Posts Tagged ‘Martha Washington’

The White House – South Portico

I have taken lunchtime bike rides to, and subsequently written in this blog about, a number of things that are either part of or in some way connected to the White House.  I’ve written about Blair House, the White House’s guest house.  I’ve written about the White House’s annual gingerbread exhibit.  I’ve written about the White House Peace Vigil in Lafayette Square Park adjacent to the White House.  I’ve written about the post-presidential residences of former presidents Woodrow Wilson and Barack Obama.  I’ve also written about a secret entrance to the White House.  I even have a page about presidents and other politicians riding bikes.  But despite having been there countless times, I have never written about the actual White House itself. 

So during today’s lunchtime bike ride I rode by the building (MAP), which at various times in history has been known as the “President’s Palace,” the “President’s House,” and the “Executive Mansion.”  It wasn’t until 1901 that President Theodore Roosevelt officially gave it its current name.  And then after I got back I learned more about what is now known as the White House.

President George Washington chose the site for the White House in 1791. The cornerstone was laid in 1792 and construction began soon after.  Irish-born architect James Hoban, who won the right to design it by winning a competition in 1792, designed the neoclassical architectural-style building.  He modelled his design on Leinster House in Ireland, which today houses the Irish legislature.  It took eight years to construct the building, with completion occurring in 1800.  However, President Washington died in 1799, meaning he never set even set foot in the completed building.  Its first residents were President John Adams and his wife Abigail, and they moved in before the house was actually finished. His term in office was almost over by the time they moved in, and only six rooms had been finished.

The White House has changed significantly over the years.  When President Thomas Jefferson moved into it in 1801, he had the building expanded outward, creating the two colonnades that were meant to conceal stables and storage.  Then in 1814 (during the War of 1812) the interior was destroyed and much of the exterior was charred by the British Army, necessitating that it be rebuilt.  In 1817, during President James Monroe’s administration, the south and north porticos were added.  The West Wing was added in 1901 during President William McKinley’s presidency, and during President William Howard Taft’s administration, the Oval Office was first constructed in 1909.  Other expansions, additions and remodeling projects took place under Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft.  And during the administration of President Harry S. Truman, it underwent a complete renovation, at which time all of the interior rooms were completely dismantled and a new internal load-bearing steel frame was constructed inside the walls before the interior rooms were rebuilt.

Although the original White House was completed in 1800, it wasn’t until 1833 that President Andrew Jackson had indoor plumbing installed. And it took another 20 years, until 1853 during President Franklin Pierce’s administration, that all of its bathrooms had hot and cold water running to them. And the White House didn’t have electricity until 1891, nearly a century after it was first built.  Electric lighting was still a fairly new concept when President Benjamin Harrison had it installed.  And because he was worried he would be shocked if he touched a light switch, he never once personally turned a light on or off himself.  In fact, he and his family were so scared of touching the switches that they would leave the lights on all night.

Today the White House measures 168 feet long and 85 1/2 feet wide without porticoes, or 152 feet wide with porticoes.  The overall height of the White is 70 feet on the south and 60 feet 4 inches on the north.  The building totals 55,000 square feet of floor space on six levels, two basements, two public floors, and two floors for the First Family.  This makes President Donald Trump’s current primary residence more than five times the size of his 10,996 square-foot penthouse that occupies sections of floors 66 through 68 of the Trump Tower skyscraper on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, but smaller than his 62,500-square-foot mansion named Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida. 

The White House is comprised of 132 rooms and 35 bathrooms, and contains 412 doors, 147 windows, 28 fireplaces, eight staircases, and three elevators.  It has two dining rooms, the larger of which can comfortably seat 140 people.  And its other amenities include a movie theater (officially called the White House Family Theater), a billiard room, a music room, a jogging track, a tennis court, and a putting green, as well as a bowling alley, a flower shop, a chocolate shop, a carpenter’s shop, and a dentist’s office in the basements.  It also has indoor and outdoor swimming pools.  But only the outdoor pool is currently in use.  The indoor pool, which opened in 1933 for use by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was filled in by President Richard Nixon and is underneath the floor of what is currently the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room.

