Posts Tagged ‘Secret Service Agents’

A President’s Surprise Visit to the Lincoln Memorial

During this morning’s bike ride I not only rode by The Lincoln Memorial, but I also rode back in history.  As I paused at the memorial, I went back in time as I thought about this day in 1972.

Today is the anniversary of one of the strangest things to happen during President Richard Nixon’s time in office.  And that’s saying something when you think about some of the other things that happened during his time as commander in chief, such as the time, when he was still running for president, when he appeared on the politically charged, sketch comedy TV show “Laugh-In” and awkwardly asked, “Sock it to me?”  By the way, for the rest of his life Nixon contended that “appearing on Laugh-In is what got him elected.”  Other incidents during his presidency include: the time he met in the Oval Office with Elvis Presley, during which the King of Rock and Roll lobbied to be deputized as a federal agent in the War on Drugs, and; the time he declared to a roomful of newspaper editors during a press conference in Disney World at the height of the Watergate scandal, “I am not a crook.”

It all began days earlier, on April 30, 1972.  The anti-war movement was shocked when President Richard Nixon announced a major new escalation in the Vietnam War – the U.S. invasion of Cambodia.  It took many people by surprise inasmuch as he had addressed the nation just ten days earlier, outlining his plan for the withdrawal of 150,000 troops from Vietnam, seemingly signaling that he was serious about his promise to get America out of the war.  Near the end of his announcement about Cambodia, Nixon appealed for calm, especially on America’s college campuses.  He nonetheless expected blowback.  And that is exactly what he got.

Campuses across the country exploded in dissent, culminating on May 4th when National Guardsmen unleashed a 13-second, 67-shot barrage of gunfire toward student demonstrators at Kent State University, killing four students and wounding nine, one of whom was paralyzed from the waist down with a bullet lodged in his spine.  In the tense days following Kent State, more than 450 U.S. colleges, universities, and even high schools were disrupted by strikes.

Locally, impromptu rallies erupted all over the D.C. region, and a major demonstration was planned for May 9 on the National Mall.  Law enforcement entities went on alert, mobilizing all available resources including the entire D.C. police force and 5,000 military personnel from the 82nd Airborne Division who were stationed in the Old Executive Office Building next door to the White House, which was encircled by D.C. transit buses parked bumper to bumper as an additional security barrier.

The above information is provided to give a sense of what a highly-charged and volatile atmosphere existed nationally, and especially here in D.C., at that time.  Because it was within this setting that one of the most bizarre moments of Nixon’s presidency took place when, in the early morning hours of May 9, 1970, the president made an impromptu visit to The Lincoln Memorial.

At approximately 4:00 a.m., Nixon was awake and listening to a composition by Rachmaninoff as he took in the majestic view that the White House affords of the Lincoln Memorial.  He also observed students protestors beginning to gather for the protest planned for later that day.  Inspired to visit the hippie contingent, Nixon asked his valet, Manolo Sanchez, if he wanted to take in the Memorial up close at night.  The Secret Service was astonished but adhered to the orders of their commander in chief to take the impromptu trip. Nixon, Sanchez and approximately four agents took the presidential limousine to the foot of the Lincoln Memorial.

It was there that Nixon engaged a small group of students.  He began by acknowledging that most surely thought of him as a real “S.O.B.”  Irregardless, he explained that they all shared the same goal – stopping the killing in Southeast Asia.  And despite varying interpretations of his recently announced invasion of Cambodia, his overall actions proved this contention as he did more to extricate the U.S. from that conflict than his predecessors. During his discussion with the protestors, he also spoke about his views as a pacifist, given his Quaker background. Nixon explained that he changed after WWII to a view war as only useful as long as it was necessary.

The discussion also vacillated with lighter subjects, which was the socially awkward Nixon’s attempt to communicate with young people on their terms.  He spoke about the benefits of traveling and dating while young.  Nixon discussed the Syracuse football team with students from New York, and surfing with a student from California.  This was a leader not naturally at ease with people.  Yet it was Nixon who was willing to open a dialogue with individuals naturally opposed to him in a manner few with such power have ever attempted.

As the sun began to rise, Nixon, having exhausted both himself and his welcome, began walking back to the presidential limousine. As he did, a student Nixon describes as “a bearded fellow from Detroit” rushed up and asked if he could have his picture taken with the president. Nixon instructed the White House doctor to take the student’s picture with the president.  “He seemed to be quite delighted,” Nixon says of that bearded fellow from Detroit. “It was, in fact, the broadest smile that I saw on the entire visit.”

The president along with Sanchez and his entourage, including the Secret Service agents, whose numbers had increased during the course of the visit, then departed.  But they did not return to the White House.  Not yet.  Sanchez had never seen the famous “well” of the House of Representatives, either. Having roused security there, the President was sitting at one of the House desks as his valet took to the same podium used for State of the Union addresses.  From there, and now also with press secretary Ron Ziegler in tow, the presidential entourage proceeded to the Mayflower Hotel on Connecticut Avenue for breakfast, before heading back to the White House.

