What Do a Swimming Pool and a Man Named Fatty Price Have to Do with the White House and the Press?

What do a swimming pool and a man named Fatty Price have to do with the White House and the press?

Well --- The determination of one eventually led to the other becoming the site of the White House Press Room.

Curious? Read on!

It’s almost impossible to imagine today, but until the late 19th century, the press barely covered the presidency at all. Congress was considered much more important and was where the action was. Presidents might grant individual interviews from time to time or their secretaries might meet with journalists now and then. But there were no journalist assigned to just cover the White House or the president.

Enter Fatty Price

During President Grover Cleveland's second term (1892-1897) a clever reporter from the Washington Evening Star, named Fatty Price, began hanging around the White House entrance fishing for newsworthy stories. He could frequently be spotted standing outside the White House gates questioning visitors about their meeting inside as they exited and went on their way.

This was just an interesting occurrence at first. But attention to the White House soon caught on! Suddenly more and more reporters became interested in covering the president and the goings on at the White House.

William McKinley, the president who followed Grover Cleveland’s second term (1893-1897) finally created a special section of the White House where the growing number of reporters could gather and work. This space was a lovely table (Yes, a table!) right out in the corridor on the second floor of the White House. And his secretary would routinely come out into the corridor and tell the reporters what was going on. Welcome to White House news briefings! 

President McKinley's press table.

President McKinley's press table.

Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909; the president after McKinley) finally found a real ROOM in the White House for reporters.  He also began the policy of issuing press credentials.

Next came press conferences --- President Howard Taft (1909-1913, the president after Theodore Roosevelt) began doing weekly conferences with the press. And from then on right through to President Herbert Hoover (1929-1933) all presidents met with the press on a weekly basis and answered their questions --- well, their written questions, at least.  These press conferences were not broadcast on the radio, and television and computers had not been invented yet. So these conferences were only between the president and reporters.

From Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) through Harry Truman (1945-1953) many of the conferences between the president and the press were informal and were frequently considered “off the record.”  They were so informal that it was considered permissible for a president to go back and modify or even change what he had said, after he said it! Ooops! That is, if a reporter agreed! During this period, press conferences were frequent. But when the rules changed to make comments on the record during President Eisenhower’s administration (1953-1961), the number of press conferences held dropped significantly!

Informal or formal, there was no fixed location for these briefings or presidential press conferences. They could occur in the Oval Office, in the Indian Treaty Room, perhaps in the East Room or even in the State Department auditorium.

Enter the White House swimming pool

In 1970, the number of reporters assigned to the White House had grown so much that it had totally outgrown the press room there. To solve this problem, President Richard Nixon (1969-1974) had the White House’s indoor swimming pool, which had been installed by the March of Dimes for Franklin D. Roosevelt, (1933-1945) covered and turned into press offices and a lounge for reporters. The new space include a one-story Briefing Room installed over the swimming pool and two floors of work and broadcasting areas to the east of the pool, toward the White House proper. In addition, this space could also double as a briefing room and be used for press conferences. With new comfortable space in which to work and a room that could be formally used for press conferences, the press had now become more a part of and important to the presidency.

President Johnson swimming in the White House pool.

President Johnson swimming in the White House pool.

In 2000, the new room was named the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in honor of James Brady, the press secretary who was shot and permanently disabled during an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

Side Bar --- LBJ and the Pre-Pressroom Swimming Pool

President Johnson (1963-1969) notoriously had problems setting boundaries with his aides, and his use of the White House pool was not an exception. Staff would find any believable excuse to scatter whenever President Johnson expressed a desire to take a swim!!! This was because not only would he swim in and lounge around the pool completely naked, he would insist that others do the same. In a scene that is most unsettling to imagine, he once persuaded the preacher Billy Graham to join him in one of his skinny-dipping sessions. (They prayed together in the water.)

