WTF Fun Fact 12953 – Abraham Lincoln, Licensed Bartender and Wrestling Champ

While U.S. President Abraham Lincoln was known for being a wrestling champ, it’s less well-known that he was also a licensed bartender. In fact, he co-owned a bar with a friend. Unfortunately, that story had a rather sad ending.

Abraham Lincoln is in the Wrestling Hall of Fame

While he grew up in a log cabin in the Kentucky wilderness and then moved to Illinois as a boy, much of Lincoln’s early life isn’t household knowledge. Take, for example, his wrestling “career.” According to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame:

“In the rough and ready style of the frontier, “catch as catch can” wrestling was more hand-to-hand combat than sport. Lincoln, an awesome physical specimen at 6-feet-4, was widely known for his wrestling skills and had only one recorded defeat in a dozen years.

At age 19, he defended his stepbrother’s river barge from Natchez thugs by throwing the hijackers overboard. Ten years later, Lincoln was a storekeeper at New Salem when his boss backed him to out-wrestle Jack Armstrong, local tough and county champion. From the start, Lincoln handed out a thrashing. When Armstrong began fouling, Lincoln picked up his opponent, dashed him to the ground and knocked him out.”

Lincoln’s bartending career

Lincoln went on to become a lawyer and, eventually, president of the United States. But before his law career took off, he was a shopkeeper and bartender. In fact, he’s the only president to have ever been a licensed bartender.

According to Chicagoist (cited below):

“In January 1833, he partnered with his friend from his militia days, William F. Berry, to purchase a small store, which they named Berry and Lincoln. Stores could sell alcohol in quantities greater than a pint for off-premises consumption, but it was illegal to sell single drinks to consume at the store without a license. In March 1833, Berry and Lincoln were issued a tavern, or liquor, license, which cost them $7 and was taken out in Berry’s name. Stores that sold liquor to consume on the premises were called groceries.”

Unfortunately, the store didn’t work out because of Berry’s alcoholism. He drank the store’s liquor, and the pair’s business fell into debt. “It wasn’t until 1848, when Lincoln was a congressman, that he was able to pay off the whole debt.”

Once Lincoln entered politics, he denied selling alcohol “by the drink,” but people knew. His opponents even poked fun at him over it during debates.

Alas, he’s remembered for other things now.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Bartender-In-Chief: Abraham Lincoln Owned A Tavern” — Chicagoist

WTF Fun Facts 12781 – The 100+ Duels of Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson was a bit of a hothead. How else does one get into over 100 duels (103, by some counts)?

Andrew and Rachel Jackson

Prior to becoming president, Andrew Jackson had quite a career as a soldier and a lawyer. But he was also well-known for his quick temper and desire to defend his wife’s honor (who people took to calling a bigamist).

Jackson’s wife, Rachel, had been married when they met. And by most accounts, he rescued her from an abusive marriage. However, that relationship didn’t end with a legal divorce. Hence the bigamy accusations. (She was officially divorced two years after her wedding to Jackson.)

A fellow plantation owner named Charles Dickinson took a feud over a bet (and related name-calling) public, apparently leaving Jackson with no choice.

The famous pre-presidential duel

Jackson clearly didn’t learn much from the 1804 duel of Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. He and Dickinson met for their duel in 1806, eighteen years before his presidential election.

Dickinson shot Jackson directly in the chest. He lived, but the bullet could not be removed, and he suffered from health issues for the rest of his life.

According to Dickinson’s men, Jackson shot back, but his pistol jammed. They claimed he shot a second time (which is a major breach of conduct), killing Dickinson.

The aftermath of the duel

What we know for sure is that even after being shot in the chest, he staunched his wound with a handkerchief before gathering his strength to shoot.

While dueling was illegal, it clearly didn’t hurt his chances of being elected. And he wasn’t charged with murder either. It seems his sense of honor was intact along with his reputation (at least at the time).

 WTF fun facts

Source: “The Nine Lives of Andrew Jackson” — Mental Floss

WTF Fun Fact 12648 – When Einstein Turned Down a Presidency

Albert Einstein was asked to be president of Israel in 1952. He was considered to be the greatest Jew alive and offered both Israeli citizenship and a chance to continue his research. But he turned it down. Turns out, he just wasn’t that into people around people.

The request read:

Embassy of Israel
November 17, 1952

Dear Professor [Albert] Einstein:

The bearer of this letter is Mr. David Goitein of Jerusalem who is now serving as Minister at our Embassy in Washington. He is bringing you the question which Prime Minister Ben Gurion asked me to convey to you, namely, whether you would accept the Presidency of Israel if it were offered you by a vote of the Knesset. Acceptance would entail moving to Israel and taking its citizenship. The Prime Minister assures me that in such circumstances complete facility and freedom to pursue your great scientific work would be afforded by a government and people who are fully conscious of the supreme significance of your labors.

