Some of us remember when Lincoln's and Washington's birthdays were celebrated on Feb. 12 and Feb. 22, their actual birthdates. None of this artificial Monday "let's make it a three-day weekend" stuff.
But since the new (starting in the mid-1980s) Presidents Day may mean different things to different people, let's see what some of those differences are. We know that rather than honoring our presidents, the day is frequently used for advertising and sales, and as just another day off from work or school.
In Massachusetts, Presidents Day is celebrated on May 29 and honors John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Calvin Coolidge and John F. Kennedy, all of whom have Massachusetts roots.
Alabama observes the day in February as Washington and Jefferson Day, even though Thomas Jefferson's birthday is in April.
Abraham Lincoln's birthday is still a state holiday in Connecticut, Missouri and Illinois, always on his actual birthday of Feb. 12. In Washington's home state of Virginia, Presidents Day is legally known as George Washington Day.
While most people think of Lincoln and Washington on Presidents Day, they may not know some unusual facts about them. George Washington was the only president not to live in Washington, D.C. As a farmer, Washington grew marijuana, mainly for its value as hemp and for soil stabilization. He introduced the mule to America, and his second inaugural address was the shortest ever, at 135 words. In contrast, William Henry Harrison gave the longest inaugural address in history.
Lincoln used his famous stovepipe hat to carry notes and letters to make him appear even taller than his natural 6 feet, 4 inches. This compares with our shortest president, James Madison, who stood a foot shorter than Lincoln at 5-4 and weighed barely 100 pounds.
Lincoln liked to invent things and take them apart. He was the only president to hold a patent, "A Device for Buoying Vessels Over Shoals," which never was manufactured. Lincoln's only surviving son, Robert, was saved from a train accident by Edwin Booth in 1863, two years before his brother, John Wilkes Booth, assassinated President Lincoln.
A search of other presidents' histories yields more odd facts. James Garfield was ambidextrous and bilingual, and simultaneously could write in Latin with one hand and ancient Greek with the other. President Ulysses S. Grant, who indeed is buried in Grant's Tomb, was caught speeding and the officer didn't want to give him the $20 ticket, but Grant insisted.
John Quincy Adams liked to swim nude in the Potomac River. An enterprising female journalist went to the river and sat on Adams' clothes until he agreed to an interview. Can you imagine today's media coverage?
Calvin Coolidge was relatively silent and kooky. He loved having his head rubbed with Vaseline while he ate breakfast in bed, and used to ring the White House doorbell and hide. Coolidge was so quiet that a reporter bet him that he could get more than two words from him. Coolidge replied, "You lose."
And finally, perhaps our most colorful leader, President Theodore Roosevelt, was the first president to be commonly known by his initials: "Just call me TR." He was the first president to travel outside of the continental United States when he went to Panama in 1906. He also took a four-minute flight in a Wright brothers' airplane, making him the first president to fly.
An avid outdoorsman and sportsman, TR lost the sight in his left eye while boxing. While campaigning in Milwaukee, he was shot by a local saloon keeper. The bullet went through a pocket containing his steel eyeglass case and a copy of his 50-page speech which he had folded in half. He declined immediate treatment and gave his 90-minute speech with blood seeping from the wound into his shirt. He said famously, "It takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose."
Francine M. Farber is a retired school district administrator who is a full-time community volunteer.