The 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.
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 and encouraged the men behind them.In San Francisco he meet a young George Harris andtoldhim 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.
Harris and Ewing became a successful photographic agency which covered the White House for sixty years.
The firstarrivals 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 theairship.The news camera crews would set their cameras on tripods in position and then go to a local bar for a drink.The Paramountcrew usually left a young memberto 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.
Tom Craven came to Washington and covered the White House for Movieton news.He son, Tom Jr. went to work for CBS andthe 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.
Before presidents traveled in limousines, they rode in carriages.Thecarriage abovecarriedPresident 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.
Afterhis 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 makepictures 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.
The president and the president-elect ride to the Capitol for the swearing in ceremony.
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.
The1961 Lincoln Continentalthat carried the Kennedys on November 22, 1963 had a long history of carrying presidents.
After November 22nd the Lincoln was driven back to Washington, DC for investigation.Later is was armored, fitted with a solid roof andput back into service.It was used by presidents Johnson, Nixon and Ford.
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.
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 Carter continued to use the convertible limousines on foreign trips. The parade in Alexandria, Eqypt was one of the best parades for photographs.
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.
Visitors have to catch a brief view ofpresidents 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”.
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.
In 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. 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)
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.
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.
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!
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. Secretaryof 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 JusticeThurgood Marshall
Standing:Tom Johnston,White House,Joseph Califano Jr. George Christian,Press Secretary
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.