The Last Words of 38 Presidents

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Getty Images

Some are eloquent quotes worthy of the holders of the highest office in the nation, and others... aren’t.

1. George Washington

"'Tis well."

2. John Adams

"Thomas Jefferson survives." What Adams didn't know was that Jefferson had actually passed away several hours earlier.

3. Thomas Jefferson

His last recorded words are "No, doctor, nothing more," but the three people present at the time of his death all noted that he either stated or asked about the date shortly before his death. The date: July Fourth, of course. History likes to remember him as closing out his time on earth with this fitting speech: “Is it the Fourth? I resign my spirit to God, my daughter, and my country.”

4. James Madison

“Nothing more than a change of mind, my dear.” It was his response when one of his nieces asked him “What is the matter?”

5. James Monroe

“I regret that I should leave this world without again beholding him”—"him” being James Madison, one of his best friends.

6. John Quincy Adams

“This is the last of earth. I am content.” JQA actually had a stroke on the floor of the House of Representatives and died in the Speaker's Room in the Capitol Building.

7. Andrew Jackson

“I hope to meet each of you in heaven. Be good, children, all of you, and strive to be ready when the change comes.”

8. Martin Van Buren

“There is but one reliance.”

9. William Henry Harrison

Spoken to Veep John Tyler: “I understand the true principles of the government. I wish them carried out. I ask nothing more.”

10. John Tyler

“Perhaps it is best.”

11. James K. Polk

“I love you, Sarah. For all eternity, I love you.” Sarah, as you might have already assumed, was his wife. Sarah lived for another 42 years.

12. Zachary Taylor

“I regret nothing, but I am sorry to leave my friends.” I bet what he really meant was, “I regret nothing, except for snacking on those cherries.”

13. Millard Fillmore

“The nourishment is palatable.” He was commenting about some soup he had just been fed. By the way, does Fillmore look particularly attractive to you? Queen Victoria once said he was the most handsome man she had ever laid eyes upon.

14. Franklin Pierce

No last words seem to have been recorded for Pierce, though given his tragic life, perhaps they were words of relief that it was finally ending. In lieu of Franklin Pierce, I give you Ben Franklin's final words: "A dying man can do nothing easy,” he said, after his daughter asked him to change positions in bed.

15. James Buchanan

“Oh, Lord God Almighty, as thou wilt!”

16. Abraham Lincoln

“She won’t think anything about it.” His remark was to his wife, who was wondering what their female theater companion would think if she saw Mary Todd "hanging" on her husband so.

17. Andrew Johnson

“Oh, do not cry. Be good children and we shall meet in heaven.” Rather similar to Andrew Jackson's last words, aren't they?

18. Ulysses S. Grant

“Water.” Grant was suffering from throat cancer and couldn't speak much, but he did write something more poignant shortly before his death: "There was never one more willing to go than I am."

19. Rutherford B. Hayes

“I know I am going where Lucy is.” His wife, teetotaling "Lemonade" Lucy, had died four years before.

20. James Garfield

“Swaim, can’t you stop the pain?” Garfield, who had been shot by an assassin months before, was napping in his room in the company of good friends General David Swaim and Colonel A.F. Rockwell. About 15 minutes into his nap, he awoke, clutching his heart, and spoke his final words to Swaim.

21. Chester A. Arthur

They’re apparently not recorded, a friend said “almost” his last words were, “Life is not worth living.”

22. Grover Cleveland

“I have tried so hard to do right.”

23. Benjamin Harrison

“Are the doctors here? Doctor, my lungs...” Harrison died of pneumonia.

24. William McKinley

“Goodbye, all, goodbye. It is God’s way. His will be done.”

25. Teddy Roosevelt

“Put out the light.” He was speaking to his valet right before he went to sleep. He died sometime during the night.

26. William Howard Taft

His words were not recorded for posterity, but I thought you might enjoy a picture of him anyway.

27. Woodrow Wilson

“When the machinery is broken... I am ready."

