White House

The Biggest Cheese in Washington

The Great Cheese Levee (Photo Source: Perley's Reminiscences, National Portrait Gallery Blog) http://npg.si.edu/blog/big-cheese-presidential-gifts-mammoth-proportions

While Presidents of the United States have received all different kinds of honors and gifts throughout the years, there is one particular 19th century trend of presidential gift-giving that stands out…or maybe stands alone. Giant wheels of cheese have appeared at the White House multiple times in presidential history, starting in 1801 when Thomas Jefferson was gifted the 4 foot-wide, 17 inch-high, 1,235 pound Cheshire “Mammoth” Cheese from the citizens of Cheshire, Massachusetts. Funny enough, Jefferson’s Mammoth Cheese was not the last one to enter the White House. Andrew Jackson received his 1,400 pound New York-made Mammoth Cheese in 1835, and invited all of Washington to a party at the White House 2 years later to eat it. 

Poe's Washington Excursion

“Daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe, known as the "Annie" Daguerreotype,” 1849, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_Allan_Poe#/media/File:Edgar_Allan_Poe_daguerreotype_crop.png

The celebrated, yet ever tormented, writer Edgar Allan Poe, famously spent much of his life living in Baltimore and Richmond, but he surprisingly spent very little time in D.C. despite residing in such close proximity. He did however have one…interesting encounter in Washington. Frequent transitions through different literary critic jobs left him in a constant state of mental and financial instability; this led Poe to determine that he needed to find a job that could provide him with more financial security. His friend Frederick William Thomas was friends with the President's son, Robert, and offered to help get him a government job. Eventually in 1843, Poe traveled down to Washington from his home in Philadelphia to meet with President Tyler. The true account of how Poe conducted himself upon arriving is still contested today. 

Two Steinways and Three Roosevelts

Gold Steinway in the East Room of the White House (Photo Source: Library of Congress)

In 1903 and 1938, Steinway & Sons gifted their 100,000th and 300,000th custom, art-case grand pianos to the White House. The pianos, crafted with the White House East Room in-mind,  were unlike any other Steinway pianos ever produced--they had extravagantly painted cases, gold leaf designs, and intricately carved wood. The pianos quickly became beacons for art and culture in the East Room and Entrance Hall of the White House where the second one still resides today. Theodore, Edith, and Franklin Roosevelt utilized and dedicated these two Steinway pianos to help establish the White House as a hub for music in Washington moving forward into the 20th Century.

Harriet Lane (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Other First Ladies

As President Trump's wife, Melania, has elected to stay in New York -- at least for the time being -- it has been widely speculated that the President's daughter, Ivanka, will take on some of the traditional duties of the First Lady in Washington. Many are worried that this is another break from tradition by America’s unconventional 45th president; however, there have been numerous other times in US history when the ‘First Lady’ has been a woman other than the president’s wife. Sometimes, it’s because the president is a bachelor or a widower; other times, the First Lady is too ill to fulfill her duties as hostess and appoints a substitute. Or, as often seemed the case in the 19th century and perhaps now, the president’s wife took one look at the job and said “No, thank you!”

Fire and Rain: The Storm That Changed D.C. History

British soldiers set fire to Washington on August 24, 1814, prior to the worst storm that had been seen in Washington for years. (Image Source: National Archives and Records Administration, College Park)

D.C. has had more than its fair share of extreme weather lately, setting records for the highest number of days over 90 degrees and the most rainfall ever recorded in a single day, as well as being the site of a toothier type of storm. One day in 1814, however, combined all three - extreme heat, rainfall, and wind - surprisingly, somewhat to the District's advantage.

On August 24, 1814, for the first and only time in our country's history, Washington, D.C. was overrun by an invading army. The British army had easily defeated inexperienced American defenders, and set the city ablaze. The President had fled to Brookeville, MD, and many of the citizens had fled along with the army. Those few residents of the capital who hadn't already fled may well have prayed for anything that could stop the flames. What they got, however, was something far more than they were hoping for: a "tornado" more powerful than any storm in living memory.

An 1898 portrait of the Infanta by Giovanni Boldini. What, did you think we were going to post a picture of the scandlous dress? This is a family blog! Also, we couldn't find ANY. (Source: Wikicommons)

An Infanta goes to Washington

Scandals have plagued Washington D.C. pretty much since when it was built. The society pages of the1890s, however, dished some of the juciest gossip- easily done when royalty were still common and the bicycle had just been invented.

One particularly sensational event, taking place in 1893, was the visit of a Spanish Princess to the US. Her manner and dress shocked the D.C. elites and left them talking for a long time.

This is not the face of someone who enjoyed her stay in Washington, D.C.

Impressions of Washington: Abigail Adams, 1800

When Abigail Adams came to Washington, D.C. on November 16, 1800, she arrived at an infant city, sparse and not fully formed.  Having just left the comforts of old Philadelphia, this must have been quite a shock. To make matters worse, her trip south had seen been rough. So, it’s safe to assume that she was in an irritable mood, when she finally made it to D.C.

We should probably keep that in mind while reading her appraisal of the city because she was pretty harsh. The First Lady called the capital ‘a city only in name,’ and pulled no punches in her description of Georgetown

President Theodore Roosevelt's daughter, Alice, was married at the White House just after Valentine's Day in 1906 and gave birth to a daughter on Valentine's Day in 1925. The family's coincidental and sometimes complicated relationship with the holiday did not stop there. (Photo source: Wikipedia)

Valentine's Day: Love, Life and Death for the Roosevelts

Valentine’s Days were unusually eventful for Theodore Roosevelt and family, as this date marked some of the happiest and darkest periods in their lives. On February 14th of 1880, the 21-year-old future president publicly announced his engagement to Alice Hathaway Lee. The two previous years of dating sparked a short but intensely happy bond. Teddy and Alice were married the next October and, four years later, welcomed their first child.

On Valentine’s Day of 1884, Teddy was getting used to first-time parenthood. Baby Alice (named after her mother) was born just two days earlier, while he was away and he was eager to return home to spend time with his growing family. But what should have been a joyous time quickly turned tragic.

Lou Reed's Appearance at the White House

Rock singer, songwriter and guitarist Lou Reed, who died on October 27 at age 71, is best known as a lyrical chronicler of New York City's  debached avant garde subculture of the 1960s, a time when his band, the Velvet Underground, provided the soundtrack for artist Andy Warhol's druggy, gender-bending milieu.

But Reed also could claim an intriguing distinction in the musical history of the nation's capital.  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee once was called upon to provide musical entertainment at the White House, at the request of a visiting foreign head of state.