10. John Tyler

Sherwood Forest (October 18, 2006)

John Tyler was, first and foremost, commander-in-chief of the uterus.

Our most fertile leader, Tyler had 15 children. FIFTEEN. His first wife had 8 kids, then died, presumably when her lady parts fell out from exhaustion. But John had to have it, so he saddled up a woman 30 years his junior and seeded her seven times. You just don't see that kind of brazen pipe-laying from our politicians these days, probably because they can't legally own slaves to take care of their ravenous horde. Illegal-immigrant housekeepers, sure; but that's a dicey bet in these modern times.

You can learn all this, and not much else, with a visit to Sherwood Forest Plantation, Tyler's retirement home in Charles City County, Va. You can't learn much because it's still a private residence owned by Harrison Ruffin Tyler, J.T.'s 78-year-old grandson.

So there's no cool house tour by a costumed docent who knows all kinds of great stories about which surfaces kids 9 through 15 were conceived on. If you get together nine of your closest friends and you all are willing to pay $35 each to see the schwag J.T. looted from the White House, a house tour can be arranged. But if you have nine friends with $35 of interest in John Tyler, worry more about getting some new friends. Pronto.

All that's left for the lone traveler is a self-guided walking tour of the property. And may I say, meh. They bill the Tyler home as the country's longest frame house, at 300 feet. That sounds cool on paper, but in practice it means you're looking at your rich uncle's weatherbeaten lake home. They connected a few outbuildings to the main structure via long, narrow rooms, so that's where the length comes in -- it's just sort of slapped together. It doesn't even look all that old, probably since it's been updated for use as a modern residence. You could drop an above-ground pool in the backyard and it wouldn't look out of place. It's seems odd, but in the days before mandatory "Larry King Live" appearances I guess it was OK for ex-presidents to chill out and focus on yardwork and home improvement projects.

The highlight of the grounds is the oldest ginkgo tree in America, so if you have kids and you're reading this, cancel your Disney World plans. You have a new destination. They'll thank you when they're older.

But let's cut the crap and get to what you all came for: FUN TYLER FACTS!

  • Taking over for the suddenly lethargic William Henry Harrison in 1841, Tyler was the first president not elected to the post. He was given the nickname "His Accidency," due to the circumstances of his ascension, and also because he had some bad dairy before his first Cabinet meeting and sat in a leather chair.
  • Holds the presidential record for offspring (15). Often waited tables at night to help make ends meet.
  • Widowed in office, and with his second marriage (at age 54) became the first president to get hitched while serving as president (to be followed by Cleveland and Wilson). His second wife was five years younger (24) than his oldest daughter at the time of their wedding, a fact which male historians in their 50s agree is totally f*n hot.
  • Selected for the 1840 Whig ticket because he was the father of enough Southern voters to swing the campaign.
  • Raised with a strong belief in states' rights, which is the polite way to call someone a slave-owning racist.
  • The Whigs expelled Tyler in 1841 for repeatedly vetoing their Congressional initiatves. He served the remainder of his term as the founder and leader of the SuperAwesome Fun Insiders Club for Winners Party. At a tremendous White House soiree just before leaving office, he allegedly said, "Now no one can say that I am a presdient without a party." But it was a cash bar, so no one laughed.
  • Purchased the Walnut Grove plantation, just miles away from his birthplace, in 1842. He renamed it Sherwood Forest because had been "outlawed" from the Whig Party, and also because "Walnut Grove" sounds like a gay nightclub.
  • Tyler's outhouse featured three seats in one communal room, making it significantly smaller than James Buchanan's epic five-seat Wheatland crapper. Suck on that, Virginia.
  • His resume included stints in the Virginia House of Delegates, the Virginia Senate, the House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, and the Virginia governorship. Under "special skills" he included "impregnating anything that moves," "I have a slave that can write 60 wpm," and "fast dancing."
  • Died in 1862 as an elected member of the first Confederate House of Representatives. And yet the school across from my house in Southeast DC is named John Tyler Elementary. Huh.

Here's the "wine house." It was originally built to cure tobacco, then it got converted into Tyler's liquor cabinet. If you look closely behind the utility pole to the right, you'll see John Tyler's Range Rover.

And here's Tyler's grave, in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. He wanted to be buried at Sherwood Forest, but the Civil War put a crimp in those plans. Just behind Tyler's grave (in the black metal cage) is James Monroe -- two presidents are buried within spitting distance of each other.

One man's quest to be the humblest person alive
Copyright 2013, Chris White