Thanksgiving at the White House
“THIS THANKSGIVING finds the people still bowed with sorrow for
the death of a great and good President.” These, the first words
of President Roosevelt’s first Thanksgiving proclamation, indicate
the manner in which Thanksgiving will be observed at the White House
The President will pass the day as
quietly as any private citizen, and the Executive Mansion will be
the scene of only such formalities as characterize any private residence
on that particular holiday. The unwritten rules in regard to a White
House Sunday will be applied on Thanksgiving Day. These rules place
a ban on official calls, and on any form of public interruption.
It will be distinctly a Roosevelt family day. The dinner will be
entirely en famille—if any guests are present they will be
the personal friends of the family, and their host will be Theodore
Roosevelt and not the President of the United States.
THE ROOSEVELT FAMILY IN TWO CHURCHES
The President will follow the course
which in his proclamation he recommends for all citizens, namely,
“that throughout the land the people cease from their wonted occupations,
and at their several homes and places of worship reverently thank
the Giver of all good for the countless blessings of our national
life.” In the morning the President, accompanied, perhaps, by his
son Kermit, will attend service at the Grace Reformed Church. Ever
since he entered the White House as President it has been Mr. Roosevelt’s
custom to walk to church, and very likely he will not depart from
that custom on Thanksgiving Day. He believes in giving all the employés
of the White House as much time as he consistently can to themselves
on Sundays and holidays. It is interesting to mention, in passing,
that Mr. Roosevelt is the first President of the Dutch Reformed
faith since Van Buren. Meanwhile, Mrs. Roosevelt and Miss Alice
Roosevelt will go to kneel in prayer and thanksgiving at St. John’s
Episcopal Church, the oldest church edifice in Washington—the one
in which the “Father of his Country” worshipped.
PRESIDENT IN BOOTS AND SPURS
At one o’clock, after
the President’s return from church, luncheon will be served in the
family dining-room, with perhaps a few personal friends as guests.
This will be in accordance with the President’s custom—he has several
times remarked that he is so busy that only at luncheon and dinner
time does he find opportunity to converse with his intimates.
As the day is not Sunday but a holiday,
Mr. Roosevelt will probably have his saddle-horse brought round
as usual, at five o’clock. His love of the saddle and his habit
of riding every day except Sunday has set the pace for all Washington.
Everybody now either rides or is learning to ride, and the back
of a horse has become more the fashion than the seat of a carriage.
Mrs. Roosevelt and Miss Roosevelt usually accompany the President,
and all canter at a tearing pace over the beautiful country roads,
through the woods, even fording the streams beyond Massachusetts
Avenue. The President rides a good jumper, and, to gratify his fondness
for “taking fences,” has caused hurdles to be built in the White
Lot, or Monument Grounds, back of the White House. Frequently, therefore,
whosoever will may repair to the White House paddock at five and
watch the President “take his fences.”
LONG ISLAND TURKEY AT THE WHITE HOUSE
Now comes the function
of the day concerning which most citizens outside of Washington
are most interested—Thanksgiving dinner at the White House. It will
be served in the family dining-room. The state dining-room has not
been used since Mr. Roosevelt’s advent. He has had no occasion to
use it, nor will he have such occasion until after the coming of
the new year. As all official Washington knows, the state dining-room
is wholly inadequate in size. It accommodates only forty, and the
President cannot escape offending many high officials unless he
invites at least seventy guests or more to several state dinners.
At such times the state apartment is abandoned and the dinner is
held in the “red corridor,” a long, narrow, draughty affair with
ten doors and not a single window. The consequence is that the waiters
must scrape the walls or spill things over the guests while passing
around the table. But none of this inconvenience will fall to the
lot of the President, his family or his few guests at the Thanksgiving
The chef d’œuvre of the dinner,
the turkey, I am told, will come from Long Island, a present from
one of the President’s neighbors at Oyster Bay. As the orders given
to Henry Pritchard, the White House steward, are always to serve
the plainest viands in the plainest American fashion, it is to be
presumed that the President’s Thanksgiving dinner will not differ
materially from that served in any other American household—cranberry
sauce, spinach, celery, mince pie, plum pudding and all.
HOW TEN PRESIDENTS SPENT THANKSGIVING
My own memories of Thanksgivings
at the White House extend back to Lincoln’s time. I was appointed
to my place in this home of Presidents in December, 1864, and as
I had been acting as bodyguard to President Lincoln for two months
prior to my appointment, I am able to recall thirty-seven White
House Thanksgiving Days. I have, therefore, known two other just
such Thanksgiving Days as the present one—the one in the year of
Lincoln’s assassination, the other in the year Garfield was shot.
Sorrow still pervaded the land on Thanksgiving, 1865, even though
our beloved President had breathed his last the preceding April.
Garfield died September 19, 1881, the same month and in the same
week as William McKinley in the present year. Both of these Thanksgiving
Days were observed in the same quiet fashion, with the same dignity
of sorrow as will characterize the day at the White House this year.
Besides the three martyred Presidents,
the finger of Death, since my appointment, has touched two other
persons within the White House walls. One was little Willie Lincoln,
the favorite son of President Lincoln. How often I watched Mr. Lincoln
carrying little Willie on his back, “playing horse,” and loudly
ha-ha-ing up the old-fashioned staircase which was a few years ago
torn away to make room for an elevator. And when that gay little
life passed beyond, I saw the strong body of President Lincoln rent
with grief, and ever after that—he had only a few months longer
to live—I could see that the tears were near the surface. The other
death within the White House walls was that of Mr. Allen, the Minister
from Hawaii, while attending President Arthur’s New Year’s reception.
Having been in the White House on
Thanksgiving Day for thirty-seven years, from Lincoln to (I hope)
Roosevelt, I recall how the day was spent by ten different Presidents.
All, of course, went to church in the morning—Lincoln, Johnson,
Grant, Hayes, and McKinley to the Methodist Church, Garfield to
the Disciples, Arthur to the Episcopal, and Cleveland and Harrison
to the Presbyterian. All these Presidents, with the single exception
of Mr. Hayes, spent the day informally with their families, entertaining
only one or two personal friends at dinner. Mr. Hayes, always fond
of entertaining, ate Thanksgiving dinner with all those connected
with the White House. These were the only occasions on which secretaries,
clerks, telegraph operators and others employed in the Executive
Mansion have ever sat at table and broken bread with the Chief Executive.