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Source: Collier’s Weekly
Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “Thanksgiving at the White House”
Author(s): Pendel, Thomas F.
Date of publication: 23 November 1901
Volume number: 28
Issue number: 8
Pagination: 20

Pendel, Thomas F. “Thanksgiving at the White House.” Collier’s Weekly 23 Nov. 1901 v28n8: p. 20.
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Theodore Roosevelt; White House; William McKinley (mourning).
Named persons
Elisha Hunt Allen; Chester A. Arthur; Grover Cleveland; James A. Garfield; Ulysses S. Grant; Benjamin Harrison; Rutherford B. Hayes; Andrew Johnson; Abraham Lincoln; William Wallace Lincoln; Alice Roosevelt Longworth; William McKinley; Henry Pritchard; Edith Roosevelt; Kermit Roosevelt; Theodore Roosevelt; Martin Van Buren.
From page 20: By Captain Thomas F. Pendel, Chief Usher.


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 this year.
     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 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.


     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.”


     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 dinner.
     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.


     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.



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