Monday, November 18, 2013

by Robert Klara

Bess Truman really hated hosting any kind of reception. Having to smile, spouting off small, inane talk, and shaking an innumerable amount of hands made her absolutely miserable. So, during one afternoon in the winter of 1948, Bess was hosting a tea party for the Daughters of the American Revolution in the "Oval Reception Room" of the White House. The Blue Room was the perfect setting for small gatherings. Aesthetically, it pleased everyone who came to call. Except for Bess who couldn't wait until they all left. On this particular day, she almost had a good excuse. Above from where Bess was standing was this huge chandelier. It was called the "Pendeloque" and weighed twelve hundred pounds. She heard this noise and when she looked up the crystals in the chandelier were tinkling and getting worse by the minute. After several seconds, Bess looked up again and saw that the entire thing was swinging. What was going on upstairs? Why, Harry S. Truman was having a vigorous bath. Of course, later, Harry thought it was hysterical that he could have crashed through the ceiling wearing only but his spectacles. This started the ball rolling with having architects and engineers come in to survey the floors. What they found was much, much worse. The mansion was completely collapsing and quite dangerous to live in. The Trumans were evicted and moved across the street into the Blair House and there they would live for the next three years.
The Hidden White House is quite a fascinating story. The outside was left untouched but everything inside was gutted and braced with steel frames. Robert Klara does a great job detailing what went on with all of the major players: architect Lorenzo Winslow (quite an interesting character), John McShain (from Philadelphia), and of course, the Truman family. Just reading about the stuff that was found inside of the walls (Truman thought there were ghosts) makes you shake your head in amazement. The middle section of the book has quite a bit of black-and-white photos (the before, the middle, and the after). It was really quite an undertaking and put undue stress on everyone that was involved.
You have history, architecture, and drama all wrapped up together for a great read.