Other interesting facts about the White House:

  • The White House was accredited as a museum in 1988.
  • The grounds of the modern-day White House complex, which includes the Executive Residence, West Wing, East Wing, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (which houses offices for the President’s staff and the Vice President), and Blair House, a guest house, and The President’s Park and The Ellipse, covers just over 18 acres.
  • The White House was the biggest house in the United States until the Civil War.  It is currently tied with two other homes for the 34th place. The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, is now the largest house in the country.  And at 175,856 square feet, The Biltmore is well over three times the size of the White House.
  • The initial construction of the White House is reported to have cost of $232,371.83, which would be equal to $3,279,177 today.  A recent appraisal valued the White House building and its property at just under $400 million.
  • The White House is ranked second, coming in behind the Empire State Building, on the American Institute of Architects list of “America’s Favorite Architecture.”
  • The White House requires 570 gallons of paint to cover its outside surface and keep it white.
  • Each week the White House receives up to 30,000 visitors and 65,000 letters, plus nearly 3,500 phone calls, 100,000 emails, and 1,000 faxes.  It receives up to 30,000 visitors each week.
  • The White House never advertises staff positions.  All employees of the White House are found via word-of-mouth or recommendations. As a result, many employees belong to families that have been working in the White House for generations.
  • In addition to numerous dogs and cats, the White House has been home to a number of unusual pets of presidents and their families. Some of the more unusual animals include: two opossums named Mr. Protection and Mr. Reciprocity, kept by President William Henry Harrison; a pair of tiger cubs that were gifted to President Martin Van Buren; President Zachary Taylor’s horse, named Old Whitey; a mockingbird named Dick, which President Thomas Jefferson’s allowed to fly freely around the house; a snake named Emily Spinach that belonged to President Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter; President John Quincy Adams’ alligator that lived in one of the bathrooms, and; two other alligators that belonged to President Herbert Hoover’s sons and sometimes roamed free within the residence.  In addition to the above, a raccoon was sent to President Calvin Coolidge to be eaten for Thanksgiving dinner, but he instead named it Rebecca and kept it as a pet.  The raccoon was in addition to President Coolidge’s other pets, that included a bear cub, two lion cubs, a bobcat, a wallaby, and a pygmy hippopotamus.
  • Because President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was paralyzed below the waist due to polio, he added elevators and ramps in 1933, making the White House one of the first wheelchair accessible government buildings in D.C., a full 57 years before the Americans with Disabilities Act mandated it.
  • President Lyndon Johnson drove White House plumbing foreman Reds Arrington to the point of being hospitalized with a nervous breakdown over his constant demands for more water pressure in his unusual White House shower.  Mr. Arrington spent five years working on getting the White House shower up to the president’s standards, adding nozzles, upping water pressure and making the water piping hot.  The next president, Richard Nixon, took one look at the shower and said, “Get rid of this stuff.”
  • George Washington is the only president to never have lived in the White House, but his wife, Martha Washington, grew up and lived at an estate named White House Plantation.
  • Room is free for residents of the White House, but board is not.  At the end of each month, the president receives a bill for his and his family’s personal food and incidental expenses, such as dry cleaning, toothpaste, and toiletries, etc., which is then deducted from his $400,000 annual salary.
  • Eighteen couples have gotten married at the White House, the most recent of whom tied the knot in 2013, when White House photographer Pete Souza was married to Patti Lease in the Rose Garden.
  • To date, a total of 10 people have died within the White House walls.  Presidents William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor both died in the White House. Three First Ladies, Letitia Tyler, Caroline Harrison, and Ellen Wilson, passed away there, too.  Willie Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln, Fredrick Dent, First Lady Julia Grant’s father, Elisha Hunt Allen, Minister of the Kingdom of Hawaii to the United States, and Margaret Wallace, First Lady Bess Truman’s mother all died there.  And one employee. Charles G. Ross, White House Press Secretary to President Truman, died there as well.
  • Like many other buildings and places in D.C., The White House is reported to be haunted.  Many stories persist.  But of all the haunted White House anecdotes out there, the one that really sticks involves Sir Winston Churchill.  He refused to ever again stay in the Lincoln Bedroom after President Lincoln’s ghost appeared to him beside the fireplace as he was emerging from a bath, fully nude.

