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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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Animals
Why Tiny 'Hedgehog Highways' Are Popping Up Around London
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Hedgehogs as pets have gained popularity in recent years, but in many parts of the world, they're still wild animals. That includes London, where close to a million of the creatures roam streets, parks, and gardens, seeking out wood and vegetation to take refuge in. Now, Atlas Obscura reports that animal activists are transforming the city into a more hospitable environment for hedgehogs.

Barnes Hedgehogs, a group founded by Michel Birkenwald in the London neighborhood of Barnes four years ago, is responsible for drilling tiny "hedgehog highways" through walls around London. The passages are just wide enough for the animals to climb through, making it easier for them to travel from one green space to the next.

London's wild hedgehog population has seen a sharp decline in recent decades. Though it's hard to pin down accurate numbers for the elusive animals, surveys have shown that the British population has dwindled by tens of millions since the 1950s. This is due to factors like human development and habitat destruction by farmers who aren't fond of the unattractive shrubs, hedges, and dead wood that hedgehogs use as their homes.

When such environments are left to grow, they can still be hard for hedgehogs to access. Carving hedgehog highways through the stone partitions and wooden fences bordering parks and gardens is one way Barnes Hedgehogs is making life in the big city a little easier for its most prickly residents.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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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.


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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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