Hear the one about skinny-dipping in the Potomac? The presidency as 'soap opera'

Posted: February 09, 2003

Many Americans know that their first president, the tall, sturdy Virginian who commanded the Continental Army to victory and cracked walnuts with his bare hands, did not chop down a cherry tree in his youth and confess in a fit of conscience.

And they probably know that he never threw a silver dollar across the Potomac and that his false teeth were made of whalebone, not wood.

But are they aware that George Washington, stiff and painfully formal, studied acting to improve his image, never greeted anyone with a gesture so familiar as a handshake, and once gave a most withering look to a man who slapped him heartily on the back?

With the approach of Presidents' Day (observed Feb. 17), local historians last week reflected on some obscure facts about American presidents, those colorful tidbits that have little to do with policy but make for good idle chatter.

"The presidency is just one very long soap opera that has been going on for over 200 years," said David Barrett of Havertown, a political-science professor at Villanova University who teaches a course on the U.S. presidents.

Take Washington, Barrett said.

"His mother was very disappointed in him. She felt like he wasn't a very good son," he said.

Part of Mary Ball Washington's displeasure stemmed from her feeling that George paid too much attention to political affairs and not enough to her, he said.

Familial relations could spell trouble for presidents of any era. Unlike the very public tension between Jimmy Carter and his brother, Billy, the rift between Lyndon Johnson and his hard-drinking brother, Sam Houston Johnson, was less conspicuous - even when the president moved his sibling into the White House to keep an eye on him, Barrett said.

For Harry Truman, Barrett said, it was mother-in-law Madge Gates Wallace who proved a challenge.

Wallace thought her daughter, Bess, "had married beneath herself," Barrett said. "It's widely believed she did not vote for her son-in-law. . . . In fact, Mrs. Wallace would say good things about Thomas Dewey [Truman's political opponent]."

Personal deportment varied wildly from president to president. Whereas Washington stood on formality, Thomas Jefferson abhorred stuffiness, said Temple University history professor and Blue Bell resident Jim Hilty.

The second president to occupy the White House, Jefferson, who suffered from migraines, thought the enormous residence was "too big and drafty," Hilty said. "He often walked around in his slippers. Sometimes, he would greet his guests in slippers and a bathrobe."

Clothing - or the absence of it - has figured prominently in more than one president's peccadillo. For John Quincy Adams, it took an amusing turn, Hilty said.

Adams, an elusive president who refused to be interviewed, was taking his usual skinny-dip in the Potomac one morning when a female reporter appeared on the riverbank, sat on his clothes, and demanded that he speak with her.

"She got her interview," Hilty said.

Some presidents can be counted as unique. Woodrow Wilson was the only president with a Ph.D., La Salle University history professor and Jenkintown resident John Rossi said. And unique to Wilson's term was the role taken by his wife when he suffered a stroke.

With her husband bedridden, Edith Wilson - labeled by some historians as the first female president - controlled who and what came before him, Rossi said.

"It may be that she forged his signature to certain documents," he said.

Vance Kincade, an Arcadia University history professor, cited the rare talents of James Garfield. In office only six months before being assassinated, Garfield was ambidextrous and could transcribe a sentence into Latin and Greek with the right and left hands simultaneously, said Kincade, of Collegeville.

For presidential firsts, there was Andrew Jackson, the first president to become the target of an assassin, Kincade said, and the first to have killed a man in a duel.

The duel was a complicated affair concerning horse racing and Jackson's wife, and it left a bullet lodged in Jackson's chest.

The presidency of Abraham Lincoln remains one of the most legendary and examined in U.S. history, but many people might not know of Lincoln's struggle to find spiritual meaning amid calamity.

"He thought a lot about God in relation to human suffering" and about Christian hypocrisy, Barrett said.

Lincoln would not join a church, Barrett added: "He didn't like organized religion."

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or fax it to 610-313-8243. Contact Cynthia J. McGroarty at 610-313-8113 or cmcgroarty@phillynews.com.

Public Service

50 Nifty Years at Salford Hills Salford Hills Elementary School seeks community members, former students, staff members to participate in year-long celebration of Salford's 50th anniversary. 610-287-9197.

Bob Hope Memorial Service Center & DAV 117-PA 215-943-7771. In need of working wheelchairs for veterans & disabled individuals in area.

Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve Seeks interns for season begining May or June. River Rd (Rte 32), New Hope; 215-862-2924. www.bhwp.org. Deadline to register, 2/14.

