Prezzercize

As I sat back in the recliner thinking once more about how to maintain an exercise regimen in the year to come, I was interested in how presidents have kept fit throughout history.  Most of them did nicely, which is not surprising considering they had to stay active to deal with demands of the office.

Early leaders George Washington and Thomas Jefferson developed the skill and coordination of excellent horsemen.   A few years later, John Quincy Adams swam (naked) in the Potomac River every morning, long before it was known that this was the ultimate cardiovascular exercise.

Abraham Lincoln, who grew up guiding a horse plow and splitting wood rails for fences, once used his strong arms to throw a heckler out of a political rally.

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http://www.mentalfloss.com

Theodore Roosevelt overcame his childhood frailty in the arid west as a hand on his own ranch.  He was always active in boxing, and led other dignitaries on point-to-point walks in Rock Creek Park.  One time he asked a French ambassador, when they took off their clothes to cross the river, why he did not remove his gloves.  “Why Mr. President,” he exclaimed, “We might meet ladies!”

William Howard Taft may not be remembered as athletic because of his weight and the famous custom bathtub installed in the White House, but he later trimmed 100 pounds off his frame and lived a long life as a Chief Justice.  He liked golf and tennis.  TR had cautioned him not to be photographed playing, however, because it might make him look too upper-class.

Herbert Hoover playing Hoover-ball on the White House lawn, February, 1933. Photo 1033-16A

http://www.hoover.archives.gov

Probably the most interesting game played by a president was named after him.  Hooverball, invented by doctor, involved two teams tossing an eight-pound medicine ball over a net every morning during the Depression.  It would have much easier for Herbert Hoover than tackling the plight of Americans at the time.

Franklin Roosevelt developed his upper body strength by pulling ropes to hoist the elevator up and down, sitting in a wheelchair, at his home.  He was also a swimmer.  Harry Truman took 120 steps per minute during his mile and a half daily walks.  This was the World War I marching pace, which would make any Fitbit happy.

Dwight Eisenhower played football for the United States Military Academy, once tackling legendary Native American star Jim Thorpe.  John Kennedy played football with his family members until his weak back prevented it.  Concerned about flabby citizens of the 1960s, he initiated a nationwide fitness program and commissioned the recording of “Chicken Fat” still used in schools today.

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http://www.geraldfordfoundation.org

At the top of the list of fit presidents is Gerald Ford, despite his reputation for being clumsy.  That was because his knees had been used up as a football player for the champion University of Michigan Wolverines.  He turned down offers from the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears, and later settled for playing golf.

Ronald Reagan was a high school lifeguard who saved over 70 people from drowning.  When president he stepped up body building with specially-designed workouts after he was shot, and even wrote a fitness article for Parade Magazine.  “In my view, every exercise program should have an outdoor element to it – whether jogging, bicycling, skiing, hiking, or walking.  I prefer horseback riding and, whenever possible, hard manual labor at the ranch,” he said.

A portrait of an adolescent George H.W. Bush and a teammate in their baseball uniforms. Bush was the captain of the baseball team at Phillips Academy, where he attended from 1937 to 1942.

http://www.time.com

The George Bushes also head the fit list, with the father a high school baseball captain and a serious runner.  Dubya runs and cycles yet today.  Bill Clinton famously jogged, as Barack Obama loves to play pickup basketball games off backboards on the old Taft tennis court.

Warren G. Harding was probably in the worst shape of all of our presidents: boozing, smoking and sitting still.

Donald Trump?  His idea of burning calories is sweating in a crowded room.  He sleeps four hours a night and skips breakfast.  What will the President’s Council on Physical Fitness do about that?  It may just have to be the Council on Physical Fitness for the next four years.

I will have to slim down to give him an example.

Left to Us

After Theodore Roosevelt’s brief funeral service in January 1919,  mourners followed pallbearers up a steep grade to the burial place in Oyster Bay, Long Island.  The American flag was askew on the coffin, as Theodore’s clothes often were.  Today there are twenty-six steps on the hill, one for every president until him.  Descendants say one of their uncles used to make them recite the presidents from Washington to TR as they walked up.

We toured Youngs Cemetery on the day after the annual Theodore Roosevelt Association meeting.  Theodore and Edith, as well as many of their family members, rest here.  Since it was two days after the 158th anniversary of his birth, we were able to see the wreath from the White House.  Did you know the sitting president sends one to all former presidents’ graves on their birthdays?

Close by is the first national Audubon bird sanctuary.  Theodore’s cousin, Emlen, donated fifteen acres to honor the president’s efforts in saving America’s wildlife and their habitats.  When they were boys, the two had had their own little nature collection, the “Roosevelt Museum of Natural History,” in their bedrooms.  Only it wasn’t so small, growing to about 1,000 specimens!  Now people of all ages come to enjoy the same peaceful woodsy surroundings, watch birds, and learn about things Theodore loved all of his life.  Four hundred children a month attend camps here during the summer.

We watched as a group of kids learned about turtles in the crisp autumn air.  Certainly Theodore would have liked the program when he was their age.  When he grew up, he set aside almost a quarter of a billion acres of America’s land into national parks and sanctuaries so our children, and children’s children, would be able to see them.  He left to us an amazing gift.  It is left to us to continue conserving it.

The Stars of Sagamore Hill

Last weekend my husband and I crunched on falling leaves over an expansive lawn to a special open house.  We’d been invited to tour Sagamore Hill, the home of President Theodore Roosevelt on Long Island, recently renovated over a three-year period.

The 28-room Queen Anne Victorian was built in 1884.  Theodore’s first wife Alice had just died, but his sister urged him to carry out plans for it overlooking the bay so his little daughter would have a place to call home.  Eventually, so did second wife Edith and five more children.

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From the wide veranda the family had an unobstructed view of the water.  Since their time trees have grown to block it.  The family especially enjoyed adventures outdoors with friends and cousins, including young Eleanor Roosevelt.

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Mrs. Roosevelt’s drawing room is decidedly different from the others in the home, but a polar bear rug presented to her by Admiral Peary does warm the floor boards.

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The family’s 8,000 books were carefully wrapped and stored during the renovation.  Sagamore Hill’s furniture and possessions were left virtually intact when Edith Roosevelt died in 1948.  The property was given to the Roosevelt Memorial Association and later to the National Park Service.

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An owl from TR’s amazing bird collection watches over the third floor gun room, where he liked to write.  Below, in the North Room addition of 1904, are momentos of the Roosevelt presidency.  The large book on the table was a gift from Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany before World War 1.

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Chairs in drafty rooms often have a throw or two over their backs.  Usually they don’t include tails, though.

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A perfect end to the visit was sitting on a rocking chair on the porch, watching the flag wave against the sunset.

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Plain Jane

The last several years I taught fifth grade we had a wax museum in which each student researched a famous American and culminated the project portraying that person in costume.  We organized a giant timeline around the school, and children in the younger grades came to see and talk with those who figured mightily into American History.

To give them an idea of what to do, I presented the story of Jane Addams.  She isn’t as well-known as first lady Abigail of the previous century, and her name is spelled differently, but she had a great deal of positive influence in her time.  Last week I had the chance to re-enact her life again for a class I volunteer with, and was reminded of just how great a person she was.

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http://www.swarthmore.edu

Born just before the start of the Civil War, Jane came from a well-to-do family; her father was a miller, farmer and banker who also served in the Illinois state legislature.  He was a good friend of Abraham Lincoln.  Lincoln would write, “Dear Mr. Double D’d Addams,” in letters to him.

She didn’t have an easy childhood, though.  Her mother died when she was two.  She contracted Pott’s Disease, tuberculosis of the spine, and was teased by other children for her funny way of walking.  One day she told her father she was going to build a big house in the middle of the small ones in town so she could help the people in the neighborhood.  And that is precisely what she did.

After graduating from college, unusual for a woman in those days, she studied medicine until her own health forced her to drop out.  She traveled in Europe extensively.  A visit to Toynbee Hall in London prompted her to recreate the settlement house on the Near West Side of Chicago in 1889.  With part of her inheritance from her father, she rented Hull-House and fixed it up.

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http://www.mediapfeifer.edu

From the beginning, Hull-House was all about educating Italian, German, Greek, Polish and Bohemian immigrants in the neighborhood.  Jane initiated day care for working mothers.  She established an art gallery and theatre.  Then a public kitchen, gymnasium, book bindery and sewing room.  Frank Lloyd Wright and Susan B. Anthony were among many guest speakers.

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http://www.swarthmore.edu

To fund all this in the days before government social programs, Jane spoke to wealthy patrons.  She lobbied for better working conditions in factories and against child labor.  She was elected to the school board and served as garbage inspector, to help clean up nasty conditions that attracted rats to tenemant back yards.

Jane Addams’ first book, Twenty Years at Hull House, was widely read, and in 1912 she was the first woman to give a presidential nomination speech, for Theodore Roosevelt, in Chicago.  They had similar views on reform, but split a few years later in the issue of going to war.  Jane helped found the Women’s Peace Party, vehemently voicing her opinion that America should not participate in the Great War in Europe.  She believed it would only be more destructive to the lower class.  It goes without saying she campaigned for women’s right to vote, and was able to benefit from the 19th Amendment herself in 1920, unlike her friend Susan Anthony, who did not live long enough to vote.

