Wednesday 31 July 2013

Haute Couture at the White House

The Smithsonian Institution boasts a large exhibit of First Ladies' gowns, which premiered with a lovely dress belonging to Mrs. Taft, donated 100 years ago.  Many more gowns have been donated over the years, some with matching shoes or purses, some with beads and buttons, some with puffy sleeves and billowing skirts, all with beautiful colours and designs.  Of the twenty-six gowns currently on display, the oldest one belonged to Martha Washington while the youngest one was worn by Michelle Obama at her husband's first inauguration. The First Ladies' Collection has been one of the most popular exhibits at the Smithsonian for decades.  Here are some of the gowns we saw on our recent visit to Washington D.C.

Mary Lincoln’s purple velvet skirt with daytime bodice is believed to have been made by African American dressmaker Elizabeth Keckly. The first lady wore the gown during the Washington winter social season in 1861–62. Both pieces are piped with white satin, and the bodice is trimmed with mother-of pearl buttons. An evening bodice was included with the ensemble. The lace collar is of the period, but not original to the dress.

Mary Todd Lincoln's purple skirt & bodice which she wore on the Washington social scene in 1861-1862.

Caroline Harrison’s Evening Gown. Burgundy velvet and gray satin evening gown embroidered in a floral design with gray pearls and steel beads. The dress was later altered by a family member.

Caroline Harrison's burgundy velvet and gray satin evening gown circa 1841.

Helen Taft's Inaugural Gown. Helen Taft’s 1909 inaugural ball gown is made of white silk chiffon appliquéd with floral embroideries in metallic thread and trimmed with rhinestones and beads. It was made by the Frances Smith Company. The fabric and embroidery have become discolored, and most parts of the skirt were replaced as part of a 1940s conservation effort.

Helen Taft's white silk chiffon inaugural ball gown circa 1909.  

Mamie Eisenhower's Evening Gown. Mamie Eisenhower wore this rose-colored silk damask evening gown for a 1957 state dinner at the British Embassy. Nettie Rosenstein designed the ensemble, which included a matching purse and shoes.

Mamie Eisenhower's rose coloured silk damask evening gown worn at a state dinner circa 1957.

Grace Coolidge's Evening Dress. Grace Coolidge’s flapper-style evening dress is made of velvet-trimmed black-and-gold metallic lace over a gold lamé underdress.

Grace Coolidge's black & gold metallic lace flapper dress circa 1920's.

Edith Wilson's Evening Dress, 1915. Black charmeuse satin trimmed with beads, black velvet, and white net, from the House of Worth in Paris. The first lady wore the dress in 1915 for a private dinner party at the White House.

Edith Wilson's black charmeuse gown which she wore at a private dinner at the White House circa 1915.

Jacqueline Kennedy's Evening Gown. Jacqueline Kennedy wore this yellow silk evening gown with an overlay of crepe chiffon in 1961 for the Kennedy administration’s first state dinner, for Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba. Oleg Cassini designed the gown.

Jacqueline Kennedy's yellow silk evening gown worn at her first state dinner circa 1961.

Sarah Polk’s Silk Dress, 1840s, remade in 1880s

Sarah Polk's light blue brocaded silk dress circa 1840's.  

Laura Bush's Inaugural Ball Gown. Laura Bush wore this ruby-red gown of crystal-embroidered Chantilly lace over silk georgette to the 2001 inaugural balls. Fellow Texan Michael Faircloth designed the dress.

Laura Bush's ruby-red crystal embroidered Chantilly lace gown circa 2001.

Michelle Obama's white silk chiffon inaugural gown circa 2009.

Note:  All photographs courtesy pinterest.

Tuesday 30 July 2013

How a Poky Puppy Brought the Picture Book to the Masses

In 1908, Henry Ford brought the car to the masses with his Model T.  Previous to the Model T, the price of a car was far beyond the reach of the middle and lower classes.  Henry Ford's $850 model put a car in many a driveway in America (see my post

Similarly, in 1942, Georges Duplaix brought the children's picture book to the masses with the Little Golden Book.  In the early 1940's, the average children's book cost $2.00 to $3.00.  However, the advent of Little Golden Books, priced at 25 cents, put books on the shelves of many a home.

Georges Duplaix approached Simon & Schuster with an idea:  how about a series of children's books that were affordable and durable?  These books would be available not just in bookstores, but in grocery stores, drugstores and five-and-dime chains.  Simon & Schuster went for the idea.

