When I’m not teaching history I have the distinct honor of teaching my young charges the joys of the English language. Irony is one of those literary elements that can give students a difficult time, so I try to give students as much practice as possible. I generally use certain tradebooks with small groups and ask students to look for examples of irony as they read through the text. I like to use factoid type books where students will remain interested in the text and the ironic examples are not explicitly written for students. They have to be inferred. In this way we are practicing with inference and irony. One book I like to use is Don't Know Much About The Presidents by Kenneth C. Davis.
Here are some examples of presidential irony that can be inferred from the book:
President McKinley wore a red carnation for luck. It is ironic that he wore his good luck charm on September 6, 1901, the day he was assassinated. It’s even more ironic that McKinley had given away his good luck charm to a little girl in the crowd minutes before he was shot.
Zachary Taylor never voted in a presidential election. Prior to politics Taylor was a career military man who did not have a registered hometown. I guess they didn't have absentee ballots then.
Many presidents since George Washington have looked to his administration for guidance. Many have wanted to fill his shoes. They were a size 13 by the way. It is ironic that Warren G. Harding, one of our worst presidents, has been the only one that could literally fill Washington’s shoes and then some. Mckinley wore a size 14 shoe.
The man who penned the beautiful words of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, thought his greatest achievement was his founding of the University of Virginia.
William Henry Harrison wanted to be a doctor, but settled for politics when his funding ran out. It is also ironic that he gave the longest inaugural speech, but he had the shortest term in office…thirty-one days.
Finally, I find it extremely ironic that George Washington had no teeth and lived at a time when most people considered it unhealthy to take a bath very often. The irony is he required that each of his horses’ teeth receive a thorough brushing each morning.