Monday, December 14, 2009

Within Those Walls, Within Those Pages

Incredible reading experiences, Susan Goodman? Ahhh now, well, as the overarching subject of this blog is nonfiction, I shall not be writing here of the works of Laurie R. King or J.R.R. Tolkein or Jack Finney, but I'm happy to share with whomever reads this the great satisfaction I took in reading The President's House by William Seale, published in 1986 by the White House Historical Association. You wouldn't think that a two-volume doorstop would be so wonderfully readable. I came across it when I was researching my Ghosts of the White House (Simon & Schuster, 1998), in which the departed Presidents are spooking about the place all at once, talking to a young visitor (modeled on my niece, Sara, who accompanied on my research trip to the W. H.) about their administrations. I continue to be knocked out by the notion of all of these very different individuals and their families all living - often under terrific strain - within those same stone walls. And too, each of those gents represents a different chapter in the story of the Republic.

Mr. Seale's book is a lively history of the building itself, including, its inhabitants, of course. I adore finding out that a certain "Hugh Densley" spent the early spring of 1799 covering the walls of the President's House with plaster made up of "large quantities of plater of Paris, fine washed sand, lime, olive oil, beeswax, and 400 bushels of hog and horse hair, all of which Hoban [James Hoban, the architect' had bargained for in Baltimore."

I love knowing [I also loathe knowing this, considering the lot of the poor in1880s America] that President Chester Arthur traveled about Washington D.C. in an English-style carriage, a "landau, lacquered green and red, with his coat of arms painted on the door in gilt. The coach lamps were silver-plated...the coachman and the footman wore 'mouse color' livery with silver buttons.' Ooooh baybee - who needs fiction?
Let me leave you all with a glorious non sequitur, posed by the first resident and one of my two favorite subjects of the President's House, John Adams:

"Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write." Amen.

1 comment:

Susan E. Goodman said...

Sounds like a real find, Cheryl. I also love the idea that each president and his residency represents another chapter in our history.