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The Time Herbert Hoover’s Parents Mistook Him for Dead

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Herbert Hoover came into this world on either August 10 or August 11, 1874 (nobody present checked the time until well after the big moment had passed). As a native of West Branch, Iowa, he’d become the first American President born west of the Mississippi. But he almost didn't make it that far.

“Herbert was a sweet baby that first day, round and plump, and looked about very cordial at everybody,” recalled his aunt Agnes Miles. Hoover’s proud papa, Jesse, had personally given Agnes the big news by rapping on her window and announcing “We have another General Grant at our house!” 

Luckily for little "Bertie," as Herbert was called as a child, his mother's brother was an acclaimed doctor. Dr. Henry John Minthorn had earned his medical degree from Iowa State University and practiced near West Branch for three years, after which he headed east and earned another diploma through Jefferson Medical College. Fortunately, the good doctor was still around during the winter of 1876, when poor Herbert came down with a horrible coughing fit. The sickly boy hacked until he turned purple, collapsing in a heap. Terrified, his family threw some pillows over a table and laid down the now-motionless Herbert. Goose grease and then an onion poultice were smothered all over the child in an attempt to revive him. Neither worked.

A cousin raced off to find Dr. Minthorn, who’d been visiting with some patients. Upon hearing that his nephew was at death’s door, the physician made serious tracks. Yet, rapidly as his horses galloped, it looked like Minthorn hadn’t arrived in time. “We all thought [Herbert] was dead,” Agnes later said, “…The eyes of the infant were pressed closed with pennies; and a sheet was drawn over his body.”

But Herbert wasn’t dead—at least, not yet. Someone suddenly noticed a slight tremble running through the “corpse.” In a flash, Minthorn leapt over to wrap him up with warm blankets. He then removed a copious amount of phlegm from the toddler’s throat and performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Gradually, Herbert came to. The Hoovers couldn’t believe their eyes. Neither could Minthorn’s mother, a fervent Quaker who was present at the time. In her words, “God has a great work for that boy to do; that is why he was brought back to life.”

Four years later, Jesse Hoover passed away, and four years after that, Herbert's mother, Hulda Hoover, died as well, rendering Herbert and his two siblings (Theodore and Mary) parentless. The children were split up among family, and Uncle Henry John—the one who had saved his life as a toddler, and who was now living in Oregon—came to the rescue once again when he took Herbert in the following year.

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Kehinde Wiley Studio, Inc., Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
Barack Obama Taps Kehinde Wiley to Paint His Official Presidential Portrait
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Kehinde Wiley
Kehinde Wiley Studio, Inc., Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Kehinde Wiley, an American artist known for his grand portraits of African-American subjects, has painted Michael Jackson, Ice-T, and The Notorious B.I.G. in his work. Now the artist will have the honor of adding Barack Obama to that list. According to the Smithsonian, the former president has selected Wiley to paint his official presidential portrait, which will hang in the National Portrait Gallery.

Wiley’s portraits typically depict black people in powerful poses. Sometimes he models his work after classic paintings, as was the case with "Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps.” The subjects are often dressed in hip-hop-style clothing and placed against decorative backdrops.

Portrait by Kehinde Wiley
"Le Roi a la Chasse"
Kehinde Wiley, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

Smithsonian also announced that Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald has been chosen by former first lady Michelle Obama to paint her portrait for the gallery. Like Wiley, Sherald uses her work to challenge stereotypes of African-Americans in art.

“The Portrait Gallery is absolutely delighted that Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald have agreed to create the official portraits of our former president and first lady,” Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, said in a press release. “Both have achieved enormous success as artists, but even more, they make art that reflects the power and potential of portraiture in the 21st century.”

The tradition of the president and first lady posing for portraits for the National Portrait Gallery dates back to George H.W. Bush. Both Wiley’s and Sherald’s pieces will be revealed in early 2018 as permanent additions to the gallery in Washington, D.C.

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images
The Time Teddy Roosevelt Was Shot in the Chest, Then Gave a Speech Anyway
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On October 14, 1912—105 years ago today—Theodore Roosevelt was on the campaign trail in Milwaukee, running for another term. It was a tough race: Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson proved to be a formidable opponent, and William Howard Taft, while unpopular, was the Republican incumbent. Roosevelt was running as a third-party Progressive, and in order to keep pace with his big-ticket rivals he had to work hard. By this point in the election season, he was giving 15 to 20 speeches per day, most of which stretched on for an hour or sometimes more. But this day, TR didn't feel too well. His throat was scratchy, he was tired, and so he planned a relatively quick stop.

What Roosevelt and his security team didn't know was that a man with a .38 caliber revolver had been trailing the campaign since they departed New Orleans. For a thousand miles, he rode quietly, just waiting to get his shot at the Colonel.

John Schrank was a Bavarian-born saloon-keeper from New York. He'd had some strange and troubling dreams in recent months, mostly about President McKinley, whose assassination resulted in Roosevelt's first term. In his dreams, Schrank said that President McKinley asked him to avenge his death and protect democracy from a three-term president. All Schrank had to do was kill Roosevelt before he could be reelected.


Roosevelt stood in the seat of his automobile to wave at the crowds and Schrank, who was standing in the front row of the crowd, had his shot. He took aim: point-blank, right at Roosevelt’s head. Then three things happened at the same time. A bystander hit Schrank’s arm; Roosevelt’s security detail spotted the gun and leapt from the car; Schrank pulled the trigger. The shot landed squarely in Roosevelt’s chest just as Schrank was tackled and put in a headlock by the bodyguard. Roosevelt is said not to have noticed he was hit until he reached into his overcoat and felt the blood on his fingers.

But it turns out that Teddy’s long-winded speeches saved his life that day: The bullet traveled through a 50-page copy of his prepared speech and the steel eyeglasses case he carried in the same pocket. The bullet was slowed enough not to reach his lung or heart, which Teddy deduced from the absence of blood when he spoke or coughed. He refused to go to a hospital and insisted on giving his speech.

“Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don't know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose,” he began. He spoke for at least 55 more minutes (though some estimates say 90), still wearing his blood-soaked shirt. (You can read a stenographer’s report of his speech here.)

The pages of the speech that saved Roosevelt's life were later bound into a book.
The pages of the speech that saved Roosevelt's life were later bound into a book, which—along with the eyeglasses case and the shirt TR was wearing—can be seen at the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site in New York City.
Erin McCarthy

Roosevelt would spend the next eight days in the hospital. The bullet had lodged in his chest wall and removing it was deemed too unsafe. The wound healed and he never reported trouble from the injury again. Despite having lived through his assassination attempt, the presidency would not be Teddy’s again: Woodrow Wilson’s 41 percent of the vote meant the office would be his, though Roosevelt did beat out incumbent Taft, marking the only time a sitting president has come in third place in a reelection bid.

Schrank, in the meantime, was apprehended immediately. He lived the rest of his life in an insane asylum, and died of pneumonia in 1943.

This post originally appeared in 2012.


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