What Did the Presidents of the United States Have to Hide?


By: Ian Fortey

6 Min Quiz

Image: Lisa Kyle Young/Photodisc/Getty Images

About This Quiz

The president of the United States gets to know things the rest of us don't. National security secrets, launch codes, diplomatic plans, and maneuvers, plus some stuff the rest of us have probably never even imagined. Being at the top of the ladder does have some perks. On the other hand, past presidents have also managed to hold a lot of things back from the rest of the country, either out of embarrassment, strategy, or something else.

And hey, everyone has secrets, right? But when it's the person you elected to run the country, to represent you and have your best interests at heart in all things they do, it can get a little nerve-wracking to discover they've been keeping a few things on the down-low, like affairs, health scares or just peculiar personal habits. Some of these secrets weren't made public until years after the president that kept them left office, making it even more bizarre.

If you want to know what secrets the walls of the White House have been keeping all these years or if you think you have a good idea about the things presidents have kept away from the public, pledge your allegiance to this quiz and see for yourself!

What's the unusual secret about President Andrew Jackson's wife?

Andrew Jackson married Rachel Donelson in 1791. Unfortunately for the happy couple, Donelson was still married to her first husband, Lewis Robards, making Jackson's marriage invalid.


How long did it take Congress to approve the formation of the NSA?

Congress was not aware that the National Security Agency was even a thing when President Truman created it. Its existence can be traced to a memo he wrote at the bottom of a larger document. It was quite a while before Congress was even aware of the agency's existence.


What did Warren Harding lose in a poker game?

Warren Harding was apparently not the sort of man who would turn down a game of cards, and word is he got in so bad during one game that he actually ended up losing the White House china to an opponent.


Only one president has ever reported seeing a UFO. Who was it?

When he was still the governor of Georgia back in 1973, Jimmy Carter filed a report about seeing an unidentified flying object in the skies above a Lions Club meeting he was attending in 1969. He says about a dozen other people witnessed the white, glowing object turn blue, then red, then back to white.


Who did President James Buchanan live with for years?

William Rufus King was VP under Franklin Pierce and lived with James Buchanan for years. Though we'll never know for sure today, it was a common belief at the time that the two men were a couple, and many historians believe Buchanan was gay.


Gerald Ford was once on the cover of what magazine?

Long before he became President, Gerald Ford worked as a male model and even had a cover of Cosmo under his belt. This wasn't something he advertised when he was in office, but he was featured on a 1942 issue in his Navy uniform.


Do you know which president refused to use electricity?

Electricity was installed in the White House in 1891 when Benjamin Harrison was president. Despite allowing the installation to occur, Harrison reportedly never touched any of the switches as he was afraid of what might happen if he did.


Richard Nixon hid his fair share of things. What was the secret about his brother?

Nixon was a very mistrustful man, and that extended to even his own family. His younger brother, Donald Nixon, had some financial issues that concerned Richard, so President Nixon hired people to keep an eye on his brother and his business dealings.


Something happened to Woodrow Wilson when he was in office that wasn't revealed until years later. What was it?

Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke while he was serving as president but refused to leave the office. The extent of his condition wasn't known until about two years later, and word is his wife actually made most of the decisions for the latter part of his presidency.


Which president actually authorized an expedition to find Mole people at the center of the Earth?

As weird as it sounds, John Quincy Adams believed the world was hollow thanks to a man named John Cleves Symmes, Jr. Adams approved the Symmes expedition to the center of the earth and was hoping to meet a race of subterranean beings.


Word is Calvin Coolidge liked scalp massages, which isn't too weird. But with what did he like his scalp massaged?

Believing it was healthy and improved his overall well-being, President Coolidge was known to have petroleum jelly massaged into his scalp while he ate breakfast in bed. Odds are he didn't share this at too many state dinners.


Which president hid numerous back surgeries from the public?

These days JFK is remembered as a youthful president, but he suffered from a series of health concerns for much of his life. Even before he had become president, he had undergone four back surgeries and was often in severe pain.


Ulysses S. Grant was known to have a fairly profound fear of what?

Despite being so closely associated with the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant was apparently quite afraid of the sight of blood. And while many people are averse to blood, Grant hated it so much, the word is he demanded any meat he eats be grilled thoroughly so he wouldn't have to see it at all.


What did William Taft have installed on the USS North Carolina?

William Taft was a man who liked a bath and had a bathtub installed on the USS North Carolina for his visit to the Panama Canal. This wasn't just a tub, though, as it weighed one ton and was massive. As an aside, you may have heard Taft once got stuck in a bathtub. That story isn't true.


Which president made his staff hide so he didn't have to see them?

Herbert Hoover and his wife apparently hated seeing staff and servants around the White House. Staff would literally duck behind shrubs or hide in closets so that Hoover wouldn't see them at work.


John Quincy Adams had a hobby he liked to do in the nude. What was it?

John Quincy Adams was known to be an early riser, as in 4 a.m. early. He wanted to start his day refreshed so he'd often head down to the Potomac River, disrobe, and then go for a swim.


How many times did JFK receive the last rites?

The last rites are a Catholic ritual performed when someone dies. JFK received the last rites on four separate occasions before he actually died in 1963. Kennedy had a very rough life and had nearly died from scarlet fever, then later during the war, then twice from Addison's disease.


