Thursday, January 31, 2013

Grant and Cocaine

This talks about Grant's addiction to cocaine as a way to deal with the pain of throat cancer to get his autobiography written.  He, like many others of the time, was addicted through patented medicine of the time:
However at age 63, the two-term President wasn’t poking snot with a rolled up $50 bill. He ingested his blow via a “French wine tonic” called Vin Mariani. The coca leaf-spiked concoction fueled ol’ Lyss to finish what became an instant bestseller that was hailed by critics. Each day Grant went through multiple bottles, each containing six milligrams of cocaine per fluid ounce. He pretty much slept the rest of the time.

The New York Times reported multiple accounts of Grant’s doctor as his main supplier. On Easter Sunday 1885, the President’s throat “was gargled and dressed in cocaine.” On April 11, the Gray Lady noted the patient “has been ‘better’ at various times only in the sense that his decline has been stayed because of drugs.”

Given the amount that the man was ingesting, his physician likely wasn’t the only one providing the juice. Twain, whose publishing house was still in its first year, later admitted to aspirations of becoming a drug dealer. In his autobiography The Turning Point of My Life (1910), he shared ”a longing to ascend the Amazon. Also with a longing to open up a trade in coca with all the world.”

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

2012 White House Christmas Card

I realized yesterday that we hadn't done our usual White House Christmas card post (I don't normally do it, hence I didn't notice....excuses, excuses, right?), so I thought I'd do it  now.  This year's card was of Bo, as you can see above, and based on a painting done by Larassa Kabel. Here is some background from the artist:
The dog in the portrait is sporting a scarf, something Kabel says was an addition she made to the photo the White House sent out for her as part of the competition.

“They asked us to do an interpretation of the photo, and I did need to change a couple of things,” Kabel said. “Black animals are difficult to represent and have them read as three-dimensional.”
To make the snow look realistic, Kabel used a tool most people have inside their bathrooms: a toothbrush.
“It splatters so it looks like snow,” Kabel said.
The White House won’t be paying Kabel for her portrait of Bo (“I’m living on glory,” she said when asked about compensation), but she and her husband will attend the White House holiday party on Dec. 18.
She sees meeting the president and Mrs. Obama as a highlight of the trip, but she is also excited to do something many White House guests are familiar with: celebrity watch.
“I’ve never seen anyone famous, so I’m like, who will be at the party?” Kabel said. “I’m looking for anybody.”

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

First Live TV Conference

The first live TV conference by JFK!  This also includes footage of the return of the RB-47 pilots, which is what the news conference had been about.  You can also check out this information on the RB-47 incident. Here are some Kennedy files on related materials (just because).

Monday, January 28, 2013

New Election Laws

I saw this recently that the argument for dividing electoral college votes is back on the table. Obviously, this is an ongoing question and debate as the electoral college continues to be challenged.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Presidential Prophecies

History Channel aired Presidential Prophecies from "Decoding the Past," awhile back and I DVRed and just got around to watching it.  Except for a few instances, most of the stories were "lore," so I wasn't that impressed.  Like the Washington story they begin with - it was told once in a newspaper in 1880 about Valley Forge. Not exactly great primary source material!  The historians pretty much all agreed that most of these stories weren't well based and certainly nothing we can say actually impacted presidential decision making.  The best examples were at the end.  They have actual tapes of Nixon talking about listening to prophecies and really taking them to heart by what he is telling others.  Nancy Reagan also is well known for her astrology, so that was easy as well. 

Someone they didn't cover that I would have found interesting was Florence Harding (although they mention Harding as part of the "twenty year curse.").    Mrs. Harding even consulted astrologers on Harding's run for office:
In early 1920, Florence Harding consulted Marcia Champrey, the astrologer of Evalyn McLean, who predicted that if Harding was able to win the Republican nomination, he would go on to win the presidency - but not live to complete the full term.

If you visit the Harding Home in  Marion, she had a really cool moon and star chair (this site has a picture of it plus lots of fun stuff on this subject) that was supposedly a "medium's chair."
...a chair in one of the bedrooms was known as the “medium’s chair” (though whether or not a medium actually used it is unclear).

