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|Fillmore's Folly, By Golly|
Issue #66 (May 1987)
Jacuzzi Junction, NJ (LEAK) — Government sources revealed today that the long missing Millard Fillmore bathtub has at last been located and has been confirmed to be authentic. At a news conference Norman G. Sources, Deputy Assistant of the U. S. Department of Historical Revisions, announced that there was no official doubt that the find was indeed the famous Fillmore's Folly — the first bathtub to be installed in the White House. Millard Fillmore, the 13th president, who served between [quoteright]1850 and 1853, also installed the first White House library and cook stove, but nobody seems interested in that, sources said.
The Folly, as it is affectionately known, was stored in the White House catacombs for many years and later transferred to the Smithsonian where it was proudly displayed as a national treasure. But during the Harding Administration, it was declassified and in 1923, it was sold to the Mencken Museum of Old Tubs, where it was shown only to select groups of tub fanciers. "In 1944," Sources said, "it was stolen from the Museum and its fate remained a total mystery until last month when the 'hot' tub was finally located."
The missing tub was discovered in another museum, this one the private collection of eccentric billionaire Slippery McWett, who died last month in his New Jersey home of terminal drooling. McWett, who started out as a used bathtub salesman who sold rings around his competitors, is known to have been a great admirer of President Fillmore and his private collection also contained numerous documents from the Fillmore Era."After making his fortune by founding the Fillmore Payless Gas Station chain in 1954," Sources revealed, "McWett apparently devoted much of his time and money to acquiring a huge collection of antique tubs and as many Fillmore documents as he could find. It's not surprising that Fillmore's Folly found its way into his museum."
The most important of the documents found is the only known copy of a book titled BATHTUB DIPLOMACY: THE SECRET OF FILLMORE'S SUCCESS (1876), which was co-authored by Willard Fillmore, the President's obscure fifth cousin, twice removed, and Dillard Phyless, the chief soaksperson of the Fillmore Administration, who was eventually hanged for buffalo rustling in the Dakota Territory. Described by Sources as a "startling account, if true," BATHTUB DIPLOMACY presents a side of Millard Fillmore never before revealed in the writings of his contemporaries or in the annals of historians — a startling picture of a dynamic president and world leader who used Old Folly, as he called it, to shape the fate of nations. "First acquired by Fillmore in 1831," Sources said, "Old Folly was to remain with him until his death in 1874, but more than that, it was used by Fillmore as Congressman, President and World Traveler to conduct both public and private business for more than forty years."
Fillmore first appeared in public in Old Folly, according to BATHTUB DIPLOMACY, in 1833 when he was running for his first term as U.S. Representative, and although it was considered a bit eccentric by the more conservative of his Whig contemporaries, it was well received by the common man who apparently thought that seeing a politician campaigning in a bathtub, complete with steaming water and lots of bubbles, was an uncommon joke and a sign that Fillmore was a "man of the people." The sheer genius of Fillmore's move was bitterly resented by other politicians of the time since it was obvious that anyone else attempting to employ the ploy would instantly be branded a copy cat and impostor. Fillmore's victory in the election was in part due to his use of Old Folly on the campaign trail and, not one to let a good thing slip away, he went on to use his beloved tub many times during his subsequent terms as Congressman, appearing in Old Folly both at committee meetings and on the floor of the House itself.
Fillmore was determined to "strike while the tub is hot," Sources went on, and in 1848, he used Old Folly many times in his run for the Vice-Presidency, despite the objections of Zachary Taylor and other Whig leaders. But it was rough tubbing for Fillmore when the election was over and he was finally installed at Vice President, for President Taylor refused to allow "that damned monstrosity," into the White House, and Fillmore often withdrew to the privacy of his home to soak in silence and ponder his fate. "It was in these very circumstances," Sources went on, "that Fillmore received the news of Taylor's death in 1850, prompting the new president to exclaim, 'Surely this is an occasion for bitter tears and more bubbles.'"
