Chuck's history lesson: Death of a president - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Chuck's history lesson: Death of a president

Complain if you will about hot weather, just be careful what you eat. I say that because of the death 165 years ago today of a U.S. president.

Zachary Taylor had been in office a mere 17 months when he contracted an intestinal illness and died July 9, 1850. The 65-year old had appeared in good health days earlier as he celebrated the Fourth of July.

Taylor attended a fund-raising event at the Washington Monument, which was then under construction. The heat was stifling, and the president was out in the sun for at least two hours listening to various speeches.

Upon returning to the White House, Taylor drank chilled milk and ate cherries, which led to severe cramps over the next several days. His doctor diagnosed the illness as cholera, but gastroenteritis seems to be the likely culprit.

When fever developed his condition worsened, and Taylor passed away in the Executive Mansion at 10:35 pm. He was the second chief executive in nine years to die in office.  William Henry Harrison was the first to go in 1841.  

Taylor may not be remembered as a great president, but he was a sure fire war hero. His actions in the Mexican American War drew comparisons to George Washington and Andrew Jackson. It also helped him get elected president in 1848.    

Folks really dug the former soldier, who earned the nickname “Old Rough and Ready.” A hundred years later, they dug him for another reason.

Taylor’s body was exhumed in 1991 to put to rest rumors he had been poisoned. He hadn’t. Scientists feel the milk and cherries may have been contaminated by open sewers in the nation’s capital. Some might say the place is still a sewer.

Little known fact about Zachary Taylor: Confederate president Jefferson Davis was his son-in-law at one time. Davis married to Taylor’s daughter “Knoxie” in June of 1835. She died a scant three months later of malaria.   

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