The President's House : 1800 to the Present The Secrets and History of the World's Most Famous Home
As Margaret Truman knows from firsthand experience, living in the White House can be exhilarating and maddening, alarming and exhausting-but it is certainly never dull. Part private residence, part goldfish bowl, and part national shrine, the White House is both the most important address in America and the most intensely scrutinized. In this splendid blend of the personal and historic, Margaret Truman offers an unforgettable tour of "the president's house" across the span of two centuries.
Opened (though not finished) in 1800 and originally dubbed a "palace," the White House has been fascinating from day one. In Thomas Jefferson's day, it was a reeking construction site where congressmen complained of the hazards of open rubbish pits. Andrew Jackson's supporters, descending twenty thousand strong from the backwoods of Kentucky and Tennessee, nearly destroyed the place during his first inaugural. Teddy Roosevelt expanded it, Jackie Kennedy and Pat Nixon redecorated it. Through all the vicissitudes of its history, the White House has transformed the characters, and often the fates, of its powerful occupants.
In The President's House, Margaret Truman takes us behind the scenes, into the deepest recesses and onto the airiest balconies, as she reveals what it feels like to live in the White House. Here are hilarious stories of Teddy Roosevelt's rambunctious children tossing spitballs at presidential portraits-as well as a heartbreaking account of the tragedy that befell President Coolidge's young son, Calvin, Jr. Here, too, is the real story of the Lincoln Bedroom and the thrilling narrative of how first lady Dolley Madison rescued a priceless portrait of George Washington and a copy of the Declaration of Independence before British soldiers torched the White House in 1814.
Today the 132-room White House operates as an exotic combination of first-class hotel and fortress, with 1,600 dedicated workers, an annual budget over $1 billion, and a kitchen that can handle anything from an intimate dinner for four to a reception for 2,400. But ghosts of the past still walk its august corridors-including a phantom whose visit President Harry S Truman described to his daughter in eerie detail.
From the basement swarming with reporters to the Situation Room crammed with sophisticated technology to the Oval Office where the president receives the world's leaders, the White House is a beehive of relentless activity, deal-making, intrigue, gossip, and of course history in the making. In this evocative and insightful book, Margaret Truman combines high-stakes drama with the unique perspective of an insider. The ultimate guided tour of the nation's most famous dwelling, The President's House is truly a national treasure.
Bestselling novelist and first daughter Truman brings readers inside the White House, taking them on a notably reverential tour of its storied history, its well-known architecture and its intricate behind-the-scenes workings. There's a lighthearted jaunt through the White House kitchen, where one strong-willed housemaid kept serving President Truman brussels sprouts, though he hated them. The tour then goes to the White House garden, where Lincoln's gardener offered the first lady tips on hiding her excessive shopping expenses. Much of Truman's narrative is history lite aimed at the Martha Stewart set. Yet it contains just enough interesting anecdotes and stirring pageantry to be of interest to the general reader who's curious about how the White House functions. Truman dishes the gossip, especially about the White House as a social setting. For example, she describes Madame Chiang Kai-shek (wife of the Chinese general) as one of the most insufferable houseguests ever. Truman devotes separate chapters to the household staff, the political staff, the press corps, the security staff, White House weddings, first ladies, first children and even first pets: after the Clinton-era rivalry between Socks the cat and Buddy the dog, Socks ended up with a staffer while Buddy stayed with the Clintons. Despite the breeziness of this account, Truman does a fine job of evoking America's most famous residence as a place with "a unique combination of history, tragedy, comedy, melodrama and the ups and downs of ordinary living." 75 color and b&w photos.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
January 24, 2005
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from The President's House by Margaret Truman
Magic and Mystery in a Unique Place
The last time I was in Washington, D.C., I walked by the White House on the way to dinner at a nearby restaurant. Hidden floodlights made the historic building glow like a mansion in a vision or a dream. Suddenly I thought: I am not the woman who lived in that house more than fifty years ago. She is a completely different person. I barely know her.
The words whispered in my mind like a voice from another world. I was remembering, or trying to remember, what it meant to be the daughter of the president of the United States, living in that shining shimmering house. The one inescapable thing I recalled was the difference. I have lived in several houses and apartments, and spent some time in splendid establishments, including a few royal palaces. But not one of them--or all of them together--can compare to the feeling I recalled from my White House days.
That was when I resolved to write this book about one of the most mysterious, terrifying, exalting, dangerous, fascinating houses in the world. It is a house that has changed people in amazing, unexpected ways. It is a house that has broken hearts and minds. It is a house that has made some people weep when they walked out the door for the last time--and others feel like escapees from a maximum security prison. Some marriages have been saved within those pristine white walls. Others have been irrevocably ruined.
Children have played marvelously clever games inside and outside this unique piece of architecture. Other children have twisted and turned in their death throes while their weeping parents, arguably the most powerful persons on the North American continent, clutched them in their impotent arms. In those same second-floor bedrooms, radiant brides have dressed in virginal white and descended to meet loving husbands as the world applauded.
Once, one of these brides married a president. I am speaking of Frances Folsom and Grover Cleveland. A century or so ago, when I was a twenty-something, I had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Cleveland, who told me the reason she was married in the White House instead of in her family home: Nowhere else could she and the president have their privacy guaranteed.
The old house is, to put it mildly, a paradoxical place. People who think in straight lines have a very difficult time adjusting to it. And as history has shown again and again, many of them never do. Even so, I think everyone who has ever lived in the White House would agree that it's a special experience--a unique combination of history, tragedy, comedy, melodrama, and the ups and downs of ordinary living all under one roof.
Men bearing that unique title, president of the United States, the office my father called "the greatest in the history of the world," have paced the White House's darkened halls in periods of national crisis, gazing at portraits of their predecessors on the walls, seeking communion with their triumphs--or shuddering at their blunders. Women reached out to these men, trying to offer them guidance, or at the very least solace for their awesome burdens. My mother managed to play both roles in my father's presidency--a feat too many obtuse historians and biographers have failed to recognize.
In the basement and attic rooms are the memories of the hundreds of other people who lived a large part of their working lives in this unique house, and experienced its aura of power and history. Their stories belong in this book, too. Some, I regret to say, were slaves. But the house, paradoxical as always, gradually became a place where free African-Americans demonstrated their right to equality.
Maggie Rogers began working as a White House maid when William Howard Taft became president in 1909. Her daughter, Lillian Rogers Parks, was hired as a seamstress at the White House in 1929 and worked until the end of the Eisenhower administration in 1961. Growing up, Lillian once asked her mother if she would be happier (and better paid) at some millionaire's mansion elsewhere in the capital. Maggie Rogers scorned the idea. "Heavens no, child! Be it ever so elegant, there's no place like the White House. Why, I'm living history!" There was black pride and White House pride achieving a magical fusion.
Also worth commemorating are the efforts of the dedicated, courageous, amazingly patient men who have struggled to keep presidents and their families alive in the often malevolent glare of public criticism and spasms of national hatred. We know them now as members of the Secret Service. But their predecessors are equally memorable, standing guard at the White House's doors in suits that were a size too large for them--to conceal their pistols. Most people, including some of the presidents they guarded, were unaware of those hidden weapons.