Feb. 19, 2011 editorial: Getting to know the chiefs

Feb. 19, 2011

In the stunning book "Unbroken," by Laura Hillenbrand, the true World War II survival tale of Louis Zamperini, ill-treated American prisoners of war get a rare chance to laugh when their captors tell them that the Japanese military had torpedoed Washington, D.C., and killed President Abraham Lincoln.

Of course, we all know that our 16th president had met his tragic end in 1865, and it's fairly a surprising fact that even Japanese soldiers in 1943 did not know this.

But, here on Presidents Day eve, how much do we know about our own presidents? Many of us take a day off from work, we fly the flags that day, in this combination of what once were observances of Lincoln's Birthday and Washington's Birthday, but how much do we know about the 44 men who have served our highest elected office?.

Presidents Day legally took effect in 1971 as a way to honor all our nation's commanders-in-chief.

Speaking of birthdays, those 40 and older had probably memorized Lincoln's (Feb. 12) and Washington's (Feb. 22) but how many other presidential birthdays are common knowledge?

Calvin Coolidge was born on July 4 and, remarkably, three of our first five presidents died on that date: Presidents John Adams, Thomas Jefferson - the only presidents to sign the Declaration of Independence - and James Monroe.

Do you know which presidents died in office? William Harrison (after having served only one month), Zachary Taylor, Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, Warren Harding, Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy.

Who is the only president besides Kennedy buried in Arlington National Cemetery? (William Taft.)

Thomas Jefferson declined even to honor himself at his place of rest. He designed his own tombstone and wrote his own epitaph, omitting the fact that he was President of the United States.

Also, Jefferson was the first president to shake hands with guests. Previously people bowed to presidents.

Our first president, Washington, had no formal education, and at various times he wore dentures made of human teeth, animal teeth, ivory or even lead. Never wood.

Washington was the only president elected unanimously; he received all 69 electoral votes.

Presidential leadership was not always such a clear distinction. When the first southern states seceded in 1861, John Tyler (a Virginian, and president from 1841-45) worked to create the Southern Confederacy. He died in 1862, a member of the Confederate House of Representatives.

(Joseph Nathan Kane as posted on http://www.infoplease.com/spot/prestrivia1.html)

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