Following America's Presidents

Following America’s Presidents

If you’re coming to Washington, DC and want to know about our U.S. Presidents, here are some good ways to get to know them ---

Pay a Call on President Lincoln’s Cottage

This was the home where President Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary spent their summers. Washington, DC was built on a swamp, which meant summers here were hot and muggy and almost unbearable! So the Lincolns would pack up and make the trip to the outskirts of the city where things were cooler and calmer. The problem was Mr. Lincoln was still the President and had to commute back to the White House each day and then back to the cottage in the evening. See what you think of this commute.

 Visit Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens

This lovely setting on the Potomac River in rural Virginia was the home of President George Washington and his wife, Martha Dandridge Custis Washington. If you visit try to take in as much of the estate as possible. The mansion is based on Palladian style of architecture (sharing some of the characteristics of the temples of Athens and Rome) but was constructed in a piecemeal fashion. The interior has been restored to the time the Washington’s lived here. In the way of gardens you’ll find a lovely replica of a French parterre garden and a kitchen garden to serve the house. There are several outbuildings that supported life in the main house, the family cemetery, as well as a farm, a gristmill and a distillery. Altogether, it’s a great place to experience life as it was in a young nation.

Stop by the White House Visitors Center

Don’t miss the video here about being President of the United States. In addition there are exhibits that tell about the many functions of the White House and the people who have lived and worked there. The Center is a relatively small space but it’s filled with interesting objects. You’ll want to take your time and explore well and you’ll learn a lot of interesting things! The President’s Park (the White House) is actually a national park and is run by the National Park Service. The Park Rangers in the Visitors Center are very knowledgeable about the White House and very pleased to share what they know. So don’t be shy; do ask them questions.                     

Stroll the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (32nd President of the United States) never wanted a memorial the size of the one on the National Mall today. He had envisioned a small marble block about the size of his desk. And this is precisely what the first memorial to him looked like. It was placed on the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the National Archives and Records Administration building where it remains today. But --- this was not enough for Congress. They decided FDR needed a much bigger tribute, after all, he was and is and will be the only United States President to be elected to 4 terms of office!!

Like the Washington Monument, the memorial to President Franklin Roosevelt had several very interesting suggested designs before it was finally constructed as you see it today. Here are the some of the suggested designs. See if you would have liked these designs ---  

  • Vertical bookends (dubbed the National Bookend) that the Roosevelt Family hated --- shelved!

  • Scattered, large, marble triangular slabs (dubbed Instant Stonehenge) that almost every one hated --- shelved!

  • Four connected, outdoor rooms, each representing one of FDR’s terms as president.  --- accepted!

 The four connecting rooms of today’s memorial contain 10 sculptures, 6 waterfalls, many scattered and tumbled rocks, several pools of water and many speeches carved on the stone walls. It is the only memorial to include a tribute to a former First Lady. One of the 10 sculptures found here is of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, FDR’s wife. And then there is Fala, FDR’s favorite and last dog. He’s here too.

In general the Memorial tells the story of FDR the man and the work he did during his 4 terms as president. He was president for 14 years! Wow! Each of the rooms of the Memorial tells about a different one of his four terms. FDR was president during the Great Depression and also during WWII. There are many stories to tell about these and the memorial tells many of them!!

See the First Ladies Exhibit at the National Museum of American History

The First Ladies’ Exhibit must be explored carefully in order to really get it. Yes, it begins   by presenting some of the lovely ball gowns, dresses and shoes that our First Ladies have worn while living in the White House. But it’s much more than a fashion show. It’s also a time line of the life of women in the United States. By just taking a look at the garments it’s possible to get an idea of what was expected of women as the nation grew and changed --- who probably wore a corset, who was probably not allowed to climb trees, who could chase a runaway dog, etc.  Take a look and come up with your own hypothesis. Watch the fabrics change. See what colors were popular when. You may be quite surprised.

The exhibit also explores the role of the First Lady. She is not elected or voted on by the American people and there she has no job description. Yet, there have been many different expectations since Martha Washington was the first First Lady for what a First Lady should do while her husband is president. 

