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9 Super-Presidential Marriages

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The only thing that could possibly be more stars-and-stripes than a post about U.S. presidents and American historical figures is a post that doubles up on them. In honor of Independence Day, we give you nine presidential relatives who didn’t have to look too far from the White House to meet their spouses.

1. When Dwight D. Eisenhower’s grandson began dating Richard Nixon’s daughter, the security guards at her college weren’t too amused: He once told a guard, “David Eisenhower here to see Julie Nixon,” and the guard responded, “Yeah, and my name is Harry S. Truman.”

David and Julie had known each other since the 1956 Republican National Convention, but didn’t start dating until they were both in college in 1966. She went to Smith and he was at Amherst just eight miles away.

2. Andrew Jackson Donelson was technically Andrew Jackson’s nephew, but he acted as guardian for A.J. and seven other children after their father died. In fact, Donelson was so close to Andrew that his first wife (and first cousin) Emily served as the unofficial First Lady after Rachel Jackson died. After Emily died as well, Donelson married another cousin, Elizabeth Randolph, who was previously wed to Thomas Jefferson’s grandson. Donelson would have his own brush with the White House as Millard Fillmore’s running mate in 1856. The pair only received eight electoral votes, however, and James Buchanan became the 15th president of the United States.

3. George Washington never had children of his own, but raised his wife’s children from a previous marriage as if they were his own. In addition, he later adopted his step-grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, as his own son. GWPC had a daughter named Mary Anna, who married her third cousin, Robert E. Lee. Yep, that Robert E. Lee. In addition to being an American military icon, Lee’s great-great grandmother was Thomas Jefferson’s great-aunt.

4. Though they’re probably the least-known related presidents, you might remember that ninth president William Henry Harrison was the grandfather of 23rd president Benjamin Harrison. Elizabeth Harrison, Benjamin’s daughter, married James Blaine Walker, the grandnephew of James G. Blaine, her father’s secretary of state. Blaine was present when President James Garfield was shot by an assassin in 1881...

5. ... which makes it rather interesting that Elizabeth and James’ daughter, Dr. Jane Harrison Walker, married James Garfield’s great-grandson, Newell Garfield.

6. Here’s a twist—a presidential relative who married another presidential relative, then later became president himself. Did you follow all of that? Here’s what happened: Teddy Roosevelt’s niece, Anna, married his fifth cousin, Franklin. You probably know them better as FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt.

7. Sarah Knox Taylor was the second of Zachary Taylor’s three daughters. (He also had a son.) Before Zachary Taylor was the 12th president, he was a general at Fort Crawford in Wisconsin. That’s where 17-year-old Sarah fell in love with his second-in-command, lieutenant Jefferson Davis. Despite her parents’ hesitation, Sarah Knox married Davis in 1835 and contracted malaria almost immediately afterward. She died just three months into their marriage. Though Davis had resigned from the army to marry Sarah, he resumed his military career during the Mexican-American War, where he again served under his former father-in-law, Zachary Taylor. Davis, of course, went on to become the President of the Confederate States of America.

8. Abraham Van Buren, the eldest son of eighth president Martin Van Buren, married Dolley Madison’s cousin, Angelica Singleton. Dolley herself arranged the match. Angelica served as the official First Lady for her father-in-law since his wife had died almost 20 years before he took office.

9. Susan Ford, the only daughter of Gerald and Betty Ford, married Charles Vance—one of her dad's Secret Service agents—in 1979. When Susan openly courted her father's employee, Vance told her that her parents wouldn’t like the 16-year age difference, among other things. “It was only a matter of persuading him that our relationship was more important than his job—which he finally came to realize," Susan later said.

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12 Things Called ‘French’ In English and Whether They're Actually French
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Happy Bastille Day! To celebrate this French holiday, let’s take a look at some of the things we call "French" in English that may not be French at all.


They don’t eat French toast in France. There, it’s called pain perdu ("lost bread," because it’s what you do with stale bread) or pain doré (golden bread). In the 17th century French toast was a term used for any kind of bread soaked and then griddled: In a 1660 citation, it refers to bread soaked in wine with sugar and orange and then cooked.


