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7 Presidential Facts About Rutherford B. Hayes

Some American presidents have their faces on currency, some get memorialized in films and miniseries and sketches. Then there are the others, whose all-but-forgotten names are unceremoniously attached to middle schools and parks across the country. The 19th president, Rutherford B. Hayes, is a member of the latter camp, but it’s still worth learning a bit about him.

1. HE WAS WOUNDED MULTIPLE TIMES DURING THE CIVIL WAR.

Seven U.S. presidents served in the Civil War, and Hayes was the only one who was wounded in action. Hayes was nearly 40 years old and had no military experience at the start of the conflict—he had spent his life up to that point as a lawyer. After five years of practice at a Lower Sandusky, Ohio law firm, he moved to Cincinnati in 1849, where his opposition to slavery drove him to the Republican Party. Outraged by the attack on Fort Sumter in 1861, Hayes joined the Burnet Rifles, a “volunteer home company,” and was named a major in the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. The unit also included fellow future president William McKinley, who noted that Hayes’s demeanor would change markedly in battle, “from the sunny, agreeable, the kind, the generous, the gentle gentleman … he was, once the battle was on … intense and ferocious.”  Hayes may have had the eye of the tiger, but his list of wounds and ailments was lengthy: A wounded knee at Pearisburg in 1862; a gunshot wound in the left arm during the Battle of South Mountain in 1862; a hit from a spent musket ball and having his horse shot out from under him at the Second Battle of Kernstown in 1864; a severe ankle injury when another of his horses was shot at the Battle of Cedar Creek in 1864. In this final incident, Hayes then weathered a shot from a spent musket ball upon mounting a second horse, leading his men to assume he’d been killed. His death was erroneously reported in the press, and Cedar Creek was his final battle. 

2. HAYES AND THE FIRST LADY WERE UNUSUALLY WELL EDUCATED.

Although a number of previous presidents were lawyers, Hayes was the first to actually graduate law school. He attended Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio and was valedictorian of the class of 1842. Hayes then put in a “vexatious and tedious” 10 months at a Columbus, Ohio firm, after which he earned a degree from Harvard Law School in 1845. His wife, Lucy Webb Hayes, was the first first lady to be a college graduate; she received a degree in liberal arts from Cincinnati Wesleyan Female College in 1850 at the age of 18. 

3. HIS ELECTION WAS ONE OF THE TIGHTEST AND MOST HOSTILE IN HISTORY.

Hayes became the 19th president of the United States in 1877, but that’s the easy part. After the Civil War, Hayes served in Congress for two years before returning home to become a three-term Governor of Ohio from 1867 to 1876. In 1876 he ran for president against New York Governor Samuel J. Tilden, and the Democrat Tilden appeared to have locked up the White House as the early returns rolled in. Hayes went to bed on election night convinced he would soon be making a concession speech, though he had predicted if he lost it would be “by crime—by bribery and repeating” in the North and by “violence and intimidation” in the South. But Hayes awoke the next day to learn that he had won the Pacific Slope and would need to claim the southern states of South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana in order to ensure the 185 electoral votes needed at that time to win. The election boards in those three states, citing intimidation of black voters, voided Democratic votes and declared Hayes the winner, which appeared to swing the election to Hayes. However, Hayes then lost Oregon when it emerged that one of the state’s Republican electors held a government job and could not cast his vote for Hayes, and the Democratic governor certified a new Democratic elector.  The disputed states cast conflicting votes, and that’s when things got messy. Senate leadership was inundated with requests from Republicans to decide which votes to count, while Democrats wanted a joint session of Congress to determine the winner. The two sides forged a compromise when the Electoral Commission Act was passed in January 1877. The act established a commission of five senators, five congressmen, and five Supreme Court justices who would decide what votes to count, a decision that would, in turn, ultimately decide the election. The commission was meant to consist of seven Republicans, seven Democrats, and one Independent, Justice David Davis. But before the commission could make their decision, the Illinois legislature attempted to buy Davis’s support by appointing him Senator. Davis instead resigned from the commission and a new justice, Republican Joseph Bradley, was appointed instead. So this new commission consisted of eight Republicans and seven Democrats, who voted along party lines in a series of votes in February to award Hayes the disputed states. But the Democrat-controlled House filibustered the results until March 2, when Hayes was finally awarded the disputed states, just days before the inauguration. These votes gave Hayes a 185-184 advantage in the Electoral College and the presidency. Hayes was elected with about 250,000 fewer popular votes than Tilden and was sneeringly referred to as “Rutherfraud” and “His Fraudulency” by angry Democrats.

4. HE ELIMINATED BOOZE AT THE WHITE HOUSE.

Although the first lady was a lifelong teetotaler who became known as “Lemonade Lucy” after her death, it was Hayes himself who initiated a ban on beer, wine, and liquor at the presidential residence. Hayes would have the occasional drink before he moved into the White House, but the ban was an attempt to curry political favor with anti-alcohol Prohibitionists and maintain the dignity of the office. Even then, there were certain exceptions to the rule. The White House served wine when the adult sons of Czar Alexander II of Russia visited, but the first couple didn’t drink any.

5. HE SIGNED LEGISLATION ALLOWING WOMEN TO ARGUE BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT. 

In 1879, Washington, D.C. attorney Belva Lockwood lobbied Congress to be admitted to the Supreme Court’s bar and argue cases. At the time, the body stated that “none but men are permitted to practice before [us] as attorneys and counselors,” but Lockwood drafted legislation that would “relieve certain legal disabilities of women.” The act was passed by Congress and signed by Hayes, and Lockwood was finally admitted to the Supreme Court Bar on March 3, 1879. She argued Kaiser v. Stickney before the court a year later. 

