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Tag: White House

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 ]

A big cheese for the Big Cheese in 1837

In 1836, President Jackson accepted 1,400-pound wheel of cheese from Col. Thomas Meacham, a dairy farmer near Sandy Creek, NY. The cheese was mammoth, and it sat, ripening, in the White House for over a year. Eventually, Jackson invited everyone in Washington, DC, to stop by and help consume the massive wheel. He threw the doors open, and in just two hours, the cheese was gone.

Even members of Congress went crazy for cheese and were absent from their seats. From the Vermont Phoenix, March 3, 1837:

Mr. Alford opposed the motion for a recess. He said it was time, if they intended to do any public business this session, that they forthwith set about it, for they had wasted enough time already.  As for the battle with the great cheese at the White House, he was for leaving it to those whose tastes led them there, and to-morrow they might receive a full account of the killed and slain.  The gentleman from Maine, (Mr Jarvis) could as well finish the speech he was making to the few members present, as not.

Mr. Wise remarked that it was pretty well understood where the absent members had gone. There was a big cheese to be eaten at the White House to-day, and the appetites of members had driven them there to partake in the treat. To

[ Read all ]

From the Presidential Libraries: Hanukkah at the White House

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

Among the gifts from heads of state that are in the holdings of the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum is a menorah presented to President Truman by Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion. The menorah dates back to at least 1767, when it was donated to a synagogue in Buergel, Germany.

The menorah was used in the synagogue until 1913, when it was found broken in pieces.  A man by the name of Siegfried Guggenheim asked for the broken pieces and provided a replacement. The Guggenheim family restored the old menorah for their personal use, and brought it to the United States when they immigrated in the 1930s.  Eventually, the menorah was acquired by the Jewish Museum in New York.

When Prime Minister Ben-Gurion visited the United States in 1951, he searched for a suitable gift to give to Harry S. Truman in light of the President’s recognition and support of the State of Israel.  The Jewish Museum suggested the menorah, and Prime Minister Ben-Gurion presented it to Truman on his birthday, May 8, 1951.

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter participated in lighting a Hanukkah menorah on the Ellipse, just south of the White House.  Each President since then has commemorated Hanukkah at the … [ Read all ]

Application Denied!

Today’s blog post was written by Sam Rushay, a supervisory archivist at the Truman Presidential Library.

In the late summer of 1945, Frances Sarah Curtis of Mt. Rainier, MD, applied for a White House pass. Curtis, a Treasury Department employee in the Bureau of Public Debt (BPD), had worked in the White House File Room for 10 days in June before returning to the Treasury Department.

Perhaps hoping for a permanent White House job, Curtis applied for a pass.

The U.S. Secret Service conducted a standard background investigation of Curtis. She did not receive a White House pass. Two reasons were given. The first reason was because she owed $100 in unpaid tuition to the Wilcox College of Commerce in Cleveland, OH, where she had taken secretarial courses from 1937 to 1939.

The second, more damaging, reason was the presence of her name on the mailing lists of the American Peace Mobilization (APM) and the Current Events Club, formerly the Council Education Alliance. The investigators note in the report that these “groups are considered Communistic in nature.” She had also contributed money to the APM. And while there was no evidence that she had ever attended any meetings, there also was “nothing to indicate that she was not active” with these groups. Known Communists had attended these meetings, although evidence suggested that Curtis herself … [ Read all ]

The 1941 Christmas Tree: A Bright Light in Dark Times

 

The Roosevelts had planned for a “more homey” lighting of the National Christmas tree on December 24 in 1941. FDR had directed that the tree be moved from the Ellipse to the White House grounds, just next to the South Lawn Fountain.  But after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, there was some doubt that the ceremony would take place at all. With firm backing from the President, the tree-lighting went forward, and thousands came to the White House to share a bright moment of hope during dark and uncertain times.

Plans for this “more homey” event had been set in motion the previous December. A few days before the ceremony, the Roosevelts had an idea. At the 1940 tree-lighting ceremony, FDR raised the issue to the crowds gathered on the Ellipse, “Next year the celebration must take place on the South End of the White House, where all can see the tree,” and “all you good people” would be invited to the gardens of the Executive Mansion to hear the President deliver his message.

A few months later, FDR wrote a memo to Col. Edward Starling,  the head of the Secret Service detail: “I was not fooling and I think the proper place for the tree is right next to the fence at the south end of the White House … [ Read all ]