tv The Presidency President Truman White House Restoration CSPAN June 1, 2018 8:01pm-9:03pm EDT
watch real america sunday at 4 pm eastern on american history tv on cspan3. truman daniel, president harry truman's eldest grandson, returned to the white house neighborhood to talk about why president truman found it necessary to move his family out of the white house for a restoration that last between 1948 and 1952. the white house historical association based adjacent to lafayette park across from the white house, hosted this hour- long event. >> good evening everyone. good evening class, this is good, i like this. my name is stuart mclaurin and i'm the president of the white house historical association. it is my privilege to welcome you on behalf of my colleagues, my staff colleagues, and our board of directors.
represented here tonight by secretary john dalton, it was the 70th united states secretary of the navy, and it was during his term that he actually named the uss harry truman, i understand. he has a double connection to tonight's event. thank you for being here mr. secretary. we also want to welcome our friends from cspan who are broadcasting tonight's event, we have a wonderful and long- standing friendship with them and the wonderful work they do to share historic messages and stories, not only across our country but around the world, so thank you to those watching by cspan. i would also like to welcome our good friend mary sessions, the wife of the 84th attorney general of the u.s. and her two sisters that are visiting. i recognize her because she's from the great state of alabama which is also my home state. and her sister visiting is from decatur, alabama. she has another double connection with decatur and historic decatur house where we are tonight. in addition to our distinguished speaker, we are joined by several descendents of
former presidents of the united states, we have susan eisenhower, who is with us. we have matthew mckinley who is a descendent of both presidents mckinley and cleveland. not sure how that ties together, but i'm sure you can explain it for everyone. we have duncan santos, who is not a grandson or a relative of an american president, his virtual family in that he is the great grandson of former prime minister winston churchill. welcome to all of you here tonight. [ applause ] now, as many of you know, or certainly anyone who has had to sit through my remarks knows that the white house historical association was founded in 1961. by first lady jacqueline kennedy. at the very young age of 32 years old, as first lady of the united states, had the foresight and wisdom to know that what she and president kennedy needed then, presidents
and first ladies would need over the course of time. that would be to have a private partner, not partisan, nonprofit, this private, public partnership that we have with the white house and have had since 1961. we provide nongovernment funding for the conservation, preservation, and restoration of the beautiful museum quality state rooms of the white house, where art and furnishings for the permanent white house collection, and it was also very important to mrs. kennedy that we educate the public about the history of the white house. and so we have undertaken a very robust education program here that teaches and tells the story of what she white house history going back to the day when george washington selected the site of the white house just across the street from where we are located here on lafayette park tonight.
a key part of our education mission is our publications. this year we will publish seven books related to white house history, we have a orderly magazine related to white house history, and it is terrific that these are all available to the public, and can be purchased online, or in our shop here. i will tell you a little bit more about that at the end of my remarks. this particular program is sponsored by the david rubenstein national center for white house history led by dr. curtis sandberg and his colleagues here on our staff. they undertake the robust education program that we have. now, tonight's speaker is clifton truman daniel, the oldest grandson of president truman. and the sun of margaret truman, which is a personality in her own right. his father was the former managing editor of the new york
times, and clifton had his own career in journalism as well. in addition, he is the honorary chair of the board of the truman library institute, which is the nonprofit partner to the truman library and museum in independence, missouri. and he is a board secretary of the harry s truman scholars -- scholarship foundation. he is author of growing up with my grandfather, memories of harry s truman. and dear harry, love death, best truman's letter to harry truman, 1919-1943. two weeks ago, i had the privilege of recording a podcast with clifton, which you can access on our website, white house history.org oma and in that conversation, he shared wonderful stories and insights about the white house restoration, which was significant during the truman years, his relationship with his grandparents and wonderful stories, and if his talk with
you tonight is half as interesting as my wonderful conversation, the privilege i had to talk with him, you are in for a treat tonight. the real reason that we invited clifton tenant, there is a connection here. you have to bear with me while i explain this. it is the white house christmas ornament. now, it was 1981, nancy reagan was first lady of the united states. the idea was sprung to develop a white house christmas ornament. so, this year, we have created the 38th ornament in that series. mrs. reagan was also very wise in that she decided that we would feature a president each year sequentially. so we don't have to decide which president shall we feature this year. it takes that part of the conversation away from it. and we have stopped along the way, four or five times to have commemorative observances with like the bicentennial of the white house in 2000, we did an ornament on that occasion. but for all intents and
