What Lincoln's Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities

Khalid Elhassan - July 15, 2021

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
President Andrew Jackson, circa 1835. The White House

9. The President Who Almost Beat His Would-Be-Assassin to Death

By the time he was elected president, Andrew Jackson’s dangerous reputation had been so well established, that only a crazy person would try to assault him. However, America never had a shortage of crazy people, and one of them became the first to attempt a presidential assassination when he went after Jackson. Richard Lawrence, a house painter, often muttered angrily to himself about Andrew Jackson. On January 30, 1835, witnesses saw him cackle to himself as he sat in his shop, before he suddenly exclaimed “I’ll be damned if I don’t it!“, got up, and exited. “It” was to kill Jackson, which Lawrence tried to do when he ambushed the president outside the Capitol building.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
President Andrew Jackson almost beat his would-be assassin to death. Medium

Lawrence waited behind a pillar, and when Jackson passed by, took a shot at his back. The pistol misfired. Lawrence pulled out a second pistol and tried another shot, only to get another misfire. By then, Jackson had realized what Lawrence was up to, and was understandably pissed off. Although he was 67-years-old at the time, pretty old by the day’s standards, an enraged Jackson fell upon the much younger Lawrence, and proceeded to bludgeon him with his cane. Bystanders probably saved the would-be assassin from getting pummeled to death when they intervened to restrain the president, and hustled Lawrence off to the safety of prison.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
Warren G. Harding. Wikimedia

8. Warren G. Harding’s Time in the White House Was Short, But His List of Scandals Was Long

Warren G. Harding (1865 – 1923) is consistently ranked amongst America’s worst president. His administration, from 1921 until his sudden death in office in 1923, is best remembered for a slew of scandals, both private and official. The biggest one was Teapot Dome, in which Harding’s Secretary of the Interior took bribes to lease oil fields to oil companies at low rates, without any competitive bids. Other scandals involved his Attorney General who took bribes from bootleggers, and his director of the Veterans Bureau, who enriched himself with massive graft.

As to Harding himself, revelations about affairs with mistresses inflicted yet more damage on his reputation. After the recent blizzard of scandals, shenanigans like those of Harding and his administration would probably occupy the news cycle for a few days, tops. However, the 1920s were more innocent, and such scandals shook the country. Between the corruption and the details of salacious escapades with his mistresses, Harding’s public regard, which had been exceptionally high at the time of his death, took a nose dive and was replaced with contempt.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
Warren G. Harding and Carrie Fulton Phillips. Imgur

7. The President and Jerry

In 1899, Warren G. Harding began to work his way up the political ladder from Ohio state senator, to failed Republican nominee for governor, to winner of a 1914 election to the US Senate. Throughout most of his political career, he had carried on an affair with Carrie Fulton Phillips. As historians discovered from love letters that he wrote her, Harding referred to his penis as his “private chief of staff”, but more often he referred to it as “Jerry”.

In one letter, Harding wrote to Phillips: ” Jerry — you recall Jerry…— came in while I was pondering your notes in glad reflection, and we talked about it…He told me to say that you are the best and darlingest in the world, and if he could have but one wish, it would be to be held in your darling embrace and be thrilled by your pink lips that convey the surpassing rapture of human touch“. He ended the affair after fifteen years in 1920, amidst his campaign for president.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
Nan Britton and her daughter by President Warren G. Harding. New York Times

6. Warren G. Harding Used Secret Service Agents as Lookouts While He Got it on in White House Closets

Warren G. Harding’s affair with Carrie Fulton Phillips was low key. A more explosive one was with Nan Britton. After Harding’s death, she wrote a tell-all book, The President’s Daughter, in which she alleged that the deceased chief executive had fathered an illegitimate daughter upon her. Britton described salacious details that make the Clinton and Monica Lewinsky affair look like amateur hour. Among other things, Warren G. and Nan got it on in White House closets, with Secret Service agents posted as lookouts.