The series debuted with The Poky Little Puppy, a story about a family of puppies who dig a hole under the fence.  It was followed by The Shy Little Kitten and The Little Red Caboose.  Within the first five months, 1.5 million copies had been printed.  

More titles followed by authors like Margaret Wise Brown, Richard Scarry and Eloise Wilkin.  Topics covered included nature, science, Bible stories, nursery rhymes and fairy tales.

As the decades passed by, the price remained low.  It was not raised until 1962 when it went up a mere four cents a book more.  By 1977, it was raised to 59 cents.  By 1986 the price reached 99 cents.  And by 2002, Little Golden Books' 60th anniversary, it finally reached $2.99, the price of children's books when the series premiered.  But the quality of the books remained high.

Little Golden Books partnered with companies to help sell books.  Dr. Dan the Bandage Man, published in 1951, was sold with a package of bandages.  Nurse Nancy went hand in hand with Dr. Dan.  Little Lulu and Her Magic Tricks, published in 1954, was sold with a box of Kleenex.

Nurse Nancy by Kathryn Jackson Little Golden Book Kids Story Hardcover

Little Golden Books brought big names into their series including:  Lassie, Raggedy Ann, The Lone Ranger, Captain Kangaroo, Mister Rogers, Frosty the Snowman, Peter Cottontail and Sesame Street characters.

As of 2002, Little Golden Books has sold over 2 billion books.  It has published over 1200 unique titles. For its 60th birthday, the company launched a boxed set of Little Golden Books Classics.

Note:  For more information about Little Golden Books, visit the exhibit at the American History Museum at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. (Little Golden Books and American Culture 1942-1992). For the online exhibit, visit

Monday 29 July 2013

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial


On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. led a crowd of 200,000 in a march on Washington, a march for freedom and for jobs.  It has been almost 50 years since Dr. King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.  Now he has his own memorial located at 1964 Pennsylvania Ave.  The street number reflects the year the Civil Rights Act was signed.

"Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope", a line from Dr. King's speech, served as the inspiration for the memorial's design.  The mountain of despair is two large pieces of granite.  The stone of hope is a third piece of granite which has broken away from the other two pieces.  Sculpted into the stone of hope is the 30-foot form of Martin Luther King Jr., his arms crossed, his look stern, fighting injustice as he did every day.  Dr. King is gazing across the Tidal Basin at the Jefferson Memorial, also a proponent of equality.

Along with the stones is a giant wall inscribed with 14 excerpts from Dr. King's sermons.  Here are three:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.

It is a fitting tribute to an American hero.  Rest in peace, Dr. King!

Note:  For more information on the "I Have a Dream" Speech see my blog post dated August 28, 2011.

Sunday 28 July 2013

I Took the Picture, The Marines Took Iwo Jima

"In honor and in memory of the men of the U.S. Marine Corps who have given their lives to their country since November 10, 1775."

Across the Potomac River from Washington D.C. in Arlington Ridge Park is the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial.  It consists of six men, five Marines and one Navy corpsman, raising the flag on Iwo Jima during the Second World War.  Sculpted by Felix de Weldon, it is based on a famous photograph that ended up on the front page of almost every American newspaper.  Capturing Iwo Jima helped America win the war. Capturing the photograph helped Joe Rosenthal win the Pulitzer Prize.

It was February 23, 1945.  America had been at war for over three years, the world for almost five.  American troops had island hopped across the Pacific in their battle against Japan.  Iwo Jima was the last big territory to conquer.  But it would come at a high price.  Out of the 70,000 Marines who invaded the island, almost 7,000 suffered casualties.  Japan had an even higher casualty rate at 23,000.

The Marines were determined to capture the island and what better way to do that than to take its highest peak, Mount Suribachi.  The Americans fought well that day and a few Marines mounted a small flag on top of the mountain.

Mount Suribachi circa February 1945 courtesy

Down below, photographer Joe Rosenthal heard about the flag planting.  Louis Lowery had already taken a shot of the flag, but Joe thought it was still worth investigating.  He set out to climb the 550-foot volcano, sidestepping mines as he ascended.  Half an hour later he reached the peak.  But he did not find what he expected.  Six servicemen were planting an even bigger Stars and Stripes to replace the smaller one.  At 5 foot 5 inches tall, Joe could not see much.  So he hastily made a pile of rocks and grabbed a sandbag.  He stood on top of the homemade pedestal and snapped the photograph.  Then he slowly made his way down the mountain, his Speed Graphic camera in hand.