Call For Entries Churchville Photography Club accepts entries for annual Photography Contest. Applications available at Nature Center. Churchville Nature Center, 501 Churchville Ln, Churchville; 215-357-6066. Entry fee, $5 per photo, $2.50 ages 14-18, free ages under 13. Entries accepted 11 a.m.-4 p.m. 2/22-2/23.

Closet to Closet Upper Bucks Chamber of Commerce accepting donations of nearly new clothing for single mothers, women in job-training programs, those re-entering workplace. 215-536-3211. Boutique Tana Kaya, 308 W Broad St, Quakertown. 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Mons & Tues; 10:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Weds-Fris; noon-5 p.m. Sats. Upper Bucks Chamber of Commerce, 2170 Portzer Rd, Quakertown. 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Mons-Fris

Discount Ski Tickets Tickets available to many area ski resorts. Request for tickets must be made 24 hrs in advance of purchase. All sales final. Upper Dublin Twp Department of Parks & Rec, 801 Loch Alsh Ave, Fort Washington; 215-643-1600 ext 3443. www.upperdublin.org.

Discount Ski Tickets Ski & lift tickets available through Horsham Twp Parks & Rec: Big Boulder/Jack Frost, Blue Knob, Blue Mountain, Camelback, Bear Creek, Elk Mountain, Montage, Roundtop/Liberty, Seven Springs, Shawnee & Tussey Mtns. Horsham Twp Bldg, 1025 Horsham Rd, Horsham; 215-643-3131. Purchase 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Mons-Fris.

Lutheran Children & Family Service Reunion planned for former youth, staff & foster parents of Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program 80th anniv. Golden City Restaurant, Rte 309, Lansdale; 215-881-6800 ext 222. 1-5:30 p.m. 3/8.

Neshaminy Manor Call for artists for "Arts for the Manor" (provide weekly art class for residents). 1660 Easton Rd, Warrington; 215-862-3396.

Penn State Cooperative Extension in Montgomery Co 8-week program for land owners with several acres interested in growing agricultural products. 1015 Bridge Rd, Suite H, Collegeville; 610-489-4315. Call for fees. 6:30-8:45 p.m. Weds (except 2/5 & 3/5) through 3/12. Registration required.

Suicide Prevention Montgomery Co Emergency Service provides counseling, suicide hotline, mobile crisis service, behavioral health ambulance, short-term inpatient care. MCES, 50 Beech Dr, Norristown; 610-279-6100.

Volunteer Calls

American Red Cross Lower Bucks Co Chapter seeks volunteers to help with blood drives. American Red Cross/Lower Bucks, 1909 New Rodgers Rd, Levittown; 215-946-4870 ext 103.

Caring Hospice Services Volunteers for Buddy program for terminally ill patients. 400 Commerce Dr, Suite C, Fort Washington; 215-619-7650. www.caringhospice.com.

Chandler Hall Health Services Volunteers to assist with clerical work, adult day care trips, aquatic program. Times & days vary. 99 Barclay St, Newtown; 215-860-4000 ext 1375.

Churchville Nature Center Volunteers to help with special events, children's activities, clerical & support work, more. 501 Churchville Ln, Churchville; 215-357-4005.

Girl Scouts of Freedom Valley Men, women needed for school, community based programs in Bucks, Montgomery & Chester counties. 888-244-4452.

Highland Historical Society Seeks Docents Training classes begin 2/5. The Highlands Mansion, 7001 Sheaff Ln, Fort Washington; 215-641-2687.

Hospice Volunteers Holy Redeemer Health System seeks volunteers; training provided. Holy Redeemer Home Health & Hospice Services Northeast Office, 12265 Townsend Rd; 215-698-3737.

Keystone Hospice 8765 Stenton Ave, Glenside; 215-836-2440. Volunteers for various functions.

Samaritan Care Hospice of PA Seeks volunteers, 1-2 hrs per week; call for training information. 6198 Butler Pk, Blue Bell; 1-800-764-6878.

Senior Adult Activity Center of Montgomery Co Drivers for Meals on Wheels programs at 3 locations. 536 George St, Norristown; 610-275-1960. Forrest Ave, Ambler; 215-619-8863.

Special Equestrians Volunteers for non-profit therapeutic riding program for children & adults with disabilites; training provided. 2800 Street Rd, Warrington; 215-918-1001 ext 314. 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Mons-Sats.

Religion Calendar

Bethel Chapel 855 Old Huntingdon Pk, Huntingdon Valley; 215-379-3096. http://bethelchapel-hv.org. Sunday school; followed by service. 9 a.m. Suns. Kidz Club programs. 6 p.m. Suns Small-group Bible study classes. Call for schedule & locations.

Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church 625 Montgomery Ave, Bryn Mawr; 610-525-2821. www.bmpc.org. Lecture series on Buddhism. 11 a.m. Suns through 2/23. Concert, "Hark How the Wild Musicians Sing." 5 p.m. 2/9.

Congregation Or Ami 708 Ridge Pk, Lafayette Hill; 610-828-9066. Nursery & kindergarten program; & religious school for grades K-10. Call for schedule.

Entheos Ministries Celebrate with music & fellowship. Ritz East Theater, 100 block of Sansom St; 610-265-2367. 9:30-10:30 a.m. Suns.

Grace Presbyterian Church 444 Old York Rd, Jenkintown; 215-887-6117. www.gracejenkintown.org. Children's education classes; various times Suns. Call for schedule. Adult education classes. 9:15-10:15 a.m. Suns Women's Retreat, Long Beach Island, NJ. 2/21-23. Call for other programs.

Jewish Outreach Partnership of Greater Philadelphia Seeks 20 families in Montgomery Co to participate in Our Jewish Home, a Jewish education program for families with children ages 3-6. 215-635-2877.

BHM Pebble Hill Church 320 Eddison-Furlong Rd, Doylestown; 215-348-3428. Study & Support Groups: Course in Miracles (7:30 p.m. Thus); Community Drum Circle (8 p.m. 2d Fri of month); Gay & Lesbian Spiritual Voices of Bucks Co (7 p.m. 3d Fri of month); Emotions Anonymous (7 p.m. 1st & 3d Mons of month); Sacred Sound Circle (8 p.m. 3d Wed of month). Discussion & book signing with Philip Rose. $10. Noon 2/9. Call for other programs including School of Sacred Ministries weekend courses.

Penn Wynne Presbyterian Church 130 Haverford Rd, Wynnewood; 610-642-1308. www.ifb.com/pwpc. "Thank God It's Friday Mom's Survival Group." 9 a.m. Fris (except during school vacations).

St John's United Church of Christ 500 W Main St, Lansdale; 215-855-5489. www.st-johns-ucc.org. Choir Programs: Cherub Choir; ages 4-2d grade (4:45 p.m. Mons). Junior Choir; grades 3-6 (5:30 p.m. Mons). Intergenerational Handbell Choir (6:45 p.m. Weds). Generations, for teens & adults (6 p.m. Thus). Chancel Choir, adult 4-part choir (7:30 p.m. Thus).

St James Lutheran Church 14 Park Ave, Chalfont; 215-822-0391. www.stjameschalfont.com. Music Team Bible study & rehearsal. 7:30 p.m. Mons. Women's Bible Study. 11 a.m. Weds. Informal Prayer Group. 7:30 p.m. Weds. Administrative Team meetings. 7:30 p.m. 2d Thu of month.

Temple Sinai 1401 N Limekiln Pike, Dresher; 215-643-6510. Hebrew reading class, all levels. 9:30-10:30 a.m. or 7:30-10 p.m. Tues. Class in "An Exploration of Jewish Practice, Tradition & Beliefs," led by Rabbi Adam Wohlberg. 9:15-10:15 a.m. Thus through spring.

*FREE* The Rabbi's Class Exploration of Jewish practice, tradition & beliefs. Temple Sinai, 1401 N Limekiln Pike, Dresher; 215-643-6510. 9:15-10:15 a.m. Thus. No registration necessary.

Won Institue of Graduate Studies 137 S Easton Rd, Glenside; 215-884-8942. www.woninstitute.org. Graduate programs in systematic Buddhist study & application. Programs of study: Applied Meditation Studies, Buddhist Studies. Call for schedule & fees.

Meetings

Book Discussion Yardley-Langhorne-Newtown Great Books group meets at private residence. 215-891-9607. 7:30 p.m. alternate Weds.

Book Discussion Barnes & Noble, 720 Lancaster Ave, Bryn Mawr; 610-520-0355. Psychology & Spirituality Grp. 7:30 p.m. 1st Mon of month. Socrates Cafe. 7:30 p.m. 2d & 4th Mons of month. Mystery Book Club. 7:30 p.m. Wed. Classics Book Group. 7:30 p.m. 2/19. Speculative Fiction group. 7:30 p.m. 2/25. Philosophy of Religion group. 7:30 p.m. 2/27.

