Read on to discover 15 skeletons these U.S. presidents tried to hide in the White House closets.
1. Lyndon B. Johnson nicknamed his genitals “Jumbo”
No, you’re not seeing things. This one is, unfortunately, very true. Apparently, Lyndon B. Johnson was very proud of his, well, Johnson (too easy). So fond, in fact, that he gave it a name; a truth we learned from Kate Anderson Brower, reporter and author of The Residence: Inside the Private World of The White House.
According to Brower, who interviewed dozens of former White House staff, Johnson demanded his shower be redone with multiple, high-pressure nozzles. One of those nozzles, in particular, was pointed right at “Jumbo.”
Next: This wasn’t as controversial as you’d think.
2. James Buchanan may have been gay
Long before gay marriage was legal, there was one American president who’d been shacking up with another man. According to historians, James Buchanan was the first gay president. As the only president to have never married, Buchanan had a romantic partner in his housemate and fellow politician William Rufus King, an Alabama Senator.
Furthermore, Buchanan’s homosexual relationship wasn’t necessarily a secret at the time. As historian Jim Loewen notes, “For much of the 19th century, American society was considerably more open and accepting than it was in much of the century that followed.”
Next: This one will make you think twice about this well-known president.
3. Grover Cleveland raped a woman
Before Grover Cleveland married his wife in 1886 — during his first presidential term — he did a horrific thing. According to Charles Lachman, who spent three years digging into Cleveland’s past for his book, A Secret Life, Cleveland and his aides covered up a major sex scandal to save Cleveland’s presidential campaign. And clearly, it worked.
On the night of Dec. 15, 1873, 37-year-old Cleveland raped Maria Halpin, a 38-year-old sales clerk, after the two had had dinner together. Nine months later, she had a son — Cleveland’s illegitimate child. As the sad story goes, Cleveland had the child removed from his mother and placed in an orphanage. And then, he had Halpin placed in an insane asylum (although she was soon released by the facility’s director).
When it came time for Cleveland’s presidential campaign, he and his team had to spin the story; Halpin was painted as a promiscuous woman with many sexual partners who drank excessively.
Next: This actually wasn’t as odd as it sounds.
4. Franklin Roosevelt’s mother put him in dresses when he was young
Did FDR really grow up in dresses? Yes, it would appear so. And while this may not exactly be a gasp-worthy secret, it’s interesting nonetheless. And here’s why: It reminds us that “our cultural norms about gender-specific clothing for children are a surprisingly recent historical development,” The Atlantic writes.
Next: Say what?
5. Calvin Coolidge loved petroleum jelly — on his head
We almost have no words for this one. Almost. Turns out, Calving Coolidge was a big fan of having “his head rubbed with petroleum jelly while eating his breakfast in bed,” according to Buzzfeed, and a bunch of other sites, too.
Confused? So are we.
Next: You’ve got to know when to hold ’em.
6. Warren G. Harding gambled away some important White House merchandise
Despite being considered one of the worst presidents of all time, Warren G. Harding was fairly popular during his actual presidency. He was social and loved to gamble. However, his luck in public office and at the poker table eventually took a turn.
According to The Independent, “He was a keen poker player, who once gambled away on a single hand an entire set of White House china dating back to the presidency of Benjamin Harrison.”
Next: This president was unfaithful
7. Warren G. Harding had an affair and an illegitimate child
Harding isn’t the only president to have had an affair. But his story makes the list for good reason. Even though Harding never wanted his affair with his young mistress, Nan Britton, to get out, he’s the one who was left out of the biggest secret of all.
In 1927, Britton claimed that her daughter, Elizabeth Ann, was Harding’s child, a revelation for which she was harshly ridiculed. Sadly, Harding died in 1923, just a few years before Britton even made the claim. And then, in 2015, DNA testing confirmed Britton’s daughter was, in fact, Harding’s — his only biological child.
Next: Would you call this president a murderer?
8. Andrew Jackson once killed a man in a duel
Even though dueling was a normal occurrence in Andrew Jackson’s day, certain rules still applied. Rules that Jackson broke. Before he was president, Jackson challenged Charles Dickinson to a duel for accusing him of cheating on a horse race bet and insulting his wife.