28. Warren G. Harding

“That’s good. Go on, read some more.” His wife had been reading him an article about himself from the  Saturday Evening Post.

29. Calvin Coolidge

“Good morning, Robert.” He greeted a carpenter working on his house, then died of coronary thrombosis shortly thereafter.

What he told a friend not long before his death is perhaps more fitting: "I feel I no longer fit in with these times."

30. Herbert Hoover

We don’t know the last words he spoke, but the last words he is known to have written were a get well message to Harry Truman, who hit his head on the bathtub after slipping in his bathroom. In a telegram, Hoover wrote, “Bathtubs are a menace to ex-presidents for as you may recall a bathtub rose up and fractured my vertebrae when I was in Venezuela on your world famine mission in 1946. My warmest sympathy and best wishes for your speedy recovery.”

31. Franklin Delano Roosevelt

“I have a terrific headache.” He suffered a cerebral hemorrhage a few minutes later.

32. Harry Truman

Truman's words are unknown, but his Vice President's last words were actually caught on tape. Veep Alben W. Barkley was giving a keynote address and had just said the words, "I'm glad to sit on the back row, for I would rather be a servant in the House of the Lord than to sit in the seats of the mighty," when a heart attack struck him on stage.

33. Dwight D. Eisenhower

“I want to go. God take me.”

34. John F. Kennedy

"No, you certainly can't." Kennedy said this in response to his fellow passenger, Nellie Connally, the wife of governor John Connally. She had just remarked, "You certainly can’t say that the people of Dallas haven’t given you a nice welcome, Mr. President."

You'll occasionally read that Kennedy's last words were “My God, I’ve been hit."

35. Lyndon B. Johnson

“Send Mike immediately.” Mike was his Secret Service agent who was housed in a compound 100 yards away from the main house at Johnson's Texas ranch. When agents arrived in Johnson's bedroom, he was already dead.

36. Richard Nixon

“Help.” He said this to a housekeeper as he had a stroke in 1994. Though he remained alert for a period of time after he was taken to the hospital, he was unable to speak.

37. Gerald Ford

Gerald Ford's last words are not known.

38. Ronald Reagan

Reagan's last words have not been shared with the public, but his daughter Patti shared his final moments:

At the last moment when his breathing told us this was it, he opened his eyes and looked straight at my mother. Eyes that hadn‘t opened for days, did. And they weren‘t chalky or vague. They were clear, and blue, and full of love. If a death can be lovely, his was. In his last moment, he taught me that there is nothing stronger than love between two people, two souls ... It was the last thing he could do in this world to show my mother how entwined their souls are ... and it was everything.

How Gracie Allen and the Surprise Party Got 1940s America Excited to Vote

Gracie Allen laughed her way to a presidential run in 1940.
Gracie Allen laughed her way to a presidential run in 1940.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to run for an unprecedented third term, the competition seemed to stop trying. The GOP pinned their hopes on a political novice, Wendell Wilkie. The socialist and prohibition parties put their unflexed muscles behind relative unknowns. For FDR, the race seemed to be a lock. That is, until George Burns decided to shake things up.

In early 1940, the comedian hatched a scheme to have his wife and comic partner Gracie Allen run for office as the “Surprise Party” candidate. When Allen made her announcement on the couple’s radio show that February, she and Burns thought they’d get a few chuckles and some promotional buzz. To the pair’s shock, the idea caught on with the glum electorate.

It didn’t matter that Allen’s platform made no sense. One of her proposed programs involved offering correspondence courses for unemployed workers, so they could fail to find jobs in three or four different industries. She also refused to share the ticket with a vice presidential nominee, claiming she didn’t want any vice in the White House, and promised to settle the Florida-California border dispute.

