The Best Grass in the USA–most of the time.

North Lawn mowing2The North and South lawn of the White House has the richest green grass that you can find anywhere in the nation.  After all it is a national park and the Department of Interior has detailed many employees to make sure that every inch is perfect.  In the fall large new machines are busy aerating, seeding and doing all of the right things to make the lawn a showcase.  In the spring, other machines return while giant mowers cut the lawn to the proper height.

President Barack Obama walks over the weak grass on the South Lawn as he departs the White House en route Joint Base Andrews on 5/15/16. This bare spot in the well kept South Lawn was due to the positioning of a tent for a recent White House event. ISP Photo by Dennis Brack/Black Star
President Barack Obama walks over the weak grass on the South Lawn as he departs the White House en route Joint Base Andrews on 5/15/16.  Photo by Dennis Brack

There is one spot on the South Lawn that does not have the luck of the other lawn sections.  This is the space where the tents are positioned for major White House events.  The grounds keepers will attempt to revive the grass that is no doubt dead after a week or two without the sun, but finally they will give up.  Truck loads of beautiful new sod will take this high profile section of the lawn until the next tent event.


  • President Theodore Roosevelt Loved the Cameras

    A photograph of President Theodore Roosevelt by George Harris
    A photograph of President Theodore Roosevelt by George Harris

    President Theodore Roosevelt loved the cameras and encouraged the men behind them.  In San Francisco he meet a young George Harris and  told  him that he would have a great future if he brought his photography business to Washington, DC. Harris followed TR’s advice, partnered with “Bunny” Ewing and formed Harris and Ewing.

    George Harris at work
    George Harris at work

      Harris and Ewing became a successful photographic agency which covered the White House for sixty years.


  • Tommy Craven and the Hindenburg disaster

    Hindenburg disaster 2The first  arrivals of the dirigible Hindenburg at Lakehurst, New Jersey were big stories.  As time passed they became old news, but they still had to be covered to photograph the important newsmakers arriving on the  airship.  The news camera crews would set their cameras on tripods in position and then go to a local bar for a drink.  The Paramount  crew usually left a young member  to stand by the tripods just to make sure that no equipment was taken.  On May 6, 1937 the young crew member was Tommy Cravens.  Young Tommy turned the camera on just before the explosion. Then history happened.  Tommy got it all and suddenly he had an extremely depressing thought:  He had forgotten to set the F stop on the lens and his film could be completely useless due the wrong exposure.  Fortunately, the camera had been set for a daylight story that the crew had completed that afternoon and the exposure was perfect.

    Cravens 2

    Tom Craven came to Washington and covered the White House for Movieton news.  He son, Tom Jr. went to work for CBS and  the two Irishmen always had a wisecrack to share with President Eisenhower.  The president would look around and if one of the Cravens was missing, he would ask “Where’s Junior” or Where’s Senior”  Many years later Tom Craven Jr. would be in the camera car in Dallas on November 22, 1963.


  • Presidential Limousines

    The Lincoln Carriage
    The Lincoln Carriage

     

    Before presidents traveled in limousines, they rode in carriages.  The  carriage above  carried  President Lincoln,  Mary Todd Lincoln, Major Henry Rathbone, and his fiancée Clara Harris to Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865.  Robert Lincoln, the president’s son, sold the carriage  shortly after his father’s assassination.

    President Wilson takes a drive. Photograph by Harris & Ewing LOC
    President Wilson takes a drive. Photograph by Harris & Ewing LOC

    After  his stroke President Woodrow Wilson used to take a drive in his presidential limousine.  The White House maintained that the ride was a help in his stroke recovery, but the real reason was for the photographers to make  pictures of a president that no one had seen in public for months.  The photographs were to show  the American public that their president was a well and able leader, but everyone could see that Woodrow Wilson was a very sick man.

    As part of the inauguration proceedings, it is a tradition for the president- elect to come to the White House and have coffee. 

    President Hoover congratulates President Roosevelt sitting in a presidential limousine. Photo by Harris and Ewing
    President Hoover congratulates President Roosevelt sitting in a presidential limousine. Photo by Harris and Ewing

    The president and the president-elect ride to the Capitol for the swearing in ceremony.

    President Truman and Queen Elizabeth II in a presidential Limousine
    President Truman and Queen Elizabeth II in a presidential Limousine

    Before the Kennedy administration the arrival ceremonies for visiting dignitaries were held on the tarmac  of Washington National Airport.  President Truman and  Princess Elizabeth ride in the presidential limousine in 1951.

    Presidential Limousine in front of the Texas School Book Depository Building at the time of the assassination Photograph: Warren Commission
    Presidential Limousine in front of the Texas School Book Depository Building at the time of the assassination
    Photograph: Warren Commission

    The  1961 Lincoln Continental  that carried the Kennedys on November 22, 1963 had a long history of carrying presidents. 