Joe was surprised to see his photograph on the front page of almost every newspaper the next day.  The picture went a long way in building America's moral.  As author Hal Buell explained:  "It said victory more than it said anything."  

Joe Rosenthal poised with his camera on Iwo Jima courtesy

Later that year, Joe Rosenthal won the Pulitzer Prize for his efforts.  However, he was reluctant to take the credit, saying:  "I took the picture, the Marines took Iwo Jima."  He would go on to work for the San Francisco Chronicle as a general assignment photographer for 35 years.  But his most famous photo remains the Iwo Jima image.  

Out of the six servicemen who raised the flag on Iwo Jima, three died in battle later in that campaign.  However, the surviving three went on to sell war bonds featuring the famous photograph.  Assets from the war bonds totalled 23.6 million dollars.

Advertisement for war bonds courtesy


For more information:

1.  Read Hal Buell's book Uncommon Valor, Uncommon Virtue.
2.  Watch the movie "Flags of our Fathers" (Clint Eastwood).

Saturday 27 July 2013

Vietnam War Memorial

A contest was advertised to design a memorial for the Vietnam War.  The prize was $50,000.  One thousand four hundred and twenty-one designs were submitted.  The designs were displayed at Andrews Air Force Base.  A jury of eight architects and sculptors perused the designs, which had no names on them, just numbers.  They narrowed the number down to 232, then 39.  The jury selected entry number 1026.

The winning design belonged to Maya Lin, a 21 year old Yale University student from Athens, Ohio.  While her design was well-received by all of the jury members, she was not well-received by all Americans as she was of Asian descent.  It had only been six years since the Fall of Saigon and the memories of the war were too fresh for some Americans.  They wanted to paint all Asians with the same brush.

Maya Lin courtesy

Construction on the memorial began in early 1982.  The design called for two black granite walls, each with 72 panels.  On the panels would be engraved the names of 58,195 American servicemen either killed in action or missing in action.  A walkway was added to provide visitors the opportunity to walk up and down the wall and view all of the names.

Controversy brewed over Maya Lin's unorthodox war memorial.  As a compromise, a statue was added called "The Three Soldiers" to complement the wall in 1984.

Sadly, for those veterans who survived the Vietnam War, many did not receive a warm welcome home from their fellow Americans:  amputees and shell-shocked veterans were ignored; servicemen were spit on or called "baby killers".  Some even tried to remove the Vietnam War from the public's memory.  One lady on said that when she visited Oregon, she toured a museum which had a display for every American conflict except the Vietnam War.

Time has healed some of the wounds.  As we walked along the wall this past week, visitors were showing a quiet respect for the veterans.  The occasional person stopped to lay a flag or a flower on the walkway.

Architect Maya Lin has gone on to do more great things:  she received her doctorate in 1986; she designed the civil rights memorial in Montgomery, Alabama in 1989; and she recently opened the Maya Lin Studio in New York City.  And to think that it all started with a contest.

Friday 26 July 2013

Arlington National Cemetery

Marble tombstones courtesy

Our trolley wound its way up and down the rolling hills of Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.  We passed row after row of evenly placed Vermont and Georgia marble tombstones commemorating the deaths of over 400,000 American servicemen.  Trees dotted the neatly manicured grass.  Gardens bloomed with brilliant flowers.  A gentle breeze wafted through the trolley, a much needed respite from the beating sun.

View of Washington DC from Arlington Cemetery courtesy

Our first stop was President John F. Kennedy's tomb, marked by an eternal flame.  We exited the trolley to take photographs.  A large plaque commemorated the President and his wife Jacqueline.  Two smaller plaques marked the graves of the two children that predeceased them, a stillborn girl in 1956, and Patrick, who lived only two days, in 1963.  After putting away our cameras, we noticed the breathtaking view of the Capitol Building and Washington DC in all its splendour below us.  Our trolley tour guide had told us that President Kennedy had seen that same view when he had visited Arlington Cemetery in the spring of 1963. His words were:  "I could stay here forever."  His request was granted far too soon.

