I have a confession to make: I know the names of all of the Presidents, in order. And by the years in office. Also, their political party.
It’s almost certainly a function of the fact that, as a kid, I used to read the World Almanac vociferously. As recently as 1999, at a wedding shower for my soon-to-be bride and me, she guessed correctly that it was my favorite book. (But I had never heard her mention One Hundred Years of Solitude, the novel by Gabriel García Márquez, which she indicated was her fave.)
Back in the day, I couldn’t look it up in Google. (I looked up in Google that Google started up on September 4, 1998, in Menlo Park, CA.) So I read lots of reference books growing up, including the entire Encyclopedia Americana over three years, plus the annual updates.
Knowing this stuff is helpful if you’re on some quiz show or on trivia night. “Who was President during the Franco-Prussian War?” If you know the war was in 1870-1871, then you can figure out it was U.S. Grant.
I never specifically set out to memorize them. Part of the way I learned them is by remembering all of the Presidents who died in office. There were eight of them, all between 1841 and 1963. Seven of them were elected or re-elected in years ending in zero.
William Henry Harrison, elected 1840, died in 1841
Abraham Lincoln, elected 1860, assassinated in 1865
James Garfield, elected in 1880, assassinated in 1881
William McKinley, reelected in 1900, assassinated in 1901
Warren G. Harding, elected in 1920, died in 1923
Franklin D. Roosevelt, reelected in 1940, died in 1945
John F. Kennedy, elected in 1960, assassinated in 1963
The only outlier:
Zachary Taylor, elected 1848, died in 1850
Then there was:
Richard Nixon, elected in 1968, resigned in 1974
This is why I was very worried when Ted Kennedy challenged Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination in the 1980 election cycle. All of Teddy’s brothers died violently, Joe in WWII, Jack, and Bobby. In fact, Reagan, who survived being shot, broke the curse, it seems.
Now, I can’t always remember the Vice-Presidents unless they became President. Tyler, A. Johnson, Arthur, T. Roosevelt, Coolidge, Truman, L. Johnson, and also Fillmore (the one I have the most difficult time remembering), and Ford ascended to the White House.
There were four Whig Presidents, who served only eight years, and over a twelve-year period: W.H. Harrison/Tyler, then after Polk, Taylor/Fillmore.
The peanut farmer
I only learned this recently about my favorite ex-President. Jimmy Carter helped stop a nuclear reactor from destroying Ottawa, ON, Canada.
“The Facebook account for the Historical Society of Ottawa… detailed how the world’s first nuclear reactor meltdown occurred… at the Chalk River Laboratories near Deep River. The post stated how a 28-year-old Carter, then a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, was put in charge of containing the disaster after hydrogen explosions caused hundreds of thousands of gallons of radioactive water to flood into the core.”