Black and white image of women in formal attire
"Presidential hopeful" Gracie Allen (far right) with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (center) at a March 1940 event.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Although the stunt was obviously a joke, “Vote for Gracie” buttons popped up around the country. Harvard students pledged their support for Allen’s campaign. A Minnesota town offered her its mayoral job. Allen and Burns’s modest stunt went as viral as anything could in pre-YouTube days. The pair even mounted a “real” campaign, with Allen embarking on a 34-city whistle-stop train tour that drew hundreds of thousands of supporters.

The silliness escalated. In May of 1940, the Surprise Party held its own convention. All 8000 “delegates” in attendance threw their support behind the Gracie Allen ticket. But shortly after the event, the comedian put the brakes on her gag campaign. In a rare serious moment, Allen acknowledged the country was in rough shape. Everyone had enjoyed the laugh, but it was time for the real candidates to get their messages out.

In the end, Roosevelt beat Wilkie, piling up over 27 million popular votes on his way to a third term. Oddly, several thousand Americans still cast their votes for a dark horse candidate who had ended her campaign months earlier: Gracie Allen of the Surprise Party.

18 Surprising Things Stolen From Libraries

The 17th-century Samuel de Champlain map of New France was stolen from the Boston Public Library.
The 17th-century Samuel de Champlain map of New France was stolen from the Boston Public Library.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

It’s no secret that library books disappear. Many are misshelved and eventually resurface. Others are lost by library users, and some are borrowed and kept long after their return date. In many cases, the borrower pays the corresponding fine—just ask Emily Canellos-Simms, who returned a book to the Kewanee Public Library in Illinois a full 47 years late, at a cost of $345.14.

Then there’s theft, a common problem for libraries both big and small. In some of the most costly cases, these thefts are carried out by dedicated “tome raiders” who target rare books, maps, and documents, normally to sell to collectors. But it’s not always books that go missing: In recent decades, everything from presidential rocking chairs to swords and skeletons have been stolen from libraries across the world.

1. Alan Turing’s Order of the British Empire and other memorabilia

When Julia Schinghomes visited Alan Turing’s former school in Dorset, England, in 1984, she quietly walked out with an entire collection of artifacts Turing's mother had donated to the library. Bizarrely, the woman later wrote to the library to express her joy at having the items in her possession before returning some pieces by mail. But she held on to Turing’s OBE medal, his diploma from Princeton, school report cards, and a letter from King George VI. In 2018, the same woman offered the items to the University of Colorado, but under a different name: Julia Turing. She claimed to be related to the mathematician, but it’s believed she was just a Turing-obsessed superfan. The Department of Homeland Security confiscated the items, and there's now a lawsuit to have them officially forfeited to the U.S. government.

2. A 400-year-old Geneva bible

People working at desks inside a library
The interior of the main branch of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

A Geneva Bible, published in 1615, was one of the rarest books to disappear from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Library during one of the largest library heists ever recorded. The pilfering, which took place over two decades, was allegedly an inside job. So far 40 books have been recovered, including the bible. It was sold to the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum in the Netherlands for $1200 and returned to Pittsburgh when the museum’s owners realized it had been stolen.

3. President Harry S. Truman’s diamond-studded swords and daggers

In 1978, thieves broke into the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri—but they weren’t looking for books. Their target was a case in the lobby that contained swords, scabbards, and daggers gifted to Truman by Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Saud and the Shah of Iran. The weapons, which were variously decorated with gold, diamonds, emeralds, and rubies, had a combined value of more than $1 million. The robbery took less than a minute and the items have never been recovered.

4. A copy of Columbus’s first letter from the New World

In 1875, the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice, Italy, acquired a Latin copy of the first letter Christopher Columbus wrote to Ferdinand, King of Spain, describing his discoveries in the Americas. The letter, known as the Plannck I edition, was stolen from the library between 1985 and 1988. It disappeared without a trace, until, in May 2003, a collector unwittingly purchased the letter from a rare book dealer in the United States. He was tracked down by investigators, and the copy was examined and found to be the genuine Plannck I. The owner agreed to turn the document over, which must have been a crushing blow, considering its estimated market value of $1.3 million.