Jacqueline Kennedy placing flowers at her husband's grave after his re-internment in March 1967 courtesy

We were enjoying the view so much that we did not want to get back on the trolley.  We decided instead to follow a group of people who looked like they knew where they were going.  Soon we saw a sign marked "Tomb of the Unknown Soldier".  We followed more signs with the same name.  Up the hill we went.  We followed a cement path which seemed like it might go on forever.  Finally, we came to our destination.

An amphitheatre, which resembled the Colosseum when it was new, sat among gardens and shrubs.  We found our way around the amphitheatre until a large tomb appeared made of marble.  A guard marched back and forth, back and forth, taking 21 steps, changing the position of his rifle, turning, and taking 21 steps again.  Despite the heat of the day, he somehow managed to look clean and neat.  We squinted in the sun and watched two other guards, a sergeant and a private, march out to the tomb.  In a ceremony which took several minutes, they performed "the changing of the guard".  Once the new guard was installed, the other two guards brought out a wreath to be laid.  A bugler appeared and played TAPS.  Then the crowd dispersed, including people from neighbouring states who climbed back in their vehicles and headed home.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier courtesy 

We headed to a bench hoping to catch the next trolley.  After a few minutes, though, we realized it was not a trolley stop.  While waiting I did have a chance to get another magnificent view of the Capitol Building.

We finally found the trolley stop, climbed on board and headed back.  We passed a mansion with giant pillars on the top of a hill.  Was this Washington's house?  No, it was General Robert E. Lee's house.  Lee was married to Martha Custis Washington, the great-granddaughter of George Washington.  Arlington House sat on a large, heavily wooded piece of property.  After the Civil War, in order to put General Lee in his place, the Union confiscated his estate.  This way, Lee would never be able to return home (and he never did). Now the building serves as a museum.

Union troops occupy Arlington Heights during the Civil War courtesy

Our trolley wound its way down the hill, back to the main building.  I purchased a picture book about Arlington Cemetery with the drawing of an American soldier on the front cover.  Not just anyone gets into Arlington.  You have to earn your way in. Our American tour guide told us that her son, who has completed five tours of duty overseas, has just earned his right to be buried at Arlington.  It was an honour to see the graves of these real life heroes.  May they rest in peace.

Thursday 25 July 2013

A Pile of Books, A Pile of Rocks & A Pile of Shoes

A pile of books sits in a glass case:  Das Kapital by Karl Marx, All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, Albert Einstein's works.  These are just some of the thousands of books that were burned on a Berlin street back in 1933, an early sign that Hitler would not tolerate any views but his own.  Some of the greatest thinkers came out of that era, people that would go on to help build the atom bomb and to put the first man on the moon.  But they didn't fit in to Hitler's agenda.  Freedom of thought would not be tolerated. Propaganda would rule for the next twelve years.

Berlin Book Burning circa 1933 courtesy

A pile of rocks sits on display, each one perfectly cut in a cube.  Above them hangs a photograph of emaciated humans lugging the rocks up and down a cliff.  Some workers, too weak to move another inch, fall down.  They are punished for their disobedience.  The same scene repeats itself day after day, week after week, month after month.

A pile of shoes sits in another case, turned green from years of exposure to the elements.  A rubber smell permeates the air.  Despair permeates the soul.  These are the shoes of thousands of Jews who worked at Majdanek, a Nazi concentration camp.  Despite their number, these shoes are just a drop in the bucket.  A map shows us that Majdanek was one of hundreds of Nazi interment camps, work camps and death camps by running by the end of World War II.  Hitler took their ideas, their belongings and their lives.  But he could not take their spirits.

Later, we walked past a small wooden boat, one of dozens used to transport Jews across the water from Denmark to Sweden during World War II.  Thanks to this evacuation, nine out of ten Danish Jews survived the war.  But sadly, Poland's 3 million Jews were reduced to 45,000 by the Holocaust.  By war's end, two thirds of Europe's Jews had been murdered.

Later, as we walked down Washington's 12th Avenue to dinner at the Elephant and the Castle, we ran into a women from our tour group.  We mentioned we had just visited the Holocaust Museum.  She said that she would not visit it because she did not want to see "man's inhumanity to man".  I thought to myself that she had hit the nail on the head with that statement.  Although the Holocaust happened decades ago, it could happen again -- with different players.  Let us never forget.

