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The weirdness of US presidents

Skinny-dippers, cheerleaders and male models -- we've elected them all.

By Rich_Maloof Feb 18, 2013 5:09PM

Presidents Day is a time to reflect on the greatness of the presidential institution and to reflect on the men who have brought honor to our nation's highest office. It's also a good chance to remember just how weird and unpredictable some of these guys could be.

• Gerald Ford (1974–1977) was a model in his younger years, and appeared on the April 1942 cover of Cosmopolitan. Wife Betty Ford was also once a fashion model and a dancer.

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• John Quincy Adams (1825–1829) was a strong swimmer, and would often walk from the White House to the Potomac River for an early-morning skinny dip. A female reporter once snatched his clothes on the riverside and sat on them until Adams agreed to an interview.

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• Calvin Coolidge (1923–1929) is remembered as a shy but witty man. According to a story told by Coolidge’s wife, a young woman sitting next to him at a dinner party once urged Coolidge to have a conversation, explaining that she had made a bet she could get at least three words out of the president. Coolidge coolly responded, “You lose.” Somewhat less presidentially, Coolidge used to have Vaseline rubbed on his head while he ate breakfast in bed.

• George W. Bush (2001– 2009) was the head cheerleader in his senior year at Phillips Academy, a boarding school in Massachusetts that was at the time all male. He continued his cheerleading career while at Yale before taking on a more serious membership in the Skull and Bones Society.

• Warren G. Harding (1921–1923) was an avid poker player and regularly scared up games with his advisers, who became known collectively as “the poker cabinet” (Harding is also remembered for appointing dishonest cronies to public office). An unconfirmed story claims that Harding once lost a set of White House China in a poker game.

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• William Howard Taft (1909–1913) was the heaviest president, tipping the scales at around 340 pounds. A book written by the chief White House usher during Taft’s presidency claims that Taft would get stuck in chairs and once could not remove himself from a White House bathtub. Prior to a trip to inspect the Panama Canal, a special oversized bathtub was ordered by a ship captain to accommodate Taft’s substantial frame. A newspaper report described the tub as having "pondlike dimensions."

• Theodore Roosevelt (1901–1909) was both a naturalist and an avid hunter. His five children practically ran a zoo at the White House, and kept not only dogs and cats but  guinea pigs, rats, a snake, mice, badgers, raccoons, a parrot and a Shetland pony named Algonquin. Roosevelt’s son Quentin once took Algonquin to the second floor of the White House by elevator to cheer his brother Archie, who was sick in bed with the measles. (Other notable presidential pets: Thomas Jefferson’s two bears, John Adams’ alligator, and James Buchanan’s elephant.)

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Photo: George W. Bush as a cheerleader / REX Features

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