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The Most Eccentric Presidents in U.S. History

People | November 22, 2020

President Ronald Reagan throwing a football from his desk in the Oval Office. (Mary Anne Fackelman-Miner/White House/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

Presidents are people, too, and just like many of us, they have their quirks. Some former presidents, however, have taken their little personal oddities to a whole new level. When one is the leader of the free world, those oddities are often on display for the whole world to see ... and for the media to mock.

Ronald Reagan Consulted The Stars

Ronald Reagan was once a Hollywood star, but he spent his time as the 40th president consulting a different kind of star. He and his wife, Nancy, were big believers in astrology. In fact, when Reagan was sworn in as Governor of California in 1967, he did so at exactly 12:10 A.M. because it was said to be an astrologically auspicious time. The Reagans both sought the advice of a noted astrologer before making important decisions, even those about national security and national policy. It's even rumored that Reagan chose George Bush as his running mate based on astrology. An astrologer reportedly warned Nancy Reagan that something bad would happen on March 30, 1981, and indeed, it did. That was the day that Reagan was shot and wounded by a would-be assassin. 

Official Presidential portrait of Calvin Coolidge. (Charles Sydney Hopkinson/Wikimedia Commons)

Calvin Coolidge's Electric Horse

Calvin Coolidge loved to ride horses and considered it good exercise, but the demands of the Oval Office limited his riding time, so he had an electric horse installed in the White House and spent his free time riding the contraption. Although he was mocked in the press, the electric horse—which had two settings, "trot" and "gallop"—served as a good stress reliever for Coolidge during his years in office.

Copy of portrait daguerreotype of John Quincy Adams, sixth president of the United States. (National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons)

John Quincy Adams's Aquatic Intrigues

Every day at five in the morning, the sixth president of the United States strolled down to the Potomac, but not to watch the sunrise. He went skinny dipping in that famous river every morning, no matter the temperature. The frigid water was invigorating, according to Adams, and just the way to start his hectic days. You might think such a lewd hobby would be kept under wraps, even if Adams wasn't, but it was well known in Washington, D.C. that the president enjoyed swimming laps in his birthday suit. One enterprising reporter actually gained an important interview with the Adams by hiding his clothes while he swam and refusing to return them until he agreed to the interview.

Portrait of President Lyndon B. Johnson. (Yoichi Okamoto/Wikimedia Commons)

Lyndon B. Johnson's Johnson

The 36th president was, by his own admission, well endowed and all too willing to prove it. In fact, he had a nickname for this particular body part: "Jumbo." On more than one occasion, when various legislators entered the men's room to find Johnson relieving himself at the urinal, the President used the opportunity to flaunt Jumbo, even asking the interlopers, "Have you ever seen anything as big as this?” He generally wasn't shy about urinating in public, routinely relieving himself in the parking lot of the U.S. House Office Building.

Millard Fillmore. (Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons)

Millard Fillmore Risked His Life For His Beloved Books

The 13th president was such a lover of books that he started the first White House permanent library, using his own money to purchase books until Congress approved a budget for the space. The White House library was safe, but on the morning of December 24, 1851, Fillmore was alerted that a fire had broken out at the Library of Congress. Desperate to save the books, Fillmore hopped aboard one of the horse-drawn fire engines headed to the scene and pulled volumes from the burning building as long as he could before organizing a bucket brigade to extinguish the flames. To Fillmore's dismay, about 35,000 books were lost in the fire, but the book-loving president vowed to rebuild the Library of Congress and add to its collection. 

Chairman of The Joint Chiefs of Staff General George S. Brown while accompanying President Jimmy Carter on a tour to Strategic Air Command's Headquarters in Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. (Untied States Air Force Archive/Wikimedia Commons)

Jimmy Carter And Aliens

In 1969, while speaking at the Lions Club of Leary, Georgia, the 39th president—who was then the governor of the state—and others claimed to witness an unidentified flying object. Carter even filed a report on the incident, explaining, "It was the darnedest thing I've ever seen." During his presidential campaign, Carter pushed for more research into the U.F.O. phenomenon, but strangely, he backed off once he was sworn in. Some have speculated that he relented after learning top-secret, alien-related national security information.

Tags: aliens | American presidents | famous people

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.