purposes, from george washington in 1981 all the way up to harry truman, and tooth is toshiko snaking, the white house -- 2018, the white house christmas ornament has told a specific story about the white house. the ornament was launched last monday on presidents' day at the truman library and had a wonderful experience there. and i want to tell you about the three elements of the ornament that future harry truman, i have one here so that you can see, we have just revealed it. on the front is the truman balcony, this was quite controversial in its day, when it was announced that harry truman wanted to put a balcony midway along this colonnade on the south particle of the white house. but, his persistence and insistence overcame any objection, and up to the balcony went. it is a wonderful future for first families today to have a bit of family space to go out, to look over the vista of the
monument, the potomac river, and have some family time, just as we would on our patios or decks. and enjoy some quiet space in washington, that is a wonderful legacy of the building itself that remains from the truman years. on the reverse of the ornament is the interior of the blue room of the white house. you will hear tonight about the major restoration that took place during the truman years, and this depict the blue room as it existed when president truman reconstructed the white house during that lengthy restoration. above the ornament is a medallion, which is what we call the truman seal. before he passed in 1945, president roosevelt asked a young navy aid by the name of george elsie to look into changing what was the presidential seal. and harry truman adopted one major change, and that was he took the eagles head, which had
10 -- been turned to the left and he turned the eagles head to the right. toward the olive branches of peace. away from war, and toward peace. he encircled the eagle with 48 stars, emblematic of the 48 states of the united states at the time of the truman administration. the only changes since that time were the addition of two stars for alaska and hawaii under the presidency of president eisenhower, otherwise, it has remained the same. so that is the ornament, as it is depicted for 2018. we have these available for you in our shop tonight, i will make a public service announcement. the shop will be open until 8 pm , and we also give you a 10% discount on anything in the shop, and we have a special little gift that you have to go in there and get, it is like disneyland, you have to exit the gift shop before you leave.
we have for you, a special little brass bookmark that has the truman seal on it as well as a little legend of the story that i told you about the redesign of the seal. that is our small gift to you tonight. thank you all for being here as friends of the association, some of you have been here many times before, it is also -- i see thank you for being with us tonight and for your friendship and support. many of you who are familiar to miss campus, here, decatur house is 200 years old this year, and although it is owned by the national trust for historic preservation, we are privileged to use it as a campus and operate from here where we teach and tell those stories of white house history across the country and around the world. with that i will return to the main purpose of my remarks, that is to introduce our speaker mr. clifton daniel. [ applause ]
thank you stuart, thank you ladies and gentlemen. thank you for apparently allowing me to do half as well on this lecture as i was planning to, that is very nice. thank you for having me here, thank you all for coming, mr. secretary, mr. sessions. mrs. sessions sisters, nice to see you here as well, thank you. and my fellow children and grandchildren over there who have already -- i have known duncan since 20 minutes and he is already giving me a hard time. and nothing historical either, he said let's go down and unplug his laptop and see what happens. my grandfather was a classically trained and very adept pianist. he often said that had it not been for politics, he would have been happy being a horror house piano player. and in truth, he said it is pretty much the same job.
so, when you are harry truman's grandson, you learn to play the piano. whether you want to or not. i had a teacher named charles morris who was the soul of patients, he was the kindest man. i may have buried mr. morris before his time, but he was a wonderfully kind and patient man and every saturday before he arrived at my house, i used to pray that he would be hit by a bus. i hated taking piano lessons, i hated it so much that i cheated. i used to get my mother. my mother could sit at a piano, open the music and play it. she could sight read music, i never learned to do that and i didn't because i cheated by watching her fingers, i would get her to play my homework and i would watch her fingers, and it was at that piano that my
mother first told me the story one day of the leg of her piano punching through the floor of the white house in the sitting room upstairs. which to a kid who was eight or nine years old, that is a great story, that is much better than the piano homework. and she followed that with other stories about the white house, grandpa called it the great white jail. and sitting alone in it early in his presidency, he heard a popping and creaking and wind siding through the cracks in the house. and told everybody that would listen that it was ghosts, he was there alone, my grandmother went back and forth and grandpa was there on his own a bit. he said i can imagine andy and teddy having an argument about franklin. or james buchanan and franklin pierce deciding which was more useless to the country. and when millard fillmore and chester arthur join in for plates and shows, it is almost unbearable.