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http://www.ramapo.edu

In 1931 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the first American woman recipient.  Peace was not just the absence of war, she said, but the presence of justice.  Four years later she passed away from cancer.

Today you can visit Hull-House Museum on Halsted Street at the entrance of the University of Illinois – Circle Campus.  The only building left of a once-thriving mega help center, it is a testament to what one person can do.  We can only try to follow, in whatever small ways, the example she left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calf Rassling

This is the first person account of a wild and wooly family camping trip in the late Nineteenth Century.  I presented it this summer as Corinne Roosevelt Robinson, Theodore’s younger sister, close to the place where it happened.

Model of the Elkhorn Ranch House near Medora, North Dakota.

In the late summer of 1890, Mr. Robinson and I, my sister Anna and our friend Bob Ferguson accompanied my brother and his wife Edith back to his ranch in Medora. We arrived by train at four in the morning, it being dark and very muddy from the rain. We made the 40 mile trip to the ranch by wagon, fording the Little Missouri River 23 times before we got there.

Our day at the cattle round-up was one of the most fascinating days of my life. We lunched at the wagon, galloped across the grassy plateaus, and sat under the cottonwood trees by the banks of the river.

On the last day, Will Merrifield and Sylvane Ferris planned a surprise for my brother and my husband. One had shown me the method of throwing a calf, and the other taught me how to rope it.  About 3 o’clock all members of our party and the cowboys were invited to sit on the fence of the corral and watch.

With a severe rain the evening before, it was mud walled in by a fence, with only one animal – the calf – inside. Will announced me very much like a circus rider used to be introduced by Barnum and Bailey.

Well, the calf, which was an unpleasant size, started galloping. I, knee deep in mud, galloped after it. I achieved roping it its neck. I got close enough to throw myself across its back, still running, and the cowboys yelled, “Stay with him!” The sound of their laughter still rings in my ears. I remember the jellified feeling like it was yesterday. I grabbed the calf’s left leg with my right arm. There was one terrible lurch and the calf fell over on its head in the mud. All sensation left me and I only remember being lifted up, encase in an armor of oozing dirt, and being carried on the shoulders of the cowboys to the ranch house.

Years later, when the owner of the Elkhorn Ranch had become the President of the United States, I was receiving with him and his wife at the White House. I was attired in black velvet and white plumes on my hat, when I recognized the figure of Will Merrifield.

He said, “Well now, Mrs. Douglas, it’s a sight for sore eyes to see you again. The last time I laid eyes on you, you were standing on your head in that muddy corral with your legs waving in the air!”

 

 

 

This Old (White) House

The White House was gutted in the early 1950s for an emergency renovation  (www.smithsonianmag.com).

One day in 1948 as First Lady Bess Truman was entertaining  in the Blue Room of the White House, the chandelier began to sway.  She sent someone upstairs to find the cause, who reported it was the butler, Alonzo Fields, walking across the room to get “the boss” a book (he was taking a bath).  This was enough to threaten collapse of the ceiling over the heads of members of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

The next year, the legs of Margaret Truman’s piano punctured the private dining room floor and the ceiling below.  That did it: Congress made a study of the 150 year-old structure, and it was promptly condemned.  The Trumans, evicted from their home, moved to Blair House across the street for a few years while the massive work was done.

Robert Klara writes a most interesting story in The Hidden White House: Harry Truman and the Reconstruction of America’s Most Famous Residence (Thomas Dunne Books, 2013).  The future home of the Presidents of the United States of America was begun in 1792 after George Washington put down the cornerstone on loamy, marshy soil.   John and Abigail Adams were the first first couple to move in, in November of 1800.  It was not quite finished.

Architect James Hoban’s drawing of the executive mansion.  Hoban also helped with rebuilding after the British burned it during the War of 1812 (Library of Congress).

Andrew Jackson began adding pipes for running water in the 1830s;  James K. Polk installed pipes for gas lights during the next decade.  These improvements put a great deal of extra weight on floors and their wooden support structure.

An early photograph of the executive mansion, 1868 (www.whitehousemuseum.org).

The house was redecorated often enough, but Theodore and Edith Roosevelt carried out a major overhaul in 1900 which moved offices from the second floor to a new west wing and reworked family living spaces.  The firm of McKim, Mead and White, limited by time, stabilized with steel beams.  It turned out to be triage leading to the time of the Trumans.

The Blue Room in 1902.  TR officially changed the name from Executive Mansion to White House, and added buffalo heads to walls here and there (www.whitehousemuseum.org).

