CLOSE
Original image
iStock

10 Unexpected Duties Performed by the Secret Service

Original image
iStock

Being a Secret Service agent isn't as action-packed as they make it seem in the movies. It's a lot of observation and surveillance, sure, but the President and his family have the power to ask their protection staff to do just about anything—including serving as a urinal. Yup... these 10 menial tasks are a long shot from car chases and running down would-be assassins.

1. Lost & Found

Calvin Coolidge made eight of his secret service people search for a lost boot once. It happened to be just as they were headed out the door to successor Herbert Hoover's inauguration; it nearly made them all late.

2. Workout Buddy

This wasn't the first odd request from Silent Cal. His chief form of exercise was riding an electric horse he kept in the White House; he often requested that his Secret Service agents join him in his workout.

3. Interior Designer

JFK allegedly made his secret service squad visit a gallery in D.C. to have pictures of himself framed—pictures of himself in unusual sexual positions with various women. The owner of the gallery came forward in the book The Dark Side of Camelot.

4. Scapegoat

Gerald Ford blamed his farts on his secret service people, conspicuously saying things like, "Jesus, was that you? Show some class!"

5. Bouncer

Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously kept his disability under wraps, always striving to downplay his physical ailments. As a result, his Secret Service agents found themselves serving as paparazzi bruisers—when they spotted photographers snapping pictures of FDR in a position they knew he wouldn't appreciate (being carried by other Secret Servicemen, for example), they confiscated the cameras or made sure they were knocked to the ground and "accidentally" destroyed.

6. Wingman

Presidents who used their Secret Service detail to keep their wives at bay when their mistresses were in town included FDR, LBJ, and JFK. Lest you think it's something about those initialed Presidents, we can probably assume Bill Clinton did the same thing.

7. Urinal

Lyndon B. Johnson once asked a Secret Serviceman to shield him while he peed outside, but that's not the strange part—LBJ apparently purposely peed on the agent's trouser leg. When the agent mentioned how gross that was, LBJ was unapologetic, apparently saying, "I know. That's my prerogative."

8. Gardener

We don't know for sure what "keep the landscape from interfering with security" means, but when this $12,000-a-year charge showed up on Nixon's service detail, the press jumped on it, alleging that taxpayer money was being used to make sure that Nixon's tulips were being watered regularly. Hmm.

9. Babysitter

Aiding and abetting underage drinkers surely isn't on the Secret Service job description, but that's exactly what they did in 2001 when the Bush twins, Barbara and Jenna used fake IDs to go out on the town in Austin, Texas, and order margaritas when they were just 19. Aware of what was happening, the Secret Service whisked the girls away before they could be arrested. However, they were later cited for the offense.

10. Bellhop

Jimmy Carter liked to ask his Secret Service detail to carry bags for him. They complained that being loaded down with his luggage seriously hindered their ability to quickly react if Carter should need unexpected help; the president eventually relented.

Original image
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
arrow
History
The Time Teddy Roosevelt Was Shot in the Chest, Then Gave a Speech Anyway
Original image
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On October 14, 1912—105 years ago today—Theodore Roosevelt was on the campaign trail in Milwaukee, running for another term. It was a tough race: Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson proved to be a formidable opponent, and William Howard Taft, while unpopular, was the Republican incumbent. Roosevelt was running as a third-party Progressive, and in order to keep pace with his big-ticket rivals he had to work hard. By this point in the election season, he was giving 15 to 20 speeches per day, most of which stretched on for an hour or sometimes more. But this day, TR didn't feel too well. His throat was scratchy, he was tired, and so he planned a relatively quick stop.

What Roosevelt and his security team didn't know was that a man with a .38 caliber revolver had been trailing the campaign since they departed New Orleans. For a thousand miles, he rode quietly, just waiting to get his shot at the Colonel.

John Schrank was a Bavarian-born saloon-keeper from New York. He'd had some strange and troubling dreams in recent months, mostly about President McKinley, whose assassination resulted in Roosevelt's first term. In his dreams, Schrank said that President McKinley asked him to avenge his death and protect democracy from a three-term president. All Schrank had to do was kill Roosevelt before he could be reelected.

"BUT FORTUNATELY I HAD MY MANUSCRIPT"

Roosevelt stood in the seat of his automobile to wave at the crowds and Schrank, who was standing in the front row of the crowd, had his shot. He took aim: point-blank, right at Roosevelt’s head. Then three things happened at the same time. A bystander hit Schrank’s arm; Roosevelt’s security detail spotted the gun and leapt from the car; Schrank pulled the trigger. The shot landed squarely in Roosevelt’s chest just as Schrank was tackled and put in a headlock by the bodyguard. Roosevelt is said not to have noticed he was hit until he reached into his overcoat and felt the blood on his fingers.

But it turns out that Teddy’s long-winded speeches saved his life that day: The bullet traveled through a 50-page copy of his prepared speech and the steel eyeglasses case he carried in the same pocket. The bullet was slowed enough not to reach his lung or heart, which Teddy deduced from the absence of blood when he spoke or coughed. He refused to go to a hospital and insisted on giving his speech.

“Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don't know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose,” he began. He spoke for at least 55 more minutes (though some estimates say 90), still wearing his blood-soaked shirt. (You can read a stenographer’s report of his speech here.)

The pages of the speech that saved Roosevelt's life were later bound into a book.
The pages of the speech that saved Roosevelt's life were later bound into a book, which—along with the eyeglasses case and the shirt TR was wearing—can be seen at the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site in New York City.
Erin McCarthy

Roosevelt would spend the next eight days in the hospital. The bullet had lodged in his chest wall and removing it was deemed too unsafe. The wound healed and he never reported trouble from the injury again. Despite having lived through his assassination attempt, the presidency would not be Teddy’s again: Woodrow Wilson’s 41 percent of the vote meant the office would be his, though Roosevelt did beat out incumbent Taft, marking the only time a sitting president has come in third place in a reelection bid.

Schrank, in the meantime, was apprehended immediately. He lived the rest of his life in an insane asylum, and died of pneumonia in 1943.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

Original image
John Plumbe Jr., Library of Congress // Public Domain
arrow
History
"The Thing": The Mysterious Teenage Ghost That Haunted Taft's White House
Original image
John Plumbe Jr., Library of Congress // Public Domain

“My dear Clara,” Major Archie Butt wrote in the summer of 1911, “It seems that the White House is haunted.” So began what would become the only written record of the mysterious Executive Mansion ghost known only as "The Thing."

That July, word of an apparition appearing to servants in William Howard Taft’s White House reached Butt, a military aide to the president who served as a kind of personal secretary and attaché. Reported encounters with a ghost had been scaring domestic staffers for months, as he recounted in a letter to his sister-in-law Clara. The spooky tale he told her remains an enduring question mark for White House scholars even today.

As the gossip of the time went, The Thing was felt more often than seen. Taft’s housekeeper—“a spooky little thing herself,” as Butt put it—reported that servants told stories of feeling The Thing appear as a slight pressure on the shoulder, as if a curious kid were leaning over to see what they were doing. Butt scolded the housekeeper, telling her, "ghosts have not the sense of touch, at least those self-respecting ghosts of which I have heard." But the servants maintained that it was, in fact, the spirit touching them.

“There’s a long tradition of White House ghosts,” Evan Phifer, a research historian at the White House Historical Society, tells Mental Floss. “Lincoln is a very popular one, Andrew Jackson—even a British soldier from the time of the War of 1812.” But The Thing is one of the more unusual White House spirits, because no one knows who he was. “It’s not a president or a first lady. It’s this unknown boy about 14 or 15 years old," Phifer says.

Several of the White House staff reported feeling this mysterious pressure on their shoulder, only to turn around to an empty room. Just one member of the household, though, said she actually saw the ghost. Marsh, First Lady Helen Taft’s personal maid, reported not just feeling the ghost leaning over her shoulder, but seeing the ethereal figure, whom she described as a young boy with light, unkempt hair and sad blue eyes. “Now who on Earth this can be,” Butt mused, “I cannot imagine.”

Taft responded to news of the spooky rumor with “towering rage,” Butt said, banning anyone in the house from speaking of the ghost under threat of firing. The president worried that the story would get out and the press would have a field day with the news. But his aide seemed to have a sense of humor about the whole situation. “I reminded him that the help was in such a state of mind that, if it was positively believed that the upper floor of the White House was haunted, the servants there could not be kept in their places by executive order,” Butt wrote.

Still, both of them found their curiosity piqued. Taft was “as anxious to hear about the thing as I had been,” according to Butt. And the aide, who was often on the receiving end of the housekeeping staff’s complaints, was afraid to let on just how intrigued he was by The Thing. “I don’t dare let any of them see how interested I am in it,” he told his sister-in-law. He hoped that the ghost would fade into the background as the year wore on and the staff got busier, relieving him of the duty of calming down superstitious domestic employees.

But even while publicly scoffing at the story, Butt was privately planning to research the mysterious boy’s possible origins. He asked several different servants to tell him their stories about The Thing, and told Clara that he was “going to delve into the history of the White House” to see if any boy matching The Thing’s description had lived—or died—there. But he never mentioned it in his letters to Clara again. It seems that he never did find out who the ghost might have been.

Modern White House historians are just as perplexed as he was. The only known youngster said to haunt the presidential residence is Willie Lincoln, who died during his father’s second year in office, possibly of typhoid fever. But Willie was 11 when he died, much younger than the description of The Thing. (Besides, Willie's ghost was already a known figure in Washington—the first reported sightings of his ghost in the White House date back to the 1870s.)

Whoever the paranormal figure might have represented, Taft was seemingly successful in squashing the rumors before they reached beyond the White House walls. “I didn’t really see the story in any papers of the time, so you could say that Archie Butt did a good job of keeping the story under wraps,” Phifer says. “This seems to be the only mention in the historical record of this ghost.”

Butt himself, though, was not long for this world. In April 1912, returning from Europe to the U.S. after a six-week leave of absence from the White House, he died in the sinking of the Titanic. And as for The Thing? Well, if Archie Butt ever did get to the bottom of the mystery, he took the story to his watery grave.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios