A White House Séance & A President’s Sad Secret

Pierce-CUHistorians loving ranking presidents by their performance. You’ve seen the lists. There are the Greats (Messrs. Washington, Lincoln, et al). There are the Near Greats, and the Average or Mediocre ones. Scholars have a field day pigeonholing a particular president in this category or that.

Then there is the bottom of the barrel. The washouts. The Failures. There’s little arguing over the Worst of the Worst. Grant, Harding, and my personal pick for All-Time Worst President, James Buchanan. (When it comes to being lousy at the job, you can’t beat standing by helplessly as your country splits in two and slides into civil war.)

Another name always makes the Failure list. And maybe he deserves to be there. But after you’ve heard the story of the secret pain that haunted him during his time in the White House, you’ll probably look at him in a new light and, at the very least, pity him. Continue reading

Was He President for One Day?

atchison-CU photo

What would you do if you could be President of the United States for one day?

My answer has changed over the years. When I was a boy it was, “Fill the White House with root beer floats and drink as many as I want!” During my college days it was, “Create a National Bikini Modeling Competition with the president as judge!” Nowadays it’s just, “Make sure there’s something left in Social Security’s bank account when I reach 65.” Funny how your dreams downsize with time. But I digress. Continue reading

The Pastry War (or) How We Wound Up With Santa Anna’s Leg



History is filled with incidents that are so odd, they strain believability. Take John Adams and Thomas Jefferson dying on the very same day. (July 4, 1826 – which happened to be the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which also carried both men’s signature. How do you explain that? I can’t.)

For sheer weirdness, though, nothing compares to the time when France and Mexico fought the Pastry War, Santa Anna lost a leg, and we (the U.S.) wound up with it. Don’t worry – I can explain everything. So sit back and enjoy the strangest tale you’ll ever hear. Continue reading

Harry Hits the Road

When an ex-president gets behind the wheel, the destination is Adventure!

Harry and Bess behind the wheel

You’ve just wrapped up the most demanding job on earth. For nearly eight years you were President of the United States. You used the atomic bomb for the first time, transitioned the economy from war footing back to a peacetime free market basis (including managing the tsunami of millions of men and women rushing home from World War II, each impatiently demanding a job and a place to live), helped create the United Nations, and stood up to Communist aggression in Korea.

So, what do you do next?

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When Hitler Invaded England … in 1974


History is littered with possibilities, and the only thing historians love more than bickering among themselves is speculating about what might have happened if the past had played out differently.

What if JFK hadn’t been assassinated?
What if FDR had only served the traditional two terms as president?
And perhaps the most intriguing of all … what if the South had won the Civil War?
Tantalizing possibilities of what may have been gained, or lost, in a history that wasn’t.

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Meet the Old West’s Last Gunfighter

From Oregon State Archives.

You know Jesse James and Billy the Kid. You’ve watched “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” and heard tales of John Wesley Hardin and the Dalton Brothers. All legends in their time, all still outlaw icons today.

Every era eventually ends, and the Old West was no exception. The lawlessness that began with the Civil War’s conclusion stretched into the earliest days of the 20th Century. And when that era finally wrapped up, who was its final desperado?

Meet Harry Tracy, who went down with guns blazing in 1902. He was wildly famous in his day, much like John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde were later on. If the FBI had existed then, he would have been Public Enemy #1. Continue reading

Happy 5th of July!

calendar_july_5Here we are, the day after Independence Day. So what to write? Our interest in the Fourth of July ended with last night’s fireworks display. Nobody enjoys reading about the Big Day on the Day After the Big Day. Ever read an article about the true meaning of Christmas on December 26th? No, and you never will.

But I have to write about something. July 5th happens to be my father’s birthday (happy birthday, dad!) which got me wondering: what else happened on this date?

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How A Murdered Hound Became “Man’s Best Friend” (Sort of)


Our Sally. February 12, 2002 – June 26, 2015

You run a terrible risk when you welcome a dog into your life. We know they will only be with us a short while, and yet we fling our heart wide open to them anyway. Even if we tried to resist, we couldn’t: they would wiggle their way inside anyhow. And when the time comes that we must say goodbye, it hurts like a thousand darts hitting your soul.

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Top 5 Presidential Candidate Slips of the Tongue


Slip of the tongue

Let’s face it, running for president is grueling. You get up before dawn, consume things you’d rather not put in your mouth at greasy spoons where you’d rather not eat, hang out all day with people you don’t know, and finally crawl into bed at midnight. Then you get up a few hours later and do it all over again in a different city or state. No weekends, no breaks, no sick days. [Shameless self-promotion: for a behind the scenes peek at what life is really like in a presidential primary campaign, read my novel Tell It Like Tupper.] Continue reading