The men met to duel on May 30, 1806. Jackson obviously won, but he did so in a breach of etiquette, as he shouldn’t have fired his gun when he did.
Next: That’s not all Jackson did wrong.
9. Andrew Jackson was a bigamist
Remember the reason why Jackson challenged a man to a duel in the first place? And that part about Dickinson insulting Jackson’s wife? Well, here’s the insult: Dickinson called Jackson’s wife, Rachel, a bigamist. And he wasn’t wrong. At the time of their wedding, Rachel was, indeed, married to another man. But she didn’t know it, as her husband hadn’t finalized their divorce.
Next: This beloved president wasn’t free of secrets.
10. Thomas Jefferson fathered his slave’s child
Thomas Jefferson may have been a beloved president, but even he couldn’t escape this list. Not only did he have hundreds of slaves at the White House, but he had an affair with (at least) one of them.
Sally Hemings was the illegitimate half-sister of Jefferson’s wife, Martha. She became Jefferson’s property in 1774, and was very close with the president. So close, in fact, that he fathered at least one of her children.
Next: This former first daughter posed nude … twice.
11. Ronald Reagan’s daughter posed nude in Playboy
Posing nude for Playboy has a stigma, no doubt about it. And when you’re the former first daughter? Well, there’s an even bigger stigma. But Patti Davis, daughter of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, has no regrets about baring it all.
At the age of 42, Davis posed for Playboy in 1994. And then, she posed nude again. At the age of 58, a more-confident-than-ever Davis showed off her lean body in More magazine. And while critics have spoken, one thing’s for sure: Davis is proud of her Playboy past.
Next: Just how paranoid was Richard Nixon?
12. Richard Nixon hired someone to spy on his own brother
Obviously, Richard Nixon’s name is synonymous with Watergate. But that’s not the only secret he didn’t want getting out. But would you believe Richard Nixon even wiretapped his own brother?
Younger brother Donald Nixon had long been in financial trouble, a fact that posed a problem for then-hopeful presidential candidate Richard Nixon. According to Watergate investigators, “Nixon and his White House aides feared that the brother was involved in questionable financial deals and wanted to keep tabs on them.” Talk about deep-seated family issues.
Next: Nixon had plenty of issues.
13. Richard Nixon was depressed and paranoid
There’s no question the only president to resign from office is deserving of two spots on this list. After all, he was involved in one of the most infamous scandals in U.S. history. Considering all the cover-ups, lying, and spying that went on during Watergate, it’s no surprise Nixon’s involvement left him a bit unhinged.
Secret service agents have since revealed that Nixon was extremely depressed. He began drinking excessively and was overly-paranoid. He didn’t know whom to trust, and he basically thought everyone was out to get him.
Next: This president probably would have lived if he’d gotten shot in modern day.
14. James Garfield’s doctors didn’t do much to save his life
Charles Guiteau may have shot James Garfield in July 1881, but he wasn’t necessarily the one who killed him. At least that’s what some historians and medical professionals argue. After Garfield was shot, doctors fished around with dirty hands in an effort to retrieve the bullet. Unsanitary? Absolutely. Riddled with infection, the 20th U.S. president died on Sept. 19, 1881.
So, who’s really to blame for the president’s death? According to PBS, Garfield’s death sparked debate, and several historians have “taken Garfield’s doctors to task for not applying sterile technique, and, thus, saving the President’s life.” Thankfully, modern medicine has come a long way, and professionals adhere to strict cleanliness guidelines. (Yes, germs are a very real thing, folks.)
Next: Cue Homer Simpson’s “Doh.”
15. Bill Clinton once lost the nuclear launch codes
Bill Clinton’s biggest — and most memorable — secret may have been his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, but that’s not the only mistake he made while running the country. And one mistake, in particular, could have had a disastrous outcome because, yes, it involved losing the nuclear launch codes.
Does the president have the power to launch nuclear weapons? Yes. Is the process as easy as pushing a button? Heck no. In fact, the process is complex, rigorous, and exhaustive. Not surprisingly, the authorization codes must remain in close proximity to the president at all times. Unfortunately for Clinton, though, that wasn’t always the case, as he once lost them. Yikes.
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