President Taylor: A Case of Bad Cherries or Murder?

Zachary Taylor National Cemetery, Louisville, Kentucky

Zachary Taylor was born September 24, 1784, in Orange County, Virginia, though, he grew up in Kentucky.  He joined the military and gained a reputation as an Indian fighter.  When the Mexican-American War broke out he served as a field commander.  Because of his unkempt appearance, his troops referred to him as “Old Rough and Ready.”  The war made him a national hero.  He was nominated by the Whigs for president, won, and became the 12th president.  But, like the other Whig president and war hero, William Henry Harrison, he did not serve out his term.

In 1850, Taylor attended the Fourth of July groundbreaking ceremony for the Washington Monument.  The day was scorching hot.  To counteract the heat and quench his thirst, Taylor consumed large amounts of water, drank iced milk, and downed a bowl of cherries.  Soon after the suffering began with severe abdominal pain.  The doctors were called the next day and they began their treatment of what was diagnosed as cholera.  They prescribed a regiment of calomel, opium, ipecac, quinine, and ice.  For good measure, the doctors also bled him and blistered him.  His discomfort turned into vomiting and diarrhea.

By July 9th, the President was very weak.  Taylor’s last words predicted his own death, “I am about to die–I expect the summons soon–I have endeavored to discharge all my official duties faithfully–I regret nothing, but I am sorry that I am about to leave my friends.” 

Taylor’s body was first removed to the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.  In 1852, his remains were laid to rest in the tomb above alongside his wife, Margaret Smith Taylor, who died that year. 

In 1883, Kentucky erected a 50-foot monument topped with a life-sized statue of Zachary Taylor.

President and First Lady Taylor’s remains were later moved to the mausoleum below on May 6, 1926.

Fast forward to June 1991.  Florida author Clara Rising theorized that Taylor had NOT died from eating tainted cherries and drinking foul water but had been murdered. She believed the primary suspects were his chief political oponent, Henry Clay, or even possibly his own Vice President, Millard Filmore, because of Taylor’s stand against slavery and secession.

Super sleuth Rising convinced Taylor’s descendants to have Taylor’s body exhumed so it could be examined for traces of arsenic poisoning.  After hair fibers, bone, and dried flesh were examined by George Nichols, Kentucky’s chief medical examiner, it was determined that although low doses of arsenic were found, they were too low to have killed Taylor and were “natually occuring.”  Foul play was ruled out. The doctor’s report stated that the death was caused by “any myriad of natural diseases which could have produced the symptoms of gastroenteritis.”

One historian, Samuel Eliot Morison, concluded that the oppresive Washington summer heat and scandalous treatment by quack doctors killed Taylor.  Morison was convinced that if Taylor had been left to suffer without the care of his doctors, he would have fully recovered on his own.  Morison charged the doctors with medical assassination.

Zachary Taylor Crypt, Zachary Taylor National Cemetery, Louisville, Kentucky

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One Response to President Taylor: A Case of Bad Cherries or Murder?

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