Thomas Jefferson was obsessed with wool and had a killer Shetland ram. Alexander Hamilton and John Adams had an unofficial and mutual hatred society. Andrew Jackson embraced his foul-mouthed parrot, and he wasn’t the only person in the White House to house a rare (and talkative) bird. James Madison had a wicked sense of humor that went beyond his bizarre poetic attempts in college. These are the intriguing stories shared in “Plodding Through the Presidents,” a history podcast sharing presidential drama, mysteries, myths, scandals, irreverent factoids, and more in episodes.
Stream the three seasons’ standalone episodes in any order, with each running an hour on average. Howard and Jessica Dorre are married and host the podcast. So far, the series has released over 20 episodes.
The hosts are sometimes joined by guests and experts like Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky, author of The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution. Dr. Cara Finnegan stopped by an episode to discuss the history of photography and shared fascinating presidential photographs. They analyzed a pic of a super-realistic William Henry Harrison painting, a Mary Lincoln “spirit photograph,” and Abraham Lincoln’s ghost. In this episode, the hosts unpacked Jimmy Carter’s swamp rabbit encounter – with photographic evidence to prove. Dr. Finnegan released a book, Photographic Presidents: Making History From Daguerreotype to Digital.
Howard and Jessica delve into weird coincidences like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson sharing July 4th as their death day. Season 1 episode 4 shared that George Washington and James Madison did not have biological children, yet both had problematic stepsons. We’ll hear how Jacky Custis and John Payne Todd impacted their mothers and stepdads.
Season 2 shared some paranormal stories. Hear about John Adams’ apparition and his “double cousin” Zabdie, appearing while he was still alive. The story was found in a letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams. Another Adams story was about “bier right,” a medieval ritual where cruentation was almost used to determine who was guilty in a trial. This belief claimed that a victim’s body would start bleeding when near its murderer. In the year before the Boston Massacre, Adams was the defense attorney for Elizabeth and Jonathan Eames’ trial. This was allegedly the last time cruentation was attempted at a trial in Massachusetts.
The folklore of rawhead and bloody bones, nursery bugbears to scare kids, was mentioned in quite a few founders’ letters. This was described in 1818 by Thomas Jefferson: “There are fanatics both in religion and politics who, without knowing me personally, have long been taught to consider me as a rawhead & bloody bones.” Howard and Jessica trace the folklore through history, leading back to the 16th century.
In a second paranormal episode, the hosts delve into Andrew Jackson and the Bell Witch, who terrorized Tennessee’s Bell family from 1817-1821. John Quincy Adams had some adventures (allegedly), as detailed in 1859 by the medium biographer, Joseph Stiles.
A bonus episode from season 2 dished on presidents’ love letters from John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Warren G. Harding’s affair with Carrie Fulton Phillips, and more. Season 1 episode 1 covered John and Abigail Adams’ smallpox inoculations and love letters exchanged in their time apart. This episode also discussed Lady Mary Montagu introducing the smallpox inoculation from Turkey to England.
For more lesser-known presidential explorations and mysteries, check out “Plodding Through the Presidents” wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.