Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Secret Presidential Hobbies

Certain gossip remains juicy, even if decades or hundreds of years have passed. Case in point: gossip about U.S. presidents' secret hobbies. While these hobbies may not be quite secret, most are little known. Neither were they topics at Oval Office meetings or State of the Union addresses.

I had originally hoped to write a poem about these Commander in Chief pastimes, but instead decided on a blog post. My exposure to this topic started when I missed the 40th Annual Abraham Lincoln National Railsplitting Festival in Lincoln, Ill. I promise the story gets better. Instead, I wandered the nearby Lincoln Heritage Museum and found a series of museum cases devoted to personal and professional stats on all the presidents, including their hobbies.

The father of our country, George Washington, indulged in man's man pursuits: billiards, cards and fox hunting. Andrew Jackson had a penchant for cockfighting, which might reflect his reputation as a sadistic scoundrel. And did you know we had two exhibitionist presidents? Both Teddy Roosevelt and John Quincy Adams shared a preference for skinny-dipping, the later in the Potomac River, the former on safari.

James Polk claimed politics as his pastime. I sure hope so, prez. Conversely, Ulysses S. Grant's sideline was smoking. As unhealthy as that sounds, it might be what got him and the rest of the north through the Civil War, when he had bigger fish to fry besides mainstream "hobbies," i.e. the Rebels.

For Richard Nixon, his thing was "bowling." Somehow, it's hard for me to picture him eyeballing the head-pin at an alley poised with a big blue baby watermelon under his chin. I know someone suggested Nixon also try tennis, but he claimed, "I'm not the tennis type." He had a streak of self-realization.

Millard Fillmore, the president with the funny name and automatic stand-in after Zachary Taylor suddenly died, had an avocation as a book collector and dealer. I knew there was something to like about this guy!

Presidents get voted in, but even before they're nominated I think they should each be required to take reading, writing and public speaking tests. The public needs to know the results before it's too late, if you get my drift.

But the presidents who fortunately did not need such tests and naturally favored the word arts as passions included William Henry Harrison, who liked reading the bible; Abraham Lincoln who preferred reading, as well as his well-known railsplitting, early on, and also theater in his latter years (which unfortunately brought down the final curtain on his presidency), and our 44th president, Barack Obama, who finds lecturing, writing and playing basketball to hold special emphases in his life.

I wish I had more room to talk about what all the presidents did for fun, such as John Kennedy and Bill Clinton. On second thought, never mind about those two, at least as far as hobbies are concerned! ◦

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