The Birth of a Nation

As part of a deeper look at silent film, I screened DW Griffith’s epic The Birth of a Nation and noted that Lincoln’s office is depicted. So I wrote a review for the Movies and TV page.

I also added a couple of new pictures in the last couple of days. Check What’s New.

Blair more popular than Queen

As you might imagine, visitorship was up substantially for the weeks of the Queen’s and PM’s visits, about a 30% and 70% increase in page views respectively. But on the 17th, page views skyrocketed 600% from a usual of 4,000 to 25,000 in one day. “Yo, Blair” indeed.

Now if we could only get the Beatles to visit, followed by Jesus, we could solve that question once and for all too.

Open post: Secret staircase

In the previous post comments, visitor Chris wrote:

Hey, on an unrelated note, I have recently come into some information regarding a hidden staircase passage on the first floor.

Would you guys like to know where it is? I wasnt sure if that kind of thing is allowed here.

Yes! Assuming it is used by regular staff and not strictly by the Secret Service or something, I’m definitely interested. I’m aware of a basement mezzanine, eastward tunnel under the East Wing, and (I’ve suspected, at least) another small hidden staircase on the West side, but I don’t have enough information about these to document them.

New old floor plans

As I promised previously, I’ve now added floor plans for the Residence second floor around 1863 and around 1880. However, comparing them side by side suggests that the 1863 diagram (a modern drawing from Seale’s 2-volume The White House) has the old west stair wrong. It looks like the artist drew in the original west stair to me.

Also, I improved the 1901 second floor plan and added it to the second floor page. And I added all the floor plans to the appropriate renovation pages.

LBJ’s green-topped desk

I got a very nice reply from Renée Gravois at the Johnson Library about LBJ’s Oval Office furnishings.

An antique desk was found in the Senate Office building for LBJ’s use in his ranch office. This was a pedestal desk of late Sheraton or early Regency design, made of Honduran mahogany. Johnson liked this desk so much that he asked Joe Duke, Sergeant of Arms at the Senate for another desk for his Majority Leader office. The Senate cabinet shop made a desk just like the antique one, and inset green tooled leather on top surface. Maybe it was a little too much like the original—blocks had to be added under the ball fee to raise it up for LBJ. He then used it in his VP office and later in the Oval Office.

After it was installed in the Oval Office, Frank Stanton and others removed the blocks under the feet and added an extra row of molding above them to make up for the difference. A cane modesty panel was added at the same time.

Gravois also included some information about the reproductions of other furniture in the Library’s Oval Office. However, there’s no answer (yet, at least) about exactly when LBJ swapped the Boudin run for Truman’s.

Historical floor plans

I recently added an 1803 state floor plan to complement the 1853 plans I had added a short while ago. I wish I had a matching 1803 second floor, but the first floor shows, I believe, one of the prime differences between the 1800 mansion and the 1817 mansion: the strange and awkward original grand stair at the west end of the Cross Hall. (Oh, what I would give for a contemporary etching of Jefferson on that stair…).

I also have a plan from around 1880, and I thought I had one from 1864 or so, which would have shown the house as Lincoln knew it, with the private passage thru today’s Treaty Room to his office. Look for these soon.

Open post: Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl…

Looked over the White House’s page on the Queen’s visit and noticed something odd:

This is Her Majesty’s first visit to the United States in 16 years. Previous visits include the following:
– President George H.W. Bush and Mrs. Bush, State Dinner, on May 14, 1991
– President and Mrs. Reagan, California, March, 1983
– President and Mrs. Ford, State Dinner, July, 1976
– President and Mrs. Eisenhower, State Dinner, October, 1957

Politics aside, is it really possible that QE2 has visited only Republicans?

Open post: State Dining Room chairs

There are two sets of chairs in common use in the State Dining Room: a large set of gilt chairs with unusual spindle backs and a smaller set of upholstered mahogany Queen Anne-style chairs. I believe the Queen Anne chairs date from the 1902 renovation and the gilt chairs from the Kennedy administration, purchased after one of the old bent-wood chairs broke under JFK during a dinner, but I’m not sure.

Fishin’ in the LOC

I went looking thru the Library of Congress collection again and came up with several more photos of a little bit of everything to add to the site. A few are rather unfortunately poor quality (which is why I didn’t get them when I first scoured the digital collection last year), but just having them is nice. Maybe the LOC will eventually add high-resolution versions, and it will be easy to go back and get those to replace the crummy ones. Particularly of interest are the floor plans from 1853, which—I realized once I collected them all—document the entire White House at the time. However, the images are too low resolution to read the room labels, unfortunately.

UPDATE: I found the same ground and second floor plans in Seale’s WH: Idea, where they are clear enough to read the labels, so I’ve added them.

Open post: The queen of England arrives

The White House will welcome Queen Elizabeth II—or, as President Bush calls her, Lizzy Deuce*—on Sunday for a state dinner. Prior to that she will have visited:

  • Historic Jamestown—which, she may be surprised to discover, has changed very little since her last visit
  • The Kentucky Derby—where her hat, while fancy, is unlikely to be the fanciest
  • Wrestlemania Revenge in the Roanoke Civic Center**

On her way out, she plans to stop in Canada and pick up one of those 1 million dollar coins with her picture on it.***

* I totally made that up.
** Ibid.
*** Ibid.


I watched the 1993 comedy Dave and posted my analysis on the Movies & TV page. The great majority of the movie takes place in the WH and most aspects of the mansion are reproduced quite well. But some of the changes are strange—like putting a giant bathroom for the president in place of the West Sitting Hall.

I also rearranged the Movies & TV page to be in alphabetical order instead of in the order they were written.