Helen Thomas

Long-time White House press corps fixture Helen Thomas died the other day at the age of 92. She served UPI and other news organizations for decades, from 1961 to 2010. Best wishes to her family and friends.

Helen Thomas

01 Mar 1962, Washington, DC, USA — This is a photograph of Helen Thomas, UPI reporter in Washington, DC. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Rex Scouten

The New York Times reports that one-time White House chief user Rex Scouten has died. He was 88 and suffered complications after hip surgery. Our best wishes go out to his friends and family.

Scouten served 10 presidents, from Truman to Clinton not only as chief usher from 1969 to 1986 but also previously as a Secret Service agent and afterward as curator. Scouten never wrote a book or otherwise published any memoirs.

Major acquisition: original builder’s prints


In 2008, I was contacted by Darren Dumont in Maine about some builder’s plans that had come into his possession from family and which dated back to the Truman reconstruction of the White House in 1948-1952. He looked into other offers but eventually decided that the White House Museum was the right venue for them, and in December we at last settled on a price. They are now in my possession.

These are big, 4-foot by 3-and-half foot documents (some smaller) with great detail, most of which are in good condition. Together with my copies of The Report of the Commission on the Renovation of the Executive Mansion, I feel like I have a real window into that very special time in the history of the White House.

The areas included are primarily basement and ground floor rooms, with some first and second floor areas. No particularly security-sensitive areas are included. In fact, everything in the plans is already covered in the White House Museum, but these provide fascinating detail about construction and dimensions, particularly about moldings and wall structure. One has an enlightening comparison of the windows in the East and West Sitting Halls. Another shows exactly how the president’s closet is constructed.

It is my privilege and pleasure to offer images of these documents on the White House Museum site. Please consider making a donation to help offset the cost of acquisition.

You can even sponsor a specific document. Half ($100) and full ($200) sponsorships are available for each document. The sponsor’s name will be attached to any images posted on the White House Museum site for as long as I own the documents (which should be a good long while) in the format “From the collection of Derek Jensen; sponsored in full by XXX” or “…sponsored by XXX and YYY”. Just click the Donate button under the document you’d like to sponsor (donate a second time for full sponsorship). THANKS!

My plan is to stabilize the documents to preserve them and to make high-resolution copies. Some of these I will likely make available for purchase at large size, suitable for framing. Should I do so, sponsors will be offered one gratis for each document sponsored.

Thanks, Darren Dumont, and thanks to all those who have written with compliments and suggestions over the years and made this site a pleasure.

Real news

I added a couple of new photos yesterday (inauguration day) that I got from the White House official stream.

Also, I hope to have some big news in the next few days….

Truman gest busy

My hat is off to Matthew, who directed me to a terrific find…

The December 13, 1948 issue of Life magazine, wherein President Truman’s East Wing and West Wing first floors are diagrammed with offices designated. What a find! The fun starts on page 35….

Thanks, Matthew!

I’ve added images of the wing diagrams and ordered a copy of the magazine from eBay. When that comes, I’ll scan it and re-do the diagrams so the labels are more readable.

What do these images tell us that we didn’t already know? Well, they show that we (Pete Sharkey and I) have the East Wing elevator on the wrong side of the corridor, and that the main hall there is a little too wide, which distorts our depiction of the offices on the east side. It’s hard to say what the modern orientation of rooms is, since walls may have been moved in the past 64 years, so I’ll leave those as they are. The West Wing diagram shows that the swimming pool dressing rooms were still very likely intact and generally clarifies the north side. And of course both diagrams show who occupied which offices, which is of historical interest.

Treasure troves

Google has recently released their Museum View of the White House as part of their Google Art Project. It’s pretty cool and, altho it’s not exactly an all-access pass, the nature of wheeling a set of cameras thru the building shows some interesting views that we don’t normally ever see.

They’ve also documented a fair number of art works in the White House, ranging from paintings to furniture to swords. They even categorize them by location, which is interesting, altho it seems hard to maintain, since art and furniture get moved around quite a bit.

Also the Gerald Ford Library has posted a big collection of images in, as one would guess about such matters, the least convenient format available to humans. They are PDFs that contain lists of links with no thumbnails to high-resolution* scans of crude contact prints of rolls of slide film, organized by day, complete with grease pencil circles obscuring the best shots.

* High enough resolution that they take forever to load but not enough to be useful to me, since each frame ends up being only about 280 pixels across. *sigh*


Thanks to Mike B and Jason B!

An Historic Guide

The White House: An Historic GuideI got an e-mail notice today that the new An Historic Guide is available, so I ordered mine. It’s been available for a little while, but I just got the notice.

I’m looking forward to official pics of the new Press Briefing Room and the walk-thru of the exterior, but I don’t think it will be all that amazing. I do recommend the White House History books tho. They’re wonderful.

JFK photos released

Stephen M notes that the JFK Library has released 1000+ digitized photos of from the Kennedy administration, including many never-before-seen images. There are some great ones of the China and Vermeil rooms and some rooms upstairs and even on the third floor.

Search their digital archives.

And if you figure out how we can download the full-sized image, please post a comment here. These are public domain photos. American taxpayers paid for them. We should have them in their highest-quality form.

An Historic Guide

Stephen M reports that the WHHA says:

The White House: An Historic Guide is temporarily out of print.  A new
edition is currently in production and will be released in early 2011.  It
will include updated text and photographs and will mark the 50th anniversary of the guide and the association.

