If they can’t clap, I’ll shut my trap

“Newt threatens to skip debates if crowds can’t cheer” — headline

“Gosh!” you’re probably thinking. “A new low in the history of American public figures! No one could possibly have been more childish and unprincipled than Newt Gingrich!”

And I would agree with you, except that my Researcher Elves – yes, I’ve got some – have dug up a batch of little-known facts about other famous Americans.

Lay some examples on us, Researcher Elves!

Paul Revere almost missed his famous ride.

“One if by land, and two if by sea!”

The first horse he tried had an undersized saddle, and Revere thought it made his butt look big. The second horse was “too horse-faced.” The third horse threw him. The fourth horse also threw him, but by that time Revere had managed to warn a few people and, anyway, the pubs had opened.

Also, what he actually yelled was:  “The British are coming – that is to say, the British from Britain, as opposed to us colonists, because technically we’re also British at this point, although that could change if the Revolution succeeds, and – damn, I’ve forgotten the rest of my speech.”

Meanwhile …

Or possibly earlier – the elves aren’t good at dates – Thomas Jefferson was refusing to write the Declaration of Independence until James Madison stopped calling him “‘the honorable virgin from Virginia.”

When he still had his teeth

George Washington was reluctant to be President but said he’d serve if the job came with a dental plan. However, no insurance company would accept him because of his pre-existing wooden teeth. It was his wife who persuaded him to become, in her words, “the numero uno head honcho.”

Really? Martha Washington said that? Oh dear. I think the elves might be drinking again.

Never mind, let’s keep going

When an aide asked him to write the Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln said, “Look it up in the phone book.” He was fond of terrible jokes and also cherry trees, perhaps in repentance for having cut one down. He was also violently anti-Catholic. He once began a speech as follows: “With malice toward nuns, with cherry trees for all.”

As a condition of serving his country, Herbert Hoover demanded to have “some damn thing named after me.” He wanted a building, but people took him literally so what he got was a dam.

Like, wow, man

Millard Fillmore also wanted something named after him “so people will remember I was President.” But, according to a poll, 83% of San Francisco’s baby boomers believe that Fillmore Street was named after the Fillmore Auditorium, “where I dropped some bitchin’ acid at a Jefferson Airplane concert in 1966.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt wasn’t really in a wheelchair. He could walk perfectly normally and, in fact, often raced around the White House grounds at night, accompanied by his pit bull, Sucker Punch, with Eleanor timing him on a stop watch. FDR wanted people to think he was handicapped but trying to hide it, “just to mess with their heads.”

Hey, wait a minute!

I happen to know that FDR’s dog was a Scottish Terrier named Fala.

I’m afraid we must question the veracity of the other “facts” my Researcher Elves unearthed.

I hear giggling from the wine cellar. I’d better go check.

So feel free to consider Newt Gingrich the most childish and unprincipled American public figure. Though it has to be said, there’s a lot of competition.

Jefferson Airplane poster, Fillmore Auditorium, 1966: By Bill Graham Uploaded by We hope at en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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