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Archive for February, 2014

State Dinners at the White House

Today’s post comes from the National Archives Office of Presidential Libraries.

King David Kalakaua of Hawaii was the first head of state to be honored with a White House state dinner on December 12, 1874, by President and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant. In the years that have followed, state dinners have come to signify the utmost respect for visiting heads of state. Each state dinner is a historic event with the power to cement friendships with allies and foster cooperation.

Months of meticulous planning go into a state dinner. The guest of honor’s country, culture, and favored preferences are thoroughly researched. The First Lady often chooses the décor and entertainment to highlight a certain aspect of American culture. Together, these considerations are translated into invitations, menus, guest lists, and entertainment. The results can be a form of diplomatic dialogue between the host and guest cultures.

In 1976, First Lady Betty Ford chose “light” as the theme for the state dinner honoring French President Giscard d’Estaing. The theme was inspired by France’s Bicentennial gift to the United States, a sound and light show staged at George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. Centerpieces were designed for each table using early American lighting items loaned from the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont. These included a period lanterns, candelabra, and candlesticks made of tin, pewter, brass, and wrought iron.… [ Read all ]

You won’t see this in the Monuments Men movie

As the recently-opened movie Monuments Men plays around the country, there’s one macabre story you won’t see on the silver screen.

It’s about the remains of German leaders, including Frederick the Great and Frederick William I.

The Germans had hidden the caskets containing the bodies of the Fredericks and former Weimar President Paul von Hindenburg and his wife in a mine in a remote area to conceal them from the approaching Russian troops. But the war ended, and U.S. troops made it to the mine first and found the caskets. They were in a room divided into different compartments hung with brilliants flags.

Capt. Walker K. Hancock, an officer specialist with the Monuments Men, described the scene: “Crawling through the opening into the hidden room, I was at once forcibly struck with the realization that this was no ordinary deposit of works of art. The place had the aspect of a shrine . . . all suggested the setting for a modern pagan ritual.”

Naval Reserve Lt. George Stout, one of the foremost experts on art conservation, later described the casket in an oral history interview with the Archives of American Art in 1978. In the movie, Clooney’s character is based on Stout.

Along with the caskets were treasures from the Hohenzollern Museum in Berlin, including items used at the 1701 coronation of King Frederick … [ Read all ]

“I was a gunner and a gun captain on a 90MM-AAA gun during World War II…”

Today’s post comes from Alan Walker, archivist at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.

Now, maybe it’s happened to you: that “needle in a haystack,” “home run,” unbelievable find that blew you away, and brought joy to a researcher. We archival folks live for that moment.

Let me share with you one such moment from my career. During busy times in the Still Picture Branch, the processing staff can be called upon to help answer reference letters, or staff the research room. One day in early 1995, I was asked to help with the backlog of letters.

This one from Mr. Evan Evans looked promising:

A 90mm antiaircraft gun? No problem! We have tons of photos of various artillery pieces and vehicles in our files. Or so I thought.

I spent half the day trying to track down a decent shot of the antiaircraft gun Mr. Evans requested, and I came up empty. Then I read through his letter again. He and his gun crew set a record for downing 12 Japanese bombers over Rendova? Maybe they had been photographed after their feat; the military services are always on the lookout for a good story to tell the folks back home.

So I checked out series 127-GW, under the heading Rendova . . . and what do you know?

Needless to say, … [ Read all ]

10 Football Facts Featuring U.S. Presidents

Today’s guest post comes from Susan K. Donius, Director of the Office of Presidential Libraries at the National Archives.

President Obama is an avid football fan, an interest shared by many of his predecessors in the White House. As young men, several future Presidents played football in high school and college. Other Presidents have enthusiastically assumed the role of First Fan by hosting football teams, viewing parties, and sports writers at the White House. In fact, the history of modern American football is full of Presidential cameo appearances, both on and off the field. With the big game this weekend, here are ten football facts featuring U.S. Presidents.

We’ve also put together a gallery of football-related images from the holdings of the Presidential Libraries of the National Archives.

ONE: William J. Clinton hosted Super Bowl parties at the White House. President Clinton invited friends and family to watch the Super Bowl from the Family Theater at the White House in 1993, 1994, 1997, and 2000. The Clintons’ Super Bowl party was held at Camp David in 1999.

TWO: George H. W. Bush was the first President to perform the Super Bowl coin toss in person. On February 3, 2002, former President Bush went onto the field of the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans to conduct the coin toss for Super Bowl XXXVI. It was the … [ Read all ]