11 fascinating facts about America's presidents and the White House

11 fascinating facts about America's presidents and the White House

By Paul Brandus

It must have creeped Abraham Lincoln out.
There he was, at Ford's Theatre enjoying a play, when the lead actor, in character, came very close to the president (Lincoln was sitting at stage level) and began wagging his finger angrily at him. After it happened a second time, and then a third, a woman who was with the president said, "Mr. Lincoln, he looks as if he meant that for you." "Well," Lincoln replied, "he does look pretty sharp at me, doesn't he?'"
It was November 9, 1863. The actor who came face to face with the president would rise to infamy 17 months later at that very same theater. His name was John Wilkes Booth — the president's assassin.
Here, nine other things you probably didn't know about America's presidents and their place of residence.
Presidents pay for their own food. Nancy Reagan got that unpleasant surprise about a month after she and Ronald Reagan moved into the mansion, when she got a bill from the chief usher. "Nobody had told us that the president and his wife are charged for every meal, as well as for such incidentals as dry cleaning, toothpaste, and other toiletries," she complained. But the tab for official events like state dinners? That's on you and me.
You may know that Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal," owned 200 slaves. But you probably don't know that he sold one to his presidential successor, James Madison. The slave's name? John Freeman.
President Andrew Jackson was nearly killed in the White House on Inauguration Day in 1829. Pressed against a wall by party goers, he nearly suffocated, and had to be evacuated through a window onto the South Lawn by staffers, who locked their arms together to form a cordon around the boss.
The White House (and the entire U.S. government) was nearly relocated to Cincinnati after the White House was burned down by the British in 1814. In the 1860s, the White House was nearly moved again, this time to a bluff high atop Washington's Rock Creek Park. And during the Truman administration, there was talk of turning the White House into a museum and moving the first family elsewhere. Truman refused.
"Last night would have been a good night to assassinate a president," John F. Kennedy remarked — three hours before he was assassinated in November 1963. JFK had a morbid fascination with dying. His favorite poem, which he had wife Jacqueline read to him on occasion, was Alan Seeger's "I have a rendezvous with death."
A room on the second floor of the White House that has been used by first families as a private dining room since the Kennedy era is the same room where Lincoln's autopsy and embalming were performed. Another president — William Henry Harrison — died there in 1841.
Probably because of severe depression, Calvin Coolidge, president from 1923 to 1929, routinely slept 11 hours a night — plus long naps during the day. When Coolidge passed away in 1933, Dorothy Parker, the writer and satirist, joked, "How can they tell?"
The Secret Service was so protective of Franklin D. Roosevelt that it smashed camera equipment belonging to reporters and others who tried to take unauthorized photos of him. FDR — who personified confidence during the Great Depression — wasn't confident enough to allow himself to be photographed in his wheelchair. Among the thousands of photos taken during his 12-year presidency, the FDR Library in Hyde Park has just three of Roosevelt in his wheelchair.
Who was the first true photo-op president? Not who you think. It was "Silent Cal" Coolidge — the same guy who slept half the day away — who never missed an opportunity to be photographed. Thanks to one of the first true mass mediums of the 20th century — newsreels — Coolidge showed up on every movie screen in America, seen more widely than big stars of the '20s like Rudolph Valentino, Buster Keaton and Greta Garbo. Critics at the time railed that Coolidge had debased the presidency.
After Kennedy's assassination, what did the government do with the Lincoln Continental limo in which JFK rode to his death? Take it out of service or destroy it? No. It cleaned up the gore in the back seat, added armor and other safety measures (Kennedy's car was not bulletproof), and put it back on the road — to be used by Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter. You can now see "X100," as it was known, at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
Paul Brandus is the White House correspondent for West Wing Reports and author of the upcoming book Under This Roof.


