Presidential Tall Tales

Americans expect their leaders to be larger than life, a truth reflected in the tall tales we tell about them.

12 Articles
  • Published 17 February 2020
12 Articles

The young Abraham Lincoln earned the nickname “Honest Abe,” we are told, by walking miles to repay a few cents a customer he had accidentally overcharged while working as a clerk in a village store.

George Washington, who would grow up to be the first president of the United States, famously admitted to his father that he had chopped down the latter’s prized cherry tree, vowing, “Father, I cannot tell a lie.”

While they don’t rise to the level of historical facts, anecdotes such as these illustrate the moral qualities Americans attach to their most beloved national leaders. For good or ill, all presidents undergo a measure of mythologizing, a process that has continued right down to the present day. We hope this brief sampler whets your interest for a deeper exploration of the history and folklore of the U.S. presidency.

Did George Washington Have Wooden Teeth?

We cannot tell a lie: George Washington's false teeth weren't made out of wood, though the materials actually used weren't all that appealing, either.

George Washington’s Vision

Did George Washington tell of an angel who revealed a prophetic vision of America to him at Valley Forge?

Is Abraham Lincoln in the Wrestling Hall of Fame?

A popular meme contained a mixture of myth, rumor, and facts (as well as a ridiculous digitally edited image) about the legendary United States president.

Harry S. Truman’s Plain Speaking

A collection of anecdotes regarding honesty told about President Harry S. Truman.

Mostly True
Did the Turkey Pardon Begin with President Truman?

The presidential practice of pardoning a live turkey before Thanksgiving is a fairly recent tradition.

Were Alligators Ever Kept as White House Pets?

According to popular lore, an assortment of United States presidents from John Quincy Adams to Herbert Hoover shared space in the West Wing with giant reptiles.

Did Ronald Reagan Always Wear a Jacket in the Oval Office?

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz renewed interest in a longstanding rumor about the former U.S. president's attire.

Was Ronald Reagan Slated to Play the Lead in ‘Casablanca’?

You can't believe everything you read -- no matter when it may have been published.

Did President Nixon Hide Proof of Alien Life in a Time Capsule?

A shadowy Watergate-era figure who claims he had personal access to Richard Nixon says the president showed him a letter confirming the existence of extraterrestrials.

Did John F. Kennedy Proclaim Himself to Be a Jelly Doughnut?

The notion that President John F. Kennedy referred to himself as a jelly doughnut in his famous 1963 speech in Berlin, Germany, is an old and false one.

Lincoln and Kennedy Coincidences

Numerous 'coincidences' between the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations are not really so amazing.

Did John F. Kennedy Predict His Own Assassination?

According to a biography of President Kennedy, the chief executive proclaimed that "nobody can stop an assassination" just before he was shot and killed.