In honor of President’s Day, and of all the Presidents who have served the U.S, I thought I’d do a series of blog posts about individual Presidents. Here’s the latest:
We have Harry Truman to thank for realizing the White House was about to fall down after years of neglect, and to push for its renovation. A piano played a role in it all. Here’s a firsthand account from Truman’s daughter Margaret Truman Daniel in her book HARRY S. TRUMAN:
“Just in time, Dad discovered that the White House was literally falling down. He had begun to worry about it one night in 1947 at an official reception, when the guard of honor came in to take the colors away. As the husky young color bearers stamped across the floor in precise military unison, Dad looked up and saw the big chandelier above his head – and the heads of all his guests – swaying. A few weeks later, when the butler brought him breakfast in his study, he felt the whole floor sway, as if it was floating in space. Several weeks after he reported these alarming observations to the commission, he learned his fears were well founded.
The time and place in which he learned it makes an almost incredible story. The news arrived in the middle of the last official reception of the ’46-’47 winter. Dad was listening to Eugene List, the young pianist he had discovered at Potsdam, play for “the customers,” as he called the guests in a letter to his mother.
“I was somewhat nervous through the entertainment because Mr. Crim an usher, and Jim Rowley came and told me that the engineers had found that the chain holding the center chandelier was stretching. Well, the survey had been made three or four weeks ago and it was a nice time to tell me. I let the show go on and ordered the thing down the next day. If it had fallen, I’d been in a real fix. But it didn’t.”
Early in 1948 Dad told his sister what the engineers had finally concluded. “I’ve had the second floor where we live examined – and it is about to fall down! The engineer said that the ceiling in the state dining room only stayed up from force of habit! “
In the summer of 1948 the old house just started to fall apart. One of the two pianos in my sitting room – a spinet – broke through the floor one day. My sitting room, I should add, was just above the family dining room. Dad jotted on his diary-calendar: “How very lucky we are that the thing did not break when Margie and Annette Wright were playing two-piano duets.” A few days later he told his sister:
“The White House is still about to fall in. Margaret’s sitting room floor broke in two but didn’t fall through the family dining room ceiling. They propped it up and fixed it. Now my bathroom is about to fall into the red parlor. They won’t let me sleep in my bedroom or use the bath. I’m using Old Abe’s bed and it is very comfortable.”
The reconstruction started in 1949. The President and his family took up residence across the street from the White House for the duration of the project. The White House’s entire structure of the original wood beam interior was gutted, leaving only the exterior walls. Some fixtures where saved for reconstruction, including many fireplace mantles and decorative interior pieces, but much of the interior was scrapped and some pieces were even sold as souvenirs. The interior, with a few modifications and expansions was then reconstructed using a much stronger steel and concrete frame. Truman and family moved back into the nearly new building in 1952.
And just as an interesting note to the story, Harry Truman was one of the few presidential musicians. Here’s a picture of him playing with Jack Benny:
Here’s a few more posts about the Presidents:
Which President was a good cook? (recipe included)
Which President got married in the White House and who was the youngest First Lady?
How to memorize the Presidents in Order X-Men Style:
Who were the smartest Presidents?