We know our presidents based on who they present themselves to be – or who the history books say they were. But not all that happens in the White House is completely above board, nor are the people we see leading the country totally beyond reproach. In fact, just about every U.S. president – even the much-loved likes of Abraham Lincoln and JFK – has had a scandalous secret, as you’ll find out if you read on…
40. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had a serious rivalry – right down to the end
As American history aficionados will know, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson served as the second and third presidents of the U.S., respectively. Yet while the two men’s shared political aspirations brought them together, there was also a serious rivalry between the pair. And this spirit of competition only ceased when both died on the same day: July 4, 1826. In fact, just before he passed away, Adams muttered, “Thomas Jefferson survives.” At that time, you see, he had no idea that his long-time adversary had himself died a few hours beforehand.
39. Adams and Jefferson had sneaky streaks, too
Even though they competed against each other, Adams and Jefferson maintained a friendship that had time for some mischievous fun. At one point, for instance, the pair traveled across the pond and toured Shakespeare’s former residence in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. And while there, Jefferson and Adams splintered off a piece of the poet and playwright’s chair to bring home as a souvenir.
38. Franklin Pierce helmed a horse-drawn hit-and-run
Historians don’t have a fond regard for Franklin Pierce; indeed, many consider him as among the country’s most calamitous presidents. And Pierce certainly didn’t do himself a favor, either, when he was placed under arrest during his term. Specifically, the commander-in-chief was apprehended on suspicion of running over a woman while riding his horse, although a dearth of evidence ultimately saw the charge dropped.
37. Ulysses S. Grant loved a cigar break
Ulysses S. Grant took the Union Army to victory during the Civil War before becoming a two-term president of the country he saved. And behind the scenes, the military man had a vice that he loved to indulge: cigar smoking. It’s said, in fact, that Grant puffed on a minimum of 20 stogies a day – a habit that likely contributed to his death from throat cancer on July 23, 1885.
36. William Howard Taft got lodged in the White House bathtub
Photos of William Howard Taft show that he was not a small man by any means. It’s even been recorded that the 27th president tipped the scales at 325 pounds. Bearing this in mind, then, it seems plausible that Taft got stuck in a bathtub at one point during his presidency. Rumor has it, too, that his advisers had to come and assist him.
35. James K. Polk didn’t need anesthesia for surgery
Obviously, healthcare treatment options have come a long way since James K. Polk’s tenure as U.S. leader in the first half of the 19th century. And well before he became the country’s 11th president, Polk had to endure the rudimentary medical practices of the day. The then-17-year-old North Carolinian had kidney stones that needed to be taken out, so he simply drank some brandy to quell the agony and remained awake while doctors cut out the offending lumps.
34. Calvin Coolidge loved a morning head rub
The nation’s 30th president, Calvin Coolidge, earned a reputation for his brand of acerbic humor. But the former governor of Massachusetts wasn’t joking when he made a very specific request each morning. Rather strangely, Coolidge would ask someone to massage Vaseline onto his scalp; at the same time as this was going on, moreover, the president would indulge in breakfast.
33. Andrew Jackson nearly assassinated his intended assassin
Andrew Jackson had a long-established reputation for his fighting prowess; indeed, some estimate that he partook in more than 100 duels during his lifetime. So, when an assassin popped out from behind a White House column in 1835, the former general knew what to do. He repeatedly hit the man, whose pair of guns had both misfired. And it was a surprising defeat for the would-be killer, given that Jackson was 67 years old at the time.
32. Jimmy Carter swore he saw an alien once
Jimmy Carter earned a Nobel Peace Prize after his single term in the White House. Clearly, then, he may have the necessary tools to broker a positive relationship between the people of our planet and the inhabitants of the UFO that he reportedly spotted in 1969. Carter later called the supposed spaceship “the darndest thing [he’d] ever seen.”
