The Presidents’ Plates

On a historical tour of part of the Wabash and Erie Canal, our group stopped at the preserved home of a prominent citizen. I spent most of the time there looking at the china cabinets. With my little bit of knowledge, I recognized flow blue, ironstone and transferware from the Nineteenth Century. There were many colors and patterns in the collection, and I began thinking of the dishes chosen by first families.

President Grant’s table service.

If you were fortunate enough to be a guest for dinner at the White House sometime in the past 200 years, you would have been eating from some pretty special plates. At first, the china used for visitors was a mixture of English and Chinese imports. Then, during President James Monroe’s administration, the first official presidential dinner service was ordered.

Caroline Harrison preferred Limoges.

In 1889 First Lady Caroline Harrison, who was a history buff, had the ambition to save for posterity the presidential china that’d been used. A few years later when William McKliney was president, a writer named Abby Baker researched it in great detail. She became involved in acquiring and preserving the place settings until her death in 1923.

Wedgewood was Edith Roosevelts’ choice, after an Ohio manufacturer hesitated at the size of the order.

Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt ordered two cabinets made for china which had come back through auctions and donations. These were seen by White House visitors at the east end of the mansion. What was to be done with damaged pieces, though? There were plenty of those, which Mrs. R directed to be broken and scattered in the Potomac River. Mrs. Wilson oversaw the completion of the current China Room in 1917.

The Eisenhower’s service plates complemented previous designs.

During the Eisenhower era, new cabinets were made; Mamie’s service plates were rimmed with a wide gold band that could be used with any of the previous designs. Jacqueline Kennedy was instrumental in creating Public Law 87-286, which made the dishware “inalienable and property of the White House.”

The China Room in 1975. It was established during the First World War. (

Today newlyweds don’t dwell mucn choosing good china for company. Many of my generation hang on to ours and the memories that gleaming cups, saucers, plates and a few goblets bring back. For Americans, presidential china does the same. We hope that it continues for a long, long time.

Unless otherwise noted the photos are from Information comes from that site and from

Did You Know…

Or, who else likes movie trivia?

When I read in Parade Magazine that 27 pairs of pants were split during the making of 1961’s West Side Story, I began to think about other movie trivia I’d read or heard.

Did you know that Wilford Brimley was only two years older than Robert Redford, although Pop seemed ages beyond Roy Hobbs in The Natural?

Or that Judy Garland filmed the first few scenes of The Wizard of Oz wearing a long, curly blonde wig? Thank goodness those ribboned brunette pigtails replaced it.

Betty Hutton, in an interview with Robert Osborne, related that no one on the set of Annie Get Your Gun treated her nicely. And it seemed like such a happy cast.

In the classic 1936 version of A Christmas Carol, June Lockhart played one of the Cratchit children alongside her real parents, Gene and Kathleen Lockhart.

Margaret Mitchell’s first title for Gone With the Wind was Another Day. That’s what Scarlett kept reminding herself tomorrow is.

There were three different geese that played mischievous “Samantha” in Friendly Persuasion (which I believe is Gary Cooper’s best movie).

Kym Karath, who played Gretl in The Sound of Music, was terrified of the water. When the rowboat capsized, Julie Andrews saved her.

Jimmy Stewart wore the same hat in all of his westerns. That sweat line was real.

Donald O’Connor was supposed to play the role of Phil Davis in White Christmas, but got sick when he was bitten by a bug from Francis the Talking Mule.

Do you have a “Did you know…” for me? I’ll wait to hear it!


1943 Photograph - Victor Heiser by American Philosophical Society
American Philosophical Society photo

In the mid 1960’s David McCullough sat interviewing an elderly physician named Victor Heiser for his first book. A resident of 66th Street in New York City, Dr. Heiser was prolific in his profession. In 1902 he’d been named Director of Health in the Philippine Islands, attempting to eradicate malaria and leprosy among people living in very primitive conditions. He had swamps drained and water and sewer systems installed.

