Of wooden dentures and not-so-silent Cal

  • Monday, February 20, 2006 9:00pm
  • Life

A sampling of questions posed at presidential libraries and museums around the country – and the answers:

Yes, but he freed his slaves in his will.

Yes. Before he married her, he was passionately in love with his married neighbor, Sally Fairfax, and wrote her several ardent letters. Their precise relationship is unclear, but Washington’s letters suggest he would have been happy with something more than friendship.

He had several known sets made from such materials as hippopotamus tusks, the teeth of other animals, and human teeth. These dentures were not wooden, though some people wore wooden dentures at the time.

Yes; though he may have briefly gone to school near Fredericksburg, Va., he was schooled chiefly by his parents, brother and tutors.

No, it was a story made up during the Civil War by a Philadelphia newspaper. It sometimes appears on the Internet as fact.

The four Hemings children who lived to adulthood – Beverley, Harriet, Madison and Eston – are believed by many historians to have been fathered by Jefferson.

Did Jefferson believe in Christ as a divine figure?


Apparently not. Jefferson made his own version of the Bible by cutting out passages about Christ’s divinity.

He had none.

He said he was almost 6-foot-4.

The question arises from his awkwardness around women and the 19th century practice of men sharing the same bed. Lincoln did share a bed with a male friend and reportedly also with a bodyguard. However, he also married and had four sons. Historians generally discount the theory that he was gay.

The question can be argued either way. During a Senate campaign debate, he said he opposed “the social and political equality of the white and black races” and the right of blacks to vote, hold office or intermarry with whites. However, Lincoln also believed that slavery was morally wrong and that blacks deserved to keep the fruits of their own labor. As president, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing Southern slaves. The consensus of historians is that, during his presidency and the Civil War, Lincoln expanded his views of human rights.

Coolidge, who grew up on a Vermont farm, was quite reserved in person and usually noncommittal in public pronouncements. However, he did hold twice-a-week press conferences – many more than modern presidents.

He rode it for exercise.

No. A Republican Party advertisement – not endorsed by Hoover – claimed that Republican administrations of the 1920s had “put the proverbial chicken in every pot. And a car in every back yard.” In the 1932 campaign during the Great Depression, Hoover’s opponents claimed he had promised to put “a chicken in every pot.”

He wasn’t.

Not entirely, since he was known as an assistant Navy secretary and vice presidential candidate before contracting polio at age 39. However, he wanted Americans to focus on his ideas and leadership, so he usually tried not to draw attention to his paralysis and often propped himself up on a cane, railing or podium.

No, that’s a mistake propagated on the Internet. The excerpt on the monument came from an earlier part of the speech, well before the reference to God.

Not that he expressed.

What does the “S” stand for in Harry S. Truman?

It does not stand for a name. It referred to the first names of his grandfathers, Shipp and Solomon.

It’s at the bottom of the South Pacific off the Solomon Islands, where it sank after being rammed by a Japanese destroyer.

The presidential Warren Commission blamed Lee Harvey Oswald alone, but a later congressional report concluded he probably conspired with others. Conspiracy theorists continue to suspect communists, mobsters, the late labor leader Jimmy Hoffa or others.

Sources: Library of Congress; Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Springfield, Ill.; Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum at the Forbes Library, Northampton, Mass.; Herbert Hoover Library and Museum, West Branch, Iowa; Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Hyde Park, N.Y.; Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, Independence, Mo.; John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

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