Everybody knows that William Howard Taft, super-sized president of the United States, once got stuck in a bathtub and it required the assistance of several people to remove him. But everybody is wrong!
Alexis Coe, author and cohost of the podcast “Presidents Are People, Too!,” has a fascinating piece of historical record-correction today at the New York Times. She says there’s just nothing to substantiate the legend of Taft rescued with Herculean effort from a too-small tub:
The progenitor of the apocryphal tale is Irwin Hoover, known as Ike, a butler and usher who worked in the White House for 42 years, including during Taft’s term, from 1909 to 1913. As Hoover wrote in his 1934 memoir, Taft “would stick” in the tub when bathing and had to be helped out “each time.” Who helped him out? We don’t know, because Hoover only vaguely refers to assistance from somewhere, but doesn’t mention who supplied it, or whether they numbered more than one, let alone six. And how did he or they get Taft out? Hoover doesn’t say it was a particularly arduous event — just that he needed “help” — and there’s certainly no mention of butter.
Coe notes that Taft really did love bathtubs—who doesn’t?—and his substantial size was indeed something of a pop cultural phenomenon during his public life: “Taft entertained audiences with colorful anecdotes about his size,” she writes, and Taft appears in political cartoons of the time as nothing short of abundant. But the tub tale appears to be at best an exaggeration. Fake news is a very contemporary concern, but the story is a great testament to the ways in which misinformation can burrow itself deep into the public consciousness for the long term. Read the whole fascinating piece here.