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Presidents are people, too

February 20, 2007|by NABELA ENAM

Remember your third-grade report in which you summarized George Washington's life before and after he became a president? It was A-plus material and you received that exact grade, mentioning his early life as a plantation owner, his service during the Revolutionary War, how he became the first U.S. president, and what he did during his presidency.

Of course that's all excellent information, but did you mention that his actual birthday was Feb. 11, 1732, and it was changed to Feb. 22 when Great Britain and the British colonies switched from the (old Roman) Julian calendar to the (modern European) Gregorian calendar in 1752, removing 11 days from the month of September? Did you mention that Washington ordered the grooms who worked in his stables to brush the teeth of his six white horses every morning?

Probably not, but hey, those are some interesting facts to know about him.

When Washington became the first president of the new United States, he only had one tooth left because of his gum disease. It had been believed for more than 150 years that Washington wore false teeth made out of wood. But forensic scientist and oral pathologist Dr. Reidar Sognnaes determined Washington's dentures were not wood. They might have been made from actual teeth, just maybe not his, and maybe not human.

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According to "Ask Me Anything About The Presidents" by Louis Phillips, Sognnaes concluded Washington's dentures were made out of materials such as cow's teeth, hippo's teeth, elephant or walrus tusk, and even other human teeth, perhaps his own. I wonder if he smiled much.

When someone says "the United States president," what do you think of? Someone really tall, perhaps 6 feet 4 inches tall, like Abraham Lincoln (16th president) or maybe someone really small like James Madison, who weighed less than 100 pounds.

Here are more fun facts, courtesy of "Ask Me Anything About The Presidents" by Louis Phillips. You'd expect the U.S. president to know the basics of his country, right? Well, Andrew Jackson (seventh president) didn't even go to school, and instead learned to read and write from his wife. Millard Filmore (13th) didn't see a map of the United States until he was 19 years old. His family only kept one book in the house - the family Bible.

While on the subject of the Bible, Thomas Jefferson (third president) was able to read the Bible in four different languages - Latin, French, English and Greek. James A. Garfield (20th) could write a sentence in Greek with his right hand and simultaneously write a sentence in Latin with his left hand. Now that takes skill, especially when someone, such as myself, can barely write with her left hand.

Ever think fashion was an issue for the presidents? Not if their parents were willing to help. Franklin Delano Roosevelt (32nd) wore girls' dresses until he was 5 years old. Jimmy Carter (39th) was forced to wear women's high-button shoes to school one day because his father had ordered too many for his store.

Also, no one seemed to mind that John Quincy Adams (sixth president) wore the same hat for 10 years.

There is so much more. I suggest you read "Ask Me Anything About The Presidents." It's full of unexpected information about the presidents.

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