Speaker: Outside activities essential to presidential well-being

Speaker: Outside activities essential to presidential well-being

Ever wonder what presidents do outside the White House?

Presidents in the 19th century were interested in hunting and fishing, but 20th century presidents loved golf, a former professor and best-selling author said Wednesday.

Paul F. Boller Jr., best-selling author and TCU emeritus professor of history, explored the hobbies of America’s 43 presidents at an interview symposium Wednesday called “Presidents at Play: Observations by Dr. Paul F. Boller Jr.”

Boller said hobbies have been essential to the health and well-being of presidents.

Bob Ray Sanders, an adjunct journalism professor and Star-Telegram columnist who conducted the interview with Boller, said he was fascinated by Boller’s book and extraordinary mind of history.

Boller said his fascination with presidents came about because of presidents’ diverse personalities.

“If you understand someone’s recreational activities and hobbies, you understand them a little better,” said Boller, who uncovered little-known dimensions of presidents’ lives in his current book “Presidential Diversions: Presidents at Play from George Washington to George W. Bush.”

Boller said former President Dwight D. Eisenhower made the game of golf a “presidential game” because after he played it, every president since then has played, including former President Lyndon B. Johnson.

“LBJ is known for treating the people he worked with like his golf ball. He would coax them, pleaded with them and swore at them,” he said.

Former President Abraham Lincoln had humor as one of his diversions, Boller said. Lincoln thought that humor was crucial during the Civil War and the slaughter of 600,000 Americans, he said.

“Lincoln would be often caught in tears, but if someone could tell him a joke or make him laugh, it would make him feel better.”

Boller also said former President George Washington was an art collector, an image most people don’t think about when recollecting the nation’s first president. They “think of a cherry tree,” Boller said.

Boller called former President Franklin D. Roosevelt the most active of presidents. He said the night before Roosevelt’s inauguration, he invited a heavyweight-champion boxer to the White House to spar and then woke up the next day and delivered a speech he wrote himself.

Boller has written five books about presidents, their wives, campaigns, inaugurations and diversions. Boller said diversions are the games presidents played and their sports and cultural interests.

The best source for information about presidents is their own writings, like letters and diaries, or memoirs of people who knew the president, Boller said.

Despite advancements in technology, Boller said, he still relies on libraries for information.

“If I were to continue writing, I would get into the Internet and computers more,” Boller said. “But for now, I enjoy getting my research myself.”

Sanders said people who aren’t presidential scholars could read Boller’s book and find out certain things they never knew.

“You find out how your favorite president spent their leisure time and official time in office,” Sanders said.

Alice Carter, director of research advancement, said she enjoyed listening to Boller on Wednesday and hearing about the presidents’ lives.

“Boller is very sharp and intelligent,” Carter said. “He has opinions but is able to step back from his opinion and view people in a balanced way.”