Old Folly made its triumphant entry into the White House on July 10, 1850 when Fillmore took possession of his new home, and it wasn't long before the new president was receiving guests, advisors and political cronies in the comfort and security of his famous tub. Over the next three years, it became the fashionable thing to be seen at a political or social function at which Fillmore and Old Folly were also in attendance, and the new president often greeted foreign diplomats and dignitaries as he soaked at leisure and invited them to join him in separate tubs provided by the Federal Bureau of the Bath. "The highlight of his career," Sources said, "came when he addressed both houses of Congress and the Loyal Legion of American Mothers in joint session from the comfort of Old Folly. But, alas, his glory was soon to be darkened by never-substantiated charges that the Fillmore Administration had been responsible for diverting bathtubs to Canada and Mexico, in violation of international treaties which clearly forbid such activities."
When Fillmore left office in 1855, it was with a spotless reputation and indeed as politicians go, he was clean as a whistle — as demonstrated by the fact that a year later, he turned down an opportunity to have his likeness used on the label of a popular hand soap, thus giving rise to the expression "no soap." In subsequent years, Old Folly was to accompany Fillmore on his world travels and on the lecture circuit, the most famous incident of this period coming during his European tour of 1856 when Queen Victoria pronounced him "the handsomest tub she had ever seen," and of course the infamous incident in Rome when he shared his tub with Dorothea Dix. Fillmore spent much of his reclining years soaking in Old Folly, seeking unsuccessfully to replace the moribund Whigs with a new Tubertarian Party, and fighting a losing battle against what he called the "Shower Conspiracy" — the sad but familiar story of a new technology muscling in on the old. Conspiracy or not, the shower was too clumsy and impersonal to ever be used by politicians on the stump, and the story of Abraham Lincoln's appearing in a shower during the debates with Douglas is almost certainly apocryphal.
"Old Folly itself is an impressive sight," Sources said, "a large and ample tub carved from a single piece of as-yet unidentified wood, reinforced with wide metal bands and decorated with intricate carvings, inlayed with precious metal and gems. Fillmore had had the tub fitted with wheels, of course, and with various compartments and attachments to facilitate his social and official duties, but even these additions were done with skilled craftsmanship and in good taste. None of the occult symbols on the tub have yet been traced to their sources, not the eldritch phrase 'Cthulhu fhtagn!' yet been identified, although NSA experts are confident it won't be long now."
"The origin of Old Folly also remains a mystery," Sources said, "with some experts suggesting it may actually be Chaucer's Old Wives Tub, the legendary King Arthur's Round Tub, the sacred Tub of Gethseimi mentioned in certain quasi-Gnostic texts, or even the Bo Tub in which Buddha found enlightenment." "But as usual," Sources went on, "old Slippery McWett had ideas of his own, and some have been preserved in an uncompleted manuscript titled THE TUBOIDS: IN SEARCH OF ANCIENT HOT TUBS. It was apparently McWett's belief that there were references to Old Folly in Plato's THE RETUBLIC and that it is much, much more than an ancient bathtub — that it is, in fact, a mystical, alien vehicle from some alternate dimension that would, if he could discover its secret, carry him at will through time and space, keeping him young and rich — Forever!"
Rumor has it that a secret government project code named Rub-a-Dub-Dub is looking further into McWett's theory. Meanwhile, Fillmore's Old Folly is being kept under heavy guard not far from here at the Millard Fillmore Memorial Junkyard and People's State Park. Winner of the motto contest was, "Don't let our national treasures go down the drain!" Sources said.
Neal Wilgus was born in Jerome, Arizona. He has a degree in English from Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, and moved to New Mexico while working for the US Forest Service in the early 60s. He is a prolific writer of poetry, science fiction, and satirical humor. His latest chapbooks are The Leakoids: Newsalizing the Nation, and Rhymed and Dangerous, a book of poems. Neal currently resides in Corrales, New Mexico, and works the night shift with his illustrator, Filo Martinez, who provided the sketch of Neal at right.