5. A “holey dollar” and other rare coins

An Australian "holey dollar" against a white background
A single "holey dollar" is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
State Library of New South Wales, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0 AU

When a thief broke into an armored glass display case in the State Library of New South Wales, he managed to make off with 12 Australian coins with a total value of almost $1 million AUD ($660,995.00 USD). The earliest and by far the most expensive coin was a “holey dollar,” the first currency minted in Australia. Only around 300 holey dollars are known to exist today. The stolen coins were never recovered.

6. President John F. Kennedy’s rocking chair

After the death of John F. Kennedy, his family entrusted Kennedy’s longtime personal secretary, Evelyn Lincoln, with the safekeeping of his personal effects. Lincoln was tasked with gathering together all the items while Kennedy’s family decided which to keep and which to donate to the Kennedy Library. Lincoln, however, decided to hold onto many of the pieces, including Kennedy’s rocking chair from the Oval Office, eventually giving them away or selling them. It was not until 2003 that the National Archives and Records Administration managed to reacquire many of the objects.

7. A copy of Ukraine’s oldest printed book

In 2017, a copy of the Apostolos, the first book printed in modern-day Ukraine, went missing from Ukraine’s National Conservation Center. At the same time, an artist working on the book’s restoration also went missing, prompting an ongoing search for both the book and the man. The man’s wife later phoned the library, promising her husband would return to explain everything. He never did. It wasn't the first time a version of the 16th-century tome disappeared. Another copy of the Apostolos, valued at around $150,000, went missing the year before, stolen from the Vernadsky National Library by a man claiming to be a supervisory authority.

8. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s official portrait and inaugural address

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York, has been the scene of two notable disappearances. In 2004, the library’s director realized a 5-foot-by-4-foot portrait of FDR had mysteriously disappeared. Apparently the painting had been left in a shipping crate upon its return from a loan at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. It was never seen again, and was either stolen from the crate or accidentally thrown away. Later, in 2011, two men were arrested in the library while trying to steal documents. The FBI raided the apartment of one of the men, where they found 10,000 stolen items, including seven copies of FDR’s 1937 inaugural address, all previously stolen from his presidential library.

9. A 17th-century Samuel de Champlain map of New France

Before his arrest and conviction in 2006, the notorious American art thief Forbes Smiley had stolen at least 97 rare maps valued at more than $3 million. One of his favorite haunts was the Boston Public Library, whose map collection was a relatively easy target for Smiley. One map that went missing from the library was the 17th-century Samuel de Champlain map of New France, which details an area stretching from current day Maine to Quebec and Newfoundland. Smiley never admitted to stealing the map, but he was the last person to view it, according to library records.

10. A fiberglass skeleton was stolen from an Australian city library.

In 2017, the Adelaide City Library was hosting a traveling exhibition by the Australian Orthopaedic Association. It’s fair to say no one was expecting a heist. However, the exhibition was infiltrated by a group of three men pretending to be council workers. Their target, for reasons unknown, was a fiberglass skeleton with a street value of about $300 USD. The men were caught on CCTV cameras casually walking out of the library and then boarding a bus, accompanied by the skeleton. No one was ever arrested for the crime.

11. Lyndon B. Johnson’s class ring

Lyndon B. Johnson gave a speech to the Coast Guard Academy’s graduating class of 1964. As a thank you, the Academy presented LBJ and Lady Bird Johnson with customized class rings made of 14-carat gold with yellow sapphire settings. The president's ring was gifted to the LBJ Presidential Library in 1970, but disappeared in 1989 during library renovations. To this day, no one knows if the ring was stolen or simply misplaced during the remodeling.