Vanilla is a bean from a tropical plant not grown in France, so what’s so French about French vanilla? French vanilla was originally not a term for a type of vanilla, but a type of vanilla ice cream, one made using a French technique with an eggy, custard base. It’s since detached from ice cream and become a flavor with a certain rich profile.


Originally the phrase French dressing referred to the type of dressing people might actually eat in France: oil, vinegar, herbs, maybe a little mustard. But somehow during the early 20th century it came to be the name for a pinkish-red, ketchup-added version that’s totally American.



In France, the French press coffeemaker, a pot for steeping coffee grounds with a plunger for filtering them out, is called a cafetière à piston or just a bodum after the most common brand. It may have been invented in France, but the first patent for one was taken out by an Italian in 1929. The style of coffee became popular in France in the 1950s, and was later referred to by American journalists as "French-press style coffee."


The term French kiss, for kissing with tongue, came into English during World War I when soldiers brought the phrase—and perhaps the kissing style—back from the war with them. French had long been used as a common adjective for various naughty, sexually explicit things like French letters (condoms), French postcards (naked pictures), and French pox (VD). In French, to kiss with the tongue is rouler un patin, “roll a skate” (having to do with gliding?), but in Québec they do say frencher.


In French, a French horn is a cor d’harmonie or just cor, a name given to the looping, tubed hunting horns that were made in France in the 17th century. French became to the way to distinguish it from other horn types, like the German or Viennese horn, which had different types of tubes and valves.


The phrase French fries evolved in North America at the end of the 19th century out of the longer “French fried potatoes.” The dish is said to be more properly Belgian than French, but it was introduced to America by Thomas Jefferson after he brought a recipe back from France. In French they are simply pommes frites, fried potatoes.



The French manicure, a pinkish, nude nail with a bright, whitened tip, was apparently invented in Hollywood in the 1970s. It began to be called a French manicure after the look made it to fashion runways. The style isn’t as popular in France, but women there do tend toward a groomed look with a natural color. In France, the term has been borrowed in from English: It's called la French manucure.


The term French braid (or French plait in British English) has been around since the 1870s, but the braid style itself, where hair is gathered gradually from the sides of the head over the course of braiding, has been around for thousands of years, according to archeological artifacts. It may have become associated with France simply for being seen as high fashion and French being equated with stylishness. In French, they also call this specific style of braid a French braid, or tresse française.


The vertically rolled and tucked French twist hairdo also came to be in the 19th century, and was also associated with French high fashion. In French it is called a chignon banane for its long, vertical shape.


Housemaids in 19th-century France did wear black and white uniforms—though they were not quite as skimpy as the French maid costumes you see today. The French maid became a trope comic character in theater and opera, and the costume, along with other titillating characteristics, came to define what we now think of as the classic French maid.



These days French bread has come to stand for any white bread with a vaguely baguette-like shape, whether or not it has a traditional, crusty exterior. It has been used as a term in English as far back as the 15th century to distinguish it from other, coarser types of bread.

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The Chemistry of Fireworks and Sparklers
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Independence Day is upon us, and that means grilling, s’mores, and plenty of good old-fashioned explosions. In other words: lots and lots of chemistry. For a breakdown of exactly how our favorite pyrotechnics work, check out the videos below from the American Chemical Society.

As a professor emeritus at Washington College, John Conkling may have one of the coolest jobs ever: experimenting with explosive chemicals and teaching his students to do the same. As Conkling explains in the video above, every explosion in a fireworks display is the result of two separate chemical reactions: one to launch the device into the air, and another that produces all those ooh- and ahh-inspiring sparkles.

The sparkles themselves are tiny flecks of metal, burning up in midair. Getting them to explode is easy, Conkling says. But getting them to explode blue? That’s a science

While sparklers may look like miniature, handheld fireworks, the mechanics are quite different. They do rely on fuel and oxidation like fireworks, but rather than just going off in midair, those reactions have to occur safely on a metal stick. Sparklers’ reactive chemicals are mixed with a binder that keeps the fire in place and slows it down, so you can enjoy your tiny explosions for just a little longer.


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