but he got some work done, i think they knew at this point that this was a serious problem , this was not just ghosts, it was a serious problem. mrs. roosevelt came over to see my grandparents as she was leaving, they were staying at blair house temporarily, and she came over and apologized for the condition of the rooms upstairs in the white house. the roosevelt had not spent any money on it during the war and the depression, they felt that they could not do that. and she came over anyway to apologize to my grandparents and said i am sorry it is so dingy upstairs. she said oh, you also have rats. now apparently i was talking to the folks, i was talking to ed lingle today, and he said my grand parents and the results were not the only one that had rats. apparently andrew johnson fed the rats and mice in the house. the joke being that eddie said the joke is that it they kept
him company during the impeachment process, he just had to watch something going on up there. mrs. roosevelt apparently told my grandparents that she had been having lunch with a couple of her lady friends on the south portico and a big rat ran across the balustrade and all the ladies pretended not to see it. so they had rats, the house was falling apart, grandpa saw some of these things himself. eugene played for my grandfather when he was in the army, sergeant list placed my grandfather and joseph stalin and winston churchill. and grandpa invited him back to the white house after the war, and eugene gave a concert in the east room and it was at that point that the engineers came to my grandfather and as he said, they had found that the chain holding the sensor chandelier was stretching. well, the survey had been made three or four weeks ago, and it was a nice time to tell me. i let the show go on and ordered the thing down the next day, if it had fallen i have
been in a real fix but it didn't. those people have a 1200 pound chandelier hanging over their heads, they knew something had to be done to the white house, the condition was worse than they expected. when i first -- the reason i put this lecture together originally was because the truman library and independence has hundreds of the photos that abby road took of the white house restoration, we did an exhibit of it last year, so i called the guys at the white house historical association looking for some background and history and they were great. they were wonderful. we talked about the kind of abuse that would lead to this sort of thing, i was just starting, i didn't know what the real causes of the deterioration were at that point. i am ever reading about this in the cheese, the 1400 pound cheese that colonel thomas meacham gave to andrew jackson. and everybody ate on it for weeks. grounded into the carpet, the
white house smelled like cheese and people took souvenirs, they slept all over the place. during lincoln's time, this is a picture of a ball in the east room, the east room looking rather bigger than it actually does. either that or people were much smaller during the civil war. and apparently when they had big parties, they had to shore up the floor from underneath. to keep everybody from falling through the white house. into the swampy ground that we built it on. so i was looking at the injuries that could have happened over the years in the white house, this is benjamin harrison. and i imagine all of the drilling that went on over the years, people drooling through the walls to put in electric lights, to put in gas and heat, to do all of this stuff. mr. harrison put in -- the electric lights came in during
his tenure, but he refused to touch them. for fear of being electrocuted. he had the servants do it for him. very presidential. and what i like about that, of course, is it turns out to be my wife's ancestor. so we have our presidential friends over here, i have one more in the family, my wife is descended from the harrison's. presidents, like anybody else, they want to take care of their homes, no i don't completely, i will look at something and think i can't fix that, i can't do for that, i will leave it until it gets bigger and worse. things like that happened at the white house, presidents budgets cannot cover all of the stuff, and i begin to look at my own grandparents home. and you will notice at the truman home in independence, missouri, rather than replace the linoleum, grandpa just got out a hammer and some tax and knocked it back down. that is the way it is today.
another example, this door look so fine, it is in my great- grandmother upstairs bedroom, and the door looks just dandy but it is missing to blocks that went above on either side of the door like that. and the reason they are missing is because the wallpaper man came in and said he would redo the wallpaper and he told my grandmother he said it will cost a little extra to get the paper down behind the blocks and my grandmother said saw them off. i think they are still in the closet or locker somewhere, they have got -- when they had a not whole, the stuff that with newspaper. they put carpet over it so nobody would see it, they just cover things up, and i love this one. this is how my grandparents rewired the house for more electricity.
they just stuck it through the wall. you know, i was in that house before childproofing, i'm surprised i'm alive today, frankly. and this is my favorite. this light cord, what is underneath that tarp you see in the front, the second floor landing of the truman home, that court you can barely see going down below the lights. grandpa, there is no light switch downstairs and grandpa would go upstairs in the dark every night and bash his shins on that desk trying to reach for that light cord. they call the electrician and they were going to wire downstairs so he could turn it on in the base of the stairs, that is too expensive. my grandfather got a piece of twine and tied it to the end of the cord and dangled it down the stairway, all the way to the first floor. so to turn on the second floor light you just reach up and pull.
so anyway, i had all of this wonderful disaster, i pictured every president ruining the house for my grandfather, and i called ed lingle and i called matt costello, i got them on a conference call and i laid this out, i was really pleased with myself. i was going to have a lot of fun with this. they laughed a little and they said no. no, you can't blame it on all of the other presidents. and i said why not? you can blame it on to presidents, you can blame it on teddy roosevelt, and you can blame it on calvin coolidge. but before you blame it on either one of them, you have to blame it on the british. [ laughter ] duncan, you are not in the picture, it is fine. and thank you all for that, you're the first audience that has left at monty python on that. everybody else looks at it and say why is that funny?
