A new book, The White House Remembered, compiled and edited by the late Hugh Sidey, opens a fascinating window into the feelings and memories of Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan about the house itself and their views of the history in which they have played such an important part. Published by the White House Historical Association in cooperation with Thornwillow Press, this literary treasure offers rare glimpses of actual life in the White House: the big and small things, the great moments of state and the little details of daily existence.
In his introduction Sidey wrote, “Like almost everyone who works in or around the White House for any time at all, I have come to view the building as an enduring and comforting friend in times of tragedy and as a counselor of caution in moments of national euphoria. It always whispers to me, “Nothing is as good as it may seem right now – and nothing is as bad as you may judge in the moment.”
“Watergate was a tough time in the White House, of course, but the toughest times were really the war decisions. The toughest one came one December, the decision which brought the Vietnamese to the table and allowed Henry Kissinger to negotiate the peace agreement in Paris in January 1973. Others were the Cambodian bombing and the China initiatives. Those were the sorts of things that brought us back to the Lincoln Sitting Room, where we generally would discuss these matters. Henry Kissinger made twelve secret trips on the Vietnam thing, and he usually reported back to me in that room. You can only seat three or four there, but as I said before, some way or another, it’s the room where I felt we did the most organized and disciplined thinking.”
“I was always proud to have foreign leaders come to the White House. It is not as big as some of their homes, but it’s got unique American charm. One time I realized how personal and business areas coincide there. During the Bicentennial celebration, we had many State Dinners for heads of government. The biggest one, white tie, was held for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. When the guests arrive for an occasion like this, the president and first lady go out to the front to meet them, escort them to the elevator, and take them to the Yellow Oval Room in the living quarters. We escorted the queen and the prince to the elevator and when the door opened on the second floor, there was our son Jack standing with his pants on but his shirt off. And he says, “Oh, I’m trying to find my dress shirt and studs.” Betty apologized, but the queen said, “Don’t worry, we have one just like it.”
“I think springtime was my best season at the White House. I’m a sort of amateur horticulturist; I guess “silviculturist” is the right word. I liked trees, so I learned the variety of species and the origin of all the trees on the White House grounds, which are quite extensive. In fact, when I left the White House, the gift I received from the White House staff was a detailed illustrated map of the eighteen acres with every tree, its common and Latin name, and its origin. Spring is also a time of good weather and relative seclusion from excessive visitors on the grounds.”
“I once had a book on the history of the White House and after I started reading it I couldn’t put it down. One Sunday morning I was sitting upstairs alone and I finished the book. Even though I had been living there for several years, I remember putting it down and walking through every room of the White House as if I were seeing it for the first time. As I went, I remembered where certain rooms were changed and then changed back again, the different color schemes and the different uses. It was a new view of the White House, and I was absolutely fascinated.”
Hugh Sidey wrote about the American Presidency for nearly 50 years, first covering Dwight D. Eisenhower for Life Magazine in 1957. He later became Time’s political and White House correspondent and bureau chief. He was Time Magazine’s contributor in Washington and working on Volume 2 of The White House Remembered, at the time of his death in November, 2005. Hugh Sidey served on the board of directors of the White House Historical Association, which he chaired from 2000 to 2003.
This edition of White House Remembered is reprinted from a handmade, leather-bound volume, published in a limited edition by Thornwillow Press, Ltd.
The White House Historical Association, established in 1961, is a non-profit organization whose goal is to enhance public understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment of the Executive Mansion. Proceeds from the association’s trusts, publications and other items are used to fund acquisitions of historic furnishings and artwork for the permanent White House collection, assist in the preservation of the public rooms, and further its educational mission.
Pub date: November, 2005
The White House Remembered is also available as an unabridged audio book.
Narrated by Hugh Sidey
1 hour 33 minutes