31. Truman had a false initial
Although Harry S. Truman faced criticism following his time in office, historical consensus now deems the 33rd president one of the greats. What no one seems to remember, however, is what his middle initial stands for. But there’s a reason for that: the “S” doesn’t actually allude to a shortened version of any name. Yes, Truman’s parents simply gave him a single letter as a second name in tribute to his grandfathers Solomon Young and Anderson Shipp Truman.
30. John Quincy Adams believed in a hollow Earth – and mole people
The son of America’s second president, John Quincy Adams had the smarts to become commander-in-chief himself in 1825. But Adams did have some strange beliefs. For instance, he believed that Earth was actually a hollow ball with layers inhabited by mole people. And in order to prove this outlandish theory, the 19th-century leader almost used taxpayers’ money to send explorers down below. Ultimately, though, neither the voyage nor the proof came to be.
29. James A. Garfield had the perfect pen-based party trick
Surprisingly, James A. Garfield remains the only sitting member of the House of Representatives to be elected president. Perhaps more impressive, though, is the fact that the unarguably handy leader of the free world was ambidextrous, and he used this skill to write in two different languages – Greek and Latin – simultaneously.
28. Abraham Lincoln knew how to pour a great drink
With his many accomplishments, Abraham Lincoln made an indelible mark on history. Famously, the 16th president not only led the nation through the Civil War and kept the union intact, but he also abolished slavery. Before rising to power, though, Lincoln led a much simpler life. He was a licensed bartender, in fact, and was a joint owner of an Illinois watering hole called Berry and Lincoln.
27. Franklin Pierce earned an embarrassing nickname while at war
Some men return home war heroes; others, though, come back from battle under somewhat of a cloud of ignominy. And Franklin Pierce fell firmly into that second camp after his spell fighting in the Mexican-American War. You see, the future leader succumbed to a groin injury when he was thrust into his horse’s pommel during combat. And as the pain was so intense, he ultimately fell unconscious – earning himself the embarrassing moniker of “Fainting Frank” as a consequence.
26. The Japanese had to invent a new word to explain George H.W. Bush’s behavior
In 1992 George H.W. Bush was dining with the Japanese prime minister when he rather unfortunately vomited mid-meal. Then, after that stroke of bad luck, the locals came up with a new word, “Bushusuru,” which means “to do the Bush thing.” The “Bush thing” they spoke of, of course, was yakking in public.
25. James Buchanan may have broken his fianceé’s heart irreparably
While James Buchanan remains the only president to date to have been a lifelong bachelor, he had actually been betrothed in the early 1800s to Ann Coleman. Coleman finished things, though, when rumors swirled that Buchanan had gone on a trip to see another woman. And within days of ending the engagement, Buchanan’s former beloved was dead from what was described as hysterical convulsions. Some believed, by contrast, that she overdosed on a type of opium that was used to fight sleeplessness at the time.
24. Benjamin Harrison was too afraid to turn off the lights
During Benjamin Harrison’s tenure in the White House, the historic building finally became properly wired for electricity. Yet this novelty didn’t delight the 23rd President; on the contrary, it terrified him. Harrison was so worried about getting electrocuted, in fact, that he refused to put his hands on any light switches.
23. Millard Fillmore married his schoolteacher
From a poverty-stricken start, Millard Fillmore built himself up from being the son of a New York tenant farmer to an attorney. Then, of course, he ultimately became the 13th president of the United States of America. But while much of Fillmore’s success may have stemmed from his academic achievements, that wasn’t all education ultimately brought him. You see, one Abigail Powers taught the future commander-in-chief while he was a 19-year-old pupil at the New Hope Academy. And after having embarked on a romance, the pair finally wed in 1826.
22. William McKinley and his pet parrot would sing duets together
While William McKinley arguably stands as one of the better leaders in American history, his contributions to the country are sometimes eclipsed by those of his successor Theodore Roosevelt. Yet there’s at least one thing that sets McKinley apart from the crowd. You see, the 25th president owned a pet parrot named Washington Post, and together man and bird would whistle “Yankee Doodle Dandy” together for White House guests.
