George Washington is always depicted as a solemn individual. From the dollar bill to the National Portrait Gallery, Washington is consistently precisely dressed, masculinely posed, and practically frowning. He was “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”1 He was our first president and arguably most famous American. He secured a place in American folklore, like the Cherry Tree myth where a six-year-old Washington, wiser than his years, proclaims “I cannot tell a lie.”2
But his place in American legend fogs the fact that Washington was a person like us, one with flaws, imperfections, and sometimes questionable tastes. Through his quirky sense of humor, we can strip away the glossy veneer of Washington: the historical figure and get better acquainted with Washington: the man. For, like many of us, he had at times a slapstick, situational, lowbrow, and deadpan sense of humor, sometimes coarse, cutting, and sometimes cringe-worthy.
He didn’t refrain from laughing at lewd jokes or the physical pain of others. Sometimes he was the center of a comedic situation simply because of his good nature, the brawny Washington an awkward if not comical sight when performing acts of genuine kindness to others unexpectedly, appearing, if only for a few moments, a mere mortal instead of a living legend.