After she gave birth, Nan alleged that Harding had paid her $500 a month in child support – a considerable sum back then. Harding’s family rushed to defend what was left of his reputation, and denied the affair. They painted Britton as a liar, and claimed that the 29th president had been infertile, and so could not have possibly fathered a child upon her. Things remained in a he-said-they-said standoff until 2015, when a DNA test conclusively proved that the daughter, Elizabeth Ann Blaesing, was indeed, Harding’s child.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
John Quincy Adams. The White House

5. A Very Smart Man’s Very Silly Belief

John Quincy Adams, like his father and America’s second president John Adams, was a brilliant man. Before he, too, became president, JQ Adams was a great diplomat – perhaps America’s best diplomat ever. His accomplishments included a stint as ambassador to Russia, and he served in the delegation that negotiated an end to the War of 1812. JQ Adams also served as Secretary of State, in which capacity he negotiated the acquisition of Florida, and played a key role in the establishment of the Monroe Doctrine. He also served in both the US House of Representatives and the US Senate, and became an early leader of the opposition to slavery.

Still, we all have our faults, and while JQ Adams was clearly an intelligent man, he had some blind spots. One of them was his belief in the Hollow Earth Theory. It was considered ludicrous even in his own time, and sounded as whacky as the Flat Earth or Q-Anon strikes rational people today. As its name indicates, Hollow Earth claimed that our planet is not a solid rock, but more like a ball. It had concentric layers separated by empty spaces, that were probably inhabited by people. Adams not only believed that balderdash, but wanted to prove at the taxpayers’ expense.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
The hollow earth, as envisioned by Symnes. Wikimedia

4. The Newton of the West

The Hollow Earth Theory was concocted by a charlatan named John Cleves Symmes, Jr., a veteran of the War of 1812. He moved to the frontier, where he reinvented himself as a scientist and became known as the “Newton of the West”. In 1818 he published Symmes Circular No. 1, in which he wrote: “I declare the earth is hollow, and habitable within; containing a number of solid concentrick spheres, one within the other, and that it is open at the poles 12 or 16 degrees; I pledge my life in support of this truth, and am ready to explore the hollow, if the world will support and aid me in the undertaking“.

Each concentric circle supposedly contained a subterranean world, all of them heated and illuminated by a sun-like object at the Earth’s center. Symmes then hit the lecture circuit, and lobbied the government for an expedition to the poles, where he claimed the openings to the hollow earth’s interior were located. Educated people scoffed, but many, including John Quincy Adams, took it seriously. Indeed, he promised to back an expedition to explore the hollow earth during his successful 1824 presidential campaign.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
A mole person. Atomic Surgery

3. The President Who Wanted to Find Mole People

Like other believers in the Hollow Earth, John Quincy Adams assumed that the hollow planet’s internal concentric spheres must be inhabited by humans or human-like beings: de facto mole men. JQ Adams was interested in the natural resources beneath the earth, and like Symmes, he wanted to establish trade with the hollow earth’s inhabitants. Symmes’ expedition actually made it to the US House of Representatives’ agenda and came up for a vote. The proposal was defeated, 56 to 46. It was a win for sanity, but still: about 44% of America’s Congressmen wanted to spend taxpayer money to try and contact mole people.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
President Andrew Jackson rejected his predecessor’s hollow earth beliefs, because he believed that the earth was flat. Physics World

JQ Adams did not give up. He tried to get Congress to reconsider, and did what he could to gather support and resources for the expedition. However, he served only one term, before he lost the 1828 election to Andrew Jackson. The newly elected president promptly abandoned his predecessor’s attempts to reach the center of the hollow earth. Which was not a surprise, since Andrew Jackson thought the Hollow Earth Theory was hogwash. Instead, Jackson believed that the earth was flat.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
Marilyn Monroe. Associated Press

2. The President, His Brother, and a Blond Bombshell

Of all of President John F. Kennedy’s numerous affairs, none would probably produce as massive a media frenzy today as his affair with Marilyn Monroe. It would make the media circus that surrounded Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, or Trump and Stormy Daniels, look tame. The blond bombshell caught Kennedy’s eye after she made a spectacular entrance at a New York dinner party held in his honor in early 1962. He was immediately attracted to her, and they hooked up in Palm Springs soon thereafter. However, she took it more seriously than he did, and was not discreet. Her sultry “Happy Birthday” performance for JFK during a fundraiser in Madison Square Garden – in the presence of his wife, no less – fueled the rumor machines.