It has been estimated that he saved two million lives during his long career. Heiser began in public health, studying ways to keep immigrants from spreading infectious diseases. He had graduated from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia in 1897.

He funded his education with the sale of his parents’ property in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

An even more amazing part of his story is that Victor Heiser was the only one in his family, and one of the few in his town, to survive the horrific Johnstown Flood of 1889. He was sixteen that year. During a severe rainstorm at the end of May, his father asked him to go to the barn to free the horses from their stalls, afraid they would be drowned in the fast-rising water. Then high above Johnstown, the dam at Lake Conemaugh broke.

Johnstown Flood Museum

Victor heard a deafening noise and looked through the barn window at his house. He saw it lifted by the power of the flood and carried away. He survived by crawling on a piece of steel roof carried by the terrible dark water and dodging freight cars, debris, animals and people, “everyone dying around him. Every so often a familiar familiar face would flash by.”

David McCullough used his interview many years later for his first book, The Johnstown Flood (Simon & Schuster 1968), chronicling the disaster minute by minute. He was motivated to write about it when he saw a display of photographs at the Library of Congress.

An estimated 3,000 people died in the flood days before the pictures were taken. The bursting of the dam was linked to neglect by members of a wealthy conservation club above the town, which never accepted responsibility for it. Some bodies were never found; many rest in a cemetery with a public memorial. Victor Heiser joined his parents there 83 years later, a few days after his 99th birthday. A true victor for the people, if there ever was one.

It’s My Party…

Leslie Gore’s hip song of the 60s has nothing to do with politics, but its opening words are strangely appropro today. The complete line is, “It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to,” which many Americans are feeling when it comes to Republicans and Democrats.

Political Animals: Republican Elephants and Democratic Donkeys | Arts &  Culture | Smithsonian Magazine
1874 cartoon by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly (Smithsonian Magazine)

Perplexed at who to vote for because we don’t agree with all of anybody’s platform, what are we supposed to do? Not vote at all?

Would you be surprised to know that our founding fathers were opposed to political parties? “Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally,” George Washington said in his 1797 farewell address.

The next president, John Adams, dreaded nothing so much as a “division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other.”

Then came Thomas Jefferson, who pretty much caused the big split as he disagreed with Alexander Hamilton on how much power the federal government should have. “A man under the tyranny of party spirit is the greatest slave upon the earth, for none but himself can deprive him of the freedom of thought.” Of course, he was speaking of the party he opposed.

James Madison, our fourth president and Father of the Constitution, warned of “mischiefs of factions” and believed that the government could prosper without parties. “I have always considered their existence as the curse of the country,” he stated.

George Washington chose Hamilton for Secretary of the Treasury and Jefferson for Secretary of State, hoping he could get the opposing leaders to work together in the country’s interest. Hamilton wanted a national bank, and more federal power, which he got. Jefferson, the Virginian, who wanted more power for the states, believed New England would benefit financially at the expense of farmers.

The first two political parties were the Federalists and Anti-Federalists, which soon were known as the Whigs and the Democratic-Republicans.

In 1828 the Democratic-Republicans became the Democrats. Andrew Jackson won on their ticket. In 1834 the Whigs became the National Republicans, and by Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860 we were in our current two-party system, the Democrats and the Republicans. The big issue then was, of course, slavery. Other issues, including entering the first world war, the Great Depression, and abortion, have headlined the liberal and conservative divide since then.

Third party experiments have been compared to bees: “They sting, then they die after one or both parties restructure in response.” An example is Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive (Bull Moose) Party, second in 1912 to the Democrats and Woodrow Wilson. Businessman Ross Perot took 20 million votes away from Bill Clinton and George Bush Sr. in 1992.

Party bosses such as the Daleys of Chicago and the Tweeds of New York fulfilled some John Adams’ fears.

A topical list of the roles of a political party includes: running candidates for office, checking the other party, informing the public, and organizing the government. One source states that what they agree on are liberty, equality and individualism, maintaining the Constitution, and the election process. After the last election, who is sure of any of that?