All Roads Lead to Washington: The Zero Milestone



Posted by Ariel Veroske

Dr. S. M. Johnson, advocate of the Good Roads Movement, stands next to the Zero Milestone marker. L'Enfant didn't get to be in the picture. (Photo source: Library of Congress)
No doubt you are familiar with D.C.’s most prominent tributes to history -- the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, possibly even that unique sculpture of Einstein lounging on Constitution Avenue. But have you ever heard of the Zero Milestone? Standing next to the White House, this small monument is easily missed, but it holds a tremendous amount of history, all contained in a 2x4 hunk of granite…well, actually it extends out a little farther than just that spot.
Based on the Roman Empire’s Golden Milestone, the Zero Milestone was originally intended to be the location from which all distances in the United States were measured. The idea originated with Dr. S. M. Johnson, a strong supporter of the Good Roads Movement, which pushed for the construction of better roads across the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
To call attention to the roads issue and to demonstrate that long distance automobile transport could be practical, the U.S. Army planned to send a motor convoy from Washington to San Francisco in the summer of 1919. It would be “the first transcontinental trip of its kind,” involving more than 60 military vehicles.

 Johnson proposed that the starting point for the convoy be marked and used as the origin point for a national road system, as he wrote to Colonel J. M. Ritchie of the U.S. Army's Motor Transportation Corps:“It seems to me the time has come when the Government should designate a point at which the road system of the United States takes its beginning, and that the spot should be marked by an initial milestone, from which all road distances in the United States and throughout the Western hemisphere should be reckoned.”

The proposal was well received and a temporary Zero Milestone marker was erected on July 7, 1919, during the ceremonies celebrating the launch of the convoy. Secretary of War Newton D. Baker, a representative of the American Automobile Association, and Dr. Johnson all spoke at the send off.

A year later, Congress approved a permanent marker, giving Johnson the go-ahead to hire an architect and raise funds for its construction. The chosen architect was Washingtonian Horace W. Peaslee, who carved the 2 foot by 4 foot marker from Milford granite with a bronze circle to represent a mariner’s compass. “Point for the measurement of distances from Washington on highways of the United States” reads the engraving on the south face.

After its completion, the permanent marker was dedicated on June 4, 1923. As the U.S. Army band played a tune specially written for the event, Dr. Johnson spoke of his original idea. “We have taken our stand for a paved United States. This monument is placed here to mark the beginning of a system,” said Johnson.


President Warren G. Harding speaking as the Zero Milestone marker is unveiled on June 4, 1923. (Photo source: Library of Congress)

President Warren G. Harding also spoke of the Zero Milestone’s importance. “The Zero Milestone marks the meeting point of those parts of the country which once grappled in conflict, but now are happily united for all time in the bonds of national fraternity, of a single patriotism and a common destiny…. From it will diverge, to it will converge, the ceaseless tides whose movement will always keep our wide-flung population in that close intimacy of thought and interest and aim which is so necessary to the maintenance of unity and nationality.”

Although largely forgotten now, the marker still represents America’s unification through the roads system. It may have worn down over the years, forgotten by some, never known by many. But next time you travel the expanse of roads that connect our country, maybe you’ll remember the tiny granite marker that was the beginning of it all.

One more tid bit… While Johnson gets the credit for the Zero Milestone, Pierre L’Enfant had a similar idea back in 1791. In his original plan of D.C., he proposed that a column “from which all distances of places through the continent were to be calculated” be placed a mile east of the Capitol in present day Lincoln Park. For whatever reason, it only took about 130 years for people to catch on to the idea. And poor L’Enfant really didn’t get any credit.
________________________________________
[1] "60 Trucks Will Cross Continent." The Washington Post, pg. E13, July 6, 1919.
[2] Weingroff, Richard F. Federal Highway Administration, "Zero Milestone- Washington, DC." Last modified May 31, 2012. Accessed June 25, 2013. http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/zero.cfm.
[3] "60 Trucks Will Cross Continent." The Washington Post, pg. E13, July 6, 1919.
[4] Weingroff, Richard F. Federal Highway Administration, "Zero Milestone- Washington, DC." Last modified May 31, 2012. Accessed June 25, 2013. http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/zero.cfm.
[5] Ibid.

