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May 22, 2018 Washington, D.C.

Since the creation of the American presidency, the country’s leaders and their families have taken vacations away from the White House. A brief history of summer vacations away from the White House and Memorial Day activities:

Summer Vacations

  • During the summers of 1862, 1863, and 1864, President Abraham Lincoln and his family resided at the Soldiers’ Home, approximately three miles north of the White House. The cool breezes and relatively isolated location provided ideal relief from wartime Washington. While in residence, the home was protected by the soldiers of Company K of the 150th Pennsylvania Infantry. The Soldiers’ Home was first used as a presidential retreat by President James Buchanan. Use of this location by presidents continued off and on until the early 1880s.
  • As the nineteenth century progressed, transportation and communications advancements permitted the president to travel greater distances while remaining informed on developing situations and crises. Ulysses S. Grant favored his family home at Long Branch, New Jersey. While staying at his seaside cottage, Grant was known to drive his team of horses along the beach.
  • After their June 2, 1886 White House wedding, President Grover Cleveland and First Lady Frances Cleveland honeymooned at Deer Park, Maryland.
  • Theodore and Edith Roosevelt, along with their six children, retreated to Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay, New York. The Roosevelts also traveled to their cabin Pine Knot near Charlottesville, Virginia.
  • The Tafts rented two homes, Stetson Hall and Parramatta, in Beverly, Massachusetts, to escape the sweltering summers of Washington D.C. Taft also installed a Sleeping Porch on the roof of the White House to try and catch some of the cooler winds in the city.
  • In 1927, President Calvin Coolidge vacationed in the Black Hills of South Dakota, even posing for photographers dressed in western garb. He was made an honorary member of the Sioux Tribe and was given the name Wanblee Tokaha (“Leading Eagle”). He also spoke briefly at the dedication of Mount Rushmore on August 10, 1927.
  • 100 miles from Washington, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Camp Rapidan served President Herbert Hoover and First Lady Lou Henry Hoover as a rustic retreat during his administration. By September 1929 power lines had been connected to provide electricity and telephone service. Air mail and drainage facilities were installed for the convenience of President Hoover, his family, and guests. Today Camp Rapidan is located within the boundaries of Shenandoah National Park.
  • President Harry S. Truman liked to relax at the Little White House in Key West, Florida. The president’s fondness for short-sleeved tropical shirts was popular in the press. The president’s activities included daily walks, reading, swimming, and occasionally fishing.
  • Since 1942, Camp David, near Thurmont, Maryland has served as a presidential retreat. In May 1943 British Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited the compound, known at the time as Shangri-La. According to Press Secretary James Haggerty, President Dwight Eisenhower renamed the retreat after his grandson and father, both named David. David was also the president’s middle name and the name has stuck ever since.
  • President John F. Kennedy was drawn to the sea for his summer retreats including trips to Kennedy family home at Hyannis Port on Cape Cod.
  • President Lyndon Johnson and his family enjoyed time at the LBJ Ranch along the Pedernales River outside Austin, Texas. First Lady Lady Bird Johnson called it “our heart’s home.”

More recent presidents have generally followed the tradition of taking vacations to their personal homes or family compounds. These places, wired to receive instantaneous communications, also have featured Secret Service agents and state-of-the-art security systems. These retreats have effectively become smaller versions of the White House itself, since the work of a president never truly ceases, regardless of surroundings.

Memorial Day

In the years after the Civil War, Decoration Day in May became a holiday commemorating those who died during the war. This day of remembrance evolved throughout the late-nineteenth and twentieth century into what is now known as Memorial Day, a day to remember those who died while serving in the nation’s armed forces. It is common practice for presidents to mark the day in either written proclamations or ceremonial addresses at sites of remembrance and commemoration, often at Arlington National Cemetery. Several examples include:

  • On May 30, 1891, President Benjamin Harrison delivered remarks in Philadelphia during Decoration Day commemorations at both Independence Hall and Laurel Hill Cemetery.
  • On May 30, 1917, less than two months after the country’s entry into World War I, President Woodrow Wilson delivered a Memorial Day address at Arlington National Cemetery.
  • In 1930, President Herbert Hoover delivered a Memorial Day address at Gettysburg Battlefield.
  • On May 29, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson delivered a special Memorial Day message to the men and women of the military.
  • On May 27, 2002, President George W. Bush spoke at the Normandy American Cemetery in France.

The White House Historical Association’s Away from the White House, details presidential escapes, retreats and vacations. Author Larry L. Knutson is available for interviews.

For more information or to schedule an interview with Larry L. Knutson, please contact press@whha.org or Jessica Fredericks, Communications Director, at JFredericks@whha.org.

P.D.F. Resources

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About the white house historical association

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy envisioned a restored White House that conveyed a sense of history through its decorative and fine arts. She sought to inspire Americans, especially children, to explore and engage with American history and its presidents. In 1961, the White House Historical Association was established to support her vision to preserve and share the Executive Mansion’s legacy for generations to come. Supported entirely by private resources, the Association’s mission is to assist in the preservation of the state and public rooms, fund acquisitions for the White House permanent collection, and educate the public on the history of the White House. Since its founding, the Association has given more than $45 million to the White House in fulfillment of its mission. 

To learn more about the White House Historical Association, please visit WhiteHouseHistory.org

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