    Photograph of the Presidential Limousine Photograph: Warren Commission
    Photograph of the Presidential Limousine
    Photograph: Warren Commission

    After November 22nd the Lincoln was driven back to Washington, DC for investigation.  Later is was armored, fitted with a solid roof and  put back into service.  It was used by presidents Johnson, Nixon and Ford.

    Presidential Limo being loaded onto the car plane after a Presidential visit Photo by Dennis Brack
    Presidential Limo being loaded onto the car plane after a Presidential visit
    Photo by Dennis Brack

    Presidential limousines are loaded on jets to carry presidents on foreign trips.  President Nixon was happy for the protection of the limousine during a demonstration during his limit to Rome in 1969.

    Demonstrators and President Nixon Limo during his visit to Rome , Italy March 1, 1969 Photograph by Dennis Brack
    Demonstrators and President Nixon Limo during his visit to Rome , Italy March 1, 1969
    Photograph by Dennis Brack

    During the campaign of 1976, President Ford found that the trappings of presidential power, Air Force One and the presidential limousine, were the things that would draw crowds. 

    President and Betty Ford at a parade in Traverse City Michigan July 1975 Photograph by Dennis Brack
    President and Betty Ford at a parade in Traverse City Michigan July 1975
    Photograph by Dennis Brack

    President Carter continued to use the convertible limousines on foreign trips.  The parade in Alexandria, Eqypt was one of the best parades for photographs.

    President Jimmy Carter visits Anwar Sadat in Egypt. Photo by Dennis Brack
    President Jimmy Carter visits Anwar Sadat in Egypt.
    Photo by Dennis Brack
    Amy Carter sticks her head out of the presidential limo during a parade in Monorvia, Liberia. Photograph by Dennis Brack bb 27
    Amy Carter sticks her head out of the presidential limo during a parade in Monorvia, Liberia.
    Photograph by Dennis Brack bb 27
    A Secret Service agent on the security "Black Miraha" trail limo in April 1976 Photo by Dennis Brack
    A Secret Service agent on the security “Black Miraha” trail limo in April 1976
    Photo by Dennis Brack

    The prize for the longest parade has to go to Liberia.  The Carters got tired of waving to the unending crowds, so they let their daughter Amy do the honors.

    The open limousines ended in the Reagan administration.

    Presdient and First Lady Nancy Reagan arrive in New York City in October 1988 Photograph by Dennis Brack
    Presdient and First Lady Nancy Reagan arrive in New York City in October 1988
    Photograph by Dennis Brack

    Visitors have to catch a brief view of  presidents and their families as seen through super bullet proof windows of the limousine.  Today a common name for the president’s limousine is “The Beast”.   

    The Inauguration of President Barack Obama in Washington, DC on January 20, 2009. Photograph: Dennis Brack
    The Inauguration of President Barack Obama in Washington, DC on January 20, 2009. Photograph: Dennis Brack
    President George W. Bush in the Presidential Limousine leaves the presidential garage entrance of the Washington Hilton Hotel after the 56th National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC. on February 7, 2008. Photo by Dennis Brack
    President George W. Bush in the Presidential Limousine leaves the presidential garage entrance of the Washington Hilton Hotel after the 56th National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC. on February 7, 2008. Photo by Dennis Brack

  • Picture Day for the White House News Photographers Association “Eyes of History” contest winners.

    Jacquelyn Martin takes a group photo of the winners as they are lined up in the White House Press Briefing Room in the order that each will greet President Obama. Photo by Dennis Brack
    Jacquelyn Martin takes a group photo of the winners as they are lined up in the White House Press Briefing Room in the order that each will greet President Obama. Photo by Dennis Brack

    Since the FDR administration, the president has taken the time to look at the prizewinning pictures of the White House News Photographers Association and  pose for a group photograph.  Still and video photojournalists and editors put on their best dark suits for the relatively quick photo session.  While I have had the task as WHNPA president of introducing each winner to the president in the past, this year a new WHNPA  president did the honors.

    The  WHNPA 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Rodney Batten, NBC gives a thumbs up to the other winners.  Heidi Elswick, WHNPA general manager, is on right. Photo by Dennis Brack
    The WHNPA 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Rodney Batten, NBC gives a thumbs up to the other winners. Heidi Elswick, WHNPA general manager, is on right. Photo by Dennis Brack

  • Lincoln assassinated April 14, 1865

    Photo by Dennis Brack
    Photo by Dennis Brack
     The presidential box of Ford's Theater. The place where President Lincoln was shot by John Willkes Booth. Photo by Dennis Brack

    The presidential box of Ford’s Theater. The place where President Lincoln was shot by John Willkes Booth. Photo by Dennis Brack

    Wash-Lincoln-in-boxIn 1865, John Wilkes Booth, an actor and Confederate sympathizer, fatally shoots President Abraham Lincoln at a play at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.