[6] Price, Harry N. "Build Better Homes and Roads, His Plea." The Washington Post, pg. 2, June 5, 1923.

hostility against every form of tyranny


“I have sworn, upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”  Thomas Jefferson, inscribed on the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The Frederick Douglas Home in Southeast Washington

Another great gem available to us here in DC is the magnificent Frederick Douglas home called Cedar Hill overlooking the District of Columbia as well as parts of Maryland and Virginia.

The property is staff by Department of Interior staff who are well informed on the subject.
A visit to the property is completely free of charge.

Welcome to Cedar Hill. This house was constructed between 1855 and 1859 by John Van Hook and associates. Frederick Douglass bought it in 1877 for $6,700.00. Douglass added onto to the home to include 14 rooms. He purchased surrounding land and expanded the property to 14 acres. Douglass resided at Cedar Hill until his death in 1895.

When Douglass was in his early 20's, living in Baltimore and was still a slave, he remarked to a gathering of free blacks that one day he would be a U.S. Senator. While Douglass never became a senator, Cedar Hill allows us to connect with the remarkable man that Douglass became.

The house, furnishings and personal belongings tell many stories: Douglass family man, author, orator, and public figure; Douglass's interest in literature, games, music, health, learning, travel; and of the people in Douglass's life like Abraham Lincoln, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and John Brown. These stories paint a vivid and insightful picture of Frederick Douglass. We invite you in to meet Mr. Douglass and his family.




Directions

The property is simple to get to. Parking is ample and free in a lot on the property.

Address
1411 W Street SE, Washington, DC, 20020
The visitor center and a free parking lot are at the intersection of W and 15th Streets SE.
 
Public Transportation

Rail:
Use the Green Line and get off at Anacostia Station. When exiting the train, follow signs to the "Howard Road" side of the station. It is approximately 3/4 miles from the station to the site.

•If taking a bus from Anacostia Station, get on the B2 to "Mt. Rainier" or the U2 to "Minnesota Ave." There is a bus stop directly in front of the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site at the corner of W and 14th streets.

•If walking from Anacostia Station, take a right on Howard Road (walk 1 block), take a left on Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue (walk 3 blocks), and take a right on W Street (walk 4 blocks to the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site visitor center).
Visit WMATA for fares and route details.

Bus:
The B2 and U2 buses service the corner of W and 14th streets, directly in front of the site. The 90, 93, A42, A46, A48, P1, P2, and P6 all drop off within two blocks of the site.
Visit WMATA for fares and route details.
 
Driving
From I-495/95 Beltway:
Take Exit 3 north onto Indian Head highway (MD 210), which becomes South Capitol Street. Bear right onto Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE. Turn right on W Street SE and drive four blocks. The parking lot will be on your right.

From the National Mall:
Travel southeast on Pennsylvania Avenue. Turn right on 11th Street SE. Follow 11th until it ends at the bottom of a hill. Take the bridge across the river, then continue straight onto Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE. Travel two blocks on MLK, then left onto W Street SE. Take W Street SE for four blocks. The parking lot will be on your right.

From I-295 South:
Take exit 4A for Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE. Turn right at the top of the ramp and follow it down onto MLK Ave. At the second stop light, turn left onto W Street SE. Take W Street SE for four blocks. The parking lot will be on your right.

From I-295 North:

Take the exit for Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE. Keep left at the fork, continuing towards MLK Ave. Turn left at the light at the top of the ramp, then continue onto MLK Ave. At the second stop light, turn left onto W Street SE. Take W Street for four blocks. The parking lot will be on your right. 

Do I need reservations? If you are visiting by yourself or with a group of less than 10 people, you do not need to make a reservation. However, the number of people we can take on a tour is limited, and tickets go quickly, so we highly recommend that you make a reservation to ensure that you get to see the house. If you have a group of 11 or more, you will not be able to see the house without a reservation. See our reservation page for more information.