12. The Well of the Scribes sculpture

Exterior of the Los Angeles Central Library entrance
The Los Angeles Central Library has been without the Well of the Scribes since 1969..
Karen, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In 1969, the Los Angeles Central Library demolished its entire West Lawn to make room for more parking space. One of the main features of the lawn was the Well of the Scribes, a bronze sculptural basin weighing more than 3000 pounds. During the renovations, it somehow disappeared. Fifty years later, the city librarian received a call from an antique store owner in Arizona, who claimed to have in his possession a panel from the Well of the Scribes. It checked out. The man had purchased the piece—one of three panels from the sculpture—10 years previously for $500, from a woman who had kept it in her garden. It was returned to the library, and the search for the other two panels continues.

13. A Boer War veteran's diaries and possessions

The South Australian State Library was once home to Boer War artifacts belonging to an Australian soldier and ornithologist named Captain Samuel Albert White. The items included diaries, letters, photographs, uniform badges, a fob watch, and a compass, which together formed a compelling history of Captain White’s experiences. In 2015, the library informed the police that the entire collection was missing. But this was no smash and grab theft: The collection had been housed in a non-public storage area, raising suspicions of an inside job. So far, the artifacts have not been recovered.

14. A 15th-century register of blacksmiths' statutes

The Biblioteca Passerini-Landi in Piacenza, Italy, is yet more proof that renovations are a prime time for thievery. While the library was undergoing repairs in 1985, 145 rare volumes were stolen, including a priceless manuscript called Matricula et statuta paratici fabrorum ferrariorum, which documents the economic exchange and work of blacksmiths in Piacenza in the 15th century. The Carabinieri art squad, which had been trying to track down the book for decades, eventually found it on an internet auction site for the measly sum of 600 euros, far less than its actual value. It was returned to the library.

15. The first Prime Minister of India's gold dagger

A black and white headshot of Jawaharlal Nehru
Jawaharlal Nehru served as Prime Minister of India from 1947 to 1964.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, died in 1964, many of the gifts he had received from visiting dignitaries were given to the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in New Delhi. One such item was a janbiya, a gold dagger with a short curved blade, presented to Nehru by the King of Saudi Arabia. In 2016, library staff discovered a display case containing the dagger, as well as a precious ivory box and a scroll container, had been broken. Only the dagger had been removed. Two of the museum’s sanitation workers were eventually arrested. They pleaded guilty and admitted to stealing the dagger as a means to pay off their debts.

16. Rare LDS books and an original portrait of Porter Rockwell

In 2018, the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, was the target of a self-proclaimed Latter-day Saints antiquities dealer. The culprit, Kevin Mark Ronald Schuwer, checked out eight books valued at $300 each, having first switched the barcodes with other tomes. He also stole an original photo of Porter Rockwell, a Wild West lawman known as “The Destroying Angel of Mormondom,” which he replaced with a fake copy to avoid detection. Schuwer’s scheme eventually fell apart after he sold the items to collectors, partly because the books had markings that showed they belonged to the university.

17. Rare medical books

When books began disappearing from the Moody Medical Library in 1989, suspicion soon fell upon Emil Frey, the head librarian at the University of Texas Medical Branch, where the library is located. During the course of the year, some 80 books had vanished from the 12,000-volume rare book collection. Frey was only charged for five of the missing books, which were valued between $750 and $20,000.

18. Individual pages from ancient books

In 2009, a millionaire named Farhad Hakimzadeh was found guilty of stealing individual pages from ancient books from both the British Library and Oxford’s Bodleian Library. Using a scalpel, he carefully stripped out pages from 16th- and 17th-century tomes, including a 500-year-old map painted by Henry Vlll’s court artist. When suspicion fell on Hakimzadeh, investigators found that of the 842 volumes he had requested, 112 had been mutilated. Police raided his flat in London and found more than 100 pages from the ancient books, some with intriguing titles such as Unheard-of Curiosities and A History of Monsters. Hakimzadeh claimed his obsessive-compulsive bibliomania drove him to remove the pages to complete his own vast collection, even telling the court that on his wedding night he left his bed to go polish his books. The court was unsympathetic and sentenced him to two years in prison.

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