8 Things You Might Not Know About Woodrow Wilson

Tony Essex, Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Tony Essex, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In his lifetime, Woodrow Wilson (1856 to 1924) bore witness to some of the most tumultuous times in American history. The Civil War raged during his childhood; as the nation’s 28th president, he led America into a world war. Unfortunately, Wilson was often on the wrong side of history when it came to race relations. Check out some of the lesser-known facts about one of the more controversial occupants of higher office.

1. He was an eyewitness to the Civil War.

Born and raised in the south, Wilson was the son of a Presbyterian minister Joseph Wilson and his wife, Janet Wilson. His parents were Confederate supporters, and as a child, Woodrow watched Janet nurse wounded soldiers in his father’s church. Later, he witnessed Confederate president Jefferson Davis marched in chains through Augusta, Georgia.

2. He arrived at his inauguration in a horse drawn carriage.

Woodrow Wilson arrives in a carriage with his wife
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Following a brief law career, Wilson made his way into academia, arriving at Princeton (then the College of New Jersey) in 1890 as a professor of jurisprudence and political economy. By 1902, he was the university’s president, a position he held until 1910. That year, he was elected governor of New Jersey and then set his sights on higher office. Owing to a Republican split over support between incumbent William Howard Taft and former president Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson captured the electoral vote for the 1912 election and was re-elected in 1916. With the advent of automobiles imminent, Wilson became the last American president to arrive to his inauguration while being transported by horse-drawn carriage.

3. He was against integration.

During Wilson’s term, many governmental departments began to segregate employees. Wilson allowed his cabinet to maintain white-only bathrooms and once threw civil rights activist William Monroe Trotter out of the White House for growing too confrontational over their conflicting views. A century later, students at Princeton staged a sit-in to protest Wilson's name being kept on various campus institutions, citing his frequent roadblocks in the work of civil rights activity. (While he was president of Princeton, the school did not admit any black students.) The university ultimately decided to let the dedications remain.

4. He advocated for a woman's right to vote.

Women protest in a demonstration for the right to vote
Paul Thompson, Getty Images

While Wilson would find himself less progressive in other civil rights matters, he did manage to get one thing right. After initially feeling indifferent about allowing women the right to vote, his attitude changed as a result the women’s suffrage movement. Activists picketing outside the White House in 1917 were hauled away by police; Wilson was horrified to learn they were being force-fed following a hunger strike. In January 1918, Wilson advocated for men and women to have an equal voice in elections, and would later make written and verbal arguments to members of Congress. His lobbying undoubtedly helped states ratify the 19th Amendment in August 1920, finally granting women the right to cast their ballot.

5. He ushered in the White House screening room.

His poor taste in film aside (Wilson famously screened The Birth of a Nation in 1915), Wilson was the first president to routinely screen movies in the White House. Actor Douglas Fairbanks gifted him with a projector in 1918, allowing Wilson to enjoy movies with regularity. He sometimes watched up to five hours a day. While cruising the Atlantic following the Allied victory in World War I, Wilson set up the projector so troops could enjoy Charlie Chaplin films.

6. He kept a flock of sheep on the White House lawn.

Sheep are seen grazing on the White House lawn
Harris Ewing, Wikimedia Commons via the Library of Congress

While presidents have often had a curious history with animals—Thomas Jefferson famously harbored two bear cubs for a brief time on White House grounds—Wilson’s flock of sheep might be the most puzzling. The rationale behind it, however, made perfect sense. In 1918, with World War I raging, Wilson wanted to be a model for Americans in supporting troops. Allowing sheep to roam the grounds and eat grass cut down on the manpower needed to maintain the lawn, an example of rationing manpower; their wool was auctioned off and raised $52,823 for Red Cross relief efforts.

