Backstairs at the White House

I just finished watching Backstairs at the White House, the terrific 1979 mini-series based on the autobiography of Lillian Rogers. Lillian and her mother Maggie worked at the WH from the Taft administration thru the Eisenhowers. We see each first family in private moments, almost exclusively in the west end of the second floor. It’s like every presidential anecdote from the period brought to life–Taft’s tub, Wilson’s wives, Harding’s scandals, Coolidge’s terseness (altho we don’t get the “you lose” anecdote), Hoover’s aloofness, Roosevelt’s relaxedness, Truman’s familiarity, and Ike’s regimentation. The drama focuses almost entirely on family drama, and the compressed nature of the story-telling makes it seem like White House occupants drop like flies.

The series obviously didn’t have a very big budget (my first jolt was seeing the real, modern WH south face–complete with Truman Balcony–as Maggie goes to work in 1909). Aside from a couple of apartments the Rogerses lived in, we only see a few WH second floor rooms, a bit of the third floor, and part of the kitchen and housekeeper’s office. The decor changes appropriately, altho I can’t vouch for the exact correctness of the furnishings. The pre-Truman layout seems accurate enough, altho the elevator lobby seems backwards and never changes (the creators may have been mixing up the kitchen elevator with the Family Elevator). The post-Truman mansion looks pretty much exactly like the pre-Truman mansion, tho, which is quite wrong, especially on the third floor.

I’ve added several images that help flesh out the spaces shown for the time period (which is woefully underrepresented with real archival photos). These consist of the West Sitting Hall, Master Bedroom, Master Dressing Room, Central Hall, Private Dining Room (as the Coolidge boys’ room) Elevator Hall, Kitchen, and Kitchen Pantry (as servant’s dining room, which may be historically inaccurate).

Also: John Anderton sent me a scan of a nice letter and card from Betty Ford in response to his letter of encouragement back when she was recovering from breast cancer surgery. I’ve added it to the Master Bedroom page, since I figure that was where she probably wrote it while she was recuperating. Thanks, John!

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Postcards in glorious fake color

I just got a packet of vintage color White House postcards delivered from Walt’s Postcards. I’ve photographed them and added most of them. So far I’ve added Truman’s China Room, a better image of Taft’s Blue Room, and Taft’s West Wing.

With the West Wing photo, I’m starting to wonder if the one below it (labeled c1910 from the LOC) isn’t really c1904–pre-Taft expansion. I’ll look for corroboration from Seale.

I’ve also got something fairly astonishing. It’s a picture of the Red Room, pre-McKim makeover, arrayed in green and labeled “East Room”! I believe the postcard is German, and at first I figured it was a fanciful hand-tinting job. But I’ve just noticed that another pic from the same era is labeled “Green Parlor” by the LOC, which I had always assumed was a simple mix-up. Now I wonder if that room was indeed done in green prior to TR’s renovation. I haven’t read such a thing, but I’ve been meaning to read more about that era. Can anyone help me out?

I also have a couple of exteriors that I think I’ll reshoot.

So long, Jerry

President Gerald Ford has passed away. Surviving to 93, the longest-lived president, he had been hospitalized several times in the last year or so. While his administration was brief and not without controversy, he was a decent man who closed the book on Watergate and Vietnam. Best wishes to his family.

I’ve changed the front page to an image of him in the West Sitting Hall. I’ve also created a gallery of front pages.

Thank you Santa!

I got Blogger working again after agreeing to move my account to the new Blogger (even tho I don’t get access to the new version yet, for some reason). Somewhere in that process, when I encountered a hitch, I changed settings and when the hitch cleared, my settings were still wrong. None of the forums or help or support were of any use. But with a little luck, catlike reflexes, and a nearly criminally devious mind, I have prevailed… with help, of course, from Santa.

Happy Holidays

Just a cheerful holiday thought for those who enjoy the site. It really never occurred to me when I started WHM that I would get such enthusiastic suggestions and additions. In regular life, I’m a communications and training consultant, so I normally design and develop materials about custom corporate software tools. I’m used to having a small team of collaboraters and also incorporating the opinions of expert reviewers, so I have little ego about being corrected or told that my layout or navigation could be better. I want the WHM to be the best place online for information about the history and heritage of America’s mansion. Please continue to comment and make suggestions!

And thanks to everyone who has sent me questions, answers, opinions, suggestions, and additions. And a very happy holiday wish!

PS–I’ve posted a link on the Overview page to a 2006 White House holiday tour video on YouTube. It’s not Martin Scorsese, but it’s not Ewe Boll either.

Blogger not working

Having trouble posting since I tried to switch to the new version of Blogger. I’ve contacted the helpdesk, but I’m sure they’re swamped.

UPDATE: This was the message I was trying to post for two days and kept getting a 530 (FTP password) error.