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Workman Publishing

5 Presidents Who Fought For Their Right To Party

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Workman Publishing

Adapted from the book PARTY LIKE A PRESIDENT: TRUE TALES OF INEBRIATION, LECHERY, AND MISCHIEF FROM THE OVAL OFFICE by Brian Abrams, illustrated by John Mathias; Workman Publishing (February 2015). If you're in the New York area, come celebrate Brian's new book with us on February 10th! RSVP here.

1. Abe Lincoln’s Frat-Boy Act

In January 1833—decades before The Great Emancipator, burdened by the most devastating crisis in U.S. history, couldn’t stomach three square meals per day—a 24-year-old Abraham Lincoln opened a grocery store in New Salem, Illinois, with his Army buddy William F. Berry.

Aptly named Lincoln and Berry, the emporium sold bacon, guns, and beeswax—essentials for any homemaker—plus rum, whiskey, and brandy. That stockpile of tipple came in handy on the day Lincoln had to settle a financial dispute between an employee and a local gambler. According to biographer Carl Sandburg, Lincoln bet the gambler that he could “lift a barrel of whiskey from the floor and hold it while he took a drink out of the bunghole.” If he failed, he’d give the gambler a fur hat. If he succeeded, the gambler got nothing. Abe then dropped to a tactical squat position, lifted the barrel to his mouth, and basically performed a reverse keg-stand with superhuman strength.

Of course, the stunt came back to haunt Lincoln during his 1858 run for Senate. In a series of debates, incumbent Stephen A. Douglas exposed Abe’s past life as a “flourishing grocery-keeper in the town of [New] Salem” who could down “more liquor than all the boys of the town together.” Setting a precedent for eons to come, Lincoln refuted the claim.

2. FDR’s Recipe for Disaster


Franklin D. Roosevelt was a man of many talents. Making martinis was not one of them. Most weekends, the president retreated to his Hyde Park mansion in New York, where Hollywood luminaries and lefty warriors had to endure Roosevelt’s atrocious bartending skills. Garnished with olives, lemon peels, and drops of absinthe, FDR’s martinis were so notoriously bad that New York Supreme Court Justice Samuel Rosenman regularly dumped them in a nearby flowerpot.

“Many people—and this is recorded—say ‘the president made the worst martinis I’ve ever tasted,’” Roosevelt’s grandson Curtis told the History Channel in 2005. And plenty of people had a chance to try them; during the war, Roosevelt opened his liquor cabinet for guests nearly every night. But his booziest affair probably occurred when he pulled out all the stops and threw a toga party for his 52nd birthday. Responding to conservatives who called him a dictator, Roosevelt wore a laurel crown. Afterward, a speechwriter lightheartedly addressed Roosevelt as “Dear Caesar” in his letters. The president eventually asked him to stop, according to historian Conrad Black, “fearing the press might get hold of such a letter and misconstrue it.”

3. Gerald Ford’s Cheesy Faux Pas

Sure, Gerald Ford was an all-star college football player, but there’s a reason people think he’s a klutz.

He once famously tumbled down the stairs of Air Force One. While golfing in Palm Springs, California, he smacked an electric cart into a shack. During ski trips, TV cameramen would station themselves by the toughest slopes, anticipating a pratfall. So what happened on December 30, 1974, when members of the press corps invited the president to a cocktail party in Vail, Colorado, should have been no surprise. Ford, who was on his Christmas break, walked into the party and “made a beeline for the kitchen,” according to reporter Thomas DeFrank’s memoir Write It When I’m Gone, “asking, 'Who needs a drink?'”

Martini in hand, Ford puffed a pipe and collapsed onto a couch. The president was so off his guard, DeFrank observed, that he set his “loafer dead in the center of a two-pound wheel of Brie on the coffee table ... as he stood up, the cheese stuck to the bottom of his shoe for a heart-stopping instant—before quietly plopping back onto the plate. He never knew.” In the president’s defense, the snack did look like a tiny ottoman.