There is also a "haunted clock:" (this is from the Marion Home, but it is also on the other site as well)
The Harding Home is a gem among Presidential sites and historical homes because of the high
percentage of original objects. Here, you'll see many personal items used by the Hardings, as
well as mementos from the White House. One of the most famous objects in the Home is the
eight-day clock. The clock supposedly is haunted and stopped at the exact time that President
Harding died in San Francisco on Aug. 2, 1923. It reportedly has stopped on some of the
anniversaries of his death since 1923; the most recent was in 2000. Don't worry, we'll be
watching closely to see what happens on Aug. 2, 2013!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Secretary of Beer?

Alas, no this is a myth and here's the scoop on the reality, with quotes from Montpelier.
Now here’s the truth: James Madison did not attempt to appoint a secretary of beer to his cabinet or endorse a manufacturing plant for the cause and solution to all of life’s problems.

According to staffers at Madison’s Montpelier estate in Orange, Virginia, the mix-up may have come from a letter written by a businessman named Joseph Coppinger. The December 16, 1810, dispatch hit up Madison for public funds to launch a national, but not government-run, brewery. Coppinger’s self-contradictory argument? To ward off “the baneful influence of ardent spirits on the health and Morals of our fellow Citizens” and improve the quality of existing malt liquors in the marketplace.
“The lack of an extant response from Madison suggests he was not amenable to this suggestion,” says assistant curator Tiffany Cole, on behalf of the research team at Montpelier. “Furthermore, the notion that Madison would support a cabinet post for beer production runs counter to his established views of limited government and executive powers.”

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Who Pays for Presidential Perks?

This is a neat little piece on the presidential perks and who pays for them!  For instance, what does it cost to run the White House?
Number three – The White House. For the 2008 fiscal year, Bradley Patterson, a retired Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, estimated the cost of running the White House was almost $1.6 billion. And that amount didn’t include unpublished classified expenses.

The president’s White house staff also comes at a steep price. In 2012, the White House reported its payroll grew from $37 million in 2011 to $37.8 million. The list includes 468 names. 139 of which make more than $100,000 a year.

Monday, January 21, 2013


Did you all watch the inauguration? If not, you can check it out here. I was actually at the Children's Musuem of Pittsburgh and they were even showing it in their theatre.  And no, I didn't make my two and five year old watch it.  I must saw that I agree with the hype on Mrs. Obama - she looked fabulous and I like the new bangs!

But I thought we all needed something fun - here are some odd inauguration tales!  Here's a fun one:
Dwight Eisenhower’s inaugural parade in 1953 included 62 bands, but the showstopper was California cowboy Monty Montana, who lassoed the new president.

Another fun little piece - here's the menu from Lincoln's second inauguration, which has the original bill of fare in it, with notes on the items that give more information.  I was looking at the ice cream section and you can see some odd flavors (I just delved into making homemade ice cream, so I'm interested!) to us.  The document explains about them:
Some of the ice cream flavors served, such as burnt almonds and maraschino, may not be familiar to modern diners—but they were standard during Lincoln's time. Fannie Merritt Farmer's original Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, published in 1896, contains a recipe for burnt almond ice cream. It calls for the same ingredients as caramel ice cream—cream, milk, sugar, an egg, flour, salt and vanilla—plus one cup of finely chopped blanched almonds.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


This is a neat article on the history and debate surrounding the presidential use of the autopen.  President Obama recently used it to sign the fiscal cliff deal. 

Here is some of the history behind its usage:
Harry Truman was the first President to use one in office and Kennedy allegedly made substantial use of the device. However, the White House autopen was a closely guarded secret until Gerald Ford’s administration publicly acknowledged its use. Traditionally, the autopen has been reserved for personal correspondence and documents. More recently though, it has taken on a higher profile role in the White House. Barack Obama was the first American President to use the autopen to sign a bill into law, which he first did on May 26, 2011 when he authorized an extension of the Patriot Act from France. And now he’s used it again to approve the fiscal cliff deal from more than 4,800 miles away and, in so doing, has returned the autopen to the national spotlight.