7. He got caught up in an unseemly love triangle.

Despite his cool exterior, Wilson could apparently soften around the right company. He had married Ellen Louise Axson in 1885 but sometimes took trips alone to Bermuda, where he fraternized and flirted with a woman named Mary Peck. Wilson and Peck continued a pen-pal dialogue through his first term, which would later prove troublesome. When Ellen died in 1914, Wilson turned his attention to the widowed Edith Galt. Fearing that remarrying so soon after his first wife’s death could harm his chances for re-election, Wilson’s handlers lied and said Peck planned on selling off his love letters. They hoped Wilson would be frightened of the ensuing scandal and call off the wedding. Instead, Wilson confessed his involvement with Peck to Edith. She married him anyway. Peck was said to be devastated that Wilson hadn’t married her instead.

8. His wife helped run the country.

Woodrow Wilson's wife, Edith, looks off to the side while being photographed
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Toward the end of his second term, Wilson was overworked, traveling too often, and plagued by various illnesses including influenza. On October 2, 1919, he suffered a stroke, which impaired his mobility and left him partially paralyzed. Fearing the implications of having an infirm president and with the Constitution unclear as to whether vice-president Thomas Marshall should assume his duties, the Wilson regime went on as usual. Owing to his diminished state, however, his wife Edith began to take on a much more prominent role in his affairs. She curated matters for him to address personally and helped him prioritize his duties through the end of his presidency in March 1921. He died in 1924.

7 Weird Super Bowl Halftime Acts

Al Bello, Getty Images
Al Bello, Getty Images

Shakira and Jennifer Lopez seem like natural choices to perform the halftime show at this year’s Super Bowl, but the event didn’t always feature musical acts from major pop stars. Michael Jackson kicked off the trend at Super Bowl XXVII in 1993, but prior to that, halftime shows weren’t a platform for the hottest celebrities of the time. They centered around themes instead, and may have featured appearances from Peanuts characters, Jazzercisers, or a magician dressed like Elvis. In honor of Super Bowl LIV on February 2, we’ve rounded up some of the weirdest acts in halftime show history.

1. Return of the Mickey Mouse Club

The era of Super Bowl halftimes before wardrobe malfunctions, illuminati conspiracy theories, and Left Shark was a more innocent time. For 1977’s event, the Walt Disney Company produced a show that doubled as a squeaky-clean promotion of its brand. Themed “Peace, Joy, and Love,” the Super Bowl XI halftime show opened with a 250-piece band rendition of “It’s a Small World (After All).” Disney also used the platform to showcase its recently revamped Mickey Mouse Club.

2. 88 Grand Pianos and 300 Jazzercisers

The theme of the halftime show at Super Bowl XXII in 1988 was “Something Grand.” Naturally, it featured 88 tuxedoed pianists playing 88 grand pianos. Rounding out the program were 400 swing band performers, 300 Jazzercisers, 44 Rockettes, two marching bands, and Chubby Checker telling everyone to “Twist Again."

3. Elvis Impersonator Performs the World’s Largest Card Trick

Many of the music industry's most successful pop stars—like Prince, Madonna, and, uh, Milli Vanilli—were at the height of their fame in 1989, but none of them appeared at Super Bowl XXIII. Instead, the NFL hired an Elvis Presley-impersonating magician to perform. The show, titled “BeBop Bamboozled,” was a tribute to the 1950s, and it featured Elvis Presto performing “the world’s largest card trick.” It also may have included the world's largest eye exam: The show boasted 3D effects, and viewers were urged to pick up special glasses before the game. If the visuals didn't pop like they were supposed to, people were told to see an eye doctor.

4. The Peanuts Salute New Orleans

Super Bowl XXIV featured one of the last halftime acts that was completely devoid of any musical megastars. The biggest celebrity at the 1990 halftime show was Snoopy. Part of the show’s theme was the “40th Anniversary of 'Peanuts,'” and to celebrate the milestone, performers dressed as Peanuts characters and danced on stage. The other half of the theme was “Salute to New Orleans”—not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the comic strip.

5. A Tribute to the Winter Olympics

Super Bowl XXVI preceded the 1992 Winter Olympics—a fact that was made very clear by the event’s halftime. The show was titled “Winter Magic” and it paid tribute to the winter games with ice skaters, snowmobiles, and a cameo from the 1980 U.S. hockey team. Other acts, like a group of parachute-pants-wearing children performing the “Frosty the Snowman Rap,” were more generally winter-themed than specific to the Olympics. About 22 million viewers changed the channel during halftime to watch In Living Color’s Super Bowl special, which may have convinced the NFL to hire Michael Jackson the following year.

6. Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye

“Peace, Joy, and Love” wasn’t the only Disney-helmed Super Bowl halftime. In 1995, Disney produced a halftime show called “Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye” to tease the new Disneyland ride of the same name. It centered around a skit in which actors playing Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood stole the Vince Lombardi Trophy from an exotic temple, and it included choreographed stunts, fiery special effects, and a snake. Patti LaBelle and Tony Bennett were also there.

7. The Blues Brothers, Minus John Belushi

The 1990s marked an odd period for halftime shows as they moved from schlocky themed variety shows to major music events. Super Bowl XXXI in 1997 perfectly encapsulates this transition period. James Brown and ZZ Top performed, but the headliners were the Blues Brothers. John Belushi had been dead for more than a decade by that point, so Jim Belushi took his place beside Dan Aykroyd. John Goodman was also there to promote the upcoming movie Blues Brother 2000. The flashy advertisement didn’t have the impact they had hoped for and the film was a massive flop when it premiered.

11 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of TV Meteorologists

nicoletaionescu/iStock via Getty Images
nicoletaionescu/iStock via Getty Images

The first weather forecast to hit national network television was given in 1949 by legendary weatherman Clint Youle. To illustrate weather systems, Youle covered a paper map of the U.S. in plexiglass and drew on it with a marker. A lot has changed in the world of meteorology since then, but every day, millions of families invite their local weatherman or weatherwoman into their living room to hear the forecast. Here are a few things you might not know about being a TV meteorologist.

1. SOME PEOPLE JUST NEVER MASTER THE GREEN SCREEN.

 A meteorologist working in front of a green screen.
eldinhoid/iStock via Getty Images

On-camera meteorologists might look as if they’re standing in front of a moving weather map, but in reality, there’s nothing except a blank green wall behind them. Thanks to the wonders of special effects, a digital map can be superimposed onto the green screen for viewers at home. TV monitors situated just off-camera show the meteorologist what viewers at home are seeing, which is how he or she knows where to stand and point. It’s harder than it looks, and for some rookie meteorologists, the learning curve can be steep.

“Some people never learn it,” says Gary England, legendary weatherman and former chief meteorologist for Oklahoma’s KWTV (England was also the first person to use Doppler radar to warn viewers about incoming systems). “For some it comes easily, but I’ve seen people never get used to it.”

Stephanie Abrams, meteorologist and co-host of The Weather Channel’s AMHQ, credits her green screen skills to long hours spent playing Nintendo and tennis as a kid. “You’ve gotta have good hand-eye coordination,” she says.

2. THEY HAVE A STRICT DRESS CODE.

Green is out of the question for on-air meteorologists, unless they want to blend into the map, but the list of prohibited wardrobe items doesn’t stop there. “Distracting prints are a no-no,” Jennifer Myers, a Dallas-based meteorologist for Oncorwrites on Reddit. “Cleavage angers viewers over 40 something fierce, so we stay away from that. There's no length rule on skirts/dresses but if you wouldn't wear it to a family event, you probably shouldn't wear it on TV. Nothing reflective. Nothing that makes sound.”

Myers says she has enough dresses to go five weeks without having to wear a dress twice. But all the limitations can make it difficult to find work attire that’s fashionable, looks good on-screen, and affordable. This is especially true for women, which is why when they find a garment that works, word spreads quickly. For example, this dress, which sold for $23 on Amazon, was shared in a private Facebook group for female meteorologists and quickly sold out in every color but green.

3. BUT IT’S CASUAL BELOW THE KNEE.

Since their feet rarely appear on camera, some meteorologists take to wearing casual, comfortable footwear, especially on long days. For example, England told the New York Times that during storm season, he was often on his feet for 12 straight hours. So, “he wears Mizuno running shoes, which look ridiculous with his suit and tie but provide a bit of extra cushioning,” Sam Anderson writes.

