How many children do you know that would sell their video games and buy books with the money?
This campaign sign appeared on H.L. McCullough’s lawn after his appearance on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno. (Photo by J. Fagan)
That’s exactly what 8-year-old H.L. McCullough did, and it landed him in Jay Leno’s guest chair next to Jimmy Fallon on “The Tonight Show” last week.
His parents, Laws and Stacey McCullough, said even their son’s involvement in sports, such as basketball, baseball and soccer, has not sparked much interest compared to his voracious appetite for presidential trivia, which requires frequent visits to Linebaugh Library.
“He would only play his Nintendo every once in while, mostly when I was around to play it with him,” said his father, Laws McCullough. “He came to me one day and said ‘Dad, can we sell this thing and buy more books on the presidents?’”
According to Laws McCullough, his son’s interest in United States trivia began in kindergarten with a jigsaw puzzle of the nation divided into states and their capitols.
“We started noticing around the holidays that he would quote things that we knew had not been taught in school or discussed around the house,” he said.
H.L. has been an avid reader of books on the U.S. presidents since a visit to Barnes & Noble in Murfreesboro, when he sat down with a copy of National Geographic’s All The Presidents and later begged his parents to buy the book for him.
The book details the lives and trivia of each president, and H.L. says he has now read it 130 times along with dozens more that he either checked out from Linebaugh Library or bought outright.
He has memorized the details of each presidency, including all the first ladies and their backgrounds as well.
“Make sure you write about Sarah Childress Polk who was born in Rutherford County in 1803,” he said. “I want to make sure you put that in there.”
“Eliza and Andrew Johnson had five children, and I can’t remember their names right now, but I can look it up for you,” he added, before rushing to his favorite book and excitedly providing the information to this reporter.
H.L.’s teachers, Angi Morgan and Becky Goff, at Wilson Elementary School in Walter Hill quickly took notice of their presidential prodigy.
His fellow students soon began calling out any number between one and 44, and H.L. would not only provide the name of that president, but also the first lady and interesting facts concerning his presidency.
WSMV Channel 4 News soon came calling for a Presidents’ Day feature story, and the broadcast gained the attention of an NBC producer “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno.
“It was all just as organic as it comes,” Laws McCullough said. “It started with a coffee table book, which became a major part of H.L.’s second-grade life, and suddenly Channel 4 and then Jay Leno comes calling.”
The family flew to Los Angeles on Feb. 14 and visited Universal Studios prior to taping of the show, along with teachers Goff and Morgan, who turned the affair into a small vacation.
H.L.’s teachers were required to send homework for him to finish while on the set because of a California law that requires a tutor for any child who is forced to be on set for longer than three hours.
Prior to the show, Leno came to the dressing room with a bottle of champagne for the McCulloughs who were celebrating their 10th anniversary that evening.
He asked if H.L. had toured the White House yet.
“I told him we had called Rep. (Diane) Black’s office, and she was able to get us a tour of the capitol, but not the White House.” Laws McCullough said. “Her staff said that 5 million people per year request a tour of the White House but only 1 million are able to visit.”
“He (Jay Leno) said, ‘let me make a few phone calls’, and before we knew it we had a tour scheduled,” he added.
During the show, Leno asked H.L. to name every U.S. president, which he did rapidly.
“Which one is your favorite president?” Leno asked.
“Millard Filmore because he was tall, handsome and well-mannered like me,” H.L. answered.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Leno continued.
“President,” he replied.
When asked later how he liked being on the show and what he thought of Leno and Fallon, his answer came after some thought.
“He (Jimmy Fallon) was pretty funny, but I didn’t pay much attention to him,” H.L. said. “I had a blast.”