Posts Tagged ‘Sir Winston Churchill’

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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Statue of Sir Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill is a widely-known historic figure. When asked, a majority of people would be able to tell you who he was – the Prime Minister of England during World War II, and one of the greatest world leaders of the 20th century. But most people know relatively little about the man himself, despite the fact that he was one of the most diverse, interesting and admired men in recent history.

The following are some examples of the little-known facts that even people who know of Churchill don’t know about him.

  • Like his father, Churchill was a citizen of England. However, his mother was an American. And late in his life, Churchill became an American citizen when President John F. Kennedy made him the first person to be made an honorary American citizen, an honor that has been conferred on only two people during their lifetimes. The other was Mother Teresa.
  • As a young man he was often bullied and teased mercilessly by other children. Churchill struggled with a stutter and a lateral lisp, and was mocked for his red hair, for which he was given the cruel nickname “Copperknob”.
  • Churchill was extremely accident prone. In fact, he was so accident prone that the world is fortunate he survived into adulthood. During his lifetime Churchill fell off a bridge, fell several times from horses, nearly drowned in a lake, dislocated his shoulder while disembarking from a ship, crashed a plane while learning to fly, and was hit by a car when he looked the wrong way while crossing New York’s Fifth Avenue. None of these incidents, however, left him too worse for wear.
  • For Churchill it was not the third, but rather the fourth time that was a charm. Churchill proposed to three different women during his twenties. But all three said no.  It wasn’t until he proposed to his future wife, Clementine Hozier, that his proposal was accepted.  He and his darling Clementine remained married for 57 years, and the bond between the Churchills remained strong throughout. The couple would often send one another affectionate letters during long periods of absence – sometimes decorated with handdrawn illustrations. The pair also had pet names – she was his “Kat” and he was her “Pug”.
  • Much like the soon-to-be-former Speaker of the House, John Boehner, Churchill was an incredibly emotional man. He would often breakdown into sobs during meetings when he was given bad news, and he can even be heard trying to hold back tears in some of broadcasts and recordings of his speeches.
  • Like many Englishmen, Churchill often enjoyed his afternoon tea. But far from being a teetotaler, Churchill also frequently enjoyed a drink, and particularly Champagne. He once was quoted as saying, “I could not live without Champagne. In victory I deserve it. In defeat I need it.”
  • He also enjoyed good cigars, and was so notorious for his smoking that there is a Cuban cigar named in his honor.
  • Churchill claimed to have witnessed Abraham Lincoln’s ghost walking the corridors of The White House.  He is not the only one to make this claim though.  Both Theodore Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis, also claimed to have encountered President Lincoln’s ghost in the White House.
  • When Churchill retired he moved to the South of France to concentrate on his writing. Under the pen name “Winston S. Churchill”, he wrote about 20 books over the course of his life, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
  • Churchill could be tactful, but didn’t always choose to be.  He once defined tact as “the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.”  But in response to a British politician named Bessie Braddock, who accused him of being drunk, he is quoted as saying, “I may be drunk, Miss, but in the morning I will be sober and you will still be ugly.”
  • Using the pseudonym “Charles Morin”, Churchill was a prolific and accomplished painter. Not only did he use this creative outlet to derive great pleasure, but in it he found a haven to overcome his clinical depression, which he referred to as his “black dog”, a condition from which he suffered throughout his life. He produced almost 600 works of art during his lifetime.
  • In addition to being an artist and a writer, Churchill was, oddly enough, also an amateur bricklayer, and was at one time a member of the Amalgamated Union of Building Trade Workers.  In his retirement he constructed brick buildings and garden walls and at his country home.
  • Lastly, Churchill was also a passionate breeder of butterflies. As a young man, he was a serious butterfly collector on his travels across the world. In fact, his interest in butterflies can be traced back as far as the age of six, when he wrote to his mother, “I am never at a loss to do anything while I am in the country for I shall be occupied with ‘butterflying’ all day.” In his later years, he built a butterfly habitat garden, complete with a brick breeding house, at Chartwell, his country home in England. He even attempted to bring back an extinct species, the black-veined white, by breeding imported caterpillars.

So on today’s lunchtime bike ride, I decided to go see a local statue erected in honor of this joint-citizenship-holding, red-headed, stuttering, clumsy, emotional, clinically-depressed, alcohol-drinking, cigar-smoking, ghost-seeing, book-writing, sometimes-tactless, artistic, bricklaying, butterfly-breeding, world leader.

The statue of Sir Winston Churchill is located at the British Embassy, which was the first embassy built in an area of D.C. now known as Embassy Row.  It is located at 3100 Massachusetts Avenue (MAP), in the Woodland-Normanstone Terrace neighborhood of northwest D.C.  The sculpture was created by an American sculptor named William Mozart McVey, and rests on a granite base.  Underneath the base is a time capsule and soil from England’s Blenheim Palace, from his rose garden at Chartwell, and from the Brooklyn home of his mother. The time capsule will be opened in the year 2063 to celebrate the centenary of the date on which Churchill was given honorary U.S. citizenship.

Churchill is depicted making the “V” for Victory sign with his right hand, and holding a cigar and a cane at his side with his left hand.  He is dressed in a suit, vest, and bow tie.  And symbolically, Churchill is positioned striding forward, with one of the cast bronze statue’s feet on British soil inside the marked embassy grounds, while with the other foot he is stepping into D.C., and thus in the United States.  This was done to symbolize Churchill’s Anglo-American parentage, his dual citizenship, and his work towards the maintenance of the Anglo-American alliance.

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

The plaque at the base of the statue reads, “Sir Winston Churchill 1874 – 1965 This statue, by William McVey (1902-1995), was erected in 1966 by public subscription, on the initiative of the English Speaking Union. One foot stands on United States soil, one on British Embassy grounds: a symbol of Churchill’s Anglo-American descent, and of the Alliance he did so much to forge, in war and peace.”