Presidential Trivia: 50 Short Stories About US Presidents

With tales of alleged affairs, drunken decisions, and pet alligators, some of these anecdotes are more believable than others.

Published Feb. 16, 2023

Every year, on the third Monday in February, the U.S. federal government honors the birthday of the country's first president, George Washington, by closing most of its agencies, promoting ceremonies nationwide that recognize all presidents' lives.

To mark the holiday, commonly known as "Presidents Day," we combed through Snopes' archives to select memorable fact checks involving commanders-in-chief over the decades. 

We found numerous instances of social media users sharing quotes that were falsely attributed to presidents, as well as rumors that tried to prove presidents' lack of mental fitness by alleging various social faux pas. Mixed in with those accusations were photographs that supposedly depicted presidents hanging out with their political enemies or controversial figures.

Meanwhile, the archives included exclusive pieces of trivia regarding presidents' pets, drinking, alleged extramarital affairs, purported after-death hauntings of the White House — and more. 

Below are 50 confirmed facts or nuggets of political folklore that stood out to us during the analysis. They are listed in order of presidential term.

(Former and current Snopes staff members contributed to this report, and all images are available via Wiki Commons unless otherwise stated.)

32. According to political folklore, Air Force One changed call signs mid-flight after Nixon resigned and Gerald Ford was sworn in.

The rumor claimed that, because he was no longer president, the airplane's call sign was changed mid-flight from "Air Force One" to "SAM 27000." (Fact check here.)

1. No, George Washington didn't have wooden teeth.

He wore several different sets of dentures over the course of his lifetime, none of which were made of wood. Rather, dentists used the cutting-edge materials of the time, such as bone, gold, the castaway teeth of horses, donkeys, cows and ... human beings. (Fact check here.)

2. During the Revolutionary War, George Washington ordered mass immunizations to protect his troops from smallpox. 

At the time, people giving inoculations basically infected recipients with a weak case of smallpox by cutting into their flesh and implanting a pustule into the wound. (Fact check here.)

3. Thomas Jefferson is responsible for a saying popular among groups that support some sort of violent uprising.

For instance, a 2001 op-ed in The Atlanta Constitution included the quote — "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants" — in a piece that published a few days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and called on young people to sacrifice and join the military. (Fact check here.)

4. For more than a century, people have shared a story about how John Quincy Adams kept an alligator as a pet in the White House.

As the legend went, he and his family shared the West Wing with the giant reptile. But no records documented the purported living arrangement to prove the tale true. (Fact check here.)

5. As an Illinois state legislator in 1942, Abraham Lincoln jumped out of a window in an attempt to prevent a quorum.

Surprisingly, that was not the only story about him making that type of exit for political purposes. (Fact check here.)

6. Lincoln expressed his opposition to racial equality.

While campaigning for the U.S. Senate in 1858, he said, "I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and Black races," according to newspaper archives. (Fact check here.)

7. Lincoln's last words will likely forever be debated.

Christian McWhirter, a historian at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, said the best guess is based on a writing by one of Lincoln's friends just five days after his assassination. (Fact check here.)

8. Many people believe the ghosts of Lincoln and his family haunt the White House.

The White House Historical Association has even compiled a list of the reported sightings and encounters. But, like all spectral sightings, these stories are hard to prove.

[See also: "Did Abraham Lincoln's Ghost Appear in an 1972 Photo?"]

9. Andrew Johnson was the first president in U.S. history to be impeached.

Only three presidents have been formally impeached by the House of Representatives: Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump (twice). Richard Nixon was nearly impeached but left office before a vote was held. (Fact check here.)

10. Ulysses S. Grant predicted the next civil war would be "between patriotism and intelligence on one side, and superstition, ambition, and ignorance"

The quote from 1875 circulated on social media in the aftermath of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. (Fact check here.)

11. Grant supposedly once handed out an exploding cigar that paid off decades later.

According to the unfounded legend, he handed out an exploding cigar that missed the person who was its original target but squarely struck one of his relatives several decades later. (Full analysis here.)

12. No, the Baby Ruth candy bar was not named after Grover Cleveland's daughter, Ruth Cleveland.

She died of diphtheria in 1904, over 17 years before the "Baby Ruth" bar was first produced. (Fact check.)

[See also: "Did US $1,000 Bill Feature President Grover Cleveland?"]

