If you ever have wondered what it might be like to sit in one of my classes, I have three words: obscure presidential trivia.
When Mary Truman-Daniel died in January of 2008, John Eisenhower became the oldest (in age as well as in order of presidents) living presidential child by a comfortable margin; the 86 year-old military historian's closest competitor is Lynda Robb (Johnson), age 64. Since it is historically common for Presidents to be older and have children who are either adults or at least teenagers there are very few cases of children living sixty or seventy years beyond their parent's presidency. Eisenhower is going to take a decent run at it.
Barack Obama, in fact, is noteworthy in how young his children are. His daughter Natasha is about to turn 8. In the 20th Century, only JFK's children ("John-John", who died in 1999 and Caroline, age 51) were younger when their father took office at ages 1 and 5, respectively. Amy Carter, who was just under 10, is the only other child to sneak into the single digits in that era. You'd have to go back more than a century to Theodore Roosevelt's sons Quentin (who died in the trenches in WWI) and Archie to find children under 10.
Like the rest of our society, 20th Century presidents had fewer children than their predecesors. FDR, with 5, and the apparently virile George H.W. Bush, with 6 (one died in infancy), were the most prodigious. Comparatively, many 19th Century presidents did as people commonly did in that era – had tons of kids and assumed 1/3rd of them would die. While some had a small number (Buchanan, Polk, etc.) there were a few whoppers. Hayes had 8 kids. William Henry Harrison had more kids (10) than he had weeks as President. And the honor of the most active wang goes to John Tyler, who had enough kids (15) to fill out an NBA roster.
Now. Are you ready to have your mind blown?
Who might you guess is the earliest president, chronologically, to have a grandchild alive today? Don't cheat. Guess.
My immediate guess was the aforementioned Theodore Roosevelt. Knowing that he had two children who were born in the 1890s, it seemed conceivable that a grandchild might be alive today albeit very old. Sure enough, TR has one surviving grandkid: son Archie's daughter Nancy is alive and 85 years old. But she doesn't take the cake.
Keeping in mind that Barack Obama is the 44th President, does it blow your mind to know that the correct answer is John Tyler? The tenth President!? The man who was President in 1841? As ridiculous as that sounds, it happens to be entirely true. As noted earlier, Tyler had a very productive wang. And it didn't tire with age: his last three children were born when Tyler was 63, 66, and 70. The first of that trio, Lyon G. Tyler (bitchin' name, for the record), inherited his father's reproductive prowess. Lyon, born in 1853, also had children throughout his life and into old age. In fact he had sons born in 1924 and 1928 when he was 71 and 75, respectively. Those two sons, Lyon Jr. (!!!) and Harrison Tyler, are alive today.
So Mr. Harrison Tyler, a chemist, and Lyon Tyler Jr., a college history professor, can tell people that their grandfather was President…twenty goddamn years before Abraham Lincoln. Their grandfather, as a child, made regular weekend visits to hang out with Thomas Jefferson. Their grandfather was born before the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution.
The fact that knowing this stuff is at least indirectly relevant to my job makes me happy.