The Dumb Reasons Behind Two Presidential Deaths

By Adam Winer, author of How Dumb Are You?

HDAY.pngMy book is full of questions every mildly-educated American SHOULD be able to answer—but often can't. Prior to publication, we ran all the questions past a test audience to see how many people answered each one correctly. Those stats are included in the book, so you can see, on a question-by-question basis, exactly how poorly you stack up against your fellow countrymen. Plus each answer comes with a rip-roaring Fun Fact. For Mental Floss, I'll be taking the best facts from the book and exploring them here in greater depth.

Today's question: John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln were assassinated while in office. But so were two other U.S. Presidents. Can you name either one?

Answers and the stupid reasons they passed away revealed after the jump.

Answer: James A. Garfield and William McKinley. (If you got this wrong, you are dumber than 48% of America.)

The Scoop: After only four months in office, President Garfield was shot in the back while waiting for a train. Modern day experts pretty much agree Garfield's gunshot wounds shouldn't have killed him. If only his doctors had gotten that memo. This was in 1881, back before anyone understood the correlation between germs and disease, so Garfield's doctors stuck unsterilized instruments and even their dirty fingers into the president's body, poking around vainly to find the bullet. What began as a three-inch-deep wound grew into a 20-inch long gash that stretched from Garfield's ribs to his groin. At one point, Alexander Graham Bell even showed up with an early metal detector to try to find the bullet. To his puzzlement, the machine malfunctioned. That probably had something to do with the fact that Garfield was laying on a metal bed—yet another new innovation at that time—and no one thought of mentioning this fact to Graham Bell. Oops. The president went on to die of blood poisoning after 80 days of agony.

Fast forward 20 years to 1901 when McKinley got plugged at the Pan-American Exposition. As the president lay in the hospital on the exposition grounds, doctors were once again unable to find and remove the bullet. This time there was even an experimental X-ray machine on site for the expo—but for some reason no one thought to use it on McKinley.
Thus America lost its third commander in chief in less than 40 years to an assassin's bullet (Lincoln had died back in 1865). Taking the hint, Congress decided that the president should have full time bodyguards. That's when the Secret Service took on the task.
Missed yesterday's column? Check out Adam's terrific post on the strange beginnings to the Civil War here.

Pick up a copy of How Dumb Are You? at your local bookstore or at For more information, visit

Quick True/False: World Capitals
Bain News Service - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
10 Pats Born on St. Patrick's Day
A photo from the 1919 wedding of Princess Patricia of Connaught to the Hon. Alexander Ramsay.
A photo from the 1919 wedding of Princess Patricia of Connaught to the Hon. Alexander Ramsay.
Bain News Service - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Need some St. Patrick's Day conversation fodder that doesn't involve leprechauns or four-leaf clovers? Ask your friends to name a "Pat" born on St. Patrick's Day. If they can't, they owe you a drink—then you can wow them with this list of 10.


Princess Patricia was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria, who gave up all of her royal titles when she married a commoner. She was born at Buckingham Palace on March 17, 1886.


The Dallas star was born on March 17, 1949. And here's a totally random fact about Duffy: His nephew is Barry Zito, former MLB pitcher for the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants.


Pattie Boyd
Larry Ellis, Express/Getty Images

Pattie Boyd is well-known to lovers of classic rock: She has been married three times, including once to George Harrison and once to Eric Clapton, who both wrote a couple of the most romantic songs in rock history in her honor (including The Beatles's "Something" and Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight"). Boyd was a model when she met Harrison on the set of A Hard Day's Night in 1964; the pair were married two years later. They divorced in 1977 and she married Clapton, Harrison's close friend, in 1979. She also had an affair with Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones toward the end of her marriage to The Quiet Beatle.


Belfast-born Pat Rice is a former footballer and coach who spent the bulk of his career with Arsenal F.C. (that's "football club," a.k.a. soccer to us Americans). He joined the Gunners in 1964 as a mere apprentice, turning pro a couple of years later. He became captain in 1977 and left the club for a few years in the early 1980s to go to Watford, but returned after he retired from playing in 1984. In 2012, after nearly 30 years with the organization, he announced his retirement.


Patty Maloney is an actress with dwarfism who stands just three feet, 11 inches tall. She has appeared in many movies and T.V. shows over the years, including operating the Crypt Keeper puppet in Tales from the Crypt. She also played Chewbacca's son Lumpy in The Star Wars Holiday Special.


Michael C. Hall and Mathew St. Patrick in 'Six Feet Under'

Ok, so Mathew St. Patrick is the stage name of the actor, but he was born Patrick Matthews in Philadelphia on March 17, 1968. You probably know him best as David's boyfriend Keith on Six Feet Under.


He may not be a household name, but the recording artists Patrick Adams writes for and helps produce certainly are. Adams has been involved in the careers of Salt-N-Pepa, Sister Sledge, Gladys Knight, Rick James, and Coolio, among others.


It's possible you look at Patrick McDonnell's work every day, depending on which comics your newspaper carries. McDonnell draws a strip called Mutts featuring a dog and a cat named Earl and Mooch, respectively. Charles Schulz called it one of the best comic strips of all time.


 Singer/Guitarist Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins performs onstage during Live Earth New York at Giants Stadium on July 7, 2007 in East Rutherford, New Jersey
Evan Agostini, Getty Images

Yes, you know him better as just plain old Billy Corgan: he's the face of the Smashing Pumpkins, engages in public feuds with Courtney Love, and maybe once dated Jessica Simpson. He made his debut on March 17, 1967.


Patricia Ford is a retired model probably best known for her Playboy photoshoots in the 1990s.


More from mental floss studios