President Truman thought he heard ghosts walking through the hallways and knocking on doors when he first stayed there (Bess and Margaret were back home in Missouri).  It turns out at least some of the commotion came from old Virginia pine snapping as the air cooled at night.  When floor beams were examined, they were also found to have many five-inch notches, deliberately cut at an undetermined time.

Some thought the 132 rooms should be torn down and redesigned.  The president disagreed.  When its restoration was complete, the White House stood over a poured concrete basement and bomb shelter, and had new central air conditioning and heating.  The grand staircase was moved to adjoin the entryway.  Missing, though, was a substantial part of the former interiors, which the author reports could have been saved.  Truman had had foundation beams sawed into paneling for several rooms, but some materials were carried across the Potomac River to be used in army bases.  All the work had cost $5,700,000 in contrast to the home’s $230,000 original price tag.

Also in Klara’s fascinating saga are how furnishings and art were stored, which piles of rubbish turned into souvenirs, and the sordid politics among people involved.  The name of the head contractor was deleted from the official renovation report.Mr. Truman's Renovation: White House Key

President and Mrs. Truman return to reside in a safer White House in 1952 (www.whitehousehistory.org).

Subsequent commanders-in-chief and their wives have improved the heritage of the White House, replacing the reproduction tables and chairs of 1952 (some likened them to hotel furniture) with authentic antiques.  Jacquelyn Kennedy took the case to private organizations with stunning results, as shown in her nationally televised tour of the rooms.

But it was Harry who saved the place.  For all of us.

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Mrs. Kennedy’s program was not the first televised tour of the White House.  On YouTube may be seen a charming 12 minute video of President Truman leading the public, and a very young Walker Cronkite, through his reno.

Fall Fandom

At Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee this year, almost 157,000 fans set an attendance record for a college football game.  This is in contrast to the one hundred people who watched the first matchup in New Brunswick, New Jersey on November 6, 1869.

Rutgers and the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) were playing with twenty-five men each and very different rules on a field that measured 125 yards by 75 yards.  The ball was round, you couldn’t carry or throw it, and there were no numbers on uniforms or crossbars on the goalposts.  Teams scored three points for a field goal, but only two for a touchdown.Image result for early college football games

Auburn and Georgia line up in 1895. (www.wikipedia.com)

The game changed as years went by.  A big event was the legalization of the forward pass just after the turn of the century.

But there was a noticeable lack of protective gear.  Those who suggested wearing it were called sissies.  Nose guards seem to have been first of this type of equipment; helmets were not much thicker or harder than the leather of the ball that was flying around.

With severe injures and deaths occurring on the college gridiron, President Theodore Roosevelt initiated a 1906 meeting in Washington involving himself, Secretary of State Elihu Root and the coaches of Harvard, Princeton and Yale.  Players were dying from head injuries or broken ribs piercing their hearts, which prompted several colleges, including Columbia, to ban the sport entirely.  The NCAA was formed to address safety and other issues.

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Theodore Roosevelt watching the Army-Navy game.  Son Ted was injured while playing for Harvard. (www.saltofamerica.com)

Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania had an impressive season in 1911, including an 18 to 15 win over Harvard.  They were led by All-American Jim Thorpe, who went on to run in the Olympics and play professional football for 14 years.  The college, operated by the U.S. Army, had the purpose of assimilating Native Americans into society but closed in 1917.

1911 Boston American sports page, Carlisle vs. Harvard

The outcome of this game was big news. (www.tiptop25.com)

As soldiers were drafted to training camps in World War I, they were treated to college football games on the weekends.  My grandfather wrote to his sweetheart about watching Indiana playing Notre Dame in 1916 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Up until World War II it was common for a college player to be on both offense and defense and never sit on the bench.  Then full scholarships began to be offered, thanks to contributions from alumni.  In the 1960s television brought fandom to new levels; ESPN and conference networks now orchestrate weekend plans of game watchers.

The University of Michigan stadium (Big House) holds 115,000, but it gave up the attendance record to a crowd at a Tennessee speedway.  (www.wemu.org)

There’s something about the time of year when the Notre Dame game is mentioned or the relatively new Bo-like U of M coach brings his team on the field.  Even if one can’t be categorized as a true fan, he/she notes the perennial sound of the crowd, fight songs of the marching bands, and the announcers on TV.  Or even, on occasion, walks past tailgate parties on the way into a stadium to see this American tradition on a fall Saturday afternoon.

Sources: http://www.ncaa.com, http://www.collegefootballpoll.com, http://www.collegesportsscholarships.com, http://www.sbnation.com, and the guy in the next armchair.