Though the autopen wasn’t used in the White House until the 1950s, the history of the automated autograph dates back much further. A precursor of sorts to the autopen, the polygraph, was first patented in 1803 by John Isaac Hawkins and, within a year, was being used by noted early adopter Thomas Jefferson. Known formally as the “Hawkins & Peale’s Patent Polygraph No. 57,” this early copy device was used by Jefferson to make single reproductions of documents as he was writing them. Though the device’s inventor referred to the copy machine as a “polygraph,” today it would be more properly called a pantograph – a tool traditionally used by draftsmen and scientists to reduce and enlarge drawings. According to the OED, it wasn’t until 1871 that the word “polygraph” gained its modern definition: a machine that detects physiological changes and is often used as a lie detector. Prior to that date, and for some years after, it was used to refer to early copying devices.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Inaugurations Gone Wrong!

As we lead into the inauguration, here are some worst case scenarios from the past! I choose the one that I actually hadn't heard before to share!
...the most tragic of inauguration horror stories happened in 1857, at James Buchanan’s ill-fated inauguration.

Buchanan’s fate was linked to an episode in 1857 called the National Hotel disease, an outbreak of an illness tied to pre- and post-inauguration activities that left at least 36 people dead.

In an eerie resemblance to the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Philadelphia a century later, guests who attended events at one of Washington’s biggest hotels came down with a mystery illness, and then died quickly or over the course of the following two years.

Buchanan himself contracted the disease twice and survived: once before his inauguration and once shortly after it. In both cases, he was at the hotel

Among the 36 fatalities were people who attended the official post-inauguration banquet at the hotel, including three U.S. congressmen.

Rumors spread that Buchanan had also died, but he recovered after spending the first weeks of his presidency in bed.

Today, experts believe inadequate sanitary conditions existed in the hotel, including problems with its sewage system. It was mostly people who ate at the hotel who became ill, while bar patrons showed no symptoms.

The hotel was demolished in the 1920s and now a tourist attraction, the Newseum, sits on its location.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Going After Cuba

I think Franklin Pierce's obsession with annexing Cuba is a fun topic and could  be a good topic for the classroom as Communist Cuba and its relationship with the US is well explored, but not always the earlier relationships.  So here is some information on Piece's idea of annexation:
Far less successful was Pierce's pet cause—the annexation of Cuba. For years, southerners had coveted the great island as a place to expand their slavery-driven agricultural economy. Failed filibustering expeditions during the Taylor and Fillmore presidencies were evidence of the South's attempts to obtain this slaveholding Caribbean possession of Spain.

Southern interests in Cuba were understandable. After all, that nation allowed slavery and was developing a plantation form of agriculture, and would continue to do so until two decades after the Civil War.
During Pierce's administration, many Americans reasoned that if Cuba were to be purchased from Spain, they would in effect have another slave state. The wrong man was charged with the delicate task of negotiating with Spain's poor but proud king. Pierre Soulé, an overbearing southerner, had been named

Pierce's minister to Spain, with instructions to go as high as $130 million, but Soulé had little patience for the slow ways of the Spanish court. The more he tried to bully Spain into selling Cuba, the more that nation resisted the idea. Soulé even rewrote the treaty to include threats of American military action if Spain did not comply, which only stiffened Spanish resolve. Soulé met with James Buchanan, Pierce's ambassador to England and future President of the United States, and John Mason, the minister to France. Together, they drafted the Ostend Manifesto, a document that set the justifications for American possession. The Manifesto also warned that if Cuba refused America's proposal, "internal peace" in the United States might be threatened by continued Spanish control, since slaves might revolt on the island, threatening the institution of slavery in the U.S. Under such circumstances, America might be required to take control of Cuba. After the document was published, Pierce's secretary of state, William Marcy, was forced to repudiate the Manifesto because of the diplomatic uproar in Europe and in the north that ensued.

