IRWIN HOOD HOOVER, known to the world as 'Ike,' was born in Washington, D.C., on October 24, 1871, the son of a grocer. As an employee of the Edison Company, he was sent to the White House on May 6, 1891, to install the first electric lights for the Benjamin Harrisons. He stayed on as permanent electrician, was soon promoted to the ushers' force, and under the Taft Administration was appointed Chief Usher. He held this position until his death on September 14, 1933.
During these forty-two years of service, Ike Hoover had intimate daily contact with ten Presidents, their wives, and their families. As Chief Usher he was the executive head of the household, in charge of all social affairs and entrusted with confidential matters of every description. It was also his duty to welcome guests of the President, to arrange the details of their visits, and—a difficult task—to make them feel at home in the White House.
Mr. Hoover planned to retire in 1935 and publish his reminiscences. At the time of his death he had carried his story through the Taft Administration; the rest of the material, far more copious and detailed, remained in the form of isolated chapters and rough notes. In presenting this material, the publishers have simply arranged it in convenient form, supplied appropriate headings—taken when possible from the text itself—deleted repetitions and irrelevant matter, and changed the original wording only when necessary for the sake of clarity.
WE ENTERTAIN QUEEN MARIE
'PLEASED TO MEET YOU'
OCTOBER 21, 1926. 'Her Majesty, the Queen of Rumania!'
'I am so pleased to meet you, Mr. President.'
'Pleased to meet you.'
The advance arrangements and plans for the visit of the Queen of Rumania and her party had been in the making for several weeks previous to their arrival. When it was first mentioned there was a rolling of eyes and much incredulity. No one seemed to have considered whether or not such a visit would be agreeable to the Administration. But we made the best of it and went ahead with our plans, though with only half-hearted enthusiasm. It had been decided to give a dinner for the Queen and to ask no one but those on the official list, making it about the size of a small state affair—forty-six covers.
A BREACH OF ETIQUETTE
The Queen arrived in the city at six o'clock on October 18. She was immediately escorted to the Rumanian Legation. Her appointment to be received by the President was made for the next day at four o'clock. It was most unusual for a visitor of her rank to be here for such a length of time before being received. Mrs. Coolidge, however, had personally arranged that a goodly quantity of flowers were sent to the Legation for the Queen. These were accompanied by her personal card. The next morning came an acknowledgment of the compliment when the automobile from the Legation drove up to the front door of the White House and the messenger handed in a letter, saying it was from the Queen. This, as is customary, was taken direct to Mrs. Coolidge. True, it was an acknowledgment of the flowers, but not from the Queen. One of the ladies-in-waiting had penned the note at her direction. This was considered a bad breach of etiquette and thought to show a lack of consideration and appreciation. At the very least the Queen could have acknowledged the courtesy that Mrs. Coolidge had personally shown her by acknowledging it in her own handwriting. The incident made a bad impression and built up an antagonism that was hard to dispel.
THE LADIES DO THE TALKING
The Queen and her party were to be received at the White House at four o'clock and the President and Mrs. Coolidge were to return the call at four-thirty.
At the appointed time two White House cars, each fully manned with a footman and an aide, went to the Legation to convey the royal party. In the first car rode the Queen, the Charge d'Affaires of Rumania, the Assistant Secretary of State, and an aide. The second car carried the Prince and Princess and an aide.
The royal family arrived at the White House exactly at four o'clock. Quickly alighting, they crossed the corridor to the long hall where the Queen and others were presented to the President's military aides. Stretched out in single formation down the hall stood six other aides, forming a lane to the Green Room where the visitors were to wait until President and Mrs. Coolidge appeared.
Having been informed of the arrival of the royal party, the President and Mrs. Coolidge descended to the main floor and were escorted to the Blue Room. The Secretary of State had previously arrived and he joined them for the presentation. The Queen, the Assistant Secretary who was to make the presentation, and the Charge d'Affaires were then escorted along the hall into the Blue Room, attended by the six aides. With dignified acclaim the Assistant Secretary announced, `Her Majesty, the Queen of Rumania!' But here dignity seemed to disappear. With rapid step the Queen left behind those who accompanied her and proceeded to take matters into her own hands. A quick word of inquiry from the President, a volley of words from the Queen, with Mrs. Coolidge breaking in at a chance opening, occupied the first few minutes of the audience, after which the party retired to the Red Room. It had been planned that the President and the Queen should be seated on the sofa and the Secretary of State and Mrs. Coolidge in two separate chairs, facing them. But the Queen immediately selected for herself a large comfortable overstuffed chair at the end of the group of chairs arranged in a semi-circle about the fireplace. There was nothing for the President to do but to take the next chair, which was a little cane-seat affair. He sat sidewise in it most of the time. Mrs. Coolidge took the next chair to the President and the Secretary of State the last one of the group. Conversation proceeded with the Queen and Mrs. Coolidge doing most of the talking. The sound of the President's voice was seldom heard. However, as previously arranged, he asked that the Prince and Princess might be brought in that he might meet them. They all this while had been waiting in the Green Room with one of the junior aides. When the President made this request, a signal was given to the Military Aide standing outside the door, and the two children were escorted to the Red Room, where the Queen personally presented them to the President and Mrs. Coolidge and the Secretary of State.
