July 21, 2024
Urban Legends of the Presidency

Urban Legends of the Presidency

When the United States was first founded, it took a while for them to concede to even have a President at all. It was believed that having one central executive figure would be too much like having a king – something they still shuddered at the thought of. Well, in terms of how kingdoms tend to inspire legends, they were at least partly right – quite a bit of folklore has grown up around the office of President. Let’s get to the bottom of some of these and sort the truth from the balderdash.

Did Jimmy Carter see a UFO?
Well, the former President certainly seemed to think he did. He filed a report with the Center for UFO Studies in Evanston, Illinois, in September of 1973. The report claimed that in October, 1969, Mr. Carter and a group of a dozen people spotted a hovering object in the sky. For a period of between ten and twelve minutes, it slowly changed in color, size, and brightness, before it disappearing from view, apparently by retreating into the sky. Later analysis has it that what was witnessed was the planet Venus and some peculiar atmospheric conditions that made it look funny. Typically.

Did Ronald Reagan believe in astrology?
In a word, no. His wife and First Lady Nancy Reagan did, however. Chief of staff Donald Regan revealed that Nancy would consult with an astrologer when setting up travel plans. This got hooked by the media who made it sound like Ronald himself was directing national policy out of the newspaper astrology columns. Reagan himself said of the incident, “The media are behaving like kids with a new toy – never mind that there is no truth to it.” It is suspected that Nancy Reagan developed a superstitious fear of her husband traveling after the attempt at his assassination.

Are Presidents members of a secret “Skull and Bones” society?
No, but a few of our Presidents and Presidential candidates have been members. Despite the ominous name, “Skull and Bones” is one of dozens of collegiate secret societies, which are really nothing but high-society frat clubs for graduates, and it is even only one of eleven current secret societies at Yale University. Rest assured that the sole purpose of a college-based secret society is to make people wonder why you have one and what goes on in there. “Skull and Bones” is very well-documented in online references, complete with pictures of their meeting place. The rumors fly around about their supposed rituals, but if they don’t like that, they have no one to blame but themselves for their silly game.

Was there a curse on Presidents elected in a zero year?
The legend of the curse grew up around the fact that, indeed, seven Presidents in a row who were elected in years ending in zeroes did die in office, four from assassinations and three from natural causes. That would be enough to make anyone leery. Reagan, however, was elected in 1980 and survived his terms and long after as well, so whatever “curse” there was may now be considered broken.

Does the taller candidate win the election?
This myth has been investigated and debunked, with hard evidence to bust it, but people still think that there is a statistical bias towards taller candidates. While there is evidence at this point that winning candidates have an inch or two on average over the loser, people seem to forget that the small sample is likely to produce skewed results. We have only had 43 presidents of the United States so far, and in a statistical sample that short, you could make up almost any hypothesis about winners vs. losers – the one with the longest name, the one with the darker suit, the one with a fuller head of hair – and find some justification. There’s also a theory that white males from rich families always win elections, which is so far slightly more sustainable.

Did Zachary Taylor die from eating a bowl of cherries?
The conditions surrounding his demise in office are certainly poorly documented. The cause of death is officially “cholera morbus” which pretty much includes food poisoning from bacteria, cholera, dysentery, and other illnesses from eating a nasty bug or spoiled food. The diagnosis held even after an autopsy in which he was exhumed to rule out assassination. Remember that it was the mid-1800’s, and food safety and sanitation practices weren’t very modern. Heat stroke has also been cited as a factor, since he was attending a July 4th celebration at the time he fell ill. In any case, just before he died he did eat cherries, along with some milk, green apples, and pickled cucumbers, so it might have been any of those.