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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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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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holidays
10 Things You Might Not Know About Chinese New Year
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Some celebrants call it the Spring Festival, a stretch of time that signals the progression of the lunisolar Chinese calendar; others know it as the Chinese New Year. For a 15-day period beginning February 16, China will welcome the Year of the Dog, one of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac table.

Sound unfamiliar? No need to worry: Check out 10 facts about how one-sixth of the world's total population rings in the new year.

1. THE HOLIDAY WAS ORIGINALLY MEANT TO SCARE OFF A MONSTER.

Nian at Chinese New Year
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As legend would have it, many of the trademarks of the Chinese New Year are rooted in an ancient fear of Nian, a ferocious monster who would wait until the first day of the year to terrorize villagers. Acting on the advice of a wise old sage, the townspeople used loud noises from drums, fireworks, and the color red to scare him off—all remain components of the celebration today.

2. A LOT OF FAMILIES USE IT AS MOTIVATION TO CLEAN THE HOUSE.

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While the methods of honoring the Chinese New Year have varied over the years, it originally began as an opportunity for households to cleanse their quarters of "huiqi," or the breaths of those that lingered in the area. Families performed meticulous cleaning rituals to honor deities that they believed would pay them visits. The holiday is still used as a time to get cleaning supplies out, although the work is supposed to be done before it officially begins.

3. IT WILL PROMPT BILLIONS OF TRIPS.

Man waiting for a train.
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Because the Chinese New Year places emphasis on family ties, hundreds of millions of people will use the Lunar period to make the trip home. Accounting for cars, trains, planes, and other methods of transport, the holiday is estimated to prompt nearly three billion trips over the 15-day timeframe.

4. IT INVOLVES A LOT OF SUPERSTITIONS.

Colorful pills and medications
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While not all revelers subscribe to embedded beliefs about what not to do during the Chinese New Year, others try their best to observe some very particular prohibitions. Visiting a hospital or taking medicine is believed to invite ill health; lending or borrowing money will promote debt; crying children can bring about bad luck.

5. SOME PEOPLE RENT BOYFRIENDS OR GIRLFRIENDS TO SOOTHE PARENTS.

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In China, it's sometimes frowned upon to remain single as you enter your thirties. When singles return home to visit their parents, some will opt to hire a person to pose as their significant other in order to make it appear like they're in a relationship and avoid parental scolding. Rent-a-boyfriends or girlfriends can get an average of $145 a day.

6. RED ENVELOPES ARE EVERYWHERE.

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An often-observed tradition during Spring Festival is to give gifts of red envelopes containing money. (The color red symbolizes energy and fortune.) New bills are expected; old, wrinkled cash is a sign of laziness. People sometimes walk around with cash-stuffed envelopes in case they run into someone they need to give a gift to. If someone offers you an envelope, it's best to accept it with both hands and open it in private.

7. IT CAN CREATE RECORD LEVELS OF SMOG.

fireworks over Beijing's Forbidden City
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Fireworks are a staple of Spring Festival in China, but there's more danger associated with the tradition than explosive mishaps. Cities like Beijing can experience a 15-fold increase in particulate pollution. In 2016, Shanghai banned the lighting of fireworks within the metropolitan area.

8. BLACK CLOTHES ARE A BAD OMEN.

toddler dressed up for Chinese New Year
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So are white clothes. In China, both black and white apparel is traditionally associated with mourning and are to be avoided during the Lunar month. The red, colorful clothes favored for the holiday symbolize good fortune.

9. IT LEADS TO PLANES BEING STUFFED FULL OF CHERRIES.

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Cherries are such a popular food during the Festival that suppliers need to go to extremes in order to meet demand—last year Singapore Airlines flew four chartered jets to Southeast and North Asian areas. More than 300 tons were being delivered in time for the festivities.

10. PANDA EXPRESS IS HOPING IT'LL CATCH ON IN THE STATES.

Box of takeout Chinese food from Panda Express
domandtrey, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Although their Chinese food menu runs more along the lines of Americanized fare, the franchise Panda Express is still hoping the U.S. will get more involved in the festival. The chain is promoting the holiday in its locations by running ad spots and giving away a red envelope containing a gift: a coupon for free food. Aside from a boost in business, Panda Express hopes to raise awareness about the popular holiday in North America.

A version of this story originally ran in 2017.

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