21. JFK was part of a love triangle that involved a movie star… and his own brother
While in the White House, John F. Kennedy reportedly had a saucy affair with Marilyn Monroe, who had caught his eye at an event in 1962. But although this liaison is said to have ultimately ended at the president’s behest, Monroe’s involvement with the family apparently didn’t stop there. According to legend, JFK’s younger brother and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy had a fling with the actress, too.
20. Grover Cleveland worked as an executioner
Before he became the 22nd – and then the 24th – president of the United States, Grover Cleveland held the position of Erie County, New York’s sheriff. And over the course of his nearly three-year term in the job, he was at the helm of a pair of executions, putting the trap in motion so that the two men would each fall to their deaths. Following such grisly business, then, locals started to refer to Cleveland as the “Buffalo Hangman.”
19. Franklin Delano Roosevelt married his cousin
Experts rank Franklin Delano Roosevelt as one of the top three leaders that America has ever seen. And that standing is well-earned, too; after all, the 32nd president led the country through both the Great Depression and World War II during his four terms in office. Nearly 30 years before taking on such a major role in American history, however, he had married his cousin Eleanor. Handily, too, the future First Lady’s last name was already Roosevelt, meaning she had no need to change it following her wedding.
18. George Washington’s smile wasn’t the best
As the first president of the United States, George Washington played a pivotal role in making the nation what it is today. It seems, though, that Washington’s dentist had a much harder time in shaping replacements for the leader’s terribly decayed teeth. As a consequence, then, the Founding Father wore brass screws in his mouth as well as chompers made from ivory and springs.
17. Lincoln won almost 300 wrestling matches in his lifetime
In just one example in a lengthy list of accomplishments, Lincoln could boast of being a top-tier athlete. The 16th president even landed a spot in the Wrestling Hall of Fame for his prowess on the mat – although this accolade came more than a century after his death. Regardless, the honor was earned, as Lincoln apparently won all but one of his estimated 300 wrestling matches.
16. McKinley’s good luck charm may have been too good
Before President McKinley stepped out in public, he often attached a red carnation to his lapel that he believed brought him good fortune. In 1901, however, while he greeted people in a line, he decided to take off his flower and hand it to a nearby child. And McKinley had barely removed the lucky blossom when disaster struck. It was during this event, you see, that he was shot. The president would go on to die from gangrene just over a week later.
15. Carter admitted to being unfaithful… at least, in his mind
In the lead-up to the 1976 presidential election, pundits wondered if Jimmy Carter seemed a little too righteous to the American voter. The Democratic candidate changed all that, however, with an admission that he made in Playboy magazine just months before people hit the polls. There, Carter revealed, “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.” Nonetheless, the otherwise upstanding Georgia governor won the election.
14. Gerald Ford once worked as a model
The American public arguably saw Gerald Ford as a bit of a dorky character – an image perpetuated in part by his portrayal on Saturday Night Live. Before he became the 38th president, though, Ford had actually been pretty cool. At one point, he was even a male model and found a spot posing on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine.
13. Warren G. Harding may have had a poker problem
People may have loved Warren G. Harding when he served as the nation’s 29th president, but many hidden scandals have posthumously come to light that tarnish his image. And here’s just one small example of his questionable character. Apparently, Harding had a weekly poker night at the White House, and during one of these evenings he allegedly gambled away an entire set of his presidential china in a bad bet.
12. George W. Bush had serious team spirit
As the former governor of Texas, George W. Bush wasn’t a stranger to being in power before he clinched the presidency in 2000. And you can trace his lead-from-the-front habit all the way back to his academic years at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. There, Bush rose through the ranks of one of his high school’s sports teams. More specifically, he served as the captain of the cheerleading squad.
11. John Quincy Adams had a regular skinny-dipping date
Even when John Quincy Adams led the nation, the White House wasn’t short of a bathroom or two in which to luxuriantly bathe. The sixth president didn’t always take advantage of the facilities on offer to him, though. Instead, he preferred to wake up during the wee small hours, head to the Potomac River and go for a swim in the buff.