i almost took it out, i thought, it wasn't monty python, it was major general robert ross, rear admiral george copper and 150 sailors in 1814, apparently by this time the war of 1812 was over. but they went into the white house, they ate the dinner that dolly madison had prepared for her guest, they apparently commented favorably on the madeira and they piled all of the furniture and drapes in the middle of the rooms in the stepped outside and threw in torches and burned the white house. that is a scary and great painting by tom freeman. the fire burned really really hot. then it rained. so what you had afterwards was a shell of cracked stone, it was in bad shape, a lot of the stone was unusable, the brick inside was unusable. but -- i will just jump forward to the british again, a different one. field marshal mr. monty,
montgomery came to see my grandfather after the war, you can see they are getting along just fine in that picture. montgomery asked my grandfather when was this built? and grandpa said well, once in 1792. then again in 1814, after you burned it. and the field marshal was very quick on his feet, he smiled and said well, if london hasn't paid for by now, you should go and burn whitehall. we rebuilt it fast. because it was the symbol of this country, they wanted it to go back up fast after the war. you can see this is a painting, you can see the original stone on the outside, two feet of stone and two feet of brick and all of the interior walls were brick. when they rebuilt it in 1814 to
1817, they didn't use as much brick, i believe the brick was inferior, they were working fast so they had wood on the inside which left the building not as strong as it had been in the beginning. there is the blame the british part. you could also blame james hoban for building it too fast the second time around. then, along comes theodore roosevelt. and president roosevelt, the families lived in a mansion and worked in the mansion, the office was in the mansion. roosevelt had a lot of kids and their animals, apparently. so they needed more room. so he added the west wing for the office of the president, and he wanted a larger state dining room. so what he did, this is the west end of the white house, that is the other staircase. that wall to the left, where the chairs are, is the wall to what was then the state dining room. president roosevelt wanted a bigger, so they not only knocked out the stairwell, he took out the load bearing wall.
and he had his architect, i know what you wanted to make this big dining room bigger, it was so there was room for the antlers that you can see. all over the walls, you -- that is very impressive in that room. he took out the load bearing wall and charles mckinney rigged a steel buttress system from the roof holding up the second floor, so instead of the load bearing wall, you have a loadbearing buttress, which is holding up the second floor. then, along comes -- the reason i call him cement cal instead of silent cal, is because he had to repair the roof of the white house, it wasn't bad shape, this is 20 years later after president roosevelt did his resume -- renovation. and he had to repair the roof and it cost them half $1 million but he used cement. so now you have a weird i don't
know what holding up the second floor and now there is cement on top of it. so it is basically just squashing the white house into the ground. my grandfather was not a huge fan of president coolidge, i kind of liked him for being the straightforward pennypinching vermonter that he was. grandpa didn't like that aspect of him, he told a story that a friend of president coolidge collected cigar bands and the friend went to mrs. coolidge and so do you think the president would give me a cigar band for my collection and said sure, go ask him. he went into the office and asked the president and he took out his cigar box, took out a cigar, took the band off of it and handed him the band. wasn't going to give him the cigar to smoke, just the band. anyway, part of what the restoration created they called the sky parlor, which is the solarium. and susan's sister has a nice
story about that, when she was four years old, president eisenhower was out lighting the national christmas tree. and mary jane was up there and i had forgotten the name, the family retainer that worked for you guys. she was up there, this was when he kept looking at the window and said watch. watch down there. and mary jean is for, she said okay. nothing is happening. and finally, the christmas tree burst into light. and mary jean was stunned. she said afterwards, she said you know, it was like a god, who cares if he is president of the united states, that is nothing compared to what he can do here. she was up in that solarium. again, going back to the truman home, stuart mentioned the truman balcony on the ornament. you look at the truman home in independence, missouri and you see a beautiful port around the outside. and you look at the back of the
truman home and there is the sitting porch in the back of the house, this, by the way, that short stairway is in the middle of the picture, that is how family got in and out. i did know the house had a front door. i never used it, i went in through the kitchen. and just a quick story about the kitchen of this house, a group of israeli army officers were at fort leavenworth in the early 1950s learning to use the last missile system. and they went to go over to see my grandfather, and they were told that my grandmother said they had a head cold and they shouldn't go over, they snuck in. mr. herzog, being mindful that my grandfather might actually have a cold, i don't know whether it was a lie or not, but he didn't take all of these are though she is really army officers in, he took diane into the house and he left them in the car. so that is that kitchen, that is right off the porch. we see the porch is enclosed
and you see that my grandmother left those bushes grow up up the side of the porch so they could have privacy. when it came time for the truman balcony, this was -- that was their refuge. they spent the mornings, evenings, when it was nice, that is where he read the paper every morning if it was nice out. this was a refuge to them, so the truman balcony to him was just a natural idea, and he said it improved the line of the white house, everybody disagreed with him at first he got a lot of flak and congress would not give him the money for it. we pay for it out of his household budget. he had saved his money and paid for the truman balcony out of his household budget, about $14,000 or something in the neighborhood. at the time, of course we are talking about the white house falling apart. it was the only safe place to stand. there is grandpa on the truman balcony, reading. and you can tell who the photographer was because she cut my grandmother in half. so i had to throw the mrs.
