18. President Franklin Roosevelt was so afraid of fire that he would regularly practice fire drills on his own in the White House
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States, famously told the American people that they had “nothing to fear except fear itself”. And he was no stranger to being afraid. While he might have enjoyed a highly-privileged upbringing, Roosevelt had to overcome several sizable obstacles on the way to the White House. What’s more, he then had to overcome several more to stay in the top job and to push forward his vision for a fairer society and safer world. But while FDR faced such challenges head-on, there was one fear in particular he was never able to get the better of. The Commander-in-Chief was terrified he would be die in a fire.
According to one biographer, Roosevelt’s crippling fear of fire emerged at a young age. Apparently, as a young boy, he had witnessed his aunt Laura alight following an accident with a household alcohol-burning lamp. It’s believed the sight of this young woman racing down the stairs on fire stayed with Roosevelt all his life. True or not, the fear was real. The President’s Secret Service agents revealed that he refused to lock his doors at night. Rather than being worried that open doors would allow a would-be assassin to get into his private quarters, Roosevelt was fearful that a locked door would prevent him from getting out if there was a fire. What’s more, the President would even carry out one-man fire drills. Even when he was confined to a wheelchair when his polio worsened, he would routinely drop to the floor and practice crawling to an open door or window.
Fire wasn’t President Roosevelt’s only phobia. Despite being a learned and rational man, he also had a fear of Friday 13th. So much so, in fact, that he refused to undertake any real journey on that day and would avoid formal occasions if he could. In the end, however, the great man was to die on Thursday 12th rather than Friday 13th, and it was to be natural causes rather than a fire that led to his death in 1945.