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!

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.

Family residence in color

Snapped several more photos of photos from Seale’s The White House, which I believe are public domain via government photographers. Some of these are clearly color versions of photos available from the HABS project and Truman Library (I always suspected that the HABS photos were shot in color and archived in black and white for some arcane reason). The pics include Truman and Bush 1 second floor Central Hall and Yellow Oval Room; the modern Closet Hall window view, and the Bush 1 Red Room.

I also did a bit of cleanup of the third floor on some sloppy HABS pics that I hadn’t cropped.

Nerd pride

I’m rather proud–in a way that only readers of this blog can appreciate–of a little addition to the Oval Office page, a picture of Bill Clinton’s rug that I digitally warped to appear flat from overhead and partially reconstructed. I found a nice source pic of a repro on display at the Clinton Birthplace.

This is the rug that Laura told The Scotsman was “loud,” but I would say it’s my third favorite, after the rugs of Reagan and Bush 2.

The new curtains

Got a note from visitor Lee pointing out the new curtains around the White House and directing me to some pics of the Library, Vermeil Room, and East Room on Flickr. Good find, Lee! I’ve posted them and am trying to get permission to keep them from the owner, but I can’t find an e-mail address. (Mail me, Amber!)

PS– Dennis is still reporting issues with the Blogger comment system. But I don’t get any problem even when logged out and commenting as a regular user. Anybody else having trouble? I’ll check the Blogger help.

Tourist pics

I posted a couple more tourist pics of the public rooms: a 2001 Christmas pic of the Blue Room and one of the Vermeil Room. At the same time, I fixed the credits of these and other tourist photos to link to the site where they came from and, if I hadn’t already tried to contact them, sent a note requesting official permission to use them.

I think I’ll add a spot on the About page requesting folks to send links to their WH tourist photos. I’m afraid I might get 300 pictures of “Tiffany” and “Josh” posing in front of Christmas trees, tho.

Barney reveals the briefing room

Barney’s Holiday Extravaganza” is available now on the White House website. In it, Barney has a run around the EEOB, ground and state floors of the Residence, the West Wing, and–briefly–the East Wing. Among other places, he visits the Press Briefing Room, which we see is still in quite a state of disarray. They seem to be opening up the windows on one side to full length. I think that’s a shot of the basement where there are no windows. It’d be nice to have a look at those “Press Briefing Room Renovation” plans Barney’s looking at….

The 1960s

Got around to setting up my camera and got out my Kennedy-Johnson books and shot a number of photos of photos from the era, including the Kennedy Press Briefing Room swimming pool mural, the Johnson Yellow Oval Room, Kennedy and Johnson Family Dining Room, Johnson and 1890 West Sitting Hall, Luci’s wedding reception in the East Room, and the Diplomatic Reception Room. I have several more I’ll do later.

Update: Added the Kennedy Library, Queen’s Bedroom, Treaty Room, and the Oval Office with Boudin’s red rug and LBJ’s desk and the Cabinet Room.

Update: Added JFK, Jr in the President’s Secretary’s Office, the replanting of the Rose Garden, the Kennedys playing in the South Fountain (!), and Caroline’s kindergarten class in the Sun Room, the third floor Central Hall, and the Family Theater.


I added several miscellaneous photos here and there, including a couple in the Blue Room of the Kennedy and Taft eras, a different view of TR’s Green Room, the 1922 East Wing exterior, and W in the Press Briefing Room.

A couple of days ago, I added a few others, particularly images of artwork in the State Dining Room and Palm Room.

UPDATE: Dennis commented on the Ike pic, which has always bothered me, so I reprocessed it to fix the fade (and straightened it) and posted the new version (old version here).

TV West Wing

Made some changes to the TV West Wing page to include some of the most relevant parts of Pete’s review of season 1 and not include the Amazon ad link. Then I added a link to this page from Wikipedia’s page on the TV show.

I wanted to be sure the page WP links to is as relevant and non-spammy as possible. The WHM get quite a bit of traffic from Wikipedia’s White House pages (I put links on several of the room pages, most of which I started in the first place), so I figured I might get a bit more traffic from WW fans.


While making some other, minor changes, I accidentally uploaded new Overview and Residence pages where I had started to break out the various stages of White House history. I’ll continue breaking out the history in more detail, with pages on the 1902 and 1952 renovations and construction and expansion of the wings. However, the structure isn’t working out quite as I intended (we discussed in an earlier post how it would be nice to have detail on each of the major renovations), so these pages will continue to shift.

Capturing WH video clips

When I first starting creating WHM, I tried to pull the official White House video clips on pages like Life in the West Wing to archive them in a more-or-less permanent place. But because of the way they are encoded (RealMedia) and hosted (some non-gov site), I couldn’t even figure out how to link to them from WHM, much less save them and host them myself (I’m pretty sure they’re government-created and therefore public domain). Before this administration retires to points west, I’d like to capture them so they’re available in the future. Anyone who can figure out how to download (as opposed to just view) the clips, I’d like to hear it.