truman balcony out there as well. my mother, you can see my grandmother, you can hear her, stop that, get to that camera away from me, she is yelling at my mother who is taking these pictures. of course, presidential families loved that balcony ever since. the kennedys playing on the balcony, and the carter's. and i love this picture of president and mrs. bush. i went to my goddaughter's wedding a few years ago up in massachusetts, and we had the rehearsal dinner and everybody was a little worse for wear the next day, and we went to the norman rockwell museum which was wonderful, and we are walking through the museum and i kept looking at this attractive, nice regal lady was looking at the pictures. all i could think was was she at the party last night? i don't remember, she looks really familiar. then i realized, it was mrs. bush. and i almost pulled the
presidents grandson move, i thought i would run over there and introduce myself but there were armed men around her, so i decided that was probably not a good idea in my condition, so i left mrs. bush alone. and of course, during the restoration, my grandparents lived over at blair house, which i went through this afternoon, i hadn't been there since i was 16 years old, my father took us over there one afternoon after listening to the watergate hearings for an hour, we heard jeff mcgruder testify for an hour, then we had enough and went to blair house. my father scared a couple of -- russians that were looking under tables for bugs. and dad had worked in moscow during the 1950s so he stuck his head in the door and said good morning at the top of his lungs and one of the guys hit his head. i thought we were finished. grandparents really like to blair house because it was easier. it was smaller, it was more like a family home. they didn't have to entertain as much, life was a little bit
easier, this was a very tense time for my grandfather, the korean war and a host of other things. he kind of enjoyed that. he did get a little cranky and it had to do with duncan. when prime minister churchill came to visit, they had to take official portraits out on the steps of blair house and there wasn't quite in the room you would have, we didn't have the symbol of the white house behind so he blamed president roosevelt and president coolidge rather loudly after having to take the picture on the front of blair house steps. i'm sure you all know that blair house was where the two puerto rican nationalists tried to shoot my grandfather. came running from either side, the white house guard was killed, but he mortally wounded one of the shooters. but to blair house was someplace that they really enjoyed living, and it is a slightly risqui story, but david mccullough told, so i can probably get away with it. i grandmother went home a lot,
she was being pulled in two directions, my grandfather wanted her here, and his mother- in-law, the -- wanted her home to help with the house. she relied on my grandmother a great deal. so grandpa was always -- she was being pulled back and forth, she was away for a long time and when she got back to blair house, the enjoyment was infectious, they were so happy to see each other that the staff got caught up and everybody was in a really good mood and she took mr. fields, the head butler aside, and said mr. fields, there is -- we have a little upstairs, there is oh, hell, one of the slats on the bed is broken. that is as close as i want to get to knowing anything about -- anyway.
good story, david is digging that up. when it came to the restoration, i mentioned earlier, abby road took hundreds of pictures of the eventual restoration of the white house, he worked for the bureau of public roads, and i have seen two things, it was either polio or a childhood accident, there are two different backgrounds for this, but he couldn't move very well, and he ran into mrs. roosevelt, and she wrote about him in her column in 1938. that led to him getting a job with the national park service which eventually led to the white house, he was a national park service photographer working at the white house during the restoration. and he took hundreds of good studies, this is just some of it, a crack in the wall upstairs, they started to pull away the wallpaper and this shows you what kind of condition things were behind the walls. and this one on the second floor oval study, which my grandfather used as his study,
mr. fields brought him lunch one day upstairs in his study and as he came across the store, -- floor, both of them could feel it moving. the floor was moving under his feet. it was very very unstable, and here is the buttress. that was inside of a wall. holding up the second floor. and here, this next one, that is the broken floor beam in the family dining room, that is my mother piano like punch through the floor and lowered the ceiling about a foot and a half. it broke the beam and the ceiling of the family dining room. just as an aside, my grandfather was very interested in the restoration, and early on, before they even started any of this, he took reporters on a tour of the upstairs, they had run steel rods, tubes, wires, down from the roof through the floor to hold it up
while they got everybody out, my grandparents, the paintings, the pictures. they were probably grabbing the paintings and pictures first, but they got everybody out, but my mother had to live like that for days or weeks, ducking in and out of these things. my grandfather took a group of reporters and photographers upstairs to show them how bad it was and what was being done to stabilize it, and george tames from the new york times remember that grandpa stopped outside his bathroom on the second floor and one of those steel rods have been run down to the floor next to the toilet. and grandpa looked at it and he looked back and he said you know this thing scares me. i'm going to be sitting in here some night and hit the plunger and wind up in the state dining room. and i'm pretty sure there'll be hell to pay as i come through the ceiling. they wound up gutting the white house from the inside out, there is a picture of the inside, you have these steel towers on the inside of the