4. Franklin Pierce’s Casual Friday

Franklin Pierce loved a stiff drink and was known for his marathon carousing sessions. But the one that occurred on Friday, October 23, 1857, takes the cake. Pierce’s friend Clement March recounts in his diary: “[The general] and I dined at the Tremont at one o’clock, a glass of brandy and water before, a pint of champagne at dinner, went to the Fair Grounds and returned to the Tremont at 5, drank brandy and water till 71⁄2, supped at Parker’s on broiled oysters, beefsteak, and Pomy’s Claret, went to the Theatre, and saw Fanny Kemble and her daughter in a private box by mistake, returned to Parker’s and drank some very old brandy in his private room, went back to the Theatre and took possession of our ‘proscenium box,’ then again to Parker’s and had raw oysters and a bottle of Stein Wine, then to the General’s room, drank two pint bottles of champagne, took a stroll about the streets, and made a call in Fruit Street, where we disbursed some thirty dollars, and at 4 o’clock repaired.”

That’s all, no big deal.

5. Andrew Jackson’s Animal House

When Andrew Jackson walked into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue after his inauguration on March 4, 1829, he brought some unwanted company.

His staff had planned a post-inauguration White House reception, but they’d mistakenly opened it to the public, and a thirsty mob quickly besieged the party. According to mortified Congressman James Hamilton Jr., “thousands ... poured in one uninterrupted stream of mud and filth, among the throngs many fit subjects for the penitentiary.” The riffraff darted for the kitchen with a collective eye on the waiters pushing barrels of boozy orange punch. A few barrels tipped over and spilled onto White House carpets and floors. Thousands of dollars worth of crystal and china were flung off serving trays. Fights broke out, and the president was nearly suffocated by a barrage of drunken constituents. That’s when Jackson’s distressed kitchen staff came up with a brilliant idea: Take the hooch outside. According to biographer Robert Remini, “all the windows were thrown open to provide additional exits for those anxious to keep up with the refreshments.” The swarm followed the booze out the window—Mr. President included.

If you're in the New York area, come celebrate Brian's new book with us on February 10th! RSVP here.

http://www.powerhousearena.com/events/11476/

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8 Surprising Facts About the Presidential Yacht
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Yuri Gripas/AFP/Getty Images

If you consider a boat to be a suboptimal way of ferrying the President of the United States, you’re not alone. No sitting president has used one for official travel purposes since 1977, when the USS Sequoia was decommissioned. But for a good chunk of the 20th century, the POTUS was able to jump on a yacht and set sail for both recreational and government business, getting a change of scenery without having to hop on a plane. Take a look at a few things you might not have known about this unique—and extinct—political retreat.

1. THE SEQUOIA WASN’T THE FIRST PRESIDENTIAL YACHT.

The idea of toting presidents in a floating White House for social engagements dates back to 1893, when the USS Dolphin flew the presidential flag for Grover Cleveland and William McKinley. In 1905, Theodore Roosevelt anointed the USS Mayflower, a luxury steam yacht, that was occupied by three successive presidents until it was decommissioned in 1929. Two other ships were in service before the Sequoia was selected in 1933.

2. IT WAS ORIGINALLY A DECOY SHIP DURING PROHIBITION.

The Sequoia wasn’t custom-built for presidential purposes. Constructed in 1925, the 104-foot-long vessel was originally owned by a Texas oilman and purchased by the U.S. government in 1931. It was used as a decoy ship to intercede rum runners during Prohibition before being rehomed with the U.S. Navy. Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt enjoyed fishing off the ship—in Hoover’s case, so much so that he put a picture of it on the White House’s official 1932 Christmas card. Hoover soon declared it the official presidential yacht in 1933.

3. EACH PRESIDENT CUSTOMIZED IT.

The Sequoia underwent several minor facelifts as each new sitting president decided they wanted a custom yacht experience. Lyndon B. Johnson was so tall that he had to have the shower on board extended so he could bathe comfortably; John F. Kennedy had a king-sized bed installed. An elevator was added to make it wheelchair-accessible for Franklin Roosevelt; Johnson later ripped out the lift and used the space for a wet bar.

