July 09, 2004

Rerun: Presidential Fun Facts

These were originally posted at my old site.

In the extended, an anecdote about Lincoln, JFK's return to the White House from Dallas, and Herbert Hoover in his later years.

Abraham Lincoln, President 1861-1865.

Walking one time between the White House and the War Department building was a tall, weathered man. The site at the time was a small park. Along came a crippled soldier cussing to himself about the government, president and all.

The tall stranger asked what the problem was. This young Union private, recently released from the Confederate Libby Prison in Richmond, said he couldn't seem to collect his pay from the War Department, despite his good and faithful service.

Well, said the stranger, he had once been a lawyer and perhaps if he looked over the soldier's papers he could be of some assistance. They sat under a tree to look at the documents. The tall gentleman wrote something brief on the back of the papers and told the soldier to see "Mr. Potts," who was the chief clerk in the War Department.

As the story goes, the two parted and went their separate ways, but a couple of onlookers stopped the soldier and asked if he knew the identity of his helpful benefactor. "Some ugly fellow who pretends to be a lawyer," replied the crippled soldier.

But he showed the two onlookers where the stranger had written the line, "Mr. Potts--attend to this man's case at once and see that he gets his pay." By the end of the day, the young man received both his discharge and his pay, in full. _______________________________________________________

Courtesy C. Brian Kelly, "Best Little Stories from the White House."

The waiting for this president to come home to the White House is long and tedious. In the interim, there is an invitation list to consider. Four secretaries madly type up hundreds of names and then, in a room full of aides, staff members, friends, a brother-in-law in charge, the names are read out loud for approval or disapproval.

Decisions, tough decisions...sometimes ruthless but all necessary. Speed is absolutely mandatory. Telegrams must go out right away. Now! Barney Ross? Old shipmate. From his navy days. Yes. Billy Graham the evangelist? The really respected evangelist... Silence. Well? "Billy considers himself a close friend of the president," says aide Lloyd Wright. Again, silence.

"By now," wrote an onlooking David Pearson years later, "there is real embarrassment in the air." Someone says they occasionally played golf together. Finally, a voice of authority, "No." Next on the list? And again the names. Yes, no. No, no, no...yes.

With Pearson, a high-ranking Peace Corps official, called in to help, the group headed by his boss, the brother-in-law, eventually has to move down the corridors, through darkened historic rooms, into the big room at the far east end of the main floor. The East Room.

By now it is 1:00 a.m. They are busy studying the old Lincoln pictures. They move out the grand piano. Word now comes to expect him at about 2:30 a.m. What about a crucifix, says Pearson. They send for one, but..."it turns out to be pretty awful, with a bloody corpus."

The brother-in-law, Peace Corps director Sargent Shriver, says, "That's terrible. Go get the one in my bedroom." Soon done. Modern and much more suitable. Past 4:30 a.m., "in the blackest part of the night, just before dawn, headlights begin to cut through the gloom in front of the White House. Most of us, embarrassed and feeling out of place, retreat to a corner of the East Room."

He is in the house. Pearson would never forget. "I hear the routine sound of doors opening and closing, low voices. Then come sounds that make me shiver. A military voice snaps a 'march' command; there is the clipped staccato sound of boots hitting the hard floors." In moments, the strained young men, stern-faced but obviously awed by their task.

They carry in the casket and set it down. He is here at last. "There is a short pause; no one knows quite what to do first. No one has had any experience. What do you do when you bring a dead President into the East Room of the White House at 4:30 in the morning?"

Prayers from the priest...and suddenly, in the doorway, she stands, his brother Bobby on one side and defense secretary Robert McNamara on the other. An altar boy is lighting candles at each corner of the casket, and she stands there, eyes wide with disbelief, clothing still stained by blood...Jackie is back, too.

In an age, in a few minutes, the very private scene is over. One long moment she is at the casket kneeling, laying her forehead on it. "There is dead silence. Absolutely no sound of any kind." She begins to stand, and then it happens.

She slumps back down sobbing, sobbing, "rocked by sobs." Bobby helps, holds her...lets her cry. In the days ahead, noted Pearson later, she would present a regal, strong, "almost inhumanly stoic" image to the world...people might even wonder if she mourned, really mourned. "But those of us in the East Room tonight know she did."

For the remaining aides, the long night's wait is over. "They have brought John Kennedy home."

Herbert Hoover, President 1929-1933.

President Hoover is one of my personal favorite presidents. First of all, I always like an underdog...and he had the misfortune to become president the year of the stock market crash in 1929. Second, I have been to his Presidential Library several times due to proximity and therefore know quite a bit about him and the good works he did.

The following story from Dr. Zebra tickled me: In his later he years he was "deaf and nearly blind." Hoover could use this to his advantage. In 1963 there were several celebratory events upon the successful conclusion of NASA's Project Mercury...finally there was another banquet, with a lot of speeches.

Former president Herbert Hoover was there, sitting next to Walt Williams at the head table.When Jim Webb [the chief of NASA] got up to talk, I noticed Hoover whispering in Williams's ear. I asked about it later. "He asked who that was," Williams said. "When I told him Jim Webb, he turned his hearing aid off and asked me to poke him when Webb was finished."

Posted by Jennifer at July 9, 2004 07:15 AM