10. Chester A. Arthur updated the White House with funds from an antiques sale
Chester A. Arthur suffered from poor health that made him less proactive than other U.S. presidents. Still, he somehow found the strength – and cash – to redecorate his official residence. And Arthur ushered in a new White House aesthetic after selling two dozen wagons’ worth of historical items, including a piece of clothing once owned by Lincoln.
9. One of Taft’s famous dinners inspired an unpopular American toy
After the teddy bear took over the American toy market, manufacturers braced themselves for the cuddly phenomenon’s eventual fall in popularity. In search of the next big thing, then, then, toymakers drew inspiration from one of President Taft’s most over-the-top dinners at which he apparently consumed possum. And from there, the idea for the stuffed animal Billy Possum was born. Perhaps unsurprisingly, though, the replica marsupials didn’t quite catch on.
8. Harding had a couple of explosive affairs
The legacy of Harding’s presidency has been marred by scandals in both his professional and personal lives. Behind the scenes, for example, he had an affair with Carrie Fulton Phillips, who was married to one of his wife’s confidantes. Then, more than 80 years after Harding died, DNA tests confirmed that the president had not only indulged in an extramarital liaison with Nan Britton, but that he had also fathered her daughter.
7. Herbert Hoover wanted helpers neither seen nor heard
Partly owing to his poor response to the Great Depression, Herbert Hoover failed to win more than a single term in office. And it seems as though he handled his household with little care, too. Apparently, Hoover never wanted to look at any of the White House servants, so these employees had a decision to make when the president entered a room: either hide or get canned after being spotted.
6. Buchanan may have had relationships with men, too
Yes, while Buchanan may have famously remained a bachelor, he may not actually have been single. Some believe, for instance, that the president had a long-term relationship with Alabama senator William Rufus King. The men cohabited for more than a decade, after all, even though they both had ample funds to live alone.
5. FDR had an irrational fear of the number 13
Franklin D. Roosevelt managed to overcome personal and political challenges that may have stymied other men. And yet in spite of all that he achieved as the leader of the free world, FDR had one major fear: the number 13. His trepidation ran so deep, in fact, that he would turn down dinner invitations to any parties that were scheduled to have 13 people in attendance. Roosevelt also declined to begin any journey on the 13th day of any month.
4. JFK’s father didn’t seem to think he was Harvard-ready
In his inaugural address, President Kennedy famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Before that special day, though, JFK had to show Harvard what he could do for the Ivy League institution in his admissions application. And while Kennedy’s father ended up penning his recommendation, he didn’t speak too highly of his son; instead, Joe claimed that his child was “careless and lacks application.” Even so, Kennedy still became a Harvardian.
3. Ronald Reagan thought that it was all written in the stars
Presidents don’t tend to make decisions on their own. They have trusted advisers to fall back on, for instance, as well as a cabinet full of experts and a Congress packed with elected officials who may or may not agree with any proposals put forward to them. And while Ronald Reagan did rely on these people when making big choices, he also sought guidance from time to time from an unlikely resource: astrologer Joan Quigley.
2. Rutherford B. Hayes was notoriously boring away from the office
Rutherford B. Hayes won his post by the slimmest of margins, taking his electoral college victory with just one vote. And the 19th president was somewhat resented for this fact – especially as his Democratic opponent had actually received a quarter-million more ballots. Hayes was therefore called “Rutherfraud” and “His Fraudulency” for taking office. People even taunted Hayes for his refusal to indulge in any bad habits by dubbing him “Granny Hayes,” too.
1. Barack Obama was almost a pin-up model
Barack Obama has shared much about his personal life through his memoir Dreams From My Father. But the 44th president of the United States probably isn’t all that keen on speaking about a certain tale from his days at Harvard. Supposedly, Obama applied to be photographed as part of a pin-up calendar while at college, but the casting committee decided not to take him on in any role. Ouch.