Do you know which president was an extremely skilled wrestler?

Abraham Lincoln was quite the grappler in his day though the fine details are sketchy. Unfounded rumors say he only lost one match in 300 while a more accurate representation would be that, by his own admission, he won numerous games before a man named Lorenzo Dow Thompson handed him his first loss.


It's hard to tell based on presidential portraits, but which president weighed under 100lbs?

James Madison was a much tinier man than most people realize. He was only 5'4" tall, and though his weight, like anyone's, fluctuated throughout his life, the word is he never topped 100lbs.


Which president was once arrested for speeding?

Surprisingly, Ulysses S. Grant was once arrested for speeding, which is interesting since Grant lived before the automobile. He was cited for speeding with a horse and carriage and ended up paying a $20 fine, but he skipped out on his court date.


Which president aced an NPR quiz about "My Little Pony?"

In 2011, Bill Clinton was being interviewed on NPR's "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me," and the hosts came at him with an impromptu quiz about the cartoon "My Little Pony." Inexplicably, Clinton got all three questions correct. Is he a secret fan? We may never know.


Who was George H.W. Bush's choice of running mate before Dan Quayle?

Clint Eastwood was a potential running mate for George Bush senior when he was trailing Dukakis back in 1988. The team was desperate, and Eastwood had been a Republican mayor in California for a spell, so he was briefly, but seriously, considered. It was years later when that story came out.


Presidents usually have to be good orators. Which one hated public speaking so much he only did it twice?

John Adams once said that he never heard Thomas Jefferson speak more than three sentences together at one time during their tenure together in congress. Jefferson gave two speeches during his presidency, and they were apparently so quiet people had a hard time even hearing them.


What spooky activity did Abraham Lincoln engage in while he lived in the White House?

Lincoln's wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, was very much into the supernatural and reportedly held several seances in the White House, some of which Lincoln himself attended. There's no definitive word on whether Lincoln was a believer, though.


Bill Clinton once lost what very important thing?

Of all the things a president could lose, the nuclear codes are probably the worst one. For some time during Clinton's presidency, the codes were nowhere to be found, and no one is sure who even lost them. They were, of course, replaced, as is routine, but it was months before anyone even knew they had vanished.


According to urban legend, Washington's teeth were wood, but that's not true. What were they made from?

Wooden teeth are a lot less creepy than the truth in this case. Washington apparently only had one real tooth left in his head. The false teeth he used had been harvested from corpses.


What was banned in the White House during Polk's presidency?

James K. Polk's wife Sarah was a devout Presbyterian and banned many things from the White House, including card games, alcohol and dancing. She was known by the nickname "Sahara Sarah" for her dry, dull demeanor.


We bet you can't remember what the S. in Ulysses S. Grant stands for, can you?

Ulysses S. Grant was born Hiram Ulysses Grant. His father made a special request that Grant be allowed into Westpoint, and the man who nominated him miswrote Grant's name. He was listed as "Cadet U.S. Grant," which he took to mean Ulysses S. Grant. The name inexplicably stuck, but the S never had a meaning.


Which president literally tried to have the squirrels on the White House grounds assassinated?

Eisenhower was a big fan of golf and liked to play on the White House grounds. Squirrels kept burying acorns on his putting green, however, and that enraged him. He ordered they be shot on sight, but the Secret Service had to step in because guns were not allowed on the grounds. The squirrels earned a reprieve and were trapped and released.


Who had to be escorted from Andrew Jackson's funeral?

Andrew Jackson had a pet parrot that needed to be escorted out of the president's funeral. What's the hidden secret here? The parrot was ejected for cursing up a storm. Jackson had apparently taught the bird how to swear, and it let loose such a disruptive string of obscenities they needed to remove it from the funeral.


Most people know Ronald Reagan used to be an actor. What less well-known job did he also try out?

In the 1950s, Reagan started losing the acting gigs that had been paying the bills for him. He shifted gears away from film and took a job in Las Vegas as a stand-up comedian for a few weeks in 1954.


Presidential pets have a long history but some are weirder than others. What was the name of John Adams' dog?

John Adams was the second president but the first to have pets in the White House, which made his dog Satan the first presidential pet. He also had dogs named Juno and Mark, but that seems somewhat less bizarre. Try to imagine the controversy of a modern president with a dog named Satan.


Thomas Jefferson didn't stand on formality. What unusual habit did he have?

Thomas Jefferson was a casual man of leisure and was the sort of person who entertained guests without making a big deal out of it. As such, he was known to greet people in nothing but his pajamas. Not exactly the formal image the office of President usually conveys.


One of the most well-known secrets in presidential history is about Thomas Jefferson. What was his big secret?

Thomas Jefferson is widely believed to have had a sustained affair with Sally Hemmings, who had been one of Jefferson's slaves. Moreover, most historians believe he fathered six children with her, as well.


There's a man who believed he was president for one day in 1849. Who was it?

James K. Polk's presidency ended on Sunday, March 4, 1849. Zachary Taylor didn't want to be signed into office on a Sunday. So for that one day, there was technically no president. Unless you believe David Rice Atchison, who was the head of the senate and believed, with no president or vice president in office, he was effectively president for one day. It's even written on his tombstone, though legally, it was not true.


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