Wednesday 24 July 2013

Betsy Ross' Flag, Archie Bunker's Chair & Julia Child's Kitchen

Any trip to Washington D.C. needs to include a visit to the Smithsonian Institution.  One of the five museums under its umbrella is the American Museum of History, a three-floor building filled with American memorabilia and keepsakes.  An elderly lady, who looked older than the building itself, gave us a map and pointed out some of the exhibits.  With our map in hand, my mom, my sister and I started exploring.

Our first stop was the Little Golden Books Exhibit.  picture book covers lined the wall, the most famous being The Poky Little Puppy.  Other titles include:  Three Little Kittens, The Little Red Hen and Nurse Nancy.  I was fascinated with the layouts of original manuscripts, being a picture book writer myself.  Little Golden Books, which appeared during the Second World War, did more to advance the cause of reading than any other children's book series.

On to the next exhibit, a timeline of American history.  It was filled with facts and figures.  One highlight was Betsy Ross' flag with thirteen stars, one for each of the Thirteen Colonies -- the first Star Spangled Banner.

Another highlight was Archie Bunker's chair from the 1970's T.V. series All in the Family.  It looked a little the worse for wear.

Next we visited the African American history section.  Fours stools sat at a lunch counter, the one that hailed from Greensboro, North Carolina,  This is the counter where four young blacks waited for an order of donuts and coffee which never came.  I purchased a book from Niagara Falls New York recently called How Four Men Stood Up By Sitting Down.  What a powerful story!

On the third floor we visited with the American Presidents.  We photographed Abraham Lincoln's top hat and Ulysses S. Grant's carriage in which he rode to the White House on the day of his Inauguration.

Mom enjoyed the exhibit of the First Ladies' gowns.  We photographed Mary Todd Lincoln's violet gown, Laura Bushes dazzling red dress and Michelle Obama's white creation which she danced in at the 2009 Inaugural Ball.

Then it was on to the Food Section.  There we got to feast our eyes on Julia Child's Kitchen from Cambridge, Massachusetts, made famous in the 2009 movie Julie & Julia.  Julie Powell was a New York City clerk working on behalf of the 9/11 victims' families.  Looking for an outlet for her job stress, she decided to challenge herself to cook all of the recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year and blog about the experience.  She developed a huge following, secured a book deal and a movie to boot.  The last scene of the movie shows Julie Powell and her husband visiting the Smithsonian to view Julia Child's Kitchen.  For more information see my blog posts "Julie & Julia" (August 14, 2011) and "Bon Appetit!" (August 15, 2011).

We said goodbye to Julia and headed downstairs to the gigantic bookstore where I picked out a Washington D.C. coffee table book and Mom chose a book about the American Presidents.  I love museums!

Tuesday 23 July 2013

The Jefferson Memorial

"I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

A crowd of 5000 gathered on a beautiful Spring day at the south side of the Potomac River's Tidal Basin.  Millions more listened on their cathedral-like radios from home.  The occasion was Thomas Jefferson's 200th birthday, marked by the unveiling of the Jefferson Memorial.  President Roosevelt, long a fan of President Jefferson, declared:  "Today in the midst of a great war for freedom, we dedicate a shrine to freedom."

The memorial, which was Roosevelt's idea, had been conceived seven years before.  After clearing the land of cherry and elm trees, builders got straight to work.  John Russell Pope was the architect chosen for the memorial.  Based on the Pantheon in Rome, the structure had 54 Ionic columns and was made of Georgia marble and limestone.

A contest was held to determine a sculptor for Jefferson's statue:  out of 101 entries, the successful one belonged to Rudolph Evans.  The 19-foot statue showed Jefferson standing in his waistcoat, knee breeches and fur-collared coat.  On the dedication day, the statue was made of plaster; the bronze version would not be cast until after the Second World War due to metal shortages.

Inside the memorial walls are four quotation blocks:  an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence, drafted in part by the third President; an excerpt from a Religious Freedom bill; and two other excerpts.  All four quotes reflect causes near and dear to Jefferson's heart.  

Jefferson pursued many interests and occupations.  Not just a President, he was also a political philosopher, diplomat, inventor, landowner, architect, musician, book collector, scientist and horticulturalist.  President John F. Kennedy, once in a room full of scholars, said that their combined minds would still not equal that of Jefferson.