We will post ordering information on our website soon.

So a new edition is in the works. Hooray!

TR’s Blue Room chandelier

I got a request for information about a certain chandelier. The WH is not good about explaining where furnishings have gone, but if anyone happens to know, I’d be grateful.

I’m trying to find more information (any information, really) about the original French Renaissance chandelier than hung in the White House’s Blue Room circa 1902. It was removed during the Truman renovation, and I’ve no idea what became of it. More to the point, however, I’d simply like to know more about it (the maker, the dimensions, and so on.) It was a beautiful monstrosity, way out of proportion to the space–which, I think, became the reason given for its replacement.

There are only a few places in the mansion it could be, and it doesn’t seem to be in any of them. Big chandeliers being rather out of style, it’s likely been retired. It seems unlikely that has been moved to another government building. So, in all likelihood, it’s in any one of a dozen government warehouses, collecting dust.

Ship discovered, lives saved by president’s desk

HMS Enterprise and HMS Investigator

Here’s an interesting development. The HMS Investigator, a rescue ship abandoned in the ice in 1853 while in search of the doomed Franklin expedition to find a northwest passage thru the arctic, has just been discovered again, mostly intact. What does this have to do with the president’s desk?

Another of the rescue ships was HMS Resolute, which rescued the crew of Investigator before itself being trapped by ice and abandoned. But the Resolute was found two years later in an ice floe by whaler USS George Henry. She was purchased by the US government, refitted, and returned to the UK as a gesture of courtesy.

When Resolute was retired in 1879, the British government, in appreciation for the American efforts and ongoing friendship, had part of her timbers crafted into a large partner (that is, two-sided) desk for President Hayes as well as a lady’s desk for the widow of Henry Grinnell, an American who had privately funded part of the search for Franklin, and another used aboard Queen Victoria’s yacht.

The presidential Resolute Desk has occupied the president’s office or study in the White House for nearly all the time since its gifting in 1880.

It would be interesting to see Investigator restored and refitted, perhaps with some of her timbers removed and made into something else.

Helen Thomas retires

Helen Thomas

1962 March 1, Washington, DC, — Helen Thomas, UPI reporter in Washington, DC.
(© Bettmann/CORBIS)

White House Press Corps stalwart Helen Thomas has announced her retirement in the wake of the controversy around her recent comments about Israel. Thomas, 89, has been a part of the press corps since the early 1960s and traditionally ended all presidential press conferences by saying, “Thank you, Mr. President.”

Roosevelt Room flags

I got a note today asking about the flags in the Roosevelt Room. The question focuses on the numerous streamers on the flags, wondering if they represent individual battles for each of the branches, if the Battle of Wounded Knee is included, and who decides which battles to include. I’ve never heard of such a thing. Anybody else?

Presidents playing poker

I don’t know what to make of this image. Conceptually, it’s a weird mash-up of the famous Dogs Playing Poker painting and the Boulevard of Broken Dreams painting (dead celebrities in Hopper’s Night Hawks diner). It’s also simultaneously hilarious and vaguely touching.

All I know for sure is that Nixon is going to clean the rest of them out. He was a poker fiend.

UPDATE: There’s one of Democrats, too! Check out Truman’s shirt!

Your refreshing beverage, Mr. President

Peter Sharkey writes:

I was watching Who Wants to be a Millionaire yesterday and a contestant was able to work all the way up to the Million-dollar question and that question was:

For ordering his favorite beverages on demand, LBJ had four buttons installed in the Oval Office labeled “coffee,” “tea,” “Coke” and what? A. Fresca, B. V8, C. Yoo-hoo, D. A&W” Basin answered Yoo Hoo which was wrong, and lost the $1,000,000 prize money.

I thought it was an interesting tidbit of info.

Oh, man. I totally knew that one.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: LBJ was the crazy uncle of American presidents. Policies aside, I would be just like him. “More water pressure! Shut off those lights! I’ve named my dogs after pronouns! I named by daughter after myself! I don’t trust a man unless I’ve got his @#$%#$ in my pocket!”

ETCetera Magazine

The September issue of the typewriter enthusiast’s ETCetera Magazine is out, and features an article by Peter Weil detailing the creation and operation of the old White House telegraph and communications room. I’m happy to say that WHM was a help to him in the creation of the article, and he graciously acknowledged the site for information, photos, and diagrams. Thanks, Peter!


Had a short phone interview with an Esquire writer who is working on their answer column. We talked about the front door and the role of the chief usher in handling arrivals of the first family.

New White House stream photos

There are at last some new photos of the White House on the official Flickr photostream. I don’t think there’s anything there that it new to us, but I’ll keep looking.

Also, I’ve been sent some great video captures from recent video tours of the WH. I’ll add some of those soon. And I just got delivery of Reilly of the White House, a 1947 memoir of a Secret Service man that promises to have some interesting tidbits.

Grandpa Truman

Not much has been happening lately that has resulted in photo releases by the White House or other outlets, either of new or historical photos, and I’ve been quite busy with work life, but I continue to monitor the usual sources.

Meanwhile, Jack M sent along a link to a terrific article on Harry Truman from the perspective of his grandson, from the National Archives. This is mostly the post-White House Truman but includes the description of a trip to the Johnson White House. Very amusing.