Second Decade Off Topic: The White House, Part II

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This is an Off Topic episode, involving historical topics outside the scope of the main podcast. This episode continues the story from Episode 30, “The White House, Part I.”

What was the White House really like in the early part of the 19th century? Always under construction, reconstruction, redecoration or renovation, the President’s house was like a child that could never sit still, or like a living organism changing constantly over time. In addition to logistical and domestic details like how the chandeliers worked and when the first toilet flushed within the walls of the Executive Mansion, the story of the White House in these years goes hand-in-hand with political and personal events of the first families that lived there.

This special bonus episode continues the story of the White House begun in Episode 30 of the main podcast. In this “Off Topic” riff, you’ll encounter the first Presidential mummy, surging mobs of Andrew Jackson supporters ripping pieces out of the drapes, a Presidential hairstyle 140 years ahead of its time, a 1400 pound wheel of stinky cheese, an epidemic of diarrhea with a grim body count, and a succession of feckless, hard-drinking, hard-luck chief executives who grow increasingly more intoxicated as the Civil War nears. The White House of the antebellum period not only proves to be a dangerous place with its toxic water and diseased mosquitoes, but also a sad and melancholy one, with personal and family tragedy stalking the halls of power.

Additional Materials About This Episode

[Above] Crowds swarm the White House at the inauguration of Andrew Jackson, March 4, 1829. According to observers they made a hell of a mess.

[Above] William Henry Harrison compared with actor James Cromwell. Dead ringers, aren’t they?

[Above] James K. Polk sports an epic mullet in 1845, some 143 years before it became fashionable.

[Above] The Polks, Sarah and James, in 1849. She looks like she’s about to cough something up. The President looks embalmed. He would be, only a few weeks after this photo was taken.

[Above] The inauguration of James Buchanan, March 4, 1857. He was reportedly suffering from the runs at the time. Here is a more detailed article (by me) on the mysterious “National Hotel disease.”

All images are believed in to be in the public domain.
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