Upstairs at the White House

I finished JB West’s Upstairs at the White House over the weekend and I’m just amazed. It’s such a well-written account, personal and nostalgic but very balanced and easy to read. My discussions with other WH enthusiasts find that one thought Mrs. Kennedy was West’s favorite and that one thought Mrs. Eisenhower was his favorite, while I thought Mrs. Truman was his favorite. I suppose it was ghost-written, but that’s some pretty tricky writing.

Favorite moments:

  • The Trumans going from being the “three musketeers” to “the lovebirds” when Margaret moved out
  • Ike demanding that the White House police shoot any squirrels that come near his putting green, and the Secret Service explaining why this was a bad idea
  • Stripping out the new nursery before Jackie Kennedy returned after her infant’s death so she wouldn’t have to see it
  • The miscue that caused staff to nearly break in on a state dinner to move the furniture
  • LBJ wandering around the mansion, turning off lights
  • LBJ demanding a high-pressure shower system that made the plumbers marvel “I don’t see how the man can stand it”

The surprise was how tight the White House budget always was, even for the Kennedys. I knew how tight it was in the early years (Mrs. Lincoln getting grief about her shopping sprees, for example), but it was a surprise to find that, for example, the Navy was brought in to run the West Wing cafeteria mainly as a way of avoiding the extra cost on the WH books.

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