There were no news crews or fanfare. There was no prepared speech, talking points, or plan on what to do when Nixon arrived. And all that remains are a few photographs and the recollections of those involved, including Nixon’s, as can be heard on the video below.

           
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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A Post-White House Presidential Residence

Unlike when most presidents’ terms in office conclude, when President Obama left the White House in January of 2017 he and his family chose to stay here in D.C.  In fact, the only other former President to live in D.C. after leaving the presidency was Woodrow Wilson, who also has the distinction of being the only former president interred in D.C.

The Obamas’ reason for staying in the national capital city was so that Sasha (the youngest daughter), could stay and graduate from high school.  At the time she was a sophomore at a private high school named Sidwell Friends, where her older sister Malia graduated in 2016.  As President Obama explained, “We’re going to have to stay a couple of years in D.C. probably so Sasha can finish.  Transferring someone in the middle of high school?  Tough.”

So after living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for eight years, what kind of home did the Obama family move into?  On today’s lunchtime bike ride I stopped by to see their current home, located at 2446 Belmont Road (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Kalorama neighborhood, to find out.

While not as impressive as the White House, the Obama family’s current home is newer than it.  The White House has been the residence of every U.S. President since John Adams in 1800.  The Obamas’ Belmont Road house was built 128 years later, in 1928.  The White House has 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms and 6 levels in the residence, while the Obamas’ current house has 13 rooms, eight and a half bathrooms, and three levels.  The Obama family’s previous residence has 35 fireplaces, while their current home has only one.  The White House has formal gardens, vegetable gardens and a rose garden.  Their new home has only a formal garden.  Lastly, the White House is approximately 55,000 square feet and sits on 784,080 square feet of fenced in land, while the Belmont Road house is 6,441 square feet and sits on fenced in lot that measures 11,915 square feet.

The White House also has a bowling alley, a swimming pool, a tennis court, a movie theater, three elevators, butlers and personal assistants, groundskeepers, and five full-time chefs.  The Obamas do not yet have a pool but recently were approved for a permit to build one.  And the Belmont Road house has a lower level au-pair suite for Barack’s mother-in-law.

Although not for sale, the White House is worth $397.9 million.  The Belmont Road house was listed for $5,750,000 in 2008, and then listed and relisted twice in 2012 for $7,995,000.  Having not found a buyer, it was subsequently listed again in 2014 for $5,750,000.  It sold in may of that year for $5,295,000 to former Clinton White House press secretary Joe Lockhart and his wife, Giovanna Gray Lockhart.  An Obama family corporation, Homefront Holdings, LLC., then purchased the home from them in 2017 for $8.1 million, which is more than quadruple the price of comparable real estate listings in the area, where the median price is $1,995,000.

Despite the fact that last year’s move from their home at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was a substantial step down for Barack, Michelle, and Sasha, their current home is much larger and more valuable than the home they still own at 5046 South Greenwood Avenue in south side Chicago’s Kenwood neighborhood, where they lived prior to the White House, and still stay on some visits back home to Chicago.

The Obamas will most likely remain in their current home in the nation’s capital until at least the summer of 2019, after Sasha graduates.  After that, they may continue to reside here, they may return to Chicago, or they may end up somewhere else.

 

NOTE:  Unlike all of the other photos on this blog, I did not take the above photos of the Obama family’s current home.  Those photos were taken from the real estate listing at the time they bought the home.   Because the Secret Service, which guards the former president’s homes here in D.C. and in Chicago have restricted access to the roads on which they are located, the following photos were the only ones I was able to take of what I could see on my bike ride.  They show uniformed Secret Service officers at blockades at either end of the road, and one of the black SUVs I saw while I was riding around the neighborhood in which sat plain clothes Secret Service agents.

 

 [Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

A Secret Entrance to the White House

Anyone who has been near the White House when the president or visiting dignitaries were arriving or departing have seen the entrances to the White House in use.  Equipped with security gates, ram-proof physical barriers, armed personnel, electronic surveillance equipment, and other unseen security measures, the entrances are obvious.  But there is another entrance to the White House that few people know about.

Located two blocks away from the White House in the 1500 block of H Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood, the secret entrance to the White House looks like almost any other alley in the city.  Thousands and thousands of pedestrians and vehicles pass by it every day, and I doubt any of them know what is hiding in plain site right in front of them.   About the only thing that distinguishes it from any other alley is a small, unobtrusive booth built into the wall of the building on the right side of alley.  I imagine most people who see it assume the booth is for an attendant collecting money for a public parking lot at the other end of the alley.  But it is actually a bullet-proof enclosure manned by Secret Service agents.