Presidents aren’t the only ones in the public eye to have kept secrets, though. In fact, there’s a whole lot you may not know about a host of famous folks – even when they’re some of the most accomplished and important people to have ever graced the Earth. And when you discover the strange habits and unusual quirks of these well-known figures, you may wonder what else you never learned at school…
History classes introduce us to a slew of important people, from politicians to inventors to artists. And, of course, many of these individuals have left indelible marks on our society, meaning their presence is often felt even in the 21st century. Yet sometimes these revered characters also had secrets or strange quirks that helped them work or get through the day – even Benjamin Franklin. Here are 40 of the weirdest habits practiced by historic icons.
40. Michelangelo didn’t bathe
Famously, Renaissance man Michelangelo was responsible for the stunning work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Yet while he may be considered one of the finest artists of all time, he seemingly didn’t have as good a record in the hygiene department. Yes, Michelangelo supposedly didn’t perform any ablutions; apparently, he didn’t often wear clean clothes, either.
39. Martin Luther ate his own waste
Martin Luther didn’t like some of the Catholic Church’s practices, so he led the Protestant Reformation and ultimately set up the Lutheran Church. Despite the wisdom that he possessed, though, Luther supposedly partook in one particularly disgusting habit in the belief that it would improve his wellbeing. Somewhat alarmingly, it’s said that he actually consumed his own excrement on a regular basis.
38. Charles Dickens combed his hair hundreds of times each day
Given Charles Dickens’ odd quirk, it’s a wonder that he found the time to pen such classics as Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities and A Christmas Carol. You see, the popular author hated his hair being out of place, and this therefore led him to brush through his mane almost incessantly on a daily basis.
37. Franz Kafka had his cake and ate it, too
It seems as though Franz Kafka knew how to inspire himself to get his writing work down. Since the novelist really liked pineapple upside-down cake, he’d give himself a huge treat after he’d completed a new piece. Yes, Kafka would consume an entire gateau to celebrate – and he wouldn’t let any outsiders take a single bite, either.
36. Maya Angelou couldn’t write at home
One of author and poet Maya Angelou’s most famous works is I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. But she didn’t pen that lauded autobiography at home, as from the late ’60s Angelou actually preferred to write in small hotel rooms. She would bring along her own tools to aid her creativity, though, including a deck of cards and some sherry.
35. Leonardo da Vinci didn’t like to see caged birds
The quintessential Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci was versed in art, biology, music, sculpting, engineering, and anatomy, to name just a few disciplines. Yet he also had a soft side – especially when it came to animals. It’s said, for example, that he used to purchase birds in cages just so that he could free them. Leonardo is thought to have followed a vegetarian diet to boot.
34. Salvador Dalí was a pen stealer
Salvador Dalí had such an eccentric public persona that some wondered if it actually took away from his surrealist work. His antics may have distracted, though, from the fact that he occasionally stole from his fans. Yes, when admirers asked the artist to sign autographs, he would – and then he’d hang onto their pens.
33. Beethoven counted out beans to make the perfect cup of coffee
It’s no surprise that one of the most important composers ever to have lived exhibited strange behaviors to stoke creativity. In Ludwig van Beethoven’s case, the morning tended to start with a cup of coffee brewed with 60 beans exactly; he logged each one personally. On occasion, he’d also apparently walk around inside his room while spilling water onto his own hands and humming.
32. Andy Warhol created creepy time capsules
Andy Warhol’s contributions to the pop art movement included 1962’s Campbell’s Soup Cans – a collection of 32 renditions of the famous brand’s tins. But nothing that simple would likely ever be found within the time capsules that Warhol pieced together monthly. Instead, he filled these artifacts with strange finds, including boots that had once belonged to Clark Gable and a foot that had been mummified.
31. Stravinsky used headstands to get his creative juices flowing
No single genre can define composer Igor Stravinsky’s work, but it seems that he owed all of it to a morning ritual he used to spark his creativity. Apparently, Stravinsky would spend ten to 15 minutes in a headstand, which he believed helped open up his mind. Then he would feel ready to compose music.