Mr. Goitein will be able to give you any information that you may desire on the implications of the Prime Minister’s question.

Whatever your inclination or decision may be, I should be deeply grateful for an opportunity to speak with you again within the next day or two at any place convenient for you. I understand the anxieties and doubts which you expressed to me this evening. On the other hand, whatever your answer, I am anxious for you to feel that the Prime Minister’s question embodies the deepest respect which the Jewish people can repose in any of its sons. To this element of personal regard, we add the sentiment that Israel is a small State in its physical dimensions, but can rise to the level of greatness in the measure that it exemplifies the most elevated spiritual and intellectual traditions which the Jewish people has established through its best minds and hearts both in antiquity and in modern times. Our first President, as you know, taught us to see our destiny in these great perspectives, as you yourself have often exhorted us to do.

Therefore, whatever your response to this question, I hope that you will think generously of those who have asked it, and will commend the high purposes and motives which prompted them to think of you at this solemn hour in our people’s history.

With cordial wishes,
Abba Eban

In his reply he wrote:

“I am deeply moved by the offer from our State of Israel [to serve as President], and at once saddened and ashamed that I cannot accept it. All my life I have dealt with objective matters, hence I lack both the natural aptitude and the experience to deal properly with people and to exercise official functions. For these reasons alone I should be unsuited to fulfill the duties of that high office, even if advancing age was not making increasing inroads on my strength. I am the more distressed over these circumstances because my relationship to the Jewish people has become my strongest human bond, ever since I became fully aware of our precarious situation among the nations of the world.”

– WTF fun facts

Source: “Offering the Presidency of Israel to Albert Einstein” — Virtual Jewish Library

WTF Fun Facts 12594 – Hot Dog Diplomacy

King George VI was the first sitting British ruler to visit a U.S. president. It was kind of a big deal after the whole Revolutionary War and the sore feelings that left.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president at the time and wanted to give the king a royal greeting, American style.

Of course there was a state dinner with all the attendant fancy food. But it was a casual picnic that really made the trip memorable because that’s when King George VI had his first hot dog on June 11, 1939.

It was a private picnic, but the hot dog moment was anything but a secret. In fact, a NYT headline the following day read: “King Tries Hot Dog and Asks For More.”

The brand was Swift, for those who need to know these things. And the king very appropriately had a beer with his 2 hot dogs as well, according to the Times.

Looking back on the moment in 2009, Dan Barry wrote in the NYT:

There is no record of the founding fathers ever eating hot dogs, no trace, for example, of mustard on the Declaration of Independence. But the hot dog has played a role in American foreign relations since at least June 1939, when the king and queen of England attended a picnic at President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s estate in Hyde Park, N.Y., while soliciting American support for England in the war about to consume Europe.”

The king’s mother was with him at the time and also partook in a hot dog – but she is said to have eaten it with a knife and fork.

Upon inviting an Iranian delegation to the US, the Obama administration relied once again on the diplomatic dogs. There’s no word on how they went down, but Barry seemed to think that it was an essential part of the diplomatic process either way, noting:

The hot dog, it seems, figures in American diplomacy only when absolutely needed. In 1999, for example, President Bill Clinton gathered at a table with Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel and the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat to eat hot dogs. Kosher, of course.”

– WTF fun facts

Source: “When Franklin Delano Roosevelt Served Hot Dogs to a King” — Smithsonian Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 12574 – John Hinckley Jr. Stalked Jimmy Carter

If the police had just looked at the journal sitting next to the guns would-be assassin John Hinckley, Jr. was trying to transport through the Nashville International Airport in 1980, they would have foiled his entire plot.

Of course, at the time, they had no idea Hinckley had plans to kill a U.S. president.

For those who don’t know the details, it didn’t matter much to Hinckley which president he shot. His only goal was to get the attention of actress Jodie Foster, who he had become obsessed with after seeing her in the 1976 Martin Scorsese film Taxi Driver. The film also starred Robert DiNero as Travis Bickle, a Vietnam vet and taxi driver with plans to assassinate a senator.

Creepily, Foster (who starred as child prostitute Iris in the film) was only 12 years old during filming. But in 1980, she was a freshman at Yale, and Hinckley was sending her letters that went unanswered.

Not content to be ignored, Hinckley made plans to emulate Travis Bickle but made his target even bigger – the president.