white house. this picture always reminds me of the story that susan ford bails told me a couple of years ago. the dog, liberty, their dog was very very pregnant when they were in the white house, and liberty had her own room up on the third floor, and she also had a babysitter. a handler, somebody to watch her, a professional. well, wanted a professional had a conflict and wanted to go out. so the professional turned to president ford and said can you handle this? and president ford said yes. because she had to go to the bathroom a lot, she was very pregnant, so she had to go out more often. present for said yes, i can handle it, how will i know? and handler said well, she will come over and poke you in the face, don't worry about it, she will let you know. he said okay. everybody went to bed, and sure enough, here comes liberty, nosing into the president of the united states, president
ford got out of bed, put his robe on, got into his slippers, went down one of the internal stairwells and out of the back of the house and let liberty do her business on the south lawn. when she was finished, he went back in the house, the door closed behind him, none of the doors leading off of the stairwell would open. he was trapped in the stairs in the white house. and the secret service had apparently not been looking at the cameras at the time. so i didn't know he was in there. president ford and the poor pregnant dog went up and down the stairs for a while trying all of the doors to get back into the white house. and finally the secret service, they must have had a heart attack, they looked and went oh, my god and went down and got him out of that. but putting all of those internal stairwells in. this one, i like this photo for two reasons. i will go with president lincoln first, you see the shadowy figure? way back there. obviously somebody was standing
there and moved, but i actually found this online once evidence that it was a ghost of abraham lincoln. the reasoning being that that is the spot under mr. lincoln's bedroom, so apparently when they removed the floor, he just fell down through the floor and is standing there waiting for somebody to rebuild his bedroom so he can go back up. i love the internet. more importantly, you see the truck and the bulldozer. when the construction got to this phase, they wanted to knock out the stone wall from the outside of the white house and to get these things in and my grandfather would not let them touch a stone on the outside of the white house. and until they dug down deep enough to where they had a tunnel that went under the outside and up. he made them take those bulldozers and trucks apart outside and rebuild them inside, they carried them in
piece by piece because he would not let them destroy the outside walls. they tried to use a lot of stuff in the white house, they had a lot of wood left over and they figured they would offset the cost by selling souvenirs on the pieces of the white house. they even had little boxes. they even had suggestions for the souvenir kits. the number seven brick can be cleaned up to make an even prettier number seven brick. so i don't think this made them a lot of money. they did not offset the cost of rebuilding the white house, but they tried. some of the souvenirs were nicer than others. member i showed you the picture of the two-story -- this is of the desk without the tarp over it, that is all original white house would. that is the desk on my grandparents second floor. the carpenters made it for him. it is a beautiful desk.
and they also made this cabinet which is in a corner nearby. that cabinet, if you see off to the left of the cabinet in the shadow, there is a filing cabinet. when i was 12 years old, i got on the roof of the house through the attic and i took my 10-year-old brother and my 40 something-year-old mother with me. and the secret service had a heart attack, my grandmother had a heart attack, she ordered us off of the roof and she locked to the attic and hid the key. and said mrs. daniels, do you know to the attic is and my mother said hell no, she hid it from me. it turned out to be in the filing cabinet taped to the back of a drawer in the filing cabinet. for further evidence of my grandparents care with money, there is no wallpaper behind that cupboard.
we are not going to move it, we will just paper around it, it will be fine. my grandparents come back, i am a dead man. so they start rebuilding the white house, they start putting in the entrance hall back together, they start putting the state dining room back together and the west sitting hallway showed you that big crack. the west sitting hall, i was in there when i was seven years old. my parents did not tell me that my grandfather had been president of the united states. i found out in school. thank god it was first grade and not high school, right? the teacher walked up to me and said was your grandfather president? i said i don't know.
i will ask. and my mother was telling a story on me, well into my 50s, i walked home that afternoon, dropped my book bag and walked up and put my hands on my hips and i said mom, did you know. and she looked at me sadly and she said yes. and just remember something, any little boys grandfather can be president of the united states. don't let it go to your head. it went right over my head, i was six, i had no idea what that meant. when she was six years old, we were trying to watch something together. i landed on a biography and i stopped and i said amy, that man right there is harry s truman, he is the 33rd president of the united states, your great-grandfather, and she said daddy, go back to past nickelodeon.
