Friday, December 13, 2013

Review and Interview: Inside the White House by Noel Grove, Joel D. Treese (Contributor), William B. Bushong (Contributor)

Title: Inside the White House: Stories From the World's Most Famous Residence
Authors: Noel Grove, Joel D. Treese (Contributor), William B. Bushong (Contributor)
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: National Geographic
Publish Date: November 12, 2013
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.

What's the Story?:

From "In collaboration with the White House Historical Association, National Geographic presents this authoritative overview of America's first home featuring never-before published stories and photographs. Organized by theme, discover what makes the White House tick--from its beginnings to the modern day, from the architecture, to the staff, to the first families. Learn fascinating details of the real-life Downton Abbey staff who run this grand home. Marvel at the elaborate detail that goes into hosting a state dinner. Meet the beloved pets who've inhabited 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Read about celebrity visitors, the media, and the security so critical in today's world. Sidebars contain tidbits of rare information, and an appendix includes an illustrated time line of all White House First Families as well as a complete index. Photos include intimate and candid glimpses of life inside the White House--some never before seen, others long forgotten, and most never displayed in such large format."

My Two Cents:

"Inside the White House" is a fantastic book that will please both my fellow history lovers and my fellow lovers of beautiful books. Filled with fascinating stories about what is possibly one of the most famous houses in the world, this book gives insight into some of the things that have happened to the building throughout time and some of the stories of the people who lived in the house. I know this is a book that I am going to be referring to over and over again. It has some really interesting stories that I had never heard about before as well as some that I am more familiar with (some of the holiday traditions, Jackie Kennedy's big push to return the White House to its grandeur, the burning of the White House during the War of 1812, etc.).

I absolutely loved this book. Being both really into history and really into politics, I'm fascinated by White House history. I live in the Washington, D.C. area and any time that I walk by the White House, I am always driven to stop and gaze at it. It's truly a stunning building. Although I've taken tours of the White House before, it has been awhile so I loved seeing all of the pictures of the rooms in the building as well as some of the interesting portraits and furnishings that the building holds. The building is now a monument to the American people and our shared history. If you can't live in the White House, this book gets you pretty darn close!

The White House is so much more than just a building and so much has happened there. The book is divided up into various sections. There are sections on everything from the building of the White House to famous people that have come to visit the White House. There is a ton of information in the book so you definitely need a little bit of time to digest it. I recommend this book to anyone who loves American history!

Interview with Bill Bushong (Contributor to Inside the White House):

I am incredibly excited to welcome Bill Bushong from the White House Historical Association here to A Bookish Affair today to talk about some of the wonderfully rich holiday traditions that the White House has or has had in the past.


What are some of your favorite holiday traditions at the White House?

My personal favorite holiday tradition is the Easter Egg roll.  It is a public event enjoyed by more than 35,000 visitors these days and has been held since 1878. It is at heart a children’s event and the images of the egg rollers recorded on camera for more than 130 years are a real treasure trove of American social history. Kids really make the event special and the stories are marvelous. My favorite anecdote was the way enterprising children during the Great Depression would “hire out” for a fee. For many years the rules for adult admission to the Egg Roll required being accompanied by a child and vice versa. The kids would escort as many people in as they could, but eventually the White House police stationed men at the gates in 1939 to “break these rackets.”

What is the most interesting holiday tradition that the White House has now or has had in the past?

The most interesting holiday tradition that no longer exists is the New Year’s Day public reception.  This reception was once important as it symbolized the beginning of the winter social season in Washington.  The state dinners and diplomatic receptions would be scheduled during the winter months.  John and Abigail Adams began the tradition in 1801. By the mid-nineteenth century a protocol had been established.  First came members of the diplomatic corps, Congress, the Supreme Court and the Cabinet in the morning and after lunch the house was opened to citizens. Herbert Hoover ended the custom after he and First Lady Lou Hoover shook hands with more than six thousand people at the 1932 reception leaving their hands swollen and in pain. It did not help matters that during the Great Depression, the press widely publicized the story of one man who mistook the line of people waiting at the White House for a bread line. The Hoovers made sure they were out of town in 1933, and this New Year’s Day event has not been revived since.