6. THE HAYES WHITE HOUSE MADE SIAMESE CAT HISTORY.

The American consul in Bangkok knew Lucy Hayes loved cats and arranged in 1878 for the delivery of the first Siamese cat in America. David B. Sickels wrote to Lucy to tell her that he had read about how much she loved felines and then introduced a new pet, writing, “This pussy goes to Hong Kong whence she will be transshipped by the Occidental & Oriental line, in charge of the purser, to San Francisco and then sent by express to Washington.” The Hayeses named the cat, which arrived in 1879, Siam.

7. HE WAS A PRESIDENT OF FIRSTS. 

As commander in chief at a critical period in U.S. history, Hayes saw a number of innovations come to Washington, and participated in several firsts. Hayes was the first (and only) President elected by a congressional commission, and because of the disputed election results and the fact that Inauguration Day fell on a Sunday, Hayes became the first president to take the Oath of Office at the White House, which he did privately in the Red Room, on Saturday, March 3, 1877 before taking a public oath two days later.  In 1880 he became the first president to visit the West Coast, writing in his diary after the 71-day trip that took him past the Rocky Mountains, “A most gratifying reception greeted us everywhere from the people and from noted and interesting individuals.” Hayes also started the tradition of the Easter Egg roll on the White House lawn, which has been run on the Monday after Easter since 1878. And Hayes was the first president to have both a telephone and a typewriter in the White House.
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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.

"BUT FORTUNATELY I HAD MY MANUSCRIPT"

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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"The Thing": The Mysterious Teenage Ghost That Haunted Taft's White House
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John Plumbe Jr., Library of Congress // Public Domain

“My dear Clara,” Major Archie Butt wrote in the summer of 1911, “It seems that the White House is haunted.” So began what would become the only written record of the mysterious Executive Mansion ghost known only as "The Thing."

That July, word of an apparition appearing to servants in William Howard Taft’s White House reached Butt, a military aide to the president who served as a kind of personal secretary and attaché. Reported encounters with a ghost had been scaring domestic staffers for months, as he recounted in a letter to his sister-in-law Clara. The spooky tale he told her remains an enduring question mark for White House scholars even today.

As the gossip of the time went, The Thing was felt more often than seen. Taft’s housekeeper—“a spooky little thing herself,” as Butt put it—reported that servants told stories of feeling The Thing appear as a slight pressure on the shoulder, as if a curious kid were leaning over to see what they were doing. Butt scolded the housekeeper, telling her, "ghosts have not the sense of touch, at least those self-respecting ghosts of which I have heard." But the servants maintained that it was, in fact, the spirit touching them.

“There’s a long tradition of White House ghosts,” Evan Phifer, a research historian at the White House Historical Society, tells Mental Floss. “Lincoln is a very popular one, Andrew Jackson—even a British soldier from the time of the War of 1812.” But The Thing is one of the more unusual White House spirits, because no one knows who he was. “It’s not a president or a first lady. It’s this unknown boy about 14 or 15 years old," Phifer says.

Several of the White House staff reported feeling this mysterious pressure on their shoulder, only to turn around to an empty room. Just one member of the household, though, said she actually saw the ghost. Marsh, First Lady Helen Taft’s personal maid, reported not just feeling the ghost leaning over her shoulder, but seeing the ethereal figure, whom she described as a young boy with light, unkempt hair and sad blue eyes. “Now who on Earth this can be,” Butt mused, “I cannot imagine.”

Taft responded to news of the spooky rumor with “towering rage,” Butt said, banning anyone in the house from speaking of the ghost under threat of firing. The president worried that the story would get out and the press would have a field day with the news. But his aide seemed to have a sense of humor about the whole situation. “I reminded him that the help was in such a state of mind that, if it was positively believed that the upper floor of the White House was haunted, the servants there could not be kept in their places by executive order,” Butt wrote.

Still, both of them found their curiosity piqued. Taft was “as anxious to hear about the thing as I had been,” according to Butt. And the aide, who was often on the receiving end of the housekeeping staff’s complaints, was afraid to let on just how intrigued he was by The Thing. “I don’t dare let any of them see how interested I am in it,” he told his sister-in-law. He hoped that the ghost would fade into the background as the year wore on and the staff got busier, relieving him of the duty of calming down superstitious domestic employees.

But even while publicly scoffing at the story, Butt was privately planning to research the mysterious boy’s possible origins. He asked several different servants to tell him their stories about The Thing, and told Clara that he was “going to delve into the history of the White House” to see if any boy matching The Thing’s description had lived—or died—there. But he never mentioned it in his letters to Clara again. It seems that he never did find out who the ghost might have been.

Modern White House historians are just as perplexed as he was. The only known youngster said to haunt the presidential residence is Willie Lincoln, who died during his father’s second year in office, possibly of typhoid fever. But Willie was 11 when he died, much younger than the description of The Thing. (Besides, Willie's ghost was already a known figure in Washington—the first reported sightings of his ghost in the White House date back to the 1870s.)

Whoever the paranormal figure might have represented, Taft was seemingly successful in squashing the rumors before they reached beyond the White House walls. “I didn’t really see the story in any papers of the time, so you could say that Archie Butt did a good job of keeping the story under wraps,” Phifer says. “This seems to be the only mention in the historical record of this ghost.”

Butt himself, though, was not long for this world. In April 1912, returning from Europe to the U.S. after a six-week leave of absence from the White House, he died in the sinking of the Titanic. And as for The Thing? Well, if Archie Butt ever did get to the bottom of the mystery, he took the story to his watery grave.

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