the west sitting hall was at the age of seven i met mrs. johnson the morning after their inauguration, we stayed at blair house across the street, and we went over to have breakfast with the johnsons and we had a 10:00 train back to new york, my mother hated airplanes, so did my grandmother. we had a train and my father looked at his watch and he said we need to get going, we have to catch that train. president johnson said oh, relax. the claim will duchy -- the train will wait. my father said yeah, for you. president johnson said sitdown have another cup of coffee, you have time, so dad did. the president ordered him to sit down, so he sat down and he got lost in conversation and he bolted to his feet and we ran out of the white house, we dove into the car they had waiting for us, it was 10 am, we were
cooked, the train was gone. we went over to union station and the driver surprised my parents by not pulling in front of union station, he pulled into the back and onto a train platform. there were two people on the platform, one was a conductor with his watch out, they had started running, they threw the bags at the guy with the car and the conductor said folks, slow down, you have plenty of time. the white house called. president johnson had stopped the train. he was right after all. and my father and i had different reactions, my dad was why didn't he tell me he was going to do that? my reaction was wow. that is when it hit me, president of the united states, but it was in the west sitting hall when i learned what it meant to have a grandfather that was present, here they are re-hanging that dangerous chandelier in the east room oma
and there my grandparents on the first day back, that is mr. fields, alonzo field, the chief mother behind my grandmother there. and there is the east room as it looks after the restoration. i was in the east room, i guess i was 10 or 11 years old, my grandparents and the johnsons were close. my grandfather had tried several times during his administration to get healthcare past and could not do it for president johnson got it done, and in fact he signed the medicare bill on the stage at the truman presidential library in independence, missouri with my grandparents there and gave them card number one and two. so they were close to the johnsons, there was only one small glitch in their relationship, lady bird johnson called my grandmother in 1966 or 67 and said mrs. truman, we would like to rehang your official portrait, but we cannot find it. my grandmother said that is because it is on my wall.
and mrs. johnson said you cannot do that, that belongs to the american people. my grandmother said to hell it does. it is a picture of me, it is on my wall. so the artist painted two copies , one is in the truman library, the other is in the white house collection and the original is still on my grandmother's wall. there is the restored grand stair and i will leave you with one more white house story, a more recent one. president bush's last christmas party, 2008 in the white house. they invited me to light the menorah with the grandson of the first president of israel.
and your reeve and i went up to practice this, we were doing this at the foot of the grand staircase, i keep knocking water off, i have to cut that out. at the foot of the grand staircase with everybody in the entrance hall, president, first lady in the first row. we had a little instruction upfront to tell us how to do this correctly. this was mostly for me, the episcopalian to get this right. but he gave us instruction and at the end of showing us how to do this, he motioned his fingers and put out the candle he was using. and your reeve looked at him and said why are you doing it that way? the rabbi said oh, i never blow out a flame of life with the breath of life. and he said oh. and the rabbi said do what you want, it is okay. it is all right, don't worry about it, don't stress. we sat down, the thing got started and here comes the president and first lady.
we finished the fighting, everything goes just great, and you reeve put pulled the candle back and i could see his mind working. the president and mrs. bush are in the front row, that rabbi is out there somewhere. and he is thinking i should do with the rabbi told me. so he reaches up and doesn't moisten his fingers. so the end of that ceremony was ouch. when we got back to his feet, this was -- mrs. bush was lovely. the present was next to his wife, i was on the other side, mrs. bush leaned across and said are you all right? and he said yes. the president leaned across in front of the first lady and said little souvenir of the white house there.
it was all i could do to keep from barking laughing out loud. and the last slide, at the diplomatic reception room, this was taken during the kennedy era, this was where, at the end of this christmas party, present mrs. bush went down to stand in front of the fireplace and have the pictures taken with all of us. i'm sure some of you know how this routine goes, you line up and go through, you get a drink and you wait, then you go through several marine officers, then you get passed in front of the president you shake hands and have your picture taken, then it is on to the party. and this was not long after the iranian journalist had thrown a shoe at the president. and my wife told me before i went to washington, she said don't you dare make any shoe jokes. and i said okay, okay. i got up to the young marine officer who is standing somewhat over here, making sure that we all behave ourselves and took our turn.