In 1980, Jimmy Carter was president, but on the campaign trail for reelection and running against Ronald Reagan. It appears that Hinckley’s first plan was to assassinate Carter, and he got pretty close at least twice – once in Dayton, OH, and once in Nashville, TN. Both times he got close to the president, but it appeared to be more of a trial run to ensure his plan would work. However, he was certainly capable of carrying out the plan in Tennessee because he was armed.

Despite deciding against shooting President Carter in Nashville, Hinckley would regroup. A scare at the airport in which security found multiple weapons in his luggage didn’t deter him. Neither did getting hauled into the Metro Nashville Jail, but that’s likely because he was quickly released on a small bond and paid $62.50 in total for his transgression (at least, the one people knew about).

Today we know that Hinckley’s plans were laid out in a journal he also kept in his luggage right next to those guns the police found. But no one opened it.

Of course, the very next year he would go on to shoot President Reagan in Washington, right across from the Secret Service headquarters. Reagan lived, and Hinckley was captured, but he was eventually found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1982 and handed over to a mental health institution. He was granted unconditional release in 2021. – WTF fun facts

Source: “Investigators Think Hinckley Stalked Carter” — The New York Times

WTF Fun Fact 12441 – The National Hotel Disease

Once the poshest hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, the National Hotel was at the center of a nationwide mystery after a disease outbreak among its guests in 1857. According to records from the U.S. House of Representatives, almost three dozen people died and 400 people were sickened by a mystery ailment that continued to plague guests (and lead to their deaths) years after their 1857 stays at the hotel.

Founded in 1827, the National Hotel was located between the White House and the Capitol, catering to Members of Congress. “Apart from the Capitol and the White House, there is no building in this city so historic as this,” remarked the Washington Post in 1930. “For more than half a century the history of the Nation was made there.” 

But in 1857, President-Elect James Buchanan was staying at the hotel prior to his inauguration, as were many other politicians due to attend the event. Even he was sickened but made a speedy recovery.

At the time, some reported that the outbreak was actually the result of arsenic poisoning in the water. Buchanan was from Pennsylvania but held so-called “Southern beliefs” at the time when it came to slavery. After sensationalized news stories were published, people suspected a murder plot by radical abolitionists, but there was never a speck of evidence that it was anything other than an infectious disease outbreak.

These days, we understand a lot more about how infectious diseases work, and those who have examined records of the symptoms think it was likely mild cholera or (more likely) dysentery.

Dr. D.H. Storer was a National guest and victim who shared his symptoms with the National Intelligencer: “A dreadful nausea has been, in my case, the very worst and most miserable attendant upon this complaint. I have felt it almost all the time from the first till now. If I were even to-day to take an ounce of beef steak, or that amount of any animal food into my stomach, my experience thus far is that I should suffer for hours from this horrid nausea.”

Most guests were infected in March, around the inauguration. However, that’s when the hotel was most crowded. It disappeared soon after guests from that event went home and never happened again. However, among those who died were Rep. John Montgomery of Pennsylvania and Rep. John Quitman of Mississippi.

The hotel continued to operate for years until it could no longer compete with the grander establishments being built around it. The building was demolished in 1924. – WTF fun facts 

Source: “The Mysterious National Hotel Disease” — United States House of Representatives Archives

WTF Fun Fact #12394

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt became friends with “First Lady of the Air” Amelia Earhart 1932. That was the same year of Earhart’s famous nonstop trans-Atlantic flight.

On April 20, 1933, they attended a formal dinner at the White House when Earhart got a little restless and suggested they go on an adventure. The feminist trailblazers grabbed some friends and slipped out of the event in their ballgowns. Then they hopped on a plane to spice up the evening at Earhart’s suggestion.

The plan was to travel to Baltimore and back before dessert, and they headed to the air hangar at Hoover Field and hopped aboard one of Eastern Air Transport’s twin-engine Curtiss Condor planes.

Two of the airplane company’s pilots had to operate the plane, but the women managed to nudge them aside at some point and took over the cockpit, acting as pilot and co-pilot for at least part of the flight.

After the short trip, the Secret Service ushered everyone back to the dinner.

Of course, Earhart would eventually go on her ill-fated trip around the world in 1937, from which she never returned. Roosevelt continued her humanitarian deeds until her death in 1962.

When speaking about their adventurous evening, Roosevelt told The Baltimore Sun: “It does mark an epoch, doesn’t it, when a girl in an evening dress and slippers can pilot a plane at night.” – WTF Fun Facts

Source: Pilots in Evening Gowns: When Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt Took to the Skies — A Mighty Girl