Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub

The phone rang at midnight. It was America’s Safety Scold – Bathtub Safety Officer Rafferty, obviously unable to sleep.

BSOR: Today is Millard Fillmore’s birthday. Do you know what he’s famous for?

Me: For being the only person named Millard that anyone has ever heard of?

BSOR: No. He’s famous for being the first President to install and use a bathtub in the White House.

Me: Along with the many other things he did when he was President.

BSOR: There’s nothing. I checked. The bathtub is it.

Me: That’s sad.  All that power and no accomplishments?

BSOR: It gets worse. The bathtub story is a lie. Totally made up by H.L. Mencken to fill a newspaper column one day. It was one of the first recorded instances of somebody inventing a “news” story that other people bought, completely. Even after Mencken announced that the story was false, people continued to believe it. Some folks buy it to this day! It’s incredible. And you know why? Because the story sounds right, and people feel comfortable with it. Just like they feel comfortable in a warm bath on a winter’s night.  But you should never feel comfortable in the bathtub, because the bathtub is the most hazardous appliance in the most dangerous room in the entire house.

Me: And why did you call me at midnight to tell me this?

BSOR: Because Millard Fillmore’s birthday always reminds me that we should never lie about bathtubs!

Me: Or lie about IN bathtubs, right?

BSOR: You do not realize how serious this is.

Me: I guess not.

BSOR: The fake article said doctors were against bathtubs as a general principle because they were a threat to the public health. When Mencken admitted the whole thing was a lie, people assumed there was no threat at all. But Mencken was right! The combination of water, soap, and a smooth, hard surface plus the ever-present devil – gravity … make your bathtub is the most dangerous thing you own!  More dangerous than a snowmobile.  Or a wood chipper!   Or any combination thereof!

Me:  That sounds like an exaggeration worthy of H.L. Mencken.

BSOR:  And yet, each year more people are injured in their own bathtub than are hurt by wood chippers on snowmobiles.  Fact!

Me: Then why is this not the focus of a major public policy debate?

BSOR: Because most people use their bathtubs in private while they are naked. The bathtub-interaction moment is so intimate, there’s a huge sentiment that says the government has no business there. But there are good doctors who seriously question whether we should be allowed to operate bathtubs without a license. They remain silent for fear they will be laughed at.  No one takes the bathtub menace seriously, thanks to Millard Fillmore and H.L. Mencken!

Me: Then this is truly a dark day.

BSOR: That’s why I can’t sleep.

Our conversation went on a lot longer than I care to admit here. If obsessive worrying was classified as a pervasive threat to the public welfare, Bathtub Safety Officer Rafferty would have to cite himself for multiple safety violations, every day. As it is, the possible long-term effects of the Millard Fillmore Bathtub Hoax keep him engaged and annoyingly alert.

Have you ever helped to spread a lie, believing it was true?

75 thoughts on “Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub”

  1. Morning all! Is this one of those days where Dale’s piece alludes to some other current event that I should be able to figure out? It has a feeling about it…. if so, somebody whose brain is more awake than mine — let me know!

    I’m sure there are plenty of non-truths that I have unintentionally involved with. The one that I know about is the poinsettia/cat non-truth. For years I blythely assumed that poinsettias were poisonous to cats because I’d heard/read about it in various places. When we got a cat for the first time, I kept poinsettias out of the house — until it became clear that Zorro doesn’t care a whit about any kind of plant (he doesn’t even like that kitty grass stuff that you can grow). Then a couple of years back, I actually checked into it and discovered the science that has been done. Turns out that there IS something in poinsettias that is toxic to cats but in order to ingest a dire amount of that toxin, an average sized cat would have to eat 10-12 large poinsettias in entirety! So bring on the plants.

    I’ll check back in later…. time for basement remodeling!


    1. Good luck with the basement, VS. We should all keep an eye out for the items you said will be needed when it’s done… tell us again.


      1. Ha ha… she’ll love that!

        The day after the party, our computer fell ill and spent the rest of the holiday season w/ the Geek Squad. Since I don’t type well on my phone, I lurked a little but was quiet. Then I went back to work and had to catch up from being on vacation — going to work early and then very busy once there.

        Basement went well today… we got all the ceiling panels redone and new lightbulbs and lighting panels. Got all the old lineoleum off the steps and got the little bathroom all cleaned and spruced up. Teenager and I went out again tonight to get some little things – doorknob for bathroom, rug/towels, blah, blah, blah. How can money disappear so quickly?

        I’m BEAT — talk to you all tomorrow!