he was smiling, everybody is in a good mood, it is christmas, president bush was on his way out, he was in a very good mood. just like my grandfather was, it is over. i told the young officer, i said my wife told me i wasn't supposed to make any shoe jokes, should i make one? he said oh yes sir. and i immediately didn't trust him, i know he is a marine officer, but i just didn't. he looked like he would get me in trouble. so i thought i don't know. and i went over, it was my turn, and i shook hands with president bush and mrs. bush and i said to the president, my wife told me that i was not allowed to make any shoe jokes, and the president smiled and said oh, hell, go ahead, everybody else is. that is the end of my presentation. [ applause ]
thank you. we have 10 minutes or so for questions, i realize i asked this at my peril, but go ahead. yes? >> your grandfather is a role model of politicians now. >> you know, grandpa, i think so. but not to the wrong degree. he often said one of his heroes was cincinnatus of rome, called on to lead to protect rome against invaders, not once, but twice and they offered him a laurel wreath after. he said no, i have done my job, it is time to go home. my grandfather view the
presidency as a set of tools. to do the best he could with, he often said that special interest groups, everybody has their own lobbyists, senators, congressmen. most of the people of the united states only have one lobbyist, that is the president. so he did the best he could but he was happy to put the tools away, and it didn't -- being president didn't change him, it made him better if anything but it did not change him. he went home afterwards. the reporter asked him when he got off of the train, what is the first thing you will do in retirement? he said take the suitcases up to the attic. turned out, you're getting a long answer to this, turns out there was something she would not do in retirement, my grandmother got after him in the spring of 1953, she said the grass is getting kind of long. he said i hate yardwork and she said but you are not president anymore. you have to cut your own grass. and he said all right, and he didn't do it.
yes, yes, he didn't do it. finally he rolled up his shirt sleeves and he went outside and went at the grass, turned it on my grandma looked out the window and nearly died, it was sunday morning. everybody in town is going to church. passing the house and here is the ex-president pointedly not going to church, cutting the grass instead and waving to everybody who went by to make sure that they saw him. she ran out there and she cut off the mower and she said don't you ever do that again. he said okay. and when i get back from these things, i tell my wife that i -- mr. sessions, i had a former secretary of the navy, it was great. and she will say great, here's the toilet brush, go upstairs and clean it. >> so when you mentioned about president truman and -- enjoying the piano and being a
great pianist, it been me think of the same with laura mccall where he was playing the piano, was that in the white house? >> no, he was vice president, that was at the uso. and grandpa was playing for the troops, playing for the guys who were there, and this mccall was there, it was apparently her agents idea, boosted her up on the piano and grandpa's smile dimmed a little bit because he knew that somewhere out there, mrs. truman was watching. and mrs. truman actually told him that night, she was very tense, a tense moment between the two of them and he/she said i don't you should play the piano in public anymore. other than that, he was very careful about that and he and my grandmother met in sunday school when he was six and she was five and he never looks at another woman.
she kind of ignored him for the first 20 years or so, but he was smitten, and he was very terrible in the oval office when he had a secretary in doing dictation, he kept the door wide open, he was very conscious of of his marriage vows. yes? >> you mentioned the assassination attempt at the blair house and i should recall this from long ago in history, but i don't. was the president or mrs. truman or any of the first family in blair house at the time, and you mentioned the anecdote you just made about mowing the grass, was there no security provided for former presidents in 1950? >> to answer the first question, grandpa was in fact in blair house, not only was he in blair house, but when he heard the gunfire he stuck his head out the window. and the secret service had to yell at him, put it back in. so he did.
making light of a serious incident, but yes, he was home. i don't think my grandmother or mother were, they may have been back in independence, but he was. and no, the ex-president's did not have secret service protection until after john f. kennedy was assassinated. so grandpa had no secret service until 1964. and anybody could walk up to the house, secret service put a fence around it but it was unlocked. i tell this story a lot, i don't know if anybody has heard it, but a man's car broke down in front of my grandparents home in the early 1950s. and he didn't know where he was, there is no sign on it in the 1950s that says truman home. there is no but he walked through the front gate and walked to the front steps and rang the doorbell. grandpa answer the door and the man said my car is broken down, do you have a phone. he said yeah, come on in. the guy went in, called the local garage.
and the garage said it will take us 15 or 20 minutes to get over there and the man said that is all right, i'm not in a hurry. he hung up the phone and he said thank you i will wait by the car. grandpa said no, don't do that, sit down. they sat in the living room and talked for 15 or 20 minutes. finally, the record pulled up out front and he shook his hand and said thank you. i appreciate the help and hospitality, it has been nice talking to you. grandpa said you're very welcome i hope it doesn't cost you too much, and the man walked out the front door and he got halfway down the steps and he stopped and he turned and he looked back up and my grandfather and he said you know something, and i hope you don't take offense at this, but you look a hell of a lot like that sun of obituary truman. the sun of a pitch harry truman. [ laughter ] apparently grandpa just smiled at him and said i
am. thank you ladies and gentlemen. [ applause ] he posted a the idea that we should resume this. next summer we are convening 200 presidential sites from around the country for a presidential summit. birthplaces childhood homes libraries are coming to washington. wonderful programming for them. i want to -- presidential to join us and inviting as many
presidential descendents we can get for a special evening at the kennedy center that week during the presidential summit. i will visit with you. in front of all these witnesses i wanted to deputize you to help us out. join us for a reception in the courtyard. remember the store is open seeking get your truman token. use your 10% is -- discount. have a wonderful night.
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