Borders Books 1149 Lancaster Ave, Bryn Mawr; 610-527-1500. Fiction Book Group. 7 p.m. Wed. Science-Fiction Book Group. 7:30 p.m. 2/18.

Cheltenham Camera Club Rowland Community Center, Myrtle & Elm Aves, Cheltenham; 215-886-2524. 7:30 p.m. 2d & 4th Mon of month. New members welcome.

Older Women's League Deer Meadows (6th fl), 8301 Roosevelt Blvd; 215-624-7575, ext 1506. 11 a.m.-1 p.m. 2d Tue of month.

Simplicity Circle Group discusses decreasing environmetnal damage by getting out of "consumerism loop." Audubon Visitor Center, 2877 Creamery Rd, Solebury; 215-297-5880. Meets 2 Weds per month.

Women Investors Free Spirit Investment Club for women. Kelly's Insurance, 212 W Main St, Collegeville; 610-705-3681 7:30 p.m. 3d Tue of month.

Schwenksville Women's Civic Club Perkiomen Valley Library, 2d & Church Sts, Schwenksville; 610-287-7359. Refreshments 12:30 p.m., meeting 1 p.m. 2d Weds of month.

University Women American Assoc of Univer Women/Valley Forge chapter. Tredyffrin Library, 582 Upper Gulph Rd, Wayne; 610-296-9392. 7 p.m. 2d Tue of month & 9:30 a.m. 2d Sat of month.

Seminars & Classes

Computer Classes For community youth, adults. West-End Computer Lab, 535 Haws Ave, Norristown; 610-279-3990. $20 multi-week courses; $10 1-day workshops. Morning & evening classes. Call for schedule; registration required.

CPR & First Aid Classes Holy Redeemer Hospital, 1648 Huntingdon Pike, Meadowbrook; 800-818-4747. www.holyredeemer.com. Basic First Aid. $30. 7-10 p.m. 2/19. Registration required.

Doylestown School of Music 263 N Main St, Doylestown; 215-340-0644. www.dsma.org. Offers courses in music, art, acting, modeling & photography. Call for schedule & fees.

Greater Plymouth Community Center After-school sports, art & craft classes for children & adults, computer classes, CPR/First Aid classes, adult sports leagues, swimming lessons, recreational activities, more. Greater Plymouth Community Center, 2910 Jolly Rd, Plymouth Meeting; 610-277-4312. www.plymouthtownship.org. Call for schedule & fees.

*FREE* Lower Providence Community Library 50 Park Lane Dr, Eagleville; 610-666-6640. http://lpc.mclinc.org.

Painting Classes Imaginative approaches to contemporary painting techniques inspired by modern masters. Catholic Social Services Bldg, 7340 Jackson St; 215-517-4449. Noon-3 p.m. Tues through 2/4. Registration required.

Parenting Center at Abington 1130 Old York Rd, Abington; 215-576-0586. www.ParentingAbington.com. Play 'N Share: discussion group for parents of infants & toddlers. $5. 10-11:30 a.m. Fris. Registration required. Registration required.

Penn State Abington Woodland Bldg, lecture hall 112, 1600 Woodland Rd, Abington; 215-881-7368. "An Afternoon with the Arts": opera lecture series; performance follows. $8 each; $35 series. 2:30 p.m. select Suns through 3/30.

BHM *FREE* Philip Rose Lecture by Broadway producer of 1959 debut of A Raisin in the Sun; part of Newtown's "No Place for Hate" campaign & college's Black History Month programs. Bucks County Community College, Library Auditorium, 275 Swamp Rd, Newtown; 215-579-1836. Noon 2/10.

*FREE* Screening the Classics Screening of films adapted from books (Thus) & discussion of film & book (following Weds); led by Villanova U professor Kevin Thomas Miles. Lansdale Public Library, Susquehanna Ave & Vine St, Lansdale; 215-855-3228. www.lansdalelibrary.org. John Irving's Cider House Rules. Screening 6:30 p.m. 2/20; discussion 7-8:30 p.m. 2/26.

Wissahickon Community Parenting Center 215-619-8100 ext 2003. Parenting workshops. Registration required.

Writers Room of Bucks County 4 W Oakland Ave, Doylestown; 215-348-1663. www.WritersRoom.net. Novel-writing bootcamp: 4 sessions with Toni Lopopolo. $295. Send application to Toni Lopopolo Literary Mgmt, 8837 School House Ln, Coopersburg PA 18036. Or call: 215-679-0560. 1-4 p.m. Sats 2/15-3/8. Call or visit website for more programs.

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