  2. i have taken one of officer raffertys perils out of the equation thereby makingmy bathtub equation less volotile than others. the elimination of soap from the equation makes it only wet and much less slippery which i think is the danger. i found soap is over rated and the stink coming off me is not having to do with stuff stuck on me as it is stuff within me wanting to get out. the soap clogs pores if anything slows down the process and has been excluded along with deorderant for years. my kids recoil even though they understand their odd father has pracrticed these non traditional methids for years. the bathtub can be dangerous but only if you get out. i find if at the end of a long hard day you have a slice of pizza a glass of wine and head for the tub where the playing of tunes or the watching of a movie take precidence over reading a good book, the evening quickly melts away into a joyful expendature of a life segment to be filed away under the pleasurable experience section of the filing system.
    as to millard fillmore
    Definition of Millard: Unit employed for large volumes of water, equal to one cubic kilometer, one-billion (109) cubic meters, or about 810767 acre-feet.
    Millard Fuller: Habitat for Humanity International Founder
    “I see life as both a gift and a responsibility. My responsibility is to use what God has given me to help his people in need.”
    ―Millard Fuller
    millard fillmore got his name form his mothers maiden name, i think he upon reflection was very happy that her name was phoebe millard and not pheobe mahoskowitz.
    as for starting a story that is not true, i would never do such a thing. and i have no evidence that mit romney beats his wife.


  3. today was also the day that the first canned beer was introduced to the world in 1935 thus making america what it is today.
    board games 3-7 tomorrow. come one come all.


      1. that was a funny bit, that and the fact that a mouse could not possibly be found in a can of mountain dew because the body would be completely decomposed by the high level of citric acid in the formula. the mouse gangsters had me rolling.


      2. actually now that i think about it couldnt those sungalsses be used to hide his black eye caused by the beating she gave him. i have no evidence but it seems very logical.


  4. Good morning to all. I’m sure I have been involved in spreading many lies. For the most part I don’t get involved in spreading rumors and as a person with training science I try to avoid giving out false information. Also, I am somewhat defensive, slow to admit that I am wrong about anything, and have conveniently forgot about my involvement in spreading falsehoods.

    I am willing to say that as a very young adult I fell for some of the false information about our country and it’s government. There was a time when I thought Goldwater was the right man to lead the country. Later, I realized that he and many of our other leaders in both major parties were and still are misleading us.


  5. A few years ago I had a falling out with a long time friend. She left town and moved to another part of the US and cut off all contact with me. I didn’t tell anyone about our falling out, out of embarrassment and the fact that I didn’t want to have to go into it all with other people, so people still ask me “What have you heard from D? How is she doing?” While she was well known in town, she had a pretty limited social circle and I was considered the person in town closest to her. I usually say that she is fine but that I haven’t heard from her for a while. It gets pretty tiresome to keep up the charade and I have been tempted to start making things about her, just to get people to stop asking me about her. One story I have considered, given this is such a Roman Catholic community, is to tell people that she gave up her career to join an order of Discalced Carmelite nuns and now she can’t wear shoes or have any contact with the outside world and I would never hear from her again. Given the gossipy nature of our community, it would be all over town in a flash, people wouldn’t necessarily know that I started the story, and would be talking about her with one another and not with me. I suppose this speaks to a bit of unresolved pique that I retain toward her, but I also retain a hope that she would hear about it and contact me to chew me out and we could resolve our conflict.


      1. Oh, it was at first. I’ve come to peace about it. I think the nun story is funny, and would be better to circulate than an angry and bitter story. Anger and bitterness are pretty exhausting and get a person nowhere.


    1. Well, I would also like to spread some rumors about some people who gave me a bad time, Renee. Those situations are not much fun. Some people that I formerly worked for have left me with the desire to say a few things and I could be tempted to spread rumors about them.


    2. An old college roommate just got back in touch with me – and she and I parted many moons ago with a few misunderstandings and loose ends in the mix. I can’t say as I have made my peace, but I am glad to see she has found a good place to be in the world (in your fair state, no less, Renee). Maybe this is the year for your old friend to get in touch, too.


    1. Fillmore today, Elvis tomorrow. Fillmore was born on January 7, Elvis on January 8, as best anyone can figure.

      January 7, 2012 marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of cartoonist Charles Addams. The real question should be, Why Fillmore, and not Addams?


      1. the ninth is richard nixons 99th bd
        he was not a crook although there were some stories started by communist sympathizers that painted him as otherwise.


  6. Oh dear, I’m sure I’ve spread plenty of untruths. Just a few weeks ago I told everyone in our choir our first January meeting would be the 10th, when it’s actually the 17th. Will check back in later with others, no doubt!


  7. One of the weaknesses of storytellers is that they are irresistibly drawn to good stories whose single failing is that they are not true. But we tell them anyway, because good stories are so appealing. One lie that I have been guilty of spreading is the story that the flush toilet was invented by Thomas Crapper. It should be true, but it isn’t.