13. Before Trump's election in 2016, William McKinley was the last president who did not have a dog.

McKinley's successor, Theodore Roosevelt, had a dog named Skip, and every president since then (excluding Trump) followed suit. (Fact check here.)

14. A young Theodore Roosevelt was photographed in a distant window during Abraham Lincoln's funeral procession.

Thirty-six years after the photo was taken in New York, Roosevelt took the presidential oath of office. (Fact check here.)

15. In 1903, Theodore Roosevelt ordered a local post office to suspend operations after residents forced a postmaster to resign because she was Black.

Roosevelt forced the post office in Indiananola, Mississippi, to pause services and requested that Minnie Cox, the Black postmaster, be allowed back to her job. She never returned, though mail restarted the following year. (Fact check here.)

16. Warren Harding supposedly once rashly gambled away White House china on a single hand of poker.

Though the story is widely shared about the 29th president, no documentation or evidence definitely proves its veracity. (Fact check here.)

17. In 1931, radio announcer Harry von Zell once referred to him as 'Hoobert Heever.'

Zell was reading a lengthy recounting of Hoover's life when he flubbed the president's name. (Fact check here.)

18. To check if people were listening to him at a party, Franklin D. Roosevelt supposedly told people that he had murdered his grandmother.

A journalist recalled the scene in a book, saying all but one person did not pay attention to Roosevelt's bizarre remark. The one person who did, a Wall Street banker, reportedly responded: "She certainly had it coming." (Fact check here.)

19. FDR was the first president to deliver a televised speech in 1939.

Decades later, Joe Biden erroneously claimed that Roosevelt had actually addressed television viewers about the stock market crash — though, in reality, that economic crisis happened during Hoover's presidency, when TVs were not a household item. (Fact check here.)

20. Harry S. Truman called the use of 'socialism' a 'scare word.'

The remark — which he made during a 1952 speech in New York — circulated in meme form during Trump's presidency, when Republicans warned of "radical" Democrats "embracing socialism." (Fact check here.)

21. No, Dwight D. Eisenhower was not a member of a so-called 'Global Antifascism Initiative.'

As commander of the Allied forces in World War II, he indeed helped defeat fascism. But an image supposedly showing his lifetime "antifa membership card" is the work of digital editing. On top of that, there's no evidence that a group with that name even exists. (Fact check here.)

22. An unsubstantiated, long-held rumor is that Eisenhower's mother was biracial.

Eisenhower's racial background has sparked a number of popular stories over the years, but there's no compelling evidence to support such claims. (Fact check here.)

23. While John F. Kennedy reportedly had numerous extramarital affairs with women, there's no evidence that Nancy Pelosi was among them.

In 2011, Nancy Pelosi posted a photograph of her standing next to the former president, and, later, internet users used that image to spread the unsubstantiated rumor that the two had supposedly hooked up for seven years. (Fact check here.)

24. When JFK took office, he was the richest man ever to do so.

He donated his entire presidential salary, as well as his congressional earnings, to charity. (Fact check here.)

25. Yes, viral photographs show JFK's bloodstained shirt from the day he was assassinated.

A 2021 TikTok video put renewed focus on the historical artifacts, and, no, Kim Kardashian does not own them. (Fact check here.)

26. We know what JFK was going to say in a speech that was scheduled on the day of his assassination.

The remarks, which he never gave because of the fatal shooting at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, included the statement: "Our duty as a party is not to our party alone, but to the nation, and, indeed, to all mankind." (Fact check here.)

27. Despite championing the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson was also a sometime racist and notorious vulgarian.

He rarely shied away from using the N-word in private conversations. However, it's unproven whether he said this quote frequently attributed to him: "I'll have those n-----s voting Democratic for 200 years." (Fact check here.)

28. Lyndon B. Johnson once sent a letter to the Smothers Brothers lauding their humor at the expense of his administration.

The letter to the comedy-variety program read: "It is part of the price of leadership of this great and free nation to be the target of clever satirists." (Fact check here.)

29. No, Richard Nixon was not the original Gerber Baby.

If there's one thing we've learned from watching "Futurama," it's that you just can't trust Zapp Brannigan. (Fact check here.)

30. Nixon allegedly ordered a nuclear strike on North Korea while drunk.

But, as the story went, his inner circle convinced him to hold off on such a decision until sobering up. (Fact check here.)

31. Nixon once told his security advisers to write the phrase 'the press is the enemy' 100 times to supposedly commit the idea to memory.