30. Voltaire would only live close to a country’s borders
French philosopher Voltaire had a tendency to ruffle feathers with his writing. In 1734, for instance, he denounced the institutions of his home country, enraging members of Parliament to the point that they wanted him arrested. So, Voltaire fled to a friend’s chateau in Cirey near the French border, allowing him to escape the nation if he was chased. After that, he always lived close to the boundary between one nation and another – just to be safe.
29. Nikola Tesla believed celibacy helped him to create
Of all the ways to get the creative juices flowing, Nikola Tesla specifically refused to engage in one of them. Yes, the inventor of the alternating current electric supply system felt as though chastity aided his pursuit of his professional aims. He maintained that he’d made the right decision, too, and ultimately he died a bachelor.
28. Charles VI of France thought that he was a wolf made of glass
Charles VI restored a shining reputation to the crown during his reign, with his subjects even going so far as to call him “Charles the Beloved.” But in his 20s, the French monarch started suffering through periods of bad mental health, leading some to dub him “Charles the Mad” instead. During one of his episodes, he even believed himself to be a wolf made of glass. The king would therefore approach castle guests and howl at them, although he’d also avoid being touched himself for fear that he would break into pieces.
27. Churchill liked to be naked
British prime minister Winston Churchill reportedly enjoyed hanging out in his office naked, and it’s even said that another head of state once walked in and saw him in the buff. According to legend, Churchill traveled to the White House during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s tenure. Then, when FDR entered the prime minister’s room at one point, the commander-in-chief reportedly found his British counterpart nude following a recent bath.
26. Picasso carried around a gun in case anyone annoyed him
Pablo Picasso’s bright, unique mind guided him as he co-founded the Cubist movement. Picasso’s avant-garde style led to lots of questions, though, and these inquiries sometimes annoyed the artist himself. So, when he became irritated by people asking too much, he would whip out a revolver in order to quieten them. And while the influential icon actually loaded the weapon with blanks, this was nevertheless quite the statement.
25. Frida Kahlo lied about her age
Much of Frida Kahlo’s artwork took its cues from her home nation of Mexico – not least the country’s natural landscape. And as it turns out, Kahlo let Mexico inspire a little white lie that she’d tell about herself, too. You see, although she entered the world in 1907, she would inform people that she had actually breathed her first in 1910. And, incidentally, that year also happened to see the kick-off of the Mexican Revolution.
24. Stanley Kubrick had 16 cats
Stanley Kubrick’s perfectionism infamously alienated him from some of his movie casts. But perhaps he left this tough persona at the studio door. In any case, Kubrick had a deep love for animals; he even took care of 16 cats at one point. The director’s menagerie apparently grew to include seven golden retrievers and four donkeys, too.
23. Marie Antoinette wanted to cosplay as a peasant
As the Queen of France and Navarre, Marie Antoinette made a reputation for herself by spending big. And, ultimately, her subjects would blame her profligacy for an economic downturn in France. But before that point, the monarch had the so-called “Queen’s Hamlet” built at Versailles. This was a tiny peasant village where she would dress up in a shepherdess costume and make believe that she was a commoner. She even milked cows and sheep while cosplaying there.
22. Henry VIII hired staff to wipe him after trips to the bathroom
King Henry VIII gained notoriety for his string of wives – some of whom he had beheaded. Clearly, then, the English monarch had little shame – and this seemed to extend to his trips to the toilet, too. You see, Henry hired a fleet of male staffers called the Grooms of Stool, whose sole job was wiping the king after he went to the bathroom. What’s more, all of the men who held this position were later knighted – and it sounds like they earned the distinction.
21. Alan Turing could run with the best of them
Alan Turing’s work in algorithms and computation was the basis for modern computer science, making him arguably one of the most influential individuals of the 20th century. Yet he still took time out from his pioneering work to indulge in his hobby of running. And he was good at it, too. In fact, Turing is said to have run a marathon in two hours and 46 minutes – just 11 minutes shy of the record held by the Olympic gold medalist of the time.