4. NIXON LOVED THE BOAT.

Of all the presidents to board the Sequoia, Richard Nixon did so with the greatest frequency and zeal. He reportedly stepped on the ship at least 88 times, sailing to Mount Vernon and insisting staff salute Washington’s tomb. Later, when Watergate began to consume most of his final days in office, he insisted an anti-bug electronic shield be installed in case the ship was being tapped for sound. Nixon also made the decision to resign while on board, mournfully playing “God Bless America” on the piano that Truman had installed.

5. JFK HAD HIS LAST BIRTHDAY PARTY THERE.

On what turned out to be his last birthday, John F. Kennedy devoted the night of May 29, 1963 to a celebration on the Sequoia. Just 24 guests were invited, and only three Secret Service members were on board—the rest populated security boats trailing behind.

6. ELVIS BOUGHT ONE.

For Franklin D. Roosevelt, the USS Potomac was his ship of choice: The 165-foot-long ship was big enough to accommodate more Secret Service staff and was in use from 1936 to 1945. After passing through other hands, Elvis Presley decided he wanted to make sure the ship was preserved and bought it at auction in 1964 for $55,000. The King immediately donated it to Saint Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, where it continued to change hands until being designated a National Historical Landmark in 1987.

7. JIMMY CARTER SOLD IT OFF.

By 1977, the Sequoia had been in service for over four decades, and the cost to maintain it was significant: $800,000 a year. Because Jimmy Carter had made campaign promises to cut extraneous expenses, he had little choice but to trim the fat by decommissioning the yacht. The Sequoia was sold off for $236,000. In 1999, a collector of presidential memorabilia bought it for nearly $2 million and began renting it out to visitors for $10,000.

8. IT BECAME FULL OF RACCOON POOP.

Once the Sequoia entered the private sector, its seaworthiness became a very costly pursuit. In 2016, a judge ruled that FE Partners, which restores historic ships, could have the vessel free of charge after it was declared to be rotting and infested with raccoons while idling in a Virginia shipyard: The animals reportedly pooped on presidential carpets. The group hopes to restore the Sequoia and have it back on the water sometime in the next few years.

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Courtesy Sotheby's
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You Can Buy the Oldest Surviving Photo of a U.S. President
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Courtesy Sotheby's

The descendent of a 19th-century U.S. Congressman has discovered a previously unknown presidential portrait that is likely the oldest surviving photograph of a U.S. president, The New York Times reports.

Previously, two 1843 portraits of John Quincy Adams were thought to be the oldest photographs of a president still around. Currently hanging in the National Portrait Gallery, one of them was found on sale at an antique shop in 1970 for a mere 50 cents. Now, an even older photo of the sixth president has been uncovered, and it’ll cost you more than 50 cents to buy it.

Adams sat for dozens of photographs throughout his life, so it’s not entirely surprising that a few more surviving portraits would be uncovered. At the time this newly discovered half-plate daguerreotype was taken in March 1843, Adams had already served out his term as president and had returned to Congress as a U.S. Representative from Massachusetts. The photo was taken by Philip Haas, who in August of that same year would take other daguerreotypes that we previously thought were the oldest surviving photos. (Despite his apparent willingness to be photographed, Adams called them “all hideous.”)

John Quincy Adams sits in a portrait studio in 1843.
Courtesy Sotheby's

After having three daguerreotypes taken that day in March, Adams gave one of them to his friend and fellow Congressman Horace Everett, inscribing it with both their names. Everett’s great-great-grandson eventually found it in his family’s belongings and is now putting it up for sale through Sotheby’s.

It isn't the oldest picture of a U.S. president ever taken, though. The first-ever was actually a portrait of William Henry Harrison made in 1841, but unlike this one, the original has not survived. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art owns a copy of it, which was made in 1850.)

The head of the Sotheby’s department for photographs, Emily Bierman, told The New York Times that the newly discovered image is “without a doubt the most important historical photo portrait to be offered at auction in the last 20 years.” (She also noted that the former POTUS is wearing “cute socks” in it.)

The daguerreotype will be on sale as part of a photography auction at Sotheby’s in October and is expected to sell for an estimated $150,000 to $250,000. Start saving.

[h/t The New York Times]

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