10 Unexpected Duties Performed by the Secret Service


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.

Getty Images
On This Day in 1933, FDR Gave His First Fireside Chat
Getty Images
Getty Images

On March 12, 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave his first "fireside chat" on the radio. It was just eight days after his inauguration. He began: "I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking." Citizens across the nation tuned in to listen.

During the depths of the Great Depression, FDR took to the airwaves to explain to Americans why there had been a recent, ahem, "bank holiday." After a series of bank failures, FDR closed all U.S. banks on March 6, to prevent them from failing as panicked citizens tried to withdraw their holdings. While the banks were closed, a program of federal deposit insurance was created in order to insure the stability of the banks when they reopened.

So imagine, if you will, that your bank has been closed for six days, banks are failing left and right, and the newly-inaugurated president gets on the radio to talk about the situation. You would likely listen, and you'd want a really solid answer. That's just what Americans got.

It was a stunning moment, a roughly 13-minute speech in which the American president spoke directly to the people and asked them to understand how banks work. As an extension of that understanding, he asked people to trust what he and Congress were doing to resolve the problem. While the chat didn't solve the country's financial problems overnight, it did create a remarkable sense of connection between FDR and the citizenry, and it helped prevent a complete collapse of the banking system.

FDR's "fireside chats" (the phrase was coined by press secretary Stephen Early, conveying the intimacy of communication) were among the best examples of a president using mass media to bring a time-sensitive message to the American people. He would go on to do 29 more chats over the course of his long presidency.

So if you've never heard that first "fireside chat," take a few minutes and listen. Here it is with slightly cleaned-up audio:

If you're not into audio, just read the transcript. The text is a model of clear communication.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The Only 4 Private Citizens to Lie in Honor at the U.S. Capitol
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Billy Graham, the most famous Christian preacher of the past century, died in his home on February 21 at age 99. As a noted spiritual advisor of U.S. presidents, he held a special position of influence in American history. Now, he's being granted another privilege extended to very few Americans: This week, his body will lay in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.

From February 28 to March 1, members of the public will be invited to visit the Capitol and pay their respects to the late reverend. It's an honor that has been bestowed upon only 33 Americans since the tradition began with Henry Clay in 1852. Of the distinguished citizens who have "lain in state," 11 were U.S. presidents. Several elected officials and military officials have also been commemorated under the rotunda, but only three private citizens—and with Graham, four—have their names among their ranks.

The first two private citizens to lie in honor were Capitol Police officers Jacob Chestnut and John Gibson. Both were killed in the line of duty during the Capitol shooting incident in 1998.

The third private citizen to receive the distinction was Rosa Parks. She died in 2005, 50 years after refusing to give up her seat on a bus for a white passenger, thus helping set the civil rights movement in motion. So far, she's the only woman whose body has lain in honor at the U.S. Capitol.

Congress chooses which individuals get to receive the honor, either by passing a resolution or having congressional leadership obtain permission from the surviving family. When Graham's body arrives at the Capitol this week, it will be displayed on the same platform used to support Lincoln's body and that of every person (except the two police officers) who has lain in the rotunda since 1865.



More from mental floss studios