Are you open on weekends? Holidays?The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site is open 7 days a week. The Site is closed on January 1, Thanksgiving Day, and December 25. We are open on all other holidays. Occasionally weather or construction will force unscheduled closure.




What was the role of the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association?
Prior to her death in 1903, Helen Pitts Douglass formed a non-profit organization called the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association. This organization, upon her death, would be deeded the home and all of its contents for the purpose of opening the home to the public to further the legacy of Frederick Douglass.

When did the house become a unit of the National Park Service?
The site was adopted and added to the National Park Service by Public Law 87-633, approved September 5, 1962.

After becoming a unit of the National Park Service when was the house first open to the public?
Restoration plans were set forth in 1962 and completed by January 1972. The house was officially opened to the public on February 14, 1972.











Where is Frederick Douglass buried?
In section “A” of the Mount Hope Cemetery at Rochester, New York.

Why was Mr. Douglass buried in Rochester, New York instead of Washington, D.C.?

He was buried in the family plot. He had lived in Rochester, New York for 25 years, longer than he had lived anywhere else in his life.

What was Frederick Douglass’ source of income?
The bulk of his income came from his public speaking. But throughout his life, Douglass held many positions including: U.S. Minster to Haiti; Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia; author, newspaper publisher, U.S. Marshal to the District of Columbia, bank president, ship caulker and common laborer.

What were the names of the books and newspapers that were written or published by Frederick Douglass?
In Massachusetts, Douglass wrote his first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845); his first newspaper, the North Star in Rochester, New York (1847-1851); re-named the North Star to Frederick Douglass’ Paper (1851-1860). He wrote his second autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom in Rochester, New York (1855); again, he changed the title of his newspaper to Douglass’ Monthly (1860-1863). When he moved to Washington, D.C., he edited and owned the New National Era newspaper (1870-1874); he wrote his last autobiography at Cedar Hill, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881).


How many children did Frederick Douglass have?
Frederick Douglass and Anna Douglass had five children together. Rosetta, the oldest, Lewis, Frederick, Jr., Charles, and Annie the youngest. He and Helen had no children together.

How old was Anna Murray Douglass when she died and what was the cause of her death?

Anna died in 1882 at the age of 69 from complications of a second stroke.

Why did Frederick Douglass marry a white woman?
Helen Pitts was a well-educated and talented woman, who made the last years of Frederick Douglass’ life happy ones here at Cedar Hill. The marriage sparked criticism but when his motives were questioned, Douglass answered with the principle that guided his life, that color did not define or separate members of the human family.

Who was Helen Pitts and what did she accomplish during her lifetime?
Helen was born in 1838, in Honeoye, New York, a farming community in Ontario County, 40 miles south of Rochester. Her parents, Gideon and Jane Wells Pitts, were both abolitionists. Helen graduated from Mt. Holyoke Seminary in 1859. In the 1860’s, she taught at Hampton Institute. In 1880, she moved to Uniontown to live with her uncle, Hiram Pitts, whose home was adjacent to Cedar Hill. Helen was an employee at the Pension Office before working at the Recorder of Deeds office as a clerk in 1882. Frederick Douglass hired her for that position. She was an activist in the Women’s Rights Movement and collaborated with Caroline Winslow in the publication of a feminist newspaper, The Alpha. She was also an active member of the Holyoke Alumnae Association of Washington and board of managers of the Home for Colored Orphans. For many years she was an earnest student of Anthropology and a member of the Anthropological Society of the Capital City. In 1900, Helen formed the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association in order that the home and its contents might be maintained after her death. Just before her death in 1903, she said, “I do not wish this to be understood to be a colored movement, a movement by the colored people, but a movement by the people, for the people, regardless of color.”




                                        The visitors center includes a book store and theater.



                                              The View from the Ceder Hill estate 


What is a cistern and how many were on the property?
A cistern a well that is designed to capture and store rainwater. Though you could not consume the water, it was perfect for household chores. There was one cistern in the laundry room, which is approximately 9’6” in diameter and a height of 12’ from the bottom to the highest point of the dome top. There was also a cistern located near the stables on the backside of the property.

