For Woodrow Wilson, it was a Ouija board. Lyndon Johnson delighted in dominoes. Dwight Eisenhower tried to get in a little golf every day.
A new exhibit at the Gerald R. Ford Museum illustrates how U.S. presidents unwind when the going gets tough - and when it's not so tough. The exhibit, which features such presidential playthings as fishing rods, bowling balls and poker chips, runs through July 29."Some of our presidents took their hobbies to the extreme," curator Jim Kratsas said Monday. "William Howard Taft could be found on the golf course so often that the Ohio Journal jibed he `hardly gets fairly settled down to golf, than the duties of office begin to interfere.' "
Kratsas said Eisenhower probably had more hobbies than any other president. They included golf, fishing, hunting, cooking and oil painting.
Eisenhower was so serious about his golf game that he set up a putting green on the White House lawn, and when the weather interfered he practiced his swing in the White House basement.
John F. Kennedy, an avid sailor, also was an excellent golfer but avoided media attention so as not to be compared with Eisenhower, Kratsas said.
Despite his reputation for being dangerous on the fairways, with balls striking spectators, Kratsas said Ford was and still is a very good golfer.
Wilson golfed for exercise but called the sport "an ineffectual attempt to put an elusive ball into an obscure hole with implements ill-adapted to the purpose." He averaged 115 strokes per 18 holes.
Johnson so fancied bowling that he had a two-lane alley installed in the White House.
Harry Truman showed his gentler side when he played piano at the White House, sometimes accompanied by friends such as Jack Benny.
Fishing was another sport shared by many past presidents.
Calvin Coolidge said his favorite fishing spot had about 45,000 trout. "I haven't caught them all yet, but I've intimidated them," he once quipped.
Herbert Hoover said he loved fishing because "it is a discipline in the equality of men, for all men are equal before fish."
Fly fishing was a favorite pastime of Jimmy Carter, who also liked hunting, woodworking and jogging. "Because of all the pressures of his presidency, he was always looking for something to help him unwind," Kratsas speculated.
The game of Hooverball was devised by a White House physician to keep Herbert Hoover in shape. Similar to volleyball but involving a heavy medicine ball, the game still is played in tournaments nationwide.
Many presidents were baseball fans, including Ronald Reagan. But he has said his favorite time was spent on his ranch on the back of a horse.
Reagan also collected belt buckles, including one he exchanged with Elton John. Franklin D. Roosevelt had a collection of 25,000 stamps. Hoover collected Chinese porcelain. Kennedy collected scrimshaw, Carter favored arrowheads and Nixon collected gavels.
Theodore Roosevelt was known for his love of hunting.
Kratsas said President Bush may be remembered as one of the country's most active presidents, with his penchant for jogging, fishing, boating and horseshoes.
Many presidents have been criticized for spending too much time pursuing their pastimes, but Kratsas said an active president usually is considered a strong leader.