Yuval Levin, a director at the American Enterprise Institute, stated in March of this year: “Trust in our highest institutions is broken..a lot of elite journalists now step out on their own onto a platform like Twitter…building their own following.” I remember concluding in a paper I wrote in college that the biggest thing affecting mass media in the future would be the public’s relationship with them. I wasn’t far off.

Remember the absence of civility in the 2016 presidential debates? Civility is, as defined by Martin Luther King Jr.: “If you want to persuade your enemy, you must redeem your enemy.” Other advice includes these statements: The people you disagree with will still be there tomorrow, so don’t cut every tie. We shouldn’t disagree less, we should disagree better.

“We can only do good by not trying to do the impossible good,” Theodore Roosevelt said, under the theme of Practical Politics.

Voters have traditionally changed their thinking as they age. When young they leaned toward the Democrats, but turned towards the right as they experienced home ownership, marriage and children. In 2020 many red states turned blue, possibly showing a switch in attitudes of Generation Xers and Milleniums.

Maybe in the mess, someone who was never elected to anything had the best idea: “In truth, I care little about any party’s politics — the man behind it is the important thing.” –Mark Twain

May better men step up to leadership of our country. We can still hope.

(Sources:, notable,,,,,

Best for Wildlife

Finally!  Today I opened Parade Magazine to a feature on our National Parks, and under the heading of “Best for Wildlife” found confirmation of what we already knew.  A small area close to Medora, North Dakota was judged to be one of the premier places to watch American animals in the wild (also chosen was Everglades National Park in Florida).

Theodore Roosevelt National Park used to be a wildlife refuge.  It was given that designation in the 1930s because as a young man, TR started a cattle ranch in the area (actually, two ranches).  After his first wife died, he soaked up the atmosphere and hard living during the grief process, becoming healthier, savvier and more in tune with working Americans.  It would preclude his rise to political office: he said he would not have become president if not for his time in the Dakota Badlands.

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In the 1970s it became part of the National Park Service, very appropriately, since Theodore Roosevelt added 240 million acres of land for the preservation and enjoyment of future citizens.

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Though I have photos of antelope, buffalo, and (feral) wild horses, there is much more to see.  Prairie dogs scamper and jabber close to the park’s entrance.  Big horn sheep climb the crags of the North Unit.  Coyotes roam the flatlands among the sagebrush, and eagles and hawks fly above with other birdlife.  When TR lived there, his second ranch was named the Elkhorn because he found two elk skulls with the antlers locked together, proof of a contest with no winner many years before.  Beside the elk, whitetail deer and mule deer are prevalent.

You’d have to go to Yellowstone or Glacier to see grizzly bears and moose, but if you want to take an early morning drive among the bison, waiting in your car for a herd to cross the road and snapping closeups of the young and old alike, go to Medora.  It’s a 70,000-acre wildlife watcher’s dream.

Holiday High Five

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Before Kevin McCallister, Scott Calvin, and Buddy the Elf entertained us on big and small screens at this time of year, there were already some really great black and white Christmas movies.  I’ll tell you my top five in descending order, because I don’t care much for building up to Number 1 (It doesn’t follow the inverted pyramid).  Here they are, with notes on a few others:

  1. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
  2. A Christmas Carol (1938)
  3. Miracle on 34th Street (1938) 
  4. Holiday Inn (1942)
  5. The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

It’s the cast that makes It’s a Wonderful LIfe so wonderful.  And the simple story Frank Capra chose about appreciating life itself, which began as a greeting on a Christmas card.  But not much beats watching Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell and Beulah Bondi at home in the same small town.  There’s even a short performance from Sheldon Leonard, the television genius, as Nick the bartender.

You’d think we would have said good-bye to all of its adult actors by now, but there is one who is still living in the Midwest.  Beautiful Virginia Patton, who played Harry Bailey’s new wife is at home in Michigan with her real-life husband, Cruze Moss.  The Mosses are retired Ann Arbor business owners and true-maize-and blue University of Michigan supporters.  Virginia enjoys giving interviews about the film.