How have the White House holidays changed throughout time?

Holidays at the White House have changed just as our national customs have changed generally.  The Christmas holidays are a prime example.  The White House observance of Christmas before the twentieth century was not an official event. First families decorated the White House for themselves and their friends.  Today, public tours and television cameras sweep through the White House and put the house on display. President Calvin Coolidge was the first chief executive to preside over a public celebration of the Christmas holidays with the lighting of the National Christmas Tree in 1923. Today, the lighting of the National Christmas Tree at the Christmas Pageant of Peace, a major televised event to kick off the holiday season, is held annually on the Ellipse. This celebration, held since 1954, respects the holiday worship of all faiths and features the appearance of the first family to light the tree and host live musical and dance performances.  The quickening pace of news reporting from an era of weekly newspaper reports to a 24/7 spotlight on the White House has changed the manner holidays are observed in general.  We expect to see the turkey pardoned on national television at Thanksgiving and a big fireworks production on the Mall to celebrate the Fourth of July.  That is a far cry from Abraham Lincoln’s private pardon of a turkey that his son Tad had made a pet and Thomas Jefferson throwing a house party with a country fair on what became Lafayette Square on July 4, 1803.

Do Presidents tend to all follow the same holiday traditions or do they tend to put their own spin on the traditions?

Every president adds their own touch to the celebration of the Christmas holidays.  From the earliest times memorable parties have been held for the president’s children or grandchildren. One of the most elaborate was President Andrew Jackson’s “frolic” for the children of his household in 1834. This party included games, dancing, a grand dinner, and ended with an indoor “snowball fight” with specially made cotton balls. The first White House Christmas tree, decorated with candles and toys, was placed in the second floor oval room, then used as a library and family parlor, in 1889 by President Benjamin Harrison for his family. President Calvin Coolidge was the first chief executive to preside over a public celebration of the Christmas holidays with the lighting of the National Christmas Tree in 1923.  Franklin D. Roosevelt enjoyed gathering his large extended family together, including all the grandchildren to read aloud Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve.  President Theodore Roosevelt, an ardent conservationist, frowned on cutting trees for Christmas.  Mamie Eisenhower had 26 trees filling every floor in the house. So you can see that first families always bring variety to the celebration of Christmas.

What is the strangest holiday tradition that the White House has ever had?

This may not fit the strange category, but it was definitely a break from the usual.  On at least two occasions President Warren Harding was sent a “fat southern opossum” for Thanksgiving dinner.  His benefactors were from Tennessee and Oklahoma.  I suspect both animals ended up at the National Zoo.  The presidents often received gifts of food at the holiday season, including turkeys, fruit, jellies, and pies. Horace Vose, the “poultry king of Westerly, Rhode Island” famously sent a prize turkey to the White House at Thanksgiving and Christmas from the time of Ulysses S. Grant to William Howard Taft.  These prize birds weighed from 35-50 pounds and always ended up on the president’s dining table.

Can you tell us a little bit about any themes for this year's holiday?

The White House should be announcing the theme for the 2013 decorations any day now.

How long does it typically take to get the White House ready for the holidays? Who does the work?

It is a year long process that requires meticulous planning.  First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy set the modern standard for holiday decorations in 1961 when she decorated a tree placed in the oval Blue Room with ornamental toys, birds, and angels modeled after Petr Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite" ballet.   Ever since 1961 the first lady with her staff select a theme and plan the holiday decorations for the White House.  Of course, the White House chief floral designer plans, designs, and arranges the placement of all floral decorations for the first family and is vital to the execution of the annual holiday theme.  Four assistant floral designers and an army of volunteers help create the marvelous displays each year.

How can people see the White House at the holidays?  

Public tour requests are arranged through one’s member of Congress.  The details are on the White House web site:

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting about this book. It's exactly the kind of book I'd love to give at Christmas. New follower here!


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