December 5, 1782: Martin Van Buren, 8th President of the U.S., is born. In the collective mind of “Mental Floss,” Van Buren is famous for his toilet. “When he lost his 1840 reelection bid in a landslide to war hero William Henry Harrison—Van Buren picked up only six states in the electoral college, and not even his home state, New York—the lame duck could then turn his attention to the Lindenwald estate, which was eventually expanded into 36 rooms including a wine cellar, six family bedrooms, one formal guest room, servants’ quarters and one toilet.
As you might have guessed, this wasn’t just any old toilet. Restored to what is believed to be its original appearance, Van Buren’s throne is tucked away on the first floor in a closet-size room, part of a larger bathroom that accommodates the president’s original six-foot long bathtub. The toilet bowl itself is made from fine china, set inside a giant frame made of wood. A 100-gallon water tank, connected to a pump in the basement kitchen, is installed above that frame. (It’s worth noting that the servants quarters had their own indoor outhouse, and two gate houses on the property probably had outhouses.)
A killer innovation for its time, Van Buren introduced the whole town to the concept of the indoor toilet (most were accustomed to bearing the cold in an outhouse) and, according to Dawn Olson of the National Park Service, to the ‘novel idea to have running water and indoor plumbing in the 1850s.’”
December 5, 1974: Sixty Minutes, the popular television news program on the CBS Television Network aired the segment “Caution, Drinking Water may be Dangerous to Your Health.” Dan Rather was the reporter for the segment. The program and the concerns with 66 trace organic chemicals in New Orleans water supply and the Consumer Reports articles on cancer deaths and use of Mississippi River water for water supplies ultimately led to the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act. President Gerald Ford signed the legislation into law before the end of the year.
December 5, 1926: Claude Monet dies. (14 November 1840 – 5 December 1926) “He was a founder of French impressionist painting, and the most consistent and prolific practitioner of the movement’s philosophy of expressing one’s perceptions before nature, especially as applied to plein-air landscape painting…. Monet was fond of painting controlled nature: his own gardens in Giverny, with its water lilies, pond, and bridge. He also painted up and down the banks of the Seine, producing paintings such as Break-up of the ice on the Seine.” Perhaps Monet’s most famous series of paintings is his Water Lilies.