The President Who Got Stuck In The Bathtub

Published 9:03 am Thursday, February 18, 2016

It was the kind of news that would naturally stir the interest of little boys: Which American president got stuck in the White House bathtub?

The Illinois grandsons got a card deck of the American presidents for Valentine’s Day and spent the weekend studying until they came upon that choice bit of information. They may not know about wars, inventions or political upheaval, but they now know about the White House bathtub.

William Howard Taft packed a portly 340 pounds on a 5-foot-11 frame when he was elected as our 27th in president in 1908.

The only official document about the incident was recorded in a book by the White House usher during that period, but the stories of the day poked lots of brutal jokes at the president’s girth. Political meanness is not a new invention.

Some legends have it that it took a handful of men to pull President Taft out of the bathtub. Other accounts include the mention of butter used to slide him loose and extract him.

With a FaceTime connection Sunday, one of the grandsons explained the extraction with an undignified term worthy of Donald Trump. Their great-grandfather, Bill Hall, chuckled in appreciation.

There are also stories about Taft getting stuck in chairs.

When he sailed on the USS North Carolina to visit the Panama Canal, Taft had the ship outfitted with a super-sized tub capable of holding four ordinary men.

Taft did love a bath.

Some have likened New Jersey Gov. Chris Christy’s size to Taft. After his presidency ended in 1912, Taft was appointed to the Supreme Court and eventually went on a diet, cutting out potatoes, bread, pork and fatty meats and wine, liquor and tobacco. He lost 70 pounds and kept it off.

President Wilson succeeded Taft in the White House. He had Taft’s gargantuan tub removed … for fear of drowning, some wags joked.

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Thirty years ago, my first-born regarded Danny Marion as the richest man in Mocksville. Marion had four big buckets of baseballs, the ultimate symbol of wealth to my T-baller.

I regarded Danny Marion as the world’s best pitcher and father. Nearly every afternoon he would stand on the mound at Rich Park and throw nothing but strikes to his son, Davie High slugger Matt Marion.

Danny Marion died last week, and all those memories of baseball on Mando Field swept over me.

Young Paul and I would watch in awe as the Marion father and son went through batting practice at Rich Park. Dad would throw. Son would belt. And the baseball would fly.

I was amazed at Marion’s ability to throw strikes. His right arm and shoulder were noticeably bigger and stronger than his left. When the buckets were empty, they would gather them up and do it again.

Young Paul and I eventually got our own bucket of baseballs, but I never mastered Danny Marion’s talent for throwing strikes.

• • • • •

Back to presidential politics … Wasn’t the South Carolina GOP debate a nasty affair last week? Grown men yelling and interrupting and acting fools.

– Dwight Sparks