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History lessons by Chuck Mason

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014 12:59 p.m. CDT

I have been accused occasionally of exaggerating beyond the necessary when spinning a tale. While this may partially be true, there are times when the benefits have far outweighed the misconstrued negative results from my rampant spouting of near truths. As follows ...

Cultivating an insatiable interest in history to an unwilling student was perhaps the most challenging aspect of parenting. I found, though, by presenting mostly made up “facts” (ones just begging for further research) with actual world-altering events, the whole learning experience became more enjoyable. Yes, history was a much more pleasant subject, and quite by accident, real knowledge seemed to be absorbed almost without consent. With Presidents Day fast approaching, here are some of my laboriously unearthed, little known presidential facts.

DISCLAIMER: I am not qualified or licensed to give this teaching advice, and assume no responsibility for the intentional misuse thereof.

• Most people know that George Washington had wooden teeth, but few know that once, in a bitter winter at Valley Forge, Washington ground his wooden teeth together to start a fire, saving countless lives, but in the process, suffering severe burns to his lips and gums.  

• Thomas Jefferson’s rap nickname was “Monticello Slim.” He was also a member of the Continental Congress, explored the Continental Divide, and designed the first Lincoln Continental.

• James Madison, as a youth, had a propensity for crawling inside hollowed out shagbark hickory trees, where he would remain for days, until Doc Foster would coax him out with a slice of home-cured sweet ham.

• John Tyler was the first president to be extensively photographed, but always from the right side, as he was missing his left ear, which was lost in a painting duel with Van Gogh.

• James Polk became a collector of powdered wigs from history, and it became common for him to appear at cabinet meetings and social functions wearing one from his collection and affecting a humorous British accent when greeting dignitaries.

• Franklin Pierce developed such a fondness for turtles that he filled three rooms of the presidential mansion with containers of the hideous little beasts. His obsession with turtles became so great, it most certainly cost him a second term.

• Abraham Lincoln invented the potato cannon and during his unruly youth, was nicknamed “Hot Rod.”

• Rutherford B. Hayes founded the Bearded Peoples Republic and led the Ohio Territory Beard Revolt of 1874 in protest of the Ohio assembly levying unfair taxes on beards.

• James Garfield had a short presidency, as in a mere seven months he was shot. He died shortly thereafter, as doctors struggled fruitlessly to penetrate his thick beard to retrieve the bullet.

• Grover Cleveland, recognizing defeat in his first re-election bid, hastily clawed a hole through the plaster and spent the next four years a resident of the White House walls, many times at night waking the new president or visiting heads-of-state as he scurried across the attic or gnawed through electrical wires.

• William “The Refrigerator” Taft had a prosthetic nose.

• Franklin Delano Roosevelt (not Alan Freed), coined the phrase rock and roll on his “Late Night Ramble with Frankie D Radio Program.”

• Lyndon Johnson was given the name Lyndon due to several traits he shared with the mighty linden tree ... namely, his resistance to drought and the recurring, embarrassing aphid infestations he dealt with for most of his life.

• Ronald Reagan was also known as “The Gripper,” due to his ability to unscrew over-tightened jar lids.

So perhaps, during the upcoming Presidents Day observance, instead of taking advantage of discounted sheets and pillowcases, get your kids interested in history. They’ll thank you.

Chuck Mason, a self-described opinionated wiseguy, resides in Princeton. He can be reached at chuckthebluzguy@msn.com.

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