To most, President’s Day is just a day off from work, a break from school, or the perfect opportunity to save big on a new car. But let’s take a break from our Netflix binge or car shopping and pay tribute to the people we have to thank for this three-day weekend: the Presidents.
This American Holiday was originally celebrated every February 22nd – the birthday of our very first President, Mr. George Washington. In 1971, the federal government moved the holiday to the third Monday of every February in order to create more three-day weekends. This date change was accompanied by a name change, too. The holiday formerly known as “Washington’s Birthday” would now be referred to as “President’s Day” and would honor all presidents.
Our country has had some pretty great presidents, but Washington always seems to stand out amongst them all. His reputation as a strong, heroic, and almost mystical figure has only augmented over the years, formed in part by all of the crazy myths and legends surrounding him. So, we are going to bust open some of these myths and get to know the real George Washington.
George Washington myth #1: He chopped down a cherry tree
Legend has it that when George Washington was six years old, he was given a hatchet as a gift (not the most age-appropriate choice, if you ask me). So little George put his new “toy” to use and chopped down his father’s cherry tree. When an angry Mr. Washington confronted his son about the tree, George nobly said, “I cannot tell a lie..” and confessed to his wrong-doing.
As you probably could have guessed, this little anecdote never actually happened. But where did this myth come from? After Washington’s death in 1799, the nation was eager to learn more about this iconic national hero. A biographer by the name of Mason Locke Weems decided to give the people a bit more information on Washington, while making some Washingtons for himself (for the sake of this pun, let’s pretend the current American dollar bill existed back then). So Weems concocted the cherry tree story thinking that it would be interesting enough to sell, and based on the success of the biography, he was right.
George Washington myth #2: He wore a wig
Although it was very common for men to wear wigs during this time period, Mr. Washington liked to keep it au natural. Most of his peers would show up to the state house with their wigs curled into elaborate hair styles, but George preferred a simple pony-tail. Who has time to worry about their hair when you’re busy being President?
George Washington myth #3: He had wooden teeth
There’s no doubt that Washington’s teeth were less than perfect. From the dozens of diary entries referencing tooth aches and complications, to the stacks of papers documenting dentist visits, it’s evident that Washington did not have a million dollar smile. He did in fact wear dentures, but contrary to popular belief, they were not made out of wood.
While the origin of this myth remains unknown, historians say it was possible that in their worn down state, it’s possible that his dentures resembled wood. Washington went through several sets of false teeth, made of everything from ivory, to gold, to real human teeth – but never wood.
George Washington myth #4: He threw a silver dollar across the Potomac River
Let’s break this one down:
1) The silver dollar did not even exist during George Washington’s time.
2) The Potomac is about a mile wide.
Does this one sound probable to you? Yeah, me neither. This tall tale was probably thought up to convey Washington’s reputation as a strong and able man.
These elusive legends may not be true, but they were created based on Washington’s real virtues: his honesty, strength, and – well – overall awesomeness. So George, thanks for all that you did for our country. And…thanks for the three-day weekend!
Travel with your students on an educational trip to Washington D.C. and experience history!