This blog post contains just a small fraction of the vast amount of information and copious number of stories about the White House and its occupants.  Entire books, many of them, have been written about the famous and historic residence.  But I hope you found the information in this post interesting, and maybe learned some things you didn’t know before about the house located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 

The White House – North Portico

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Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery

On this day in 1862, United States National Cemeteries were authorized by the Federal government. “United States national cemetery” is a designation for 146 nationally important cemeteries, which are generally military cemeteries containing the graves of U.S. military personnel, veterans and their spouses, but not exclusively so. Some national cemeteries, especially Arlington National Cemetery, contain the graves of important civilian leaders, to include U.S. Presidents, as well as other important national figures. Some national cemeteries, including Arlington, also contain sections for Confederate soldiers. More than 3,800 former slaves, called “Contrabands” during the Civil War, are also buried at Arlington National, with the designation “Civilian” or “Citizen” on their headstones. In addition to national cemeteries there are also state veteran cemeteries.

In observance of this, on this bike ride I went to Arlington National Cemetery, which is located in Arlington County, Virginia (MAP), directly across the Potomac River from The Lincoln Memorial . Arlington National is a U.S. military cemetery beneath whose 624 acres have been laid more than 400,000 casualties, and deceased veterans, of the nation’s conflicts beginning with the American Civil War. Arlington National also contains the reinterred dead from earlier wars, making it the only national cemetery to hold servicemen from every war in U.S. history.

The cemetery was established during the Civil War on the grounds of Arlington House, also known as Custis-Lee Mansion, which had been the estate of the family of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his wife Mary Anna Custis Lee, who was also a great-granddaughter of Martha Washington.  The Lees had lived there for over thirty years prior to the outbreak of the Civil War.  The government seized the property in 1864 as part of a dispute over a $92.07 tax bill, and began to use the property as a cemetery.  In 1882, almost twenty years later and more than a decade after Lee’s death, the Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. government had seized his estate without due process and ordered it returned to his family in the same condition as when it was illegally confiscated. If followed, the ruling could have required the exhumation of all of Arlington’s dead, which at that time was approximately 17,000.  Instead, the Lee family officially sold the property to Congress for $150,000 the following year.

Arlington National Cemetery also houses a number of other memorials on its grounds, including the Tomb of the Unknowns, in honor of those who lay unidentified on the battlefields of freedom. Additional memorials at the cemetery include: the USS Maine Mast Memorial; the Spanish-American War Nurses Memorial; Chaplains Hill, which includes monuments to Jewish, Protestant, and Roman Catholic military chaplains; the Confederate Memorial dedicated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy; the Eternal Flame marking President John F. Kennedy’s grave; the Lockerbie Cairn Memorial to the 270 killed in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland; the Space Shuttle Challenger and the Space Shuttle Columbia Memorials, as well as; a section of burial ground for military personnel killed in the Global War on Terror.

It is listed as the Arlington National Cemetery Historic District  on the National Register of Historic Places.  But despite its rich history, it is important to remember that Arlington National Cemetery is still an active cemetery.  It averages about 5,000 funerals each year.  Funerals are normally conducted six days a week, Monday through Saturday. Arlington averages 27 to 30 funerals, including interments and inurnments, each and every weekday.  And six to eight services on Saturdays.  It is for this reason that the flags on the cemetery grounds are flown at half-staff from a half hour before the first funeral until a half hour after the last funeral each day.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

The River Horse

The River Horse

On this ride I set out on a hunt for a mysterious and illusive creature known as a river horse. I found it in northwest D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood, at 21st Street and H Street (MAP), in front of the Lisner Auditorium on the campus of George Washington University

“The River Horse” is a bronze sculpture of a hippopotamus that was a gift from University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg to the George Washington University’s incoming class of 2000.  It was placed at the center of the campus in 1996, and has become a popular, though unofficial, campus mascot for all students.  It is so popular, in fact, that over the years its nose has become slightly worn due to passersby rubbing it for good luck.

Information about the legend surrounding the river horse is contained on a plaque at the base of the statue, which reads, “Legend has it that the Potomac was once home to these wondrous beasts. George and Martha Washington are even said to have watched them cavort in the river shallows from the porch of their beloved Mount Vernon on summer evenings. Credited with enhancing the fertility of the plantation, the Washingtons believed the hippopotamus brought them good luck and children on the estate often attempted to lure the creatures close enough to the shore to touch a nose for good luck. So, too, may generations of students of the George Washington University. Art for wisdom, Science for joy, Politics for beauty, And a Hippo for hope. The George Washington University Class of 2000 – August 28, 1996”

After rubbing its nose, I continued on my way feeling a little luckier for the rest of the ride.