If you'd like a primary source, chekc out this statement from Pierce telling citizens not to invade Cuba on their own! He also issued proclamations not to invade Nicaragua and Mexico as well! 

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Tad's World

I really like this series the Lincoln Cottage is doing in connecting their museum to the new movie by talking about "Tad's World." Obviously, any time a museum can jump onto something like a new movie and turn it into PR for themselves is great!  This is the first post in what will be an ongoing series:
If anyone could distract President Lincoln from the constant pressures of the Civil War, it was his son Thomas “Tad” Lincoln. Just nine years old when the Lincolns first moved into the Cottage, Tad provided his father an outlet from a world of constant bloodshed. It is difficult to imagine being president during the Civil War, but it is equally as difficult to imagine being a child in the middle of what some historians refer to as the Second American Revolution. Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln gives us a glimpse into the world that Tad created during the United States’ bloodiest conflict.

One of the most striking scenes from the movie reveals a father’s intimate relationship with his youngest son. Tad was known to ride his father’s shoulders around the White House as part of game, but in this brief yet touching scene we see Tad scramble up on his father’s back to be carried to bed. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this scene is how mundane and routine it seems. You can imagine the very same thing happening in front of the Lincoln’s drawing room fireplace at their summer cottage.

The loss of his brother Willie was monumental to Tad. More than a brother, he lost a best friend and playmate. With his oldest brother Robert away at college, his father occupied with secession and slavery, and his mother distracted by her incredible grief from Willie’s death, the Bucktail soldiers provided Tad friendship at the Cottage. He would often head outside to drill with the soldiers on his pony. Eventually the troops, so enamored with Tad, awarded him the honorary position of “3rd Lieutenant.”

The Lincoln family kept a wide array of animals at their home in Springfield, and did not change their ways after the move to Washington. With plenty of space, the Old Soldiers’ Home featured some of the most interesting of the Lincolns’ animals. Among these curiosities were peacocks.

Pets often provide companionship and lessons in responsibility for children, but the Lincolns’ peacocks provide us a bit of a laugh. The Lincolns’ flock of peacocks resided on the Soldiers’ Home campus. To keep them flying away, the soldiers from Company K tied one end of a string to the peacock’s feet and the other to a stick. This allowed the birds the ability to roost in the nearby trees, but provided enough weight to prevent them from flying away. If you happened to arrive at the Soldiers’ Home on one particular summer night, you might have caught sight of the President of the United States of America and his Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, climbing a tree to untangle a number of Tad’s peacocks from the cedar trees.

In Lincoln, we can imagine what it may have been like to be first-child during the Civil War. While residing at their summer home, the Lincoln family enjoyed greater privacy and more space to spend time together as they wished.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Exploring the Emancipation Proclamation

This article explores the emancipation proclamation, which got a lot of interest in the last movement. It goes into the proclamation in a line by line fashion:
Here, below, is a close textual analysis of the Emancipation Proclamation, based on a conversation with Holzer and information conveyed in his book, published earlier this year. The historic document, held at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., has faded considerably over time (making it somewhat difficult to read). It is rarely exhibited for the public, due to the risk of further light damage. However, the proclamation will be on display from December 30, 2012, to January 1, 2013, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of its signing.

Here is an example, on his “safety measure” about black freemen:
When the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was issued in September, anti-emancipation newspaper editors criticized Lincoln for issuing a radical document that would incite race riots, says Holzer. So, to be prudent, Lincoln included this paragraph, saying (somewhat patronizingly, according to Holzer) that the newly freed should "abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence." He also encourages the freed to join the national workforce and "labor faithfully for reasonable wages," which notably strays from his previously expressed desires to colonize former slaves in Africa or Central America.

Friday, January 04, 2013

New Year's Receptions

I'd love to go to a White House New Year's Reception...too bad, they don't do them anymore!  Can you imagine waiting in line to shake the presidents' hand and that being allowed?  Different world, for sure! Here's an article on Roosevelt's 1902 reception.