America's First Families

Monday, February 16, 2009

The last few days have been incredibly busy, and so I've had difficulty getting the book read, and the entry up - but by this time next week I will be completely done with the end of the year reports for work, and I will be able to start getting my blog entry up earlier in the day. I'm looking forward to that.

I just wanted to remind everyone that voting for the books I'm going to read on the 18th, 19th and 20th is still open - and we have a few ties going, so we need some tie-breaking votes. The options for those days can be found in the blog entries from February 11th, 12th, and 13th.

Since today is President's Day I decided to read a book about First Families - and I'm so glad I did because now I will have random facts about the Presidents and their families to regale my sister with the next time I see her. Normally, she is the one who tells me random facts about the Presidents, so I'm looking forward to being the Presidential expert (and I use that term loosely because the chances of me remembering very many of the details from this book are slim).

The description of today's book; "America's First Families is the first book to take a close look at the real lives of America's own "royal families" in the White House, from John and Abigail Adams in 1800 to Bill and Hillary Clinton in the twenty-first century. Vivid anecdotes and revealing facts are drawn from diaries, letters, newspaper and magazine stories, and the author's own vast archive of research and interviews."

For those of you who might still be in a Valentine's Day kind of mood, I'll start with the White House weddings:

  • The first White House wedding took place on March 12, 1812 - and was the wedding of James Madison's sister-in-law, Lucy Pane, and Supreme Court Justice Thomas Todd.
  • James Monroe's daughter, Maria, was the first child of a president to marry in the White House. The ceremony took place on March 9, 1820.
  • Three presidents married while in office - but only one got married in the White House - Grover Cleveland who married Frances Folsom in 1886.
  • Woodrow Wilson's family was the only First Family to have two White House weddings.

I can't even imagine the kind of frenzy the press would go into now if someone got married in the White House. They would probably spend months completely ignoring all the real news stories going on in the world, and instead obsessively talk about flowers and dress designs. It would make the "Breaking News: Obama ate a hamburger today" new stories look like substantive reporting.

My favorite parts:

John and Abigail Adams's nephew, William "Billy" Shaw, lived with them in the White House. He was described as a person who "grew so obsessed with books that he became socially dysfunctional." - I probably shouldn't be so amused by that, but in light of my current blogging project I can't help but laugh. I think the problem was that Billy didn't have a blog - and therefore he couldn't justify his reading habit by saying, "I'm working" the way that I can. Sometimes I think I'm getting too obsessed with reading, but I'm still doing better than Billy, since I can still find time for things other than reading, and I'm still able to hold conversations with people (although most of those conversations have been about books, so maybe I am becoming socially dysfunctional).

President Benjamin Harrison's grandson, who was named after him, became a press sensation at the age of 18 months. He was known to the press as "Baby" McKee - and he became so famous during his grandfather's presidency that columns were written about him (what he ate, what he wore, how he was taken care of), the American people loved hearing every detail of his life. That's what having no television will do to people, they become way too easily amused. President Harrison soon became exploiting this in order to turn public opinion in his favor - but it eventually backfired on him when Baby began to be lampooned in cartoons and people began to claim that "Baby runs the White House." - All I could think about while reading that part was that if that happened today the political ads during the next election would go something like this, "Can we afford four more years of Baby running the White House. This November, vote to put grown ups back in charge."

Random, useless trivia:

  • The Hardings still served alcohol in the White House during prohibition.
  • The Trumans were the first to have a television in the White House and the Carters were the first to install a VCR.
  • The official presidential retreat now known as Camp David was originally established by FDR, and later given the name it is known by today by President Eisenhower, who named it after his grandson.
  • President Tyler was the first president to be guarded by a permanent security detail.
  • Theodore Roosevelt's collection of pets included; a badger, a kitten that attacked the Speaker of the House, a six-toed cat, a one-legged rooster who was given a crutch by the children, parrots, kangaroo rats (which I had never even heard of until now), an owl, guinea pigs, dogs, and horses.

I'm going to go relax now after an incredibly stressful attempt to get this blog entry up. The computer froze up every 2-3 minutes, and then the whole screen went completely white for 20 minutes while I was in the middle of typing this.