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January 12, 2007

Great American Scandals

Tantalizing, true tales of historic misbehavior by the Founding Fathers and others.
Michael Farquhar – ISBN – 9780142001929

This book has been a resident on my shelves since the store was opened, but only recently did I read it. It is pleasuresome, informative, often risqué, and sometimes downright awful in its revelations . . .and entertaining from page one to the end.

Farquhar chronicles the misadventures of a important people, malignant political campaigns, “sexocapades,” dueling, murder and mayhem, the “not so civil war,” alcoholism, notorious traitors, Dred Scott, Joe McCarthy, and assassins, as he reviews the Salem Witch Trials, Teapot Dome, the “adventures” of Meriwether Lewis and J. Edgar Hoover “in drag,” along with a hose of others.

Did you know that Lincoln was disinterred 12 times before his final resting place? Or that John Paul Jones was pickled in alcohol and disappeared beneath the streets of Paris for over a century before being rediscovered, entombed and deservedly honored at the Naval Academy at Annapolis—where the midshipman promptly identified him as the only one there who didn’t work? Or that Thomas Paine died in obscurity, was disinterred, sold in pieces, boiled to the bones . . . said bones having then disappeared without a trace? Buried nowhere. Neither did I.

Which Presidents were assassinated? Kennedy . . . and Lincoln . . . and, a . . . and, a . . . I forget! Remember ? . . . oh, yea . . . Garfield and McKinley. Who participated in the floor fights and canings in the House of Representatives? Who shot whom in duels?

You young whippersnappers won’t remember . . . and have almost certainly have not read about Althea Hall, Fannie Fox, the “Tidal Basin Bombshell” (and Wilbur Mills), or Elizabeth Ray (and Wayne Hays).

His end notes are interesting, as well. He lists all the Presidents from Washington to Bush 43, identifying birth date and place, death, election, terms served, and “distinctions.”
• Lincoln was the tallest and Madison the smallest, as well as being the longest surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence.
• Martin VanBuren was the first president born an American.
• William Howard Taft was the first to open baseball season by tossing the first pitch. As well he was the fattest.
• Hoover was the first to have a phone on his desk, the first to appear on T.V., and longest lived after his term ended.
• Truman was the first to travel in a submarine.
• Kennedy was the only Catholic president, the youngest ever elected, first to be born in the 20th century, and the only one survived by both parents.
• Reagan the first divorced president, the oldest elected to his first term, and the oldest at death (until Ford, last week.)

And, finally he reviews seminal, and some trivial events, year by year (skipping quite a few early years), from the landing of Leif Eriksson in 1000 A.D. to the Senate investigations of Billy Carter in 1980.

It’s a decent sourcebook for designing your own version of Trivial Pursuit

And he notes that in 1859, following a Washington scandal, Harpers Weekly asserted that “no capital in the world is more rotten than ours.” Sigh . . . The more things change, the more they stay the same!

Posted by respeto at January 12, 2007 1:06 PM