Little Bits of History

White House Visitors

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 25, 2014
Robert Preston visiting the White House

Robert Preston visiting the White House

December 25, 1974: Marshall Fields visits the White House. Earlier in the year, Private Robert Preston, a US Army helicopter mechanic, stole a helicopter from Fort Meade, Maryland and touched down on the South Lawn. He had flown over the Executive Mansion, hovered for about six minutes, and then took off again. He was chased by two Maryland State Police helicopters and forced down. He was slightly injured in the process. He was eventually sentenced to a year in prison and fined $2,400 after plea bargaining. Richard Nixon was President at the time and was not at the White House. He was in Florida and his wife was in Indiana.

On this day, Fields crashed his Chevrolet Impala into the Northwest Gate and made his way on to White House property. He was dressed as an Arab and claimed he was the Messiah and had explosives with him. He drove up to the North Portico and placed himself just feet away from the front door. The US Secret Service agents went into negotiations with Fields and it took four hours to end the standoff. When Fields finally surrendered, it was found that the “explosives” he was carrying were only flares. President Gerald Ford was not at the White House during the encounter.

When the White House was first built, there were no fences and the public was given greater access to the White House grounds. This remained true up until World War II. After the war, access became increasingly restricted and after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the airspace also became more restricted and better enforced. At the time of this incident, there was a wrought iron fence in place. Since it proved inadequate, a new gate was erected in 1976. Police built barricades on the streets surrounding the White House in 1983 and during the mid-1990s the fence was expanded by one block to move traffic even farther away.

There have been several attempts by unwanted visitors to enter the Executive Mansion. Michael Winter made the first such attempt on April 13, 1912. There were three attempts in 1974 with Samuel Byck making an unsuccessful assassination attempt. Gerald Gainous tried twice in 1975 and there were three more attempts to enter in 1976. There were twelve more attempts before the year 2000. There were seven attempts between 2001 and 2009. Joseph Reel tried in 2013 and was sent to prison for three years after his arrest. There have been five people trying to get inside the White House in 2014 with the last being Dominic Adensanya’s October 22 second try. He was attacked by dogs and stopped. The Secret Service were able to stop a toddler who squeezed through the fence in August and no charges were filed.

The secret service is a strange group. They don’t really have a leader. It’s not set up like a military. Each one is supposed to be able to act like a leader when something comes up.     – Val Kilmer

Bush said today he is being stalked. He said wherever he goes, people are following him. Finally, someone told him, ‘Psst. That’s the secret service.’ – Jay Leno

The Secret Service has announced it is doubling its protection for John Kerry You can understand why – with two positions on every issue, he has twice as many people mad at him. – Jay Leno

There is no such thing as perfect security, only varying levels of insecurity. – Salman Rushdie

Also on this day: Mastodons – In 1801 the first complete mastodon skeleton was discovered.
Scone Stone – In 1950, the Stone of Scone was stolen.
It Is Finished – In 1991, the dissolution of the USSR was completed.
Arrival – In 1941, Admiral Nimitz arrived at Pearl Harbor.

President’s Palace

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 13, 2014
Elevation drawing of the proposed Executive Mansion

Elevation drawing of the proposed Executive Mansion

October 13, 1793: The cornerstone for the Executive Mansion is laid. US President George Washington lived at two different executive mansions in New York City. In May 1790, a new Government House was begun for the President to live in, but it was never completed. Instead, the national capital moved to Philadelphia in December 1790. In July 1790, the Residence Act named that city as the temporary capital and gave a time frame of ten years while the new Federal City was under construction. Washington, Madison, and Adams all lived at a house on Market Street even though a much nicer or grander place was built – in an effort to make Philadelphia the nation’s permanent seat of power. The unused presidential mansion became home of the University of Pennsylvania.

Pierre Charles L’Enfant was busy designing the new nation’s new capital city. A design competition was held and nine proposals were submitted for the Executive Mansion. It was originally referred to as the President’s Palace, Presidential Mansion, or President’s House and the earliest use of the term White House was in 1811. Officially known as the Executive Mansion until 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt first used the name White House – Washington on his engraved stationery.  Irish architect James Hoban’s design was chosen for the new building, but not quite as submitted. His three-story, nine bay design was altered to two stories and eleven bays for construction.

On this day, without fanfare or ceremony, the cornerstone was laid. The initial construction work took eight years and most of the workers were enslaved and free African-Americans and immigrants. The cost of constructions was $232,371.83 which is about $3.2 million today. It was not quite complete but could be lived in and so Adams moved there in November 1800. L’Enfant had envisioned a palace five times larger than the original building but the sandstone building was what the new country could afford. The Mansion has not always looked like the current building. In 1814, the building was set ablaze by the British during the War of 1812. The interior was gutted and the exterior wall were weakened. Reconstruction took place between 1815 and 1817. The south portico was aded in 1824 and the north portico was added in 1830.

The Mansion was getting too small. Interior renovations helped, but more room was needed. The West Wing was added first and then the National or East Wing was added. Theodore Roosevelt carried out more expansions and renovations. The Oval Office was built during William Howard Taft’s term in office but Franklin Roosevelt moved it during his time there. By 1948, the house was in danger of collapse and major reconstruction efforts were needed to save the building. During the Kennedy administration, extensive historic redecoration of the house was done. Today, each new family in the White House carries out some modifications to the family’s residential quarters, but anything done to the basic structure of the White House itself is carefully overseen to ensure historic authenticity.

 I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this House, and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof. – John Adams, on taking up residency

On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron. – H. L. Mencken

Sometimes I wake at night in the White House and rub my eyes and wonder if it is not all a dream. – Grover Cleveland

Do you realize the responsibility I carry? I’m the only person standing between Richard Nixon and the White House. – John F. Kennedy

Also on this day: Service – In 1843, B’nai B’rith was founded.
Miracle of the Sun – In 1917, Our Lady of Fatima appeared to thousands.
Yellow Jackets – In 1885, Georgia Tech was founded.
Whirlpool – In 1773, Charles Messier discovered a new galaxy.