Three and a half million tourists visited the Jefferson Memorial in 2005.  It is a popular memorial representing a popular president.

Monday 22 July 2013

The Lincoln Memorial

“In this temple as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.”

Lincoln's statue, sculpted by Daniel Chester French, courtesy

It is the site of a great orator's statue, President Abraham Lincoln.  It is also the site of a great orator's speech, "I Have a Dream", by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  It is the site of 6 million visitors each year.

View from steps of Lincoln Memorial, I Have a Dream Speech, courtesy

On May 1922, the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated.  Presiding over the events was President Warren G. Harding.  He stood between the 36 Doric columns, one for each state of the Union back in 1865, and delivered his speech.  Known for his speaking ability, he commented on how Lincoln:  "rose to colossal statue in a day of imperiled union". 

Dedication of Lincoln Memorial courtesy

A special guest was in the audience, Robert Todd Lincoln, the slain President's only surviving son.  He received a standing ovation when he reached his seat.  During the eight year construction of his father's memorial, Robert would often request that his driver take him past Potomac Park to view the building's progress.  Now he was able to view the fruits of that labour.  

Nothing was left to chance in Henry Bacon's design of the memorial.  Guests at the dedication could look up to the "attic" of the building where there were inscribed 48 names, one for each of the 48 states in the Union in 1922.   

Friezes courtesy

If guests were to climb its 58 steps and look inside, they would have seen Lincoln's 19-foot form sitting in a chair, dressed in his office suit and bow tie, gazing out over the Reflecting Pool.  On its interior walls, they would have seen the text of two famous speeches:  Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address.

Excerpt from the Gettsburg Address courtesy

After the ceremony, the crowd would have slowly dispersed as they made their way back down the 58 steps, treated to a beautiful view of the Washington Monument.  It is an magnificent memorial to a magnificent man.

Sunday 21 July 2013

Girth, Golf & Grilled Steaks

White House courtesy

We walked down Pennsylvania Avenue, strangely devoid of traffic.  The closer we got to our destination, the louder the voices grew.  A man with a megaphone shouted:  "No, no, hypocrisy!"  The crowd echoed:  "No, no, hypocrisy!"  The leader added:  "Yes, yes, democracy!" The crowd responded:  'Yes, yes, democracy!"  It is a scene that is repeated almost every day on Pennsylvania Avenue.  While the players change, the message is the same. 

Suffragettes protesting courtesy

As the crowd continued to shout, we turned our attention to the black fence, the green expanse of lawn, the trees, shrubs and flowers, and the White House.  So this is it.  This is the house where President Obama lives.  Our tour guide Natasha informed us that the President was indeed in the Oval Office judging by the position of the American flag flying out front.  We watched the guard stand straight as an arrow outside of the Oval Office.

We Canadian tourists pulled out our cameras and delicately tried to position them between the bars of the fence and snap a photo.  This would be the closest we would get.  Ever since someone tried to kill the President and his family a couple of years ago, the White House is closed to visitors.  As we gazed at the Executive Mansion, we counted three floors.  However, our guide explained that it actually has six floors (ground, state, third, fourth, two basements).  

Truman balcony courtesy

We learned that George Washington never lived in the White House since it wasn't built until 1800.  We learned that the British burned it down in 1814 (War of 1812) and that it was repainted white to hide the charred walls.  We learned how Abraham Lincoln met Frederick Douglass within its walls and promised him that slavery would be abolished, a decision which would cost him his life.  We learned that William H. Taft, who called the residence "the most depressing House", got his 325-pound frame stuck in the bathtub.   

William H. Taft courtesy

We also learned that Harry S Truman, a native of Missouri, added a balcony.  How Dwight D. Eisenhower used to hit golf balls off of the balcony in a game of "Hit the Secret Service Man".  (In fact, the Oval Office floor was pockmarked from his golf cleats.)  How Jacqueline Kennedy had the Executive Mansion restored and redecorated (see my blog post "George Washington Didn't Sleep Here" dated February 15, 2013).  And how Lyndon B. Johnson used the balcony to grill steaks on.  

Photo of President Eisenhower golfing courtesy

We lingered outside the black fence for a little longer.  Then it was time to say goodbye to the White House, to say goodbye to the President, to say goodbye to the protesters.  As we made our way down the street, their voices faded.  But the spirit of democracy is as strong as ever.