20. Ulysses S. Grant didn’t like people seeing him naked
It takes a lot of courage to be a general, and Ulysses S. Grant assumed this position during the Civil War. Even so, it seems that the 18th U.S. president was too afraid to strip down naked in front of anyone but his wife. And while this may sound normal today, that wasn’t the case in the 19th century. You see, someone of Grant’s status would typically have had servants to bathe and clothe him. He wouldn’t strip down and wash with soldiers in the barracks, either, which was another common practice of his time.
19. William Wordsworth ran his work past his pet dog
Even those with a dislike of verse will likely be familiar with William Wordsworth – the iconic British poet who helped ushered in the era of Romanticism within the genre. Allegedly, though, any work of Wordsworth’s that you may have read didn’t go to press without a very important figure editing. Somewhat unusually, the legendary figure is said to have read his poems aloud to his dog. And if the pooch barked or reacted in any other audible way during the recital, Wordsworth apparently reworked the piece in question.
18. Henry Cavendish was so shy that he’d communicate through notes
English physicist Henry Cavendish made the monumental discovery of hydrogen, yet the importance of his work seemingly did little to break him from his shyness. Cavendish felt awkward throughout his entire life, in fact, and so he did all he could to avoid interactions with others – including only speaking to his housemaids through notes.
17. Charlie Chaplin had a very strange audition process
While a lead role alongside Charlie Chaplin may have been coveted by many, any women hoping to nab a part in one of his films reportedly had to go through the wringer in order to get on screen. Rumor has it that Chaplin required female actors to remove all of their clothes before he threw pies at them, as, somehow, that helped him decide who his next star would be.
16. Stonewall Jackson did strange arm stretches
Stonewall Jackson led the Confederate army during the American Civil War until he lost a bout with pneumonia in 1863. Before then, though, Jackson’s main concern seemed to be the asymmetry of his arms. You see, it’s said that the general believed one arm was lengthier than its counterpart, and so he often undertook stretches that were meant to even out the blood circulation in both limbs.
15. Hans Christian Andersen always carried rope with him in case of fire
Hans Christian Andersen made his name by penning a slew of beloved children’s stories, from “The Little Mermaid” to “The Ugly Duckling.” But although Andersen wrote these happily-ever-afters, he had some serious fears about the way in which his own life could end. And as the legendary writer particularly feared falling victim to a hotel fire, he carried rope with him constantly so that he had a chance of escaping any blaze.
14. Alexander Graham Bell had a fear of moonbeams
Nowadays, we’re told to keep our eyes and skin covered in order to protect them from the sun’s harmful UV rays. But the inventor of the telephone and founder of AT&T, Alexander Graham Bell, supposedly had bigger fears about moonbeams. To ensure that any light from Earth’s natural satellite didn’t get into his house, then, he left his windows constantly shrouded.
13. William Faulkner typed with his toes
William Faulkner was a Nobel Prize laureate whose work came in a slew of different forms: novels, short stories, screenplays, essays, poems and even a play. Somehow, though, Faulkner managed to create his oeuvre in a very strange manner. Apparently, he would place his hands inside his footwear and proceed to type with the use of his toes.
12. Benjamin Franklin dated cougars
Benjamin Franklin led a busy life. As well as being a Founding Father of the United States, Franklin has also been credited with unearthing electricity, coming up with the concept of bifocals and establishing the University of Pennsylvania. And, interestingly, the legendary polymath had a clear preference when it came to dating: he only tended to get involved with older women.
11. Ronald Reagan would rub your earlobe if he liked you
President Ronald Reagan may have ushered in a new era of modern conservatism, but it seems that he was much more liberal in the ways in which he showed affection for others. For one, Reagan had a strange habit for grasping his friends’ and relatives’ ears to signify his fondness for the recipient – a practice that he’d apparently adopted in earlier life.