See! There are a lot of great discoveries to be had in this exhibit!

Hike Roosevelt Island

This memorial is very unique! It’s not like any of DC’s other memorials. It’s an Island! It’s an entire island in the middle of the Potomac River. It’s 88 acres of wooded parkland dedicated to President Theodore Roosevelt or Teddy as many people called him. He was the 26th President of the Unites States and quite a character!

 Any thoughts about why an island would be a fitting memorial for Theodore Roosevelt? It’s so unusual!

Well, he is remembered most for his accomplishments in conserving public lands for forests, national parks, wildlife and bird refuges, and monuments. While he was president he set aside land for 150 National Forests, and 5 National Parks. He created the U.S.’s first 51 Federal Bird Reservations, the first 18 National Monuments, the first 4 National Game Preserves, and the first 21 Reclamation Projects!! In total he conserved 230 million acres of land, which is a land area equivalent to that of all the East Coast states from Maine to Florida. That’s a lot of conservation!  And it was all done at a time when the very idea of taking care of our trees and our land and our water in a way that would leave them in good shape for future generations to use was a new concept.  And it was not a very popular concept either.

Among the National Parks that Teddy Roosevelt established are the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Muir Woods in California, Devil's Tower in Wyoming and Jewel Cave in South Dakota.

The Teddy Roosevelt Island has 2 1/2 miles of foot trails through the natural habitat of all sorts of local flora (plants) and fauna (animals). In a small clearing in the middle of the island there is a 17-foot bronze statue of Teddy Roosevelt himself, as if he’s standing there looking out over the natural things he loved so much. There are also two fountains and four 21-foot granite tablets inscribed with some of Roosevelt’s philosophy. All together they give you an idea of how Teddy thought and what was important to him.

Say “Hello” to Mr. Jefferson (Thomas) As He Stands in His Memorial

I have sworn upon the alter of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.

Thomas Jefferson - From a Letter to Benjamin Rush in 1800

The Jefferson Memorial honors President Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States of America. It was dedicated on his 200th birthday, April 13, 1943. It is a very grand and stately building with many columns and a round dome on top. It was designed to look like the Pantheon in Rome, Italy, one of Jefferson’s favorite buildings. (He designed the University of Virginia as well as Monticello, his home in Charlottesville, Virginia after the Pantheon.) So a building in this shape was thought to be a fitting tribute to his incredible contributions.  As you explore DC, see if you notice other buildings in that look similar. You know, with the colonnade idea. Many of these buildings were designed by John Russell Pope, the same architect who designed Mr. Jefferson’s Memorial on the National Mall.

Thomas Jefferson was a man who could do almost anything! He was a farmer, an inventor of mechanical things, a gourmet cook, an architect, a musician (He played the violin), a statesman, a lawyer, Governor of Virginia, US Minister to France, US Secretary of State, Vice President of the Unites State, and President of the Unites States. He designed his own house in Charlottesville, Virginia and He donated his own personal library to the Library of Congress!

Such a big man certainly deserved a big statue in his honor. Mr. Jefferson’s statue is 19 feet high and weighs 5 tons! What do you think? Is it big enough? Take a close look at the sculptures in the pediment above the entrance to the Jefferson Memorial. They tell the story of an important event in the history of the United States --- the creation of the Declaration of Independence, the formal resolution that the United Colonies declared their freedom from Great Britain. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston made up the committee of the Continental Congress that was given the responsibility of creating this important document. These 5 men are shown in this pediment sculpture here at the Jefferson Memorial.

Walk the Inaugural Route

From the Capitol, westward down Pennsylvania Avenue to the viewing stands in front of the White House; the trek is made on January 20th.

George Washington began the tradition of an Inaugural Parade when he left his home, Mount Vernon, in Virginia, for New York City to be sworn in as the First President of the United States. The country was so excited by their new president that as he proceeded past the crowds that had assembled to greet him, local militia joined the journey, as did government officials, other military leaders, members of the new Congress and prominent citizens.