    Photographer Mathew Brady was not there to cover the event.  Since it was impossible to photograph news events or any other  event in this low light, (this was before flash powder), there was very little that he could do to preserve this vital part of history. Lincoln by Brady Brady did a great deal to preserve the history of President Lincoln.  First he helped elect the president.  A quote by Lincoln, “Mathew Brady’s picture and my  Cooper Union  speech made me president of the United States, (click the Lincoln photograph on the right for the full story)

    The Peterson House the house where Lincoln died.Washington, DC  photo by Dennis Brack
    The Peterson House the house where Lincoln died.Washington, DC photo by Dennis Brack

    Lincoln was taken across the street to the Peterson House where is died and Ford’s Theater was closed.  Days after it was closed, Mathew Brady made pictures.  The theater was used as a government office and ware house for years.  Mathew Brady’s photographs were the basis of the restoration of the  Ford’s Theater that is an important part of history.

    The Presidential box where John Wilkes Booth shot President Lincoln  at Ford's Theater in Washington, DC Photo by Dennis Brack
    The Presidential box where John Wilkes Booth shot President Lincoln at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC
    Photo by Dennis Brack

  • Night Motorcades are always interesting

    Photo by Dennis Brack
    Photo by Dennis Brack

    Most of time, nothing happens and we are always hoping that nothing will happen on every night motorcade.   Often there is no intersection control and the president’s limousine stops.  Quite often the president’s limousine will make the light, but the light will change by the time the press pool vans make the intersection.  The red and blue lights are flashing and there are wishes in the vans that everyone is paying attention.


  • A Secret for the success of White House News Photographers

    Most of the prize winning photographers that ride in the motorcades, fly on Air Force One and cover presidents, quietly, when nobody is looking, slip one or more of these pills in their mouths and follow with a drink of water.  Historical note, in years past, the pill was followed by a stiff belt of bourbon.  Occasionally this method is practiced today.   Please do not share this secret!

    Photo by Dennis Brack
    Photo by Dennis Brack

  • A White House meeting on the day after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

    April 5, 1968:  President  Lyndon Johnson meets wioth Black leaders during the riots in Washington, DC after the assassination of Martin Luther King jr.  Photograph by Dennis Brack
    April 5, 1968: President Lyndon Johnson meets wioth Black leaders during the riots in Washington, DC after the assassination of Martin Luther King jr. Photograph by Dennis Brack

    The day after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., President Johnson invited the black civil rights leaders.  The cabinet room contained the important leaders of the black communities, but the photographers who covered this meeting is the subject of  the book PRESIDENTIAL PICTURE STORIES.  In a few brief minutes, the photographers had to take their pictures.  At the end of the Cabinet Room  were Frank Cancellare, (he made the classic photo of Truman holding the newspaper , “Dewey Wins” ) Stan Stearns, (the John John salutes),  Bob Daughtery, AP, Margaret Thomas,WASHINGTON POST, Thomas Craven Sr, (the Hindenberg  exploding) and Frank Richards, NBC.

    Left to right seated at cabinet room table: President Lyndon Baines Johnson, Mayor Walter Washington,  Washington, DC, Speaker of the House of Representatives John W. McCormack, Rev. Walter Fauntroy , Member, D. C. Council., Miss Dorothy Height , President , Natl Council of Negro Women, Bayard Rustin , Exec Director, A Philip Randolph Institute, Rev. Leon Sullivan, Opportunities Industrialization Center, Inc.,Whitney Young , Jr. , Exec Director, National Urban League, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Roy Wilkins , Exec Director, NAACP,Richard (Dick) Hatcher, Mayor of Gary, Indiana,Clarence Mitchell. Ill , State Senator, Maryland, Hon. Robert Weaver. Secretary  of HUD, Hon. Clark Clifford, Secretary of Defense,Senator Thomas Kuchel , Rep Carl Albert, House of Representatives Majority Leader, Senator Senator Mike Mansfield. Senate Majority Leader, Supreme Court Justice  Thurgood Marshall

    Standing:Tom Johnston,White House,  Joseph Califano Jr. George Christian,Press Secretary

     

     


  • “Lights!! Thank You!! and the photographers don’t leave the room

    President Barack Obama holds a bilateral meeting with President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China in Washington DC on March 31, 2016 Photo by Dennis Brack
    President Barack Obama holds a bilateral meeting with President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China in Washington DC on March 31, 2016
    Photo by Dennis Brack

    The meeting between a US President and the President of China is always a big deal.  This time it was at the Washington Convention Center for the Nuclear Summit today,  March 31st. The aids yelled light, but we were waiting for a handshake.  It would have made a nice picture but it didn’t happen.  We waited and the presidents of the two superpowers waited–  You can tell what they are thinking by the expressions on their faces.