The alley leads south past the back of the Federal Claims Courthouse Building, before ending in an unassuming doorway at the rear of Freedman’s Bank, formerly known as the Treasury Department annex, on Pennsylvania Avenue.   From there, according to archival newspaper reports from before security concerns prevented the publishing of such information, the passageway to the White House passes through two subterranean tunnels.

The first tunnel was constructed in 1919 when the Treasury Department Annex was built, presumably to protect the Treasury and its employees from being robbed of the vast sums of cash with which they worked.  The second tunnel was contracted for President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II, and lead from the East Wing of the White House to the first Presidential bomb shelter.  The tunnel and bomb shelter were to be a secret throughout the war, but was disclosed to the public in December of 1941 when Congressman Clare E. Hoffman complained about its expense in an open debate in the House of Representatives.

In later years, the tunnel has been used by persons who needed to exit or depart the White House without public or press attention. President Richard Nixon’s daughter, Tricia Nixon, and her husband, Edward F. Cox, departed the White House via the tunnel after their 1972 Rose Garden wedding.  President Lyndon Johnson also used the tunnel to avoid Vietnam War protesters when departing the White House.  Other uses of the tunnel have either been discredited or, like the stories of Marilyn Monroe using a tunnel to sneak into the White House as part of an affair with President John F. Kennedy, remain unproven.

Once the alley and tunnels were connected to provide for vehicular access to the White House, the passageway was modified to end in the parking garage in the White House basement.  And despite the general public’s lack of knowledge of the access way, or perhaps because of it, it remains in use to this day.

Leslie William “Les” Coffelt Memorial Ride

Leslie William “Les” Coffelt Memorial Ride

This past weekend marked the 64th anniversary of first Secret Service Officer killed in the line of duty.  On November 1, 1950, Leslie William “Les” Coffelt, was killed while protecting President Harry Truman from an assassination attempt.  So, on this bike ride I rode to two of the locations connected to Officer Coffelt. The first was The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, located at E and 5th Streets in northwest D.C. (MAP). I also rode by Blair House, which is the President’s guest house located near the White House at 1651 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), and where a commemorative plaque honors Coffelt’s sacrifice.

Back in the autumn of 1950, President Truman and his family were living in the nearby Blair House on Pennsylvania Avenue while the White House was being renovated.  On the afternoon of November 1, Truman and his wife were upstairs when they heard a commotion and gunshots coming from the front steps of the house.  A pair of would-be assassins named Griselio Torresola and Oscar Collazo, nationalists who supported independence for Puerto Rico from the United States, werer attacking officers at the Blair House in an attempt to assassinate President Truman. They never made it past the entry steps, however, due to the quick reaction of police officers and guards.

Torresola approached from the west side while Collazo engaged Secret Service Officers and White House policemen from the east. Torresola approached the guard booth at the west corner of the Blair House and fired at Coffelt from close range. His three shots struck Coffelt in the chest and abdomen, mortally wounding him. A fourth shot passed through the policeman’s tunic.

Torresola shot two other policemen before running out of ammunition, then moved to the left of the Blair House steps to reload. Coffelt went out of his booth and fired at Torresola from 31 feet away, hitting him behind the ear and killing him instantly. Coffelt limped back to the booth and blacked out. He died of his wounds four hours later in a hospital.

Collazo later revealed to police just how poorly planned the assassination attempt actually was. The assailants were unsure if Truman would even be in the house when they launched their attack at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Torresola and Collazo were political activists and members of the extremist Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, a group fighting for full independence from the U.S. The “Independistas,” as they were commonly called, targeted President Truman despite his support of greater Puerto Rican autonomy.

President Truman escaped unscathed, and apparently unfazed by the attempt on his life, he kept his scheduled appointments for the remainder of the day. “A President has to expect these things,” he remarked dryly.

Officer Coffelt is still the only Secret Service member to be killed while defending the President. Collazo was sentenced to death, but in an act of forgiveness on July 24, 1952, Truman commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. Disgracefully, President Jimmy Carter later commuted Officer Cofflet’s killer’s sentence to time served, and granted the man release. Collazo returned to Puerto Rico, where he died 15 years later.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial honors the more than 19,000 U.S. law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty throughout this country’s history. The memorial features a reflecting pool which is surrounded by walkways on a 3-acre park. Along the walkways are walls that are inscribed with names of all U.S. law enforcement officers — federal, state, and local — who have died in the line of duty.  This includes Officer Coffelt.

Officer Coffelt’s name is inscribed on Panel 23-W of the Memorial. Ironically, the next two names engraved on the same panel immediately after Officer Coffelt’s are A.M. Blair (who was a detective with the Greenville, S.C., police department, killed in 1919 while raiding a dice game) and John House (a patrol officer in St. Joseph, Mo., who was accidentally shot by a fellow officer during a domestic disturbance call in 1922). So as it turned out, the two names following Officer Coffelt’s are Blair and House – Blair House – the location where Officer Cofflet was killed.

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