Early, official, Inaugural parades were mainly for the purpose of escorting and protecting the newly elected president in route to and from the U.S. Capitol. Thomas Jefferson (3rd U.S. president) was the first president to be inaugurated in Washington, DC.  For his second inauguration the Marine Band was asked to play military music and it has played at every Presidential Inauguration since then. By the time that William Henry Harrison (the 9th U.S. president) was inaugurated, the procession included floats, militia from outside the DC area, Citizen Clubs, political clubs, military bands and groups of college students.

At Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration (16th president), African Americans marched in the parade for the first time --- African American troops, African American Odd Fellows and African American Masons.

Today, newly sworn in U.S. presidents and their wives, the First Ladies, walk at least part of the Inaugural Parade route. But it’s cold in January!! So they often ride part of the way as well. The only inauguration to be cancelled was Ronald Regan’s second (40th president) due to frigid weather.

What do you think the inaugural parade route looks like from the President and First Lady’s viewpoint?

Interview Presidents in Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery

I know this sounds exceedingly boring but it’s really not! It’s great fun getting to see what our early presidents looked like and how they dressed. Picture your husband, father, brother, son --- in ruffles. And then there are the wigs!

I bet we’re all glad wigs like these went out of style.

Wonder how all these people in the Portrait Gallery ever sat still long enough to have their portraits painted --- or did they? Hmmm?

John Adams. 2nd President of the United States (March 4, 1797 – March 4, 1801)

John Adams. 2nd President of the United States (March 4, 1797 – March 4, 1801)

Growing Up in the Time of Our Founding Fathers

Growing Up in the Time of Our Founding Fathers

Have you ever thought about what it was like to grow up as the child of one of our nation’s Founding Fathers? Would your life have been like the other “kids on the block” — only your dad was off creating a new nation? Maybe you would have been the kid everyone wanted to be with or be like? Or, maybe you were totally different from every other kid in your neighborhood school?

Haiku In the Nation's Capital

Haiku In the Nation's Capital


…a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey an experience.

– Haiku Society of America

The District of Columbia’s Golden Triangle Business Improvement District (BID --- a 43-block neighborhood that stretches from the White House to Dupont Circle.) has just announced it is open for and ready to receive entries to the city’s Annual Golden Haiku Literary Competition. It’s the 6th year for this event and it’s incredibly popular. Last year there were more than 1,600 original entries from 45 countries, 34 states and the District of Columbia itself. 

Tall Tales About Living and Working in The White House

Tall Tales About Living and Working in The White House

Of course, we think the best way to learn about White House history is to take a Pickle Pea Walk. In Washington, DC.  But, we do realize there are other, very delightful ways to get a look-see into life and work at the White House. And in our research for the walks, we have discovered some very good reads that help with this endeavor and are also great fun. Here are a few of these.

Receiving a Gift is Always Interesting --- Especially if You are the President of the United States!

Receiving a Gift is Always Interesting --- Especially if You are the President of the United States!

Kings and queens, chiefs, premiers, presidents and all manner of heads of state have exchanged gifts almost as long as there has been a civilized world. Gifts have been a symbol of respect between people of different cultures, a symbol of peaceful coexistence and international cooperation, even friendship.

But when our country was a young democracy, our leaders felt that accepting gifts from foreign countries was way too dangerous.

Happy Birthday, TR!  How does it feel to be 160 Years Old?

Happy Birthday, TR!  How does it feel to be 160 Years Old?

Theodore Roosevelt was the 26th President of the United States. He was born Oct. 27, 1858, and died nearly 100 years ago on Jan. 6, 1919.

As a birthday present to Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States from 1901 to 1909 (and father of our beloved Quentin), the Library of Congress has now digitized their extensive collection of his papers and made them available to the public on-line.