Noah is a Presidential expert who enjoys reading about Presidents and collecting Presidential related artifacts.
Throughout history, crazy stories have been cooked up about almost every historical figure. That fact is no different for US presidents. From Taft's bathtub incident to Cleveland's secret surgery, every president has their fair share of crazy stories.
Many historians continue to study these stories to determine whether they are true or just myths. This article discusses the following three presidential stories that have either been confirmed as the real deal or another false tale:
3 Questionable Presidential Stories
- William Howard Taft Gets Stuck in a Bathtub
- John Quincy Adams's Stolen Clothes
- Grover Cleveland's Yacht Surgery
1. William Howard Taft Gets Stuck in a Bathtub
Arguably the most famous presidential story, the story that William Howard Taft got stuck in a bathtub has become the symbol of Taft and his presidency.
William Howard Taft was known to enjoy a nice bubble bath. He took them often and made sure to have the best experience he could each time. One time, however, reports came in that William Howard Taft was so fat that when he took one of his regular bubble baths, he could not get out on his own due to his weight.
To get him out of the tub, the six strongest men working at the White House were used to pull Taft out of the tub along with some butter to make the tub slippery. Taft was reported as weighing just about 340 pounds.
Taft's legacy has forever been associated with this embarrassing story. It has certainly hurt the president's image but has also helped him be more well-known in American History. It also reflects the continuing battle William Howard Taft had with his weight. But is Taft's bubble bath blunder a fact or a fable?
It's a Fable!
Although Taft did suffer from weight issues, there are very few primary sources to suggest that Taft actually got stuck in a bathtub. The story was likely created to joke about Taft's obesity. His size was a running joke and the press often joked that he got stuck in chairs and other strange things. The story is all fable.
2. John Quincy Adams's Stolen Clothes
As the son of Founding Father and former President John Adams, John Quincy Adams was no doubt destined to follow in the steps of his father in politics. But he certainly was not destined to have his clothes stolen.
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J.Q. Adams was known to be a physical U.S. president whose favorite morning activity was swimming in the nearby Potomac River. Adams continued to swim into his late sixties. Reports suggested he even swam just after his seventieth birthday celebration.
One morning, famed journalist Anne Royall spotted the president swimming in the river. She had previously and unsuccessfully tried to get an interview with Adams. Seeing her opportunity, Royall took the president's clothes and refused to give them back until he agreed to do the interview with Royall. He reluctantly agreed to do it.
The story is quite interesting and humorous, showing the lengths some people will go just to talk to the president. But did Royall go as far as to take the president's clothes just for an interview, or is it just a false fable?
It's a Fable!
There is very little evidence to suggest this event ever took place. Although Royall had a reputation of being quite outgoing and open, she was reported as being friends with John Quincy Adams. Also, Royall hadn't even been in Washington when Adams was president, making it impossible for her to be able to take his clothes. People probably believed the story due to Royall's reputation as a reporter.
3. Grover Cleveland's Yacht Surgery
For the most part, a president's actions are out in the open and well-known by the public. But besides this fact, nonconsecutive term President Grover Cleveland attempted to have a secret surgery on a yacht.
After his election win in 1893, the US was hit with an economic depression. Cleveland entered the office already behind. Then, a growing tumor caused more trouble for him. Grover told the presidential doctor about a rough spot on the roof of his mouth. When the doctor examined it, he concluded that the spot was a malignant tumor.
Out of fear of sending the public into a panic, Cleveland set up a secret four-day surgery that would remove the tumor and some teeth. Cleveland claimed to be going on a four-day fishing trip and took his friend's yacht out on the water. On the yacht, the tumor was successfully removed. The president fully recovered, and thanks to the president's mustache, it was difficult for anyone to notice any significant changes to his mouth and face.
The surgery turned out to be a success, and Cleveland continued on in his role. His presidency eventually ended terribly, but did he have a secret surgery to remove a tumor?
It's a Fact!
Many primary sources confirm this story as true. Dr. Hasbrouk, one of the lead doctors for the surgery, attempted to report the surgery to the papers but was unsuccessful due to the White House covering up the story. In 1917, it was revealed that President Grover Cleveland did have surgery on the yacht to remove a cancerous tumor.
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- Taft’s Bathtubs Weighed A Ton – Smart News| Smithsonian Magazine
Taft might not have really gotten stuck in a bathtub, but he did seem to have a fondness for them.
- Fact or fiction: Taft got stuck in a tub? – CNN Political Ticker | CNN.com Blogs
With New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie poking fun at his own weight and questions about its impact on a possible presidential bid, the nation's heaviest president—William Howard Taft—and a story about his getting stuck in a White House bathtub comes up.
- Anne Royall and the President's Clothes | Boundary Stones: WETA's Washington DC History Blog
According to legend, a Washington journalist once caught John Quincy Adams in an awkward situation. But is it a true story?
- A Yacht, A Mustache: How A President Hid His Tumor | NPR
In the summer of 1893 and at the beginning of an economic depression, President Grover Cleveland disappeared for four days to have secret surgery on a yacht. Author Matthew Algeo recounts the episode, and the lengths Cleveland went to cover it up.
- Grover Cleveland - Secret Surgery | University of Arizona Health Sciences Library
In 1893, soon after entering his second term as president, Grover Cleveland became aware of a rough spot on the roof of his mouth. When presidential doctor Major Robert O’Reilly came by for a social call, the president asked O’Reilly to take a look.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.