How high is the piece of land on which the house is sitting on?
Fifty-one feet above street level.

How many Outbuildings were on the property?
Seven: corncrib, barn, privy, carriage house, stables, Growlery and kitchen.

In what year was the Caretaker’s Cottage built and who was the Caretaker?
The cottage was built in 1922 to house small families to serve as the caretakers of the Cedar Hill property. Mrs. Gladys B. Parham was the last caretaker of Cedar Hill from 1965 until her death in 1983. She was known as “The Guardian Angel” of Cedar Hill, the last home of Frederick Douglass.


Where was Uniontown in relation to Cedar Hill?
100 acres in Anacostia was bought by the Union Land Association from Enoch Tucker’s 240-acre farm for $1,900 and sub divided in to lots to sell to people to build their homes on. 700 lots, 24 feet wide and 130 feet deep. The new subdivision was named Uniontown. It originally consisted of 15 square blocks, bounded by Harrison Street (Good Hope Road) on the north, Jefferson Street (W Street) on the south, Taylor Street (16th Street) on the east, and Monroe Street (Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue) on the west.

Had the Capitol been built during Douglass’s tenure at Cedar Hill?
Yes. The first section of the Capitol building was completed in 1800 and was completed by the time Douglass purchased the home.


















The Main House



CEDAR HILL

THE HOUSE

Was this Frederick Douglass’ first home in Washington, D.C.?
No. his first home was in Washington, D.C. were two row houses purchased on Capitol Hill, S.E. The addresses are 316 and 318 A Street, N.E., Washington, D.C.

In what year was the house built and who built it?
The house was built between 1855 and 1859. The builder’s name was John Van Hook, an architect and builder from Philadelphia, Pa.

How much did Frederick Douglass pay for the home?
On September 1, 1877, Frederick Douglass paid $6,700 to Freedmens Savings & Trust Company for a 9 ¼ acre estate.

Why did Frederick Douglass re-name the estate to Cedar Hill?
Initially known as “Van Hook’s Hill”, named after the man who built the house and owned the property, Douglass had changed the name because of the numerous cedar trees on the property.

















Where was the well located?
The well was located southeast of the house near where the parking lot to the visitor center is now located.












Who was the sculptor that did the bust of Frederick Douglass that sits in his bedroom?

The plaster bust of Douglass is a model after the original marble bust by Johnson Mundy (1831-1897). The marble bust is currently placed on view at Frederick Douglass Hall at the University of Rochester.









ARTIFACTS

What percentage of the artifacts is original?
About 70 % of the artifacts are original.

Why is there a picture of Abraham Lincoln in the West Parlor?
Frederick Douglass was an adviser to President Lincoln, advising him on issues pertaining to the treatment of black soldiers in the Civil War and they also became friends. It was customary to hang pictures of people that were admired in one’s home.

What is the name of the man whose picture is hung in the East Parlor?
Senator Blanche K. Bruce from the state of Mississippi.


























How did Frederick Douglass dispose of the household trash?
The trash would be placed in woven baskets while in the house. Then some of the trash would be thrown down the pit in the outhouse and some would be fed to the farm animals.

















ARCHITECTURE

Why did Mr. and Mrs. Douglass have separate bedrooms?
It was customary among wealthy individuals during the Victorian Era to provide each family member his or her own sleeping quarters. It was not only a sign of wealth, but proper etiquette.

Why are there two wives bedrooms?
After Anna’s death in her bedroom, Frederick Douglass wanted to honor her memory by not using her room again. When he remarried, Helen was given the bedroom next to Anna’s




How was Helen’s room heated?
Originally there was a fireplace located inside of the room. In the 1920s several fireplaces in the home, including the one in Helen’s room were removed to allow the installation of heat ducts when a furnace was installed in the home.





























The Growerly (Frederick Douglass's man cave)









The Grounds











FREDERICK DOUGLASS DEATH MASK