10. Franz Schubert slept with his glasses on
You won’t find a portrait of Franz Schubert without his glasses on. That’s because the Austrian musician – most famous for composing “Ave Maria” and other vocal pieces – had extremely bad vision. In fact, his eyesight was so blurry that he wore his glasses around the clock – even while he dozed.
9. Georgia O’Keeffe had a studio in her car
Georgia O’Keeffe’s most famous modernist paintings depict the New York City skyline, enormous flowers and the sweeping land of New Mexico. Yet while she had to get out into nature in order to accurately capture the arid plains of the southwestern state, painting in the desert sun could prove uncomfortable, to say the least. So, O’Keeffe transformed her car into a studio by putting her canvas into the back of the vehicle and working on it from the front.
8. Lyndon B. Johnson held meetings on the toilet
Lyndon B. Johnson is among the select few to have served in all four of the American federal government’s elected positions: congressman, senator, vice president and president. Clearly, though, he didn’t let that distinction go to his head. After all, while he was in the White House, LBJ is said to have held talks as he sat on the toilet.
7. Honoré de Balzac really liked coffee
Honoré de Balzac would go to sleep right after dinner, rise at midnight and write from 1:00 a.m. until 8:00 a.m. And as the French novelist needed fuel to get him through such a rigorous work schedule, he’d supposedly down what corresponded to approximately 50 cups of coffee per day. Balzac didn’t always drink the beverage in its liquid form, though; on occasion, he crushed the beans into a powder and devoured the resulting substance instead.
6. Demosthenes would get a bad haircut to force himself to stay home and work
Ancient Greek orator Demosthenes is roundly considered to have been one of the best speakers of his time. But he got to be that way through a lot of practice – as well as a strange hairstyling tactic. Namely, Demosthenes would shave off half of his hair, thus making himself look so ridiculous that he couldn’t display himself in public for a few months. That gave him plenty of opportunity to perfect his speeches.
5. Napoleon liked to write about romance
A military genius, Napoleon Bonaparte successfully commandeered French armies through the country’s revolution and into the wars that followed. But, somehow, the leader had time to tap into his softer side. During his lifetime, Napoleon penned a novella called Clisson et Eugénie, which told the story of a soldier and the woman waiting for him at home. What’s more, many believe that his own experiences on the front had acted as a stimulus for the tale.
4. Henry Ford kept a jar full of Thomas Edison’s breath
People mistakenly credit the invention of the motor vehicle and the assembly line to Henry Ford. What he did do, however, was make personal cars less of a pipe dream and more of an accessible resource for average Americans. And through it all, Ford was inspired by the work of inventor Thomas Edison; in fact, the pair even eventually became friends. But things took an odd turn in 1931, when Edison was on the brink of death. Somewhat strangely, Ford asked his son – who also happened to be present – to gather Edison’s last breath in a jar for him.
3. Albert Einstein would eat bugs off of the ground
Physicist Albert Einstein famously came up with the formula for mass-energy equivalence, E = mc², which today is perhaps the most well-known equation in the world. Still, those who knew the Nobel Prize winner reported that he had some odd tendencies. For one, he apparently once picked up and devoured a bug that he found on the ground. It was also noted that Einstein sometimes went birdwatching, bringing a violin with him and playing it in tears.
2. Thomas Edison didn’t like it if someone added salt to their food
Perhaps the most significant inventor in American history, Thomas Edison revolutionized recording, motion pictures, communication and electrical power. In addition, he came up with a way to determine whether he wanted to hire someone to work with him. Specifically, if Edison noticed a person salting their food before taking the first mouthful, he wouldn’t offer them a position, as he felt that he couldn’t recruit anyone who would act on a theory before investigating it.
1. Pythagoras didn’t want people to eat beans
Ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras made a slew of scientific and mathematical discoveries during his day. Some of the ideas that he also came up with, however, were distinctly weird. And perhaps the strangest of all was the religion that Pythagoras founded, which prevented practitioners from eating beans or flattening out any grooves that they left in their bedsheets.