  8. edith has never fessed up about the truth of her coming to the blog. i would assume that the truth would be something we could all grow to accept but the fact that she insists on participating under the ruse of this charade is disarming considering the gentle nature of the community here on the trail. i think we have all been very tolerent and patient but upon further investagation i think edith should come clean and admit that she is actually the last remaining direct bloodline relative of john dillanger and has the key to the disappearance of the hijacked payroll job that has gone unsolved since the days of st pauls glory. she has done her time and she is very familiar with the ins and outs of the big house and while it is understandable that she should want to start life anew it is a little presumptious to assume it will go unnoticed when she enters the fray of the mild mannered baboons. recent breaking news from barnes and noble points to an inside job where funds are being funneled off in undiscivered ways without any idea of where the leak is occuring. well we know that we have a well connected and established hardened criminal here in edith who we may want to have the authorities keep an eye on until the source of the problem is discovered or unarmed. while many would wait for authentication to be certifiable i always say where there is smoke theres fire. edith we love you and we here on the trail always believe in giving an ex con a chance to start over, we do not believe in sweeping history under the rug and pretending it doesn’t exist. i encourage you all to find the good side of edith to be more than enough to make up for the dark side and try not to think of her background every time you see her name here on the blog. that wouldn’t be fair.


  9. If I say I have not lied, that would not be the truth. If I say I have spindled, punctured, stretched and omitted portions of the truth, that might be closer to a nugget of truth. Have I passed along to others that which I thought was true, but was not…alas, I am afraid so. Thus is human nature. Especially when you have an especially good data point and you need to share – embarrassing when it turns out to be a bad data point. (Bad data point, bad – no biscuit. Go sit in your crate.)


    1. I have wondered if you might not be completely truthful at times, tim. You know a lot of people think that Elvis is still alive. Is it possible that you are Elvis in disguise?


      1. He left his soap and the crossword he was working on by the bath. Think Mr. Fillmore might have eaten Elvis’ peanut butter and banana sandwich, judging from the crumbs on the floor.


  10. hey if it isnt hard wired into anyone calander id like to move the time for board games to 12 -5. arrive early if you’d like ill be there. i need to get my daughters to a previous commitment at 6


      1. I let someone else do the measuring, but he says we have enough to do from the landing to the basement, which is what needed it! Whoo hoo.

        And I don’t think I’m going to make it today… teenager needs some supervision this afternoon to get the last of her homework done.


  11. Most of the lies I have perpetuated probably have to do with theories of what’s good-for-you food and what’s not. But it’s this moving target – there are always new studies that contradict the previous ones – you end up pretty much choosing what to believe. (So many of the original studies were majorly flawed… don’t get me started.)

    OT – Things I should have posted earlier in the week, so just to get them out of my brain:
    1. RE: the ‘equalization’ of the M&Ms – anyone read the kids’ book Bread and Jam for Frances? by Russell Hoban? She has to make the food come out even…
    2. Dale, that picture of Canine Correspondent Anderson Pooper haunts me. I finally looked on my kids book shelf and found Farley Mowat’s The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be, whose cover shows a dog in goggles…


  12. Of course you remember that, after helping him write The Sound of Silence, I left Paul Simon for Bob Dylan in 1965 and joined Bob on tour in London. I was hoping that I’d get to perform with him there but he was still confused about his relationship with Joan, who of course was sore as could be at me, but That’s the Way it Goes. So I left Bob for George and toured with the Fab Four for awhile. For such cute young guys, they sure had big egos, especially Paul, and I thought it was best if I moved on. I went to Canada and started to write songs. Joni and I collaborated on Big Yellow Taxi but she still won’t admit it. The royalties I should have!

    Anyway, all these years I’ve been collaborating or writing songs for hundreds of popular performers. They refuse to credit me when they achieve their fame. Lemme tell ya, I could really tell you stories about the world of popular music. That’s what they’d be – stories…

    I write best in the bathtub now, with lots of soap and very hot water. I bring the space heater right over close to the tub because I don’t want to get cold. The battery in my laptop doesn’t hold up very well either, so I plug it in and use it in the tub to write songs. It’s completely safe…. ZZZZZzzzzT!


    1. I’m glad you have finally stopped lying and told us the truth about your life, Krista. Oh! I’m telling you this with the hope that you are still with us and haven’t accidentally done yourself in just as you filled us in on the truth about life. That would be very tragic!


  13. Afternoon–

    What does George Costanza say: “It’s not a lie if you believe it”? So following that, then, no, I’ve never spread a lie.
    Now, there is this one situation, that is still on going so I can’t really name names, that started off with some murky facts, was added to with some improbable observations, perpetuated by a mischievous electrician and now this place of business receives mail for this non-existent, but well known (to that business) person who really isn’t of this world. And I’m very pleased of my part in that.
    And of course messing with kids’ heads, that’s all in a days work for me. (tim, bring me the board stretcher. MIG, go wash these old gels. Jim, find the henweigh. EVERYONE! QUICK! [pointing] A SNIPE!


      1. I wasn’t able to contact the Henwiegh Cafe. I think they were having a problem with a loud tacet similar to the problem you mentioned below, Beth-Ann


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