Tongues wagged about the barely concealed affair between the president and the actress, but fortunately for JFK, his era’s media was nothing like that of today. Nonetheless, the gossip caused Kennedy to back away from Monroe and end things – to him, she was just one among dozens of pretty women he had slept with. To Monroe, he was the only president she had slept with, and she was not about to give up that easy. She repeatedly called the White House and tried to rekindle the affair, until JFK sent somebody to convince her that it was over and that she needed to stop.

What Lincoln’s Pockets Held When he Died and Other Presidential Oddities
Marilyn Monroe in 1962 between RFK, left, and JFK, right. Wikimedia

1. When JFK Passed Marilyn Monroe On to RFK

After President John F. Kennedy was done with Marilyn Monroe, he basically passed her on to Robert F. Kennedy, his younger brother and the United States’ Attorney General. RFK’s image was that of a happily married and devoted husband, with a large and steadily growing family that eventually had eleven children. He was viewed as the most family-oriented and straitlaced of the Kennedy brothers, so if his relationship with Monroe had hit the news, there would have been a jarring contrast between that public perception and an affair with the iconic cultural symbol.

Her unexpected death a few months later would have made things even more explosive. The coroner ruled that Monroe’s 1962 death was a probable suicide with an excessive dose of barbiturates. However, there were plenty of conspiracy theories then and since, that alleged the involvement of JFK or RFK in her death. The sudden death of a former mistress of the president, who then became the mistress of his brother, the Attorney General and the president’s right hand man? That would have made for a media feeding frenzy today.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Cheat Sheet – Shocking Sex Scandals of Former US Presidents

Encyclopedia Britannica – Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

Grunge – US Presidents Who Were Really Weird People

Heavy – Jennifer Fitzgerald: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

History Collection – Mistakes That Shaped America

History dot Com – When Teddy Roosevelt Was Shot in 1912, a Speech May Have Saved His Life

Independent, The, January 21st, 2009 – Gerald R Ford

Library of Congress – The Contents of Abraham Lincoln’s Pockets on the Evening of His Assassination

New York Post, March 30th, 2019 – Barbara Bush Contemplated Suicide Over Husband’s Alleged Affair With Aide

New York Times, June 30th, 1989 – US Official Quits in Escort Service Inquiry

Politico, November 19th, 2013 – Sex in the Senate: Bobby Baker’s Salacious Secret History of Capitol Hill

Radford, Marsha – Everything You Always Wanted to Know About America’s Presidents But Were Afraid to Ask (2007)

Ranker – All of the Contents of the Odd Contents of Abraham Lincoln’s Pockets the Night He Perished

Sandburg, Carl – Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years (1929)

Sandburg, Carl – Abraham Lincoln: The War Years (1939)

Smithsonian Magazine, April 7th, 2010 – The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln: Lincoln’s Missing Bodyguard

Smithsonian Magazine, May 7th, 2015 – John Quincy Adams Once Approved an Expedition to the Center of the Earth

Times, The, September 19th, 2004 – Mistress of Influence: Bush’s ‘Other Wife’

US News & World Report, May 24th, 2013 – What They Found in Lincoln’s Pockets the Night He Was Shot

Washington Post, August 1st, 1989 – The Bombshell That Didn’t Explode

Washington Times, June 29th, 1989

Wikipedia – Richard Lawrence (Failed Assassin)

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