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Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

David Rice Atchison, One-Day President

Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

Every time we so much as touch a toe out of state, I’ve put cemeteries on our travel itinerary. From garden-like expanses to overgrown boot hills, whether they’re the final resting places of the well-known but not that important or the important but not that well-known, I love them all. After realizing that there are a lot of taphophiles out there, I’m finally putting my archive of interesting tombstones to good use.

Though it’s common knowledge that Barack Obama is our 44th president, there are a few historians out there that would tell you that we’re actually on number 45.

Zachary Taylor was scheduled to assume the presidency from James K. Polk on Sunday, March 4, 1849. Taylor had grown up honoring the Sabbath, however, and was still a devout man. He wasn’t about to make any exceptions to the day of rest, not even to be inaugurated as the 12th president of the United States.

So Polk was officially out, but no one was officially in. With no president and no vice president, the next in the line of succession was the president pro tempore—which happened to be David Rice Atchison. (Presently, the Speaker of the House is the next in line after the vice president, and then the president pro tempore.) By default, some say, Atchison was the 12th president for about 24 hours. Then again, some Constitutional scholars say that it doesn’t matter when the actual inauguration is—when the previous president’s term is up, the next president automatically assumes the office.

Also working against the Missouri senator is the fact that his first Senate term expired at the same time the presidential term did. If Polk wasn’t president, then neither was Atchison in the line of succession.

Stacy Conradt

For his part, Atchison knew that the claim was ludicrous. Though he liked to say that he led the “honestest administration this country ever had,” he also told a reporter in 1872 that he “made no pretense to the office.” But the people of Plattsburg, Missouri sure loved to do it for him. Not only did they give him a grave marker emblazoned with the claim, they also erected a statue to their beloved one-day president at the county courthouse. Even today, they operate “the world’s smallest presidential library” as part of the Atchison County Historical Society Museum

See all entries in our Grave Sightings series here.


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How Do You Stress the Word: THANKSgiving or ThanksGIVing?
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iStock

Here’s something else to stress about for Thanksgiving: where to put the stress in the word Thanksgiving.

If you’re from California, Iowa, or Delaware, you probably say ThanksGIVing, with the primary stress on the second syllable. If you’re from Georgia, Tennessee, or the Texas Panhandle, you probably say THANKSgiving, with the primary stress on the first syllable.

This north-south divide on syllable stress is found for other words like umbrella, guitar, insurance, and pecan. However, those words are borrowed from other languages (Italian, Spanish, French). Sometimes, in the borrowing process, competing stress patterns settle into regional differences. Just as some borrowed words get first syllable stress in the South and second syllable stress in the North, French words like garage and ballet get first syllable stress in the UK and second syllable stress in the U.S.

Thanksgiving, however, is an English word through and through. And if it behaved like a normal English word, it would have stress on the first syllable. Consider other words with the same noun-gerund structure just like it: SEAfaring, BAbysitting, HANDwriting, BULLfighting, BIRDwatching, HOMEcoming, ALMSgiving. The stress is always up front, on the noun. Why, in Thanksgiving alone, would stress shift to the GIVE?

The shift to the ThanksGIVing pronunciation is a bit of a mystery. Linguist John McWhorter has suggested that the loss of the stress on thanks has to do with a change in our concept of the holiday, that we “don’t truly think about Thanksgiving as being about thankfulness anymore.” This kind of thing can happen when a word takes on a new, more abstract sense. When we use outgoing for mail that is literally going out, we are likely to stress the OUT. When we use it as a description of someone’s personality ("She's so outgoing!"), the stress might show up on the GO. Stress can shift with meaning.

But the stress shift might not be solely connected to the entrenchment of our turkey-eating rituals. The thanksGIVing stress pattern seems to have pre-dated the institution of the American holiday, according to an analysis of the meter of English poems by Mark Liberman at Language Log. ThanksGIVing has been around at least since the 17th century. However you say it, there is precedent to back you up. And room enough to focus on both the thanks and the giving.

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Watch Boris Karloff's 1966 Coffee Commercial
TAKWest, Youtube
TAKWest, Youtube

Horror legend Boris Karloff is famous for playing mummies, mad scientists, and of course, Frankenstein’s creation. In 1930, Karloff cemented the modern image of the monster—with its rectangular forehead, bolted neck, and enormous boots (allegedly weighing in at 11 pounds each)—in the minds of audiences.

But the horror icon, who was born 130 years ago today, also had a sense of humor. The actor appeared in numerous comedies, and even famously played a Boris Karloff look-alike (who’s offended when he’s mistaken for Karloff) in the original Broadway production of Arsenic and Old Lace

In the ’60s, Karloff also put his comedic chops to work in a commercial for Butter-Nut Coffee. The strange commercial, set in a spooky mansion, plays out like a movie scene, in which Karloff and the viewer are co-stars. Subtitles on the bottom of the screen feed the viewer lines, and Karloff responds accordingly. 

Watch the commercial below to see the British star selling coffee—and read your lines aloud to feel like you’re “acting” alongside Karloff. 

[h/t: Retroist]

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