Plenty of myths behind presidents

By Karl Terry: PNT columnist

I don’t guess I’ve ever had a day off work for Presidents Day, though as I remember we did get George Washington’s Birthday off when I was in school.

Back in the dark ages, when I first started school, we didn’t have federal holidays on Mondays and we just observed Washington’s birthday on Feb. 22 and Abraham Lincoln’s on Feb. 12. They were important people, their portraits hung in every classroom, the office of the presidency was respected by everyone.

That respect isn’t there so much anymore it seems. Division and partisanship, which Washington himself warned future generations about have lessened the dignity of the office.

Actually I found out in doing a little research for this column that Congress, while it did pass the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1968, wouldn’t give the holiday to be observed on the third Monday of February the official name of Presidents’ Day. Instead they opted to stay with Washington’s Birthday for the official federal holiday.

Sorry Abe, I thought you had equal billing too.

During the 1980s the marketing genius of Madison Avenue began to refer to the holiday as Presidents’ Day to expand the opportunity and length of a sale. These days the holiday has become simply a chance to get a bargain or take a three-day ski holiday.

George Washington, truly the greatest of all Americans, apparently spawned enough legend to leave us wondering whether or not we should believe everything that comes out of the nation’s highest office.

Let’s visit of few of the most famous of these legends.

• Chopping down his father’s cherry tree.

Apparently there is no evidence that he ever actually chopped down his pop’s prize cherry tree. Apparently a little political spin was in play as one of his advisers is believed to have written (fabricated) this story after Washington left office. This was done, reportedly to give the nation, especially its young people, an example of honesty.

This worked out pretty well for generations, that message was still coming through when I was in school, and it also made cherry pie in February very popular.

• Washington wore wooden false teeth.

It is true that the father of our country had bad chompers, but he apparently never experimented with wooden teeth. John Adams used to tell the story that Washington lost his real teeth by cracking Brazil nuts with them. While it’s true George liked nuts, Adams rumors weren’t all they were cracked up to be.

Washington had the best dental care of the time and probably tried dentures fashioned from hippopotamus ivory, gold and animal and human teeth. Some of those dentures probably discolored after George quit keeping them in a glass of salt water by his bedside and just looked like they might be made of wood.

• Did Washington really throw a silver dollar over the Potomac?

George Washington was a magnificent physical specimen but he couldn’t have thrown a silver dollar across the Potomac near Mount Vernon because that’s a toss of about a mile. He was also a thrifty individual and wouldn’t have thrown a dollar across the room.

The legend probably has its roots in his reputed ability to chunk a rock across the Rappahannock River near his childhood home below Fredricksburg, Va. That throw, some 250 feet, while entirely possible, would have qualified him to play centerfield in today’s Major League Baseball.

Enjoy your day off if you get it but don’t believe everything you hear about our presidents.


Karl Terry writes for Freedom New Mexico. Contact him at: karlterry@yucca.net