Presidents

When the Willard Hotel served as the White House

The Presidential Flag flew outside the Willard Hotel when President Calvin Coolidge stayed there in 1923.

For the first weeks of his presidency, Calvin Coolidge conducted business from a different iconic D.C. residence — the Willard Hotel. The Coolidges lived at the hotel while he was Vice President and they waited to move to the White House until Warren Harding’s family had time to move out after he died in office.

"Our Neighbor" Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton Inauguration 1993 (Source: Wikipedia)

In 1993, then President-elect Bill Clinton’s choice of location for his inaugural morning prayer service was certainly a departure from precedent. For the first time in history, this time honored tradition took place at a historically Black church: Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal on M Street in downtown Washington. Church officials and clergy were pleased -- as Metropolitan administrator Roslyn Stewart Christian said: “He picked a neighborhood church … 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is right around the corner. He intends to be our president, our leader and our neighbor.”

A contemporary engraving of the Garfield assassination (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Witnesses

What do a five-year-old boy, a woman working at a train station and an African American newspaperman have in common? Samuel J. Seymour, Sarah V. E. White and Samuel H. Hatton were little-known Washingtonian witnesses to some of the most influential murders in history: those of U.S. Presidents.

Mary Todd Lincoln with the ghost of Abraham Lincoln behind her

The Legends of Lincoln's Ghost

It makes sense that, of all the ghosts in Washington, Lincoln is the most famous. He’s one of the most noteworthy Presidents, certainly. He lived in the city during a time of great conflict and suffering. He endured his own personal tragedies during his time in office. His family dabbled in the paranormal fads of the day. And, of course, he was shot at Ford’s Theatre, later dying in a makeshift deathbed across the street. The majority of the nation mourned, feeling a collective bereavement that has never quite healed. Altogether, it’s the perfect recipe for an ongoing ghost story.

Portrait of John Quincy Adams ca. 1818

Anne Royall and the President's Clothes

When the stresses of life in Washington became too much, John Quincy Adams calmed his nerves by taking early-morning swims in the Potomac River. In a move that might be considered questionable by today’s standards, he especially liked to soak in the brisk, cold water wearing nothing but his own skin. According to local lore, it once got him into a bit of trouble: Anne Royall, a trailblazing journalist, caught him in a very awkward situation. But is there any truth in the tale?

A General, a Queen, and the President

Tom Thumb, -1883, with wife in wedding costume., 1863. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2005685454/.

February of 1863 saw one of the most anticipated celebrity weddings of its time—after all, what better to provide a momentary distraction from the realities of the Civil War than a little star gossip? The bride and groom were General Tom Thumb (Charles Stratton) and the Queen of Beauty Lavinia Warren, of P.T. Barnum’s American Museum (which would later become Barnum’s Circus) in New York City. At 12:30 p.m. on February 10, 1863 in Manhattan’s Grace Episcopal Church, Tom and Lavinia wed in the presence of an enormous crowd, which spilled out onto Broadway and for many more miles into the City, thanks to Barnum’s extensive publicizing of the event. People across America were fascinated by Barnum’s Tom Thumb and the President of the United States was no exception. The Lincolns were so enthralled by Barnum’s acts that they invited the newlywed Strattons to the White House for a wedding reception just a few days later.

Harriet Lane (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Other First Ladies

When President Donald Trump's wife, Melania, stayed in New York during the beginning of his presidency, some speculated that the President's daughter, Ivanka, might take on some of the traditional duties of the First Lady in Washington. Some worried this would be another break from tradition by America’s unconventional 45th president; however, there have been numerous other times in US history when the ‘First Lady’ has been a woman other than the president’s wife. Sometimes, it’s because the president is a bachelor or a widower; other times, the First Lady is too ill to fulfill her duties as hostess and appoints a substitute. Or, as often seemed the case in the 19th century and perhaps now, the president’s wife took one look at the job and said “No, thank you!”

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