John Wayne’s buddy Ward Bond played Burt the cop, just one of his supporting roles on the big screen. He was also in Gone With the Wind, the Wagon Train television series and many, many westerns.

Jimmy Hawkins was the youngest Bailey child (“Scuse me! Scuse me! I burped!”) He was a teen actor with Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap and also The Donna Reed Show in the 1960s.

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A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens probably has the most movie adaptations.  The one that stands out for me was made in 1938, starring Reginald Owen as Scrooge.  He was actually much younger than Scrooge would have been, and ended his career with Mary Poppins in 1964.  The Gene Lockhart family played the Bob Cratchit family, with another Gone With the Wind alum, Ann Rutherford,  as the Ghost of Christmas Past.

Who can forget little Natalie Wood’s performance in the original Miracle on 34th Street? The story that begins with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and ends with Santa Claus delivering her to a real home is on many lists of favorites. Edmund Gwynne and Maureen O’Hara were perfectly cast, with John Payne in the part he is most identified with.  It was a busy year for Gene Lockhart, who plays the judge in the trial courtroom.

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,Holiday Inn

Then there’s all the song and dance talent of Holiday Inn, featuring Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, and Marjorie Reynolds.  Why Ms. Reynolds was not a major star has certainly to do with studio politics, not her ability (She also played a belle in GWTW).  Irving Berlin classics, including Easter Parade and White Christmas light up the screen.  According to my aunt, the number Be Careful, It’s My Heart was supposed to be the big hit of the film.  As much as I love the later movie White Christmas with Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen, it heralded the beginning of Technicolor, and so is not in the b/w category. 

Lately Holiday Inn has been criticized for racial reasons, and rightly so.  Let’s remember that it was a different time, and not diminish the film’s good points.  Minstrel shows are part of our history.   I also think the black actors outshine their white counterparts in many scenes.  Little Daphne and Vanderbilt are adorable.

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Does anyone not love to watch ice skaters?  Cary Grant’s faux performance on the rink is noteworthy in The Bishop’s Wife.  As another angel sent to earth, he encourages Loretta Young in her unenviable position as the wife of David Niven, an ambitious man of the church.  Grant was a master of timing and facial expression.

Barbara Stanwyk, the iron woman of The Big Valley and other shows, plays quite different parts in two early movies, Remember the Night and Christmas in Connecticut.  I favor the former because I think the portrait of rural Indiana in the early 20th Century is right on.  Beulah Bondi appears again, as the mother of Fred MacMurray, who was quite different looking when he was young  (Don’t think of him only as he was in My Three Sons).  In the second movie, Ms. Stanwyk is a society columnist who gets caught in her fake story of ideal country living, and has to hire a husband to play it out.

Many black and white pictures have memorable Christmas scenes – including Little Women.  I like the one in which Jo March is played by June Allison.  Peter Lawford doesn’t hurt it any, either.

The current deluge of Hallmark movies is nice, with several that I enjoy watching more than once.  But best are the ones with interesting shadows, old actors, and timeless music.  To me, they are the real gems of Christmas.

Treasure Viewing

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Buckets of treasure wait for visitors in the archaeological museums of Greece.  We perused two in our recent trip: one large and one small, but each had its own highlights.

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At the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, I stood in awe of this Olympic gold medal from the ancient games.

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According to the museum’s website, the Dervein Papyrus here is the oldest surviving book in Europe, enduring because it was charred in a fire.  Dating to 340 BC, it consists of theology and philosophy.  What else?  It’s from Greece.

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Classic sculpture.

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Inside the smaller Archaeological Museum of Corinth, there were phenomenal pieces of sculpture and art, like this marble garment.  A nearby quarry provided the raw material.

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Dozens of the iconic black and terra cotta pottery in all shapes and sizes stood on shelves there.  Many were from burial sites; Romans destroyed homes and their contents when they took over the area.  But they left the Temple of Apollo, because they worshipped the same god.

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Mosaics depicted mythical scenes.  Others formed borders for walkways.

