The Haying FakerOn October 27, 2021 by Elyse
If you’re reading this post in real time (of course you are—you refresh your inbox every Wednesday until my blog post arrives, right?), join me in singing happy birthday to U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt:
♪ Happy birthday to you! ♪ Happy birthday to you! ♪ Happy birthday, dear Teddy! ♪ Happy birth—
If my terrible voice hasn’t already cracked your computer/tablet/phone screen, count yourself lucky. Off-key singing aside, Roosevelt’s 163rd birthday is as good an excuse as any for a slice of cake, a scoop of ice cream and a sprinkling of random historical trivia.
I bet you didn’t know that along with being a cowboy, author and gym teacher from hell, Roosevelt was a pitchfork wielder extraordinaire. After getting rained on while camping one night on the shores of Cold Spring Harbor, New York—despite having a perfectly good mansion a mere six miles away in Oyster Bay—Roosevelt appeared as hardy as ever the next day:
The President did some good hard farming today. He pitched and mowed a load of hay just in time to save it from a terrific thunderstorm which swept Long Island.– The Morning Astorian, July 18, 1906
It wasn’t a one-time occurrence either:
Newspapers all over the country recently have been devoting much space, many pounds of printer’s ink and tons of white paper to exploiting the prowess of President Roosevelt in the hay field. . . The president, it was said, had pitched hay to a man on top of a load faster than the farm hand could take care of it.
This fact, if it was a fact, was made much of. Farmer Corntassel exhorted his hired help to emulate the strenuous president, and his hired help spat on his hands and tried his durndest. The story was a vote getter among employing farmers, but it didn’t make the president particularly strong with the hired men.– The Los Angeles Herald, July 28, 1907
Never before was a president such a man of the people! . . . Or was he?
According to his backstabbing former attorney general and then-Senator Philander Knox, Roosevelt was guilty of a scandalous political cover-up.
A delegation from Kansas visited President Roosevelt at Oyster Bay. The president met them with coat and collar off, mopping his brow.
“Ah, gentlemen,” he said, “dee-lighted to see you—dee-lighted! But I’m very busy putting in my hay just now. Come down to the barn with me, and we’ll talk things over while I work.”
Down to the barn hustled president and delegation.
Mr. Roosevelt seized a pitchfork and—but where was the hay?
“John!” shouted the president. “John! Where’s all the hay?”
“Sorry, sir,” came John’s voice from the loft, “but I ain’t had time to throw it back since you threw it up for yesterday’s delegation.”– Everybody’s Magazine, quoted in the Essex County Herald, November 22, 1907
Gasp! It’s one thing to lie about an extramarital affair or a break-in at the opposition’s headquarters, but haymaking—in both its literal and figurative forms—is a sacred presidential duty. Roosevelt was lucky the House of Representatives didn’t immediately draw up articles of impeachment.
Roosevelt didn’t run for reelection in 1908, so we’ll never know what impact his brazen deception would’ve had on his electoral prospects that year. However, the ploy didn’t lose him credibility among all his supporters. Roosevelt was “a very forceful and dynamic individual,” according to my great-grandfather. “The only reason I voted for Taft was because Roosevelt said to.”
Like Milton, I’ll give the birthday boy a pass for his hay faking. He did embark on a year-long African safari immediately after leaving the White House, making him far more active than I could ever hope to be.
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Welcome to Second Glance History! This blog seeks to uncover the people and the stories forgotten by history and give them another read through a modern lens. Join me every week as we examine the differences that divide and the common threads that connect the then to the now.