLE DONUT; $17

Doughnut float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When the only dunking you’re doing is taking a dip in the pool, a 48-inch inflatable donut is the perfect way to stay afloat.

Find It: Amazon

5. STAR SPANGLED SPATULA; $21

American flag spatula
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: O say can you see by your grill’s charcoal light / Meats so proudly we cooked ... with a star spangled spatula. Depending on the specific model, these all-American grilling tools (designed in New Jersey and made in Chicago) are made of a combination of walnut and stainless steel or nylon. As an added bonus: 5 percent of the proceeds go to the Penn Abramson Cancer Center.

Find It: Amazon

6. MLB HOT DOG BRANDERS; $8 AND UP

MLB San Diego Padres Hot Dog BBQ Brander
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Take your hot dogs, sausages, brats, and more out to the ballgame without ever leaving your grill. These branders from Pangea Brands are dishwasher-safe and made of ceramic-coated cast iron.

Find It: Amazon

7. UNA GRILL; $139

grill
MoMA Shop

Why It’s Cool: This portable charcoal-heated grill is as efficient as it is stylish. The compact size lets you cook at the park, after hitting up MoMA, or anywhere in between.

Find It: MoMa Shop

8. HAMBURGER GRILLING BASKET; $21


Why It’s Cool: Made of steel and finished with a non-stick coating, this grilling tool flips four burgers at once and maintains perfect burger proportions to guarantee nobody stays hungry for long.

Find It: Amazon

9. COPPER FIRE PIT; $121

metal fire pit
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: The grill isn’t the only place for a roaring fire this summer. This 100 percent solid copper fire pit makes for the perfect gathering spot at your next BBQ, or just to warm up after a cool summer evening.

Find It: Amazon

10. BENDY STRAW POOL NOODLE FLOAT; $10

Bendy Straw Inflatable Pool Float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Inflatable pool floats shouldn’t be boring, and this bendy straw float definitely does not suck. This unique spin on traditional pool noodles is sure to make for some cheesy jokes, but at least you’ll be comfortable floating in the pool or at the beach.

Find It: Amazon

11. GRIDDLER DELUXE; $111

Cuisinart GR-150 Griddler Deluxe
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: If you’re looking for some serious panini power, this griddler offers up a versatile lineup of six cooking options in one. And with dual-zone functions you can sling burgers while searing filets and sautéeing vegetables all at the same time.

Find It: Amazon

12. VINTAGE SNOW CONE MAKER; $30

Vintage Snow Cone Maker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: With its old-timey design, dual cone shelf, and endless flavor options, this snow cone maker is guaranteed create a cool treat.

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13. DACHSHUND CORN ON THE COB HOLDERS; $7

Dog Corn Holders
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: While meat-lovers will inevitably scarf down a lot of hot dogs this summer, vegetarians who happen to love another kind of dog will be smitten with these stainless steel, Dachshund-shaped corn on the cob prongs. They’re a fun spin on a summer grilling favorite.

Find It: Amazon

14. ICE CREAM SANDWICH MAKER; $16

Ice Cream Sandwich Maker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Four sandwiches are better than one, especially when they're of the ice cream variety. Make four ice cream sandwiches at once with this homemade spin on a classic cold treat.

Find It: Amazon

15. UE WONDERBOOM; $68

Bluetooth speaker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Besides delicious food and great company, some memorable tunes are required for the quintessential barbeque. This portable bluetooth speaker offers up some booming sound in a small package, and with a battery power of 10 hours on a single charge you can keep the party going all night.

Find It: Amazon

16. ROLLORS GAME; $38

Rollors Backyard Game
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When you’re sick of bocce, hate horseshoes, and you’re over cornhole, you might want to take up “rollors,” a family-friendly game that combines your favorite traditional backyard festivities into one game for people of all ages.

Find It: Amazon

17. HAMMOCK; $174

hammock
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Rest easy knowing that this 100 percent hand-woven and hand-dyed cotton hammock contributes to artisan job-creation in Thailand.

Find It: Amazon

18. VSSL SURVIVAL ESSENTIALS; $59

Emergency Survival Tent Outdoors
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Compact, convenient, and durable, the VSSL Shelter can come in handy when things don’t go quite as planned. The device—which features a lightweight emergency shelter all within the handle of a compact, weather-resistant aluminum LED flashlight—is designed to keep you safe under the worst conditions.

Find It: Amazon

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