And occasionally female meteorologists will strap their mic pack to their calves or thighs rather than the more unpleasant option of stuffing it into their waistband or strapping it onto their bra.

4. THERE ARE TRICKS TO STAYING WARM IN A SNOWSTORM.

“In the field when I’m covering snow storms, I go to any pharmacy and get those back patches people wear, those heat wraps, and stick them all over my body,” explains Abrams. “Then I put on a wet suit. When you’re out for as long as we are, that helps you stay dry. I have to be really hot when I go out for winter storms.”

5. THERE’S NO SCRIPT.

Your local TV weather forecaster is ad-libbing from start to finish. “Our scripts are the graphics we create,” says Jacob Wycoff, a meteorologist with Western Mass News. “Generally speaking we’re using the graphics to talk through our stories, but everything we say is ad-libbed. Sometimes you can fumble the words you want to say, and sometimes you may miss a beat, but I think what that allows you to do is have a little off-the-cuff moment, which I think the viewers enjoy.”

6. MOM’S THE AUDIENCE.

A retro image of a weatherwoman.
H. Armstrong Roberts/Retrofile/Getty Images

Part of a meteorologist’s job is to break down very complicated scientific terminology and phenomena into something the general public can not only stomach, but crave. “The trick is … to approach the weather as if you're telling a story: Who are the main actors? Where is the conflict? What happens next?” explains Bob Henson, a Weather Underground meteorologist. “Along the way, you have the opportunity to do a bit of teaching. Weathercasters are often the only scientists that a member of the public will encounter on a regular basis on TV.”

Wycoff’s method for keeping it simple is to pretend like he’s having a conversation with his mom. “I’d pretend like I was giving her the forecast,” he says. “If my mom could understand it, I felt confident the general audience could as well. Part of that is also not using completely science-y terms that go over your audience’s head.”

7. SOCIAL MEDIA HAS MADE THEIR JOBS MORE DIFFICULT.

Professional meteorologists spend a lot of time debunking bogus forecasts spreading like wildfire across Twitter. “We have a lot of social media meteorologists that don’t have necessarily the background or training to create great forecasts,” Wycoff says. “We have to educate our viewers that they should know the source they’re getting information from.”

“People think it’s as easy as reading a chart,” says Scott Sistek, a meteorologist and weather blogger for KOMO TV in Seattle. “A lot of armchair meteorologists at home can look at a chart and go ok, half an inch of rain. But we take the public front when it’s wrong.”

8. THEY MAKE LIFE-OR-DEATH DECISIONS.

People plan their lives around the weather forecast, and when a storm rolls in, locals look to their meteorologist for guidance on what to do. If he or she gets the path of a tornado wrong, or downplays its severity, people’s lives are in danger. “If you miss a severe weather forecast and someone’s out on the ball field and gets stuck, someone could get injured,” says Wycoff. “It is a great responsibility that we have.”

Conversely, England says when things get dangerous, some people are reluctant to listen to a forecaster’s advice because they don’t like being told what to do. He relies on a little bit of psychological maneuvering to get people to take cover. “You suggest, you don’t tell,” he says. “You issue instructions but in a way where they feel like they’re making up their own minds.”

9. DON’T BANK ON THOSE SEVEN-DAY FORECASTS.

A weatherman reporting during a storm.
pxhidalgo/iStock via Getty Images

“I would say that within three days, meteorologists are about 90 percent accurate,” Wycoff says. “Then at five days we’re at about 60 percent to 75 percent and then after seven days it becomes a bit more wishy-washy.”

10. THEY’RE FRENEMIES.

The competition for viewers is fierce, and local meteorologists are all rivals in the same race. “When you’re in TV, all meteorologists at other competitors are the enemy,” England says. “You’re not good friends with them. They try to steal the shoes off your children and food off your plate. If they get higher ratings, they get more money.”

11. THEY’RE TIRED OF HEARING THE SAME JOKE OVER AND OVER.

“There’s always the running joke: ‘I wish I could be paid a million dollars to be wrong 80 percent of the time,’” Sistek says. “I wanted to have a contest for who can come up with the best weatherman insult, because we need something new! Let’s get creative here.”

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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