He was not a fan of a free press. (Fact check here.)

33. Yes, in 1987, Nixon sent a letter to Trump saying he showed signs of being a winning politician.

Nixon said his wife, Pat, had seen Trump on television and predicted that he would win if, or when, he decided to run for office. (Fact check here.)

34. Nixon has been the subject of UFO conspiracy theories over the years.

Supposedly, Nixon hid a time capsule in the White House containing evidence of alien life and human contact with extraterrestrials. But there is no verified evidence to prove that theory true. (Fact check here.)

35. Yes, Jimmy Carter once helped contain a potentially dangerous accident at a nuclear reactor in Canada.

The incident took place before his presidency, in 1952, when Carter was a young naval officer. (Fact check here.)

36. Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, are the longest-married couple in presidential history.

As of summer 2021, they had 75 years under their belt. (Fact check here.)

37. Carter once published an open letter entitled 'Losing My Religion for Equality.'

He sent the letter to 75,000 Baptists across the country after the Southern Baptist Convention announced its opposition to female pastors. (Fact check here.)

38. In 2020, Ronald Reagan's foundation asked the Trump campaign to stop using his likeness for fundraising.

The chief marketing officer for the Reagan Foundation told us the Trump campaign had used Reagan's image on a fundraiser coin without consent. (Fact check here.)

39. Yes, in 1993, George H.W. Bush left a note welcoming incoming president Bill Clinton to the White House.

"I wish you great happiness here," the letter read. "[Don't] let the critics discourage you or push you off course." In other words, he did not sulk or criticize the opponent who had defeated him. (Fact check here.)

40. In 1995, Bush senior resigned from the NRA.

He was a Life Member of the NRA, but not for his whole life. (Fact check here.)

41. Yes, Bill Clinton was photographed with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Epstein had relationships with a number of high-profile people, including politicians. (Fact check here.)

42. Clinton was not forced to apologize for the Montauk Project, a shadowy government program of experimentation that inspired 'Stranger Things.'

In 2021, a widely shared TikTok video added the former president to the already baseless "Montauk Project" conspiracy theory. (Fact check here.)

43. No, George W. Bush was not arrested by U.S. Special Forces, nor was he hanged at Guantanamo Bay.

These rumors are just a sample within the genre of fictional storytelling about politicians' arrests or executions. The stories' trademark style — laughable dialogue and anonymous "sources" inside elite and secretive U.S. military circles — are very familiar to Snopes' fact-checking team. (Fact check here.) (Fact check here.)

44. Barack Obama was born in Hawaii.

As we originally wrote here, groundless skepticism about the legitimacy of Obama's citizenship developed into "birtherism" — a labyrinthine conspiracy theory holding that he was born on foreign soil, lied about being born in Hawaii, and produced a forged birth certificate. None of these claims were supported by evidence. (Fact check here.)

[See more fact checks about Obama here.]

45. A digitally edited image of a college ID was used as alleged proof of the 'birther' conspiracy theory.

In 2012, the image of an ID card surfaced online, supposedly identifying Obama as a foreign student named "Barry Soetoro" who attended Columbia University in the 80's. But it was not a real ID. (Fact check here.)

46. Trump suggested during a White House briefing that injecting disinfectants could treat COVID-19.

Three words: Don't do it. (Fact check here.)

47. In December 2021, Trump said that COVID-19 vaccines were 'one of the greatest achievements of mankind.'

He made the remark in an interview with Candace Owens, a conservative talk show host who claims to be unvaccinated against the coronavirus. (Fact check here.)

48. Joe Biden did not poop his pants with the Pope, but he did mangle several speeches.

Since Biden took the presidential oath of office on Jan. 20, 2022, the Snopes newsroom has spent numerous hours looking at visual evidence or listening to audio of him on the job to see whether he had accidentally defecated on himselffallen asleepfarted, or stumbled his speech.

[We compiled some of those alleged social faux pas here, and we analyzed the media trend here.]

49. Joe and Jill Biden met on a blind date organized by his brother.

Despite social media posts claiming otherwise, Jill Biden was not a teenager working as the Biden family babysitter when she started dating Joe. (Fact check here.)

50. A newspaper article supposedly documenting Biden's acid trip with the Beatles is fake.

You'd have to be tripping to believe the story. (Fact check here.)

Jessica Lee is Snopes' Senior Assignments Editor with expertise in investigative storytelling, media literacy advocacy and digital audience engagement.

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