A new book released this week gives readers an unprecedented look at life inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, from the perspective of the traditionally reticent White House staff. In her book, The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House, Kate Andersen Brower brings together their stories from the administration of JFK to the current day.
Brower’s research was extensive, including interviewing over 100 former White House staff. She spoke to retired butlers, ushers, bakers, florists, maids, and doormen among others. Some staff members were reluctant to participate in Brower’s project at first, due to an unwritten tradition of silence about their work; but the writer was persistent and persuaded some to share their stories, and the momentum built from there.
Not surprisingly, one of Brower’s discoveries was that life inside the White House became tense between the Clintons following the revelation of President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. Bill was relegated to the proverbial couch in the residence for months. Staff also recalled profanity-laced shouting matches between the couple that only intensified following the affair. Staff suspected that Hillary threw one of her bedside books at him, hitting his face and leaving blood-stained sheets for the staff to replace.
Bill and Hillary were the most private occupants of the White House in recent decades, according to Brower. “I’ve had staffers say that the Clintons were definitely the most paranoid first family that they ever had to work with,” she said.
A very poignant moment, which Brower opens the book with, follows the assassination of John F. Kennedy as seen through the eyes of doorman Preston Bruce. He recalled a tearful hug with Bobby and Jackie Kennedy when they arrived back at the White House at 4 am, immediately after JFK’s death. Jackie, still in her bloodstained pink woolsuit and clutching Bobby’s arm, said to him softly, “Bruce, you waited until we came.” He replied, “You knew I was going to be here, Mrs. Kennedy.”
Exhausted, Bruce spent what was left of that night sitting upright in a chair in a tiny bedroom on the third floor. He took off his jacket and bow tie and unbuttoned the collar of his stiff white shirt, but he wouldn’t let himself give into exhaustion. “I didn’t want to lie down, in case Mrs Kennedy needed me.” He refused to go home for the next four days, seeing the Kennedys through the funeral and its aftermath.
Mrs. Kennedy thanked Bruce by giving him a tie that JFK had worn on the flight to Dallas. Bobby Kennedy gave him the gloves he wore to his brother’s funeral.
Another fact Brower’s research revealed regarded a bizarre demand for a custom shower by JFK’s successor Lyndon Johnson. He wanted a shower with “water charging out of multiple nozzles in every direction with needlelike intensity and a hugely powerful force,” according to the writer.
With much trial and error, White House plumber Red Arrington accommodated Johnson’s demands concerning the custom shower. However, afterwards, he experienced a nervous breakdown, requiring hospitalization for several days. Johnson also took multiple shower-heads with him when he traveled.
Nixon took one look at the shower after being elected and said, “Get rid of this stuff.”
Brower packs 50 years worth of stories over 10 administrations into her work. The book currently ranks #4 on Amazon, two days after its release.
h/t: Daily Mail
This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom