This Anecdote About John Tyler Could Save Your Thanksgiving


This story has everything.

This holiday season, I’m here to help you avoid awkward small talk and divisive modern politics with an insane but true story about President John Tyler that’s perfect for sharing. It’s got everything you could ask for – action, tragedy, disaster, romance – even a boat, because your uncle loves boats!

Just memorize your lines and you’re guaranteed to stave off at least five minutes of uncomfortable questions about your progress in life.

Without further ado, allow me to present a dramatic pre-enactment of you sharing the story of John Tyler and the Peacemaker:

FADE IN:

INT. AUNT MOLLY’S DINING ROOM – DAY

You sit at a table full of food, surrounded by your extended family and waiting for someone to bring up President John Tyler. The perfect segue never comes, so you wait for any possible opening…

              AUNT MOLLY
(to you)
I forgot to ask, did you ever achieve that creative dream you were working on?

              YOU
Not yet. But I was just reading about this really crazy story that happened to John Tyler. It’s almost unbelievable.

              AUNT MOLLY
Oh? Your uncle loves Aerosmith.

              YOU
No, I’m talking about John Tyler, the tenth president. He became president after William Henry Harrison died just one month into his term.

              UNCLE RICK
Oh, yeah. He’s the one who got pneumonia because he wouldn’t wear a jacket when he gave his inaugural address.

              AUNT MOLLY
I guess that showed him!

              YOU
That’s a popular story, but they think he actually died because of contaminated water. The human waste outside the White House, which they called “night soil,” seeped into the water. Hey, these yams are great.

              MOM
Thank you, it’s a new recipe.

              YOU
So John Tyler was part of this super fancy cruise up the Potomac on this boat The Princeton…this big event for dignitaries. There were 400 people aboard. Dolley Madison was there, she was like 75 years old at this point.

              GRANDMA
It sounds like the Titanic. Did you see that Titanic movie? They really did that, you know.

              YOU
It’s not the Titanic. So they’re going up the Potomac, past Mount Vernon, and they’re demonstrating these brand new cannons, including one called The Peacemaker, the biggest cannon in the world up till then—

              GRANDPA
We don’t have big cannons anymore. Now everyone is so PC all the time.

              MOM
I can’t believe I forgot the rolls. I’m so sorry.

              DAD
It’s fine. Just sit down, you’ve done enough. Just sit and eat. Stop standing. Sit down.

              YOU
So they’re passing Mount Vernon and the crowd along the shore is going nuts. Boom! Boom! Boom! And they decide to fire one more time.

              AUNT MOLLY
Uh oh! I hope there’s not more night soil.

              YOU
No… So they fire again and The Peacemaker can’t handle it. The whole thing explodes on the boat. Total chaos. Literally tons of shrapnel. Liquid metal everywhere.

              AUNT MOLLY
We still have an old Canon printer. I’m surprised that thing hasn’t blown up yet!

              YOU
Four people are killed, including two of the President’s Cabinet members. His Secretary of State and Secretary of the Navy, just ripped apart, obliterated, just like that.

              AUNT MOLLY
Can you imagine? We brined the turkey for 36 hours, that’s why it’s so tender.

              DAD
I wondered. Maybe that’s why salmon is so tender, because they spend so much of their lives in saltwater. They’re pretty much always brining.

              MOM
Until they return to freshwater to spawn. And then, once their biological purpose is complete, they die.

              COUSIN OLIVIA
(seven years old)
What’s obliterated?

              YOU
Totally destroyed. John Tyler only survived because he was below deck. One of the men who died was named John Gardiner, a bigwig New York lawyer. His daughter Julia was on board too. She was 23 and basically one of the first supermodels – they called her The Rose of Long Island. Her portrait was used in advertisements, she was famous.

              BROTHER
(weirdly)
Like the Black Dahlia?

              YOU
I don’t think so.

Your brother gives you the middle finger.

              DAD
You know, your mother was almost in a Sears catalog once.

              MOM
Things could have been so different.

              DAD
Why aren’t there any rolls?

              YOU
So Julia’s father is killed and she passes out, and guess who carries her to safety? John Tyler. She’s this 23-year-old socialite and he’s a 53-year-old president of the United States who had just been widowed a year earlier.

              GRANDMA
That’s how it was back then.

              YOU
Apparently he was already super into her and had proposed before, but this tragic accident sealed the deal. Four months later, they got married. In secret.

              AUNT MOLLY
Well we can never know what it was like to be them. I’m sorry there’s no gluten free dessert. You could have ice cream, or maybe just eat the inside of the pies.

              UNCLE RICK
Remember that time in Italy, Molly?

              AUNT MOLLY
You mean with the pies?

They both laugh too much.

              AUNT MOLLY
What was the name of that place? “La” something?

              UNCLE RICK
Yeah… It was, uh, Laaaaaaa…………

Uncle Rick trails off forever.

              YOU
So this was in 1844. After they got married, John and Julia Tyler had seven children together. And their fourth son, Lyon, had six kids. Here’s the incredible thing: Two of Lyon’s kids are still alive. John Tyler, the tenth president, who was born in 1790, has two grandsons who are alive today!

              DAD
That can’t be right.

              YOU
It’s totally right. This turkey really is super tender.

              GRANDPA
It sounds like an inside job to me. I’d look into that Tyler, and his first wife’s death. And Harrison’s, for that matter!

              GRANDMA
Are you sure they weren’t on the Titanic?

              COUSIN OLIVIA
I could obliterate some rolls right now.

Your mom drinks all the wine.

 

FADE OUT.

 

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9 Comments

  1. Charlie MacNeill
    November 27, 2019 / 2:33 pm

    …and then everyone falls asleep watching Cowboys v Bills

  2. Ronald DeGregorio
    November 27, 2019 / 7:50 pm

    This was absolutely hilarious.

    • Howard Dorre
      Author
      November 27, 2019 / 8:05 pm

      Thank you!

  3. Tony
    November 28, 2019 / 5:42 am

    Someone ought to tell the White House historians about the “Night Soil” theory, because they tell the no jacket/inaugural address theory to visitors.

    • Howard Dorre
      Author
      November 28, 2019 / 10:31 am

      Let me at ‘em!

      The White House Historical Association is generally exceptional when it comes to accurate history, but some legends (like John Quincy Adams’s skinny dipping ambush interview) are so ingrained that it’s hard for them to change their ways.

  4. Chuck Bingaman
    November 28, 2019 / 9:35 am

    Great story Peter! Will use it today! Chuck Bingaman

    • Howard Dorre
      Author
      November 28, 2019 / 10:28 am

      Thanks, Chuck! (And Peter.)

  5. Cjdilks
    November 29, 2019 / 12:11 pm

    This is great. Wished that I had had it yesterday! Actually, yesterday only had one rule…

    No politics at the table. My house, my rules. It was delightful. Hope your day was, as well.

    • Howard Dorre
      Author
      November 29, 2019 / 12:57 pm

      There’s always next year!

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