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This small sculpture intrigued me because it still showed some paint.  I’d assumed all statues were white.

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A small model of  a circle game, horses pulling children in a small carriage, and a metal wagon showed that people of all times have pondered youth.  Perhaps they also took their sons and daughters to museums, educating them in the Arts…until the next army overran the country.











Wandering Greece

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Though Ephesus is across the way in Turkey, its ruins are essential to view while on a Grecian trip.

When you spend two weeks in Greece, your mind wanders as well as your feet.  The History of Western Civilization stands before you with no editorializing.  More mountains than valleys and fields loom in the background.  Olive trees present their cool blue-green leaves beside the road.  Columns, statues and mosaic walkways speak in a way all people of the world understand.

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Remains of old cemetery markers at Philippi.

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Old Roman market.  Somewhere buried nearby is the dungeon where Paul and Silas were chained, but sang anyway.

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Statue in Thessaloniki of the young conquerer, Alexander.

As we traveled north to south on the mainland and then took a short island cruise, we could see the new contradicting the ancient.  Sleek, modern hotels offering comfort and tantalizing Mediterranean fare.  Resorts beckoning the weary for a few days in the sun.  Tourists shopping for textiles and other local goods to bring home.  But not to be hidden is a very depressed economy blighted by ugly graffiti everywhere on vacant buildings.

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Modern Thessalonoki on the Aegean shore.

Image may contain: one or more people, sky, outdoor and natureTemple of Apollo at Corinth.  The only Greek temple not razed by the Romans.

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The famous Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens.  Though we visited up close, we could also see it from the rooftop restaurant of our hotel.

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On the way to La Plaka marketplace in Athens on a Sunday afternoon.

I do not wish to make a travelogue; Rick Steves has more than taken care of those.  But I will share, in coming weeks, more glimpses of what we were fortunate to see, lost in time, wandering Greece.
















Good Dishes

I love china.  Most of all I love the pieces which have belonged to my family, some for generations.  Each one, whether I have others to match it or not, has a special place in my heart.  The plate, cup and saucer of the Lenox “Harvest” pattern below belonged to my Great-Aunt Elsie, who grew up in rural Steuben County but moved away when she was married.  I think she chose it because it reminded her of the farm.

Elsie’s mother, Maria (pronounced with a long i), had a soup tureen which passed into my mother’s hands and then mine.  It is heavy, white stoneware.  I can imagine holiday dinners when Great-Grandfather lifted the squash handle and dished out hot food to his strapping sons.

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Delicate Depression Glass, like this fruit bowl of my dad’s mother’s, to me suggests a charmed life with tea parties and society ladies.  Far from it.  She did hard physical labor inside and outside the house.  But she liked pretty things.

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 Because I inherited her name, my maternal grandmother’s place setting of her grandmother’s transferware came to live in my china cabinet.  It traveled from England to America on a sailing vessel in 1843, according to a  handwritten note taped to the bottom of the saucer.  I photographed it (as well as the fruit bowl) on a linen tablecloth which Margaret Edith Beck tatted before she was married.  The transferware pattern is Canova, named for a sculptor; in the center of the design is always a large urn.

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Before I was married, I chose a china pattern.  Had I been a little older I may have selected something different.  But it was what I liked then, and so I cherish it because of those special days of looking forward to house and family and making more memories.  Are brides today choosing good china?  Is it practical to have a special set of dishes when time is so limited and schedules permit only the fastest ways to get things done, so time may be better enjoyed?  I don’t know.

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I had planned to include research about the source of Early American china, and how manufacture and sale of dishes have changed throughout the years.  But I think I’ll leave these photos as they are, with their special owners attached, and let them speak for themselves.  It is my history.  That is enough for now.

It was 1987 when my husband and I last entered the Magic Kingdom. Our daughters were seven and ten years old, and somehow we’d been able to take them to Orlando over Christmas Break. There was security then, but no double bag checks and X-rays. We also remember that in order to take a picture of Cinderella’s Castle in […]

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