All had risen at the entrance of the royal children and it had been planned that there would be no more sitting down, but that, after a little talk, the signal would be given for ending the audience and the Queen and her children would take their departure. This was all fully gone into in advance and the Queen was supposed to be familiar with all of the details and arrangements. But instead of taking her leave as expected, the Queen immediately, without a suggestion from anyone, proceeded to take her seat again. There was nothing for the President to do but accept the situation and himself be seated. All others followed likewise. It now became a problem how to end the audience. We who were standing around outside knew a mistake had been made, but we were helpless. There was nothing to do but wait developments. The President was equal to the emergency, for after a few minutes of conversation he arose and, after some form of parting words, left the room with Mrs. Coolidge. Immediately the royal party made their way behind the escort to their cars and back to the Legation. The cars that took the party there immediately returned to the White House, the President and Mrs. Coolidge entering the first car and two aides the second, and went to return the call at the Legation. Thus Her Majesty and their Royal Highnesses, the Prince and Princess, were formally received. In truth, it turned out to be more informal than otherwise.
THE PHOTOGRAPHERS GET A BUM DEAL
All during the day photographers had been clamoring for the privilege of making pictures of the Queen, especially of the Queen and Mrs. Coolidge posing together. Every request had been refused, for it was felt that it would interfere with the dignity of the occasion. But when the President and Mrs. Coolidge returned from the Legation, we learned that, upon arrival there, they found that complete arrangements had been made for photographing them with the royal party. There was nothing for the President and Mrs. Coolidge to do but to submit to the inevitable with as much grace as possible. So it was that most of the visit was occupied in the unpleasant ordeal of being photographed. Poses of all kinds were made and published in the daily papers, with captions explaining that they had been taken at the White House.
THE QUEEN IN ALL HER GLORY
Then for a few hours there was a lull. Nothing more was planned until the dinner at eight o'clock.
At eight the Queen's party drove up to the entrance. All inside was a-flutter. The Marine Band, in their scarlet uniforms, had been instructed to rise at her entrance. The aides were drawn up in formation, looking their finest in all the gold braid at their command. Just inside the glass doors, the footmen took the visitors' wraps and there stood the Queen arrayed in all her glory. The setting was perfect.
Personally I had been privileged to take part in her reception on two previous occasions when in Paris at the Peace Conference. She seemed to be much thinner now than when I had seen her before and, while she retained all the grace that has made her famous, I felt disappointed. She looked well but not unusually attractive. She seemed overdressed. Her headdress reminded me of the helmet of a football player. Of course it represented great value, but one could not get away from the foreign impression it made. Her other adornments were abundant and prominently displayed: bands of pearls about the neck and massive arrangements that hung about the ears. The gown was white and quite short, gauged by White House standards.
The Queen, the Prince, and the Princess were ushered into the Red Room. The rest of her party—ladies-in-waiting, aides, and officials attached to her suite—were shown to the Blue Room, where all the other guests of the evening had previously assembled. Here the company was arranged in semi-circle according to rank. The royal party were now escorted in from the Red Room and 'made the circle' of all the guests, being presented personally to each one by the Naval Aide. The President and Mrs. Coolidge then went through the same procedure.
THE PRINCESS MAKES A HIT
The Queen appeared somewhat ill at ease while the President and Mrs. Coolidge were going the rounds. Finally, she stepped out of line and walked down to where Mrs. Long-worth was standing and engaged in conversation with her. She was there when the President and Mrs. Coolidge completed the presentation ceremony and from here she was escorted over to the President in preparation for the march to the dining-room. The Prince, who was to escort Mrs. Coolidge to the dining-room, was perceptibly nervou —actually to the point of trembling. But fortunately, Mrs. Coolidge took his arm in a friendly manner and spoke a few words that seemed to work wonders with him. So all through dinner she seemed bent on making him feel comfortable and succeeded admirably. The Princess seemed the most composed of the three. She calmly stood and waited for the Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Mellon, and with grace and confidence permitted herself to be escorted in the line of march. To the strains of music the party wended its way to the dining-room. The President had the Queen on his right and the Princess on his left. On the right of the Queen was the Secretary of State, Mr. Kellogg, and on the left of the Princess sat the Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Mellon. The Prince was on the right of Mrs. Coolidge and on the other side of him was Mrs. Dawes, the wife of the Vice-President. Mr. Dawes was on Mrs. Coolidge's left.
The dinner proper was not different from hundreds of others. Of course all eyes were on the Queen, especially during her efforts to engage the President in conversation. In this she was not any more successful than others who had tried it before. Before the dinner was over, the Queen realized that most of the published reports of the President's uncommunicative disposition were true. She also seemed to appreciate that the President was paying more attention to the Princess than he was to her, for she was heard to remark to the Princess, upon leaving the White House, that the latter had made more impression during the evening than she had herself.
The dinner lasted exactly one hour and forty-five minutes. It was just nine-forty-five when they left and they had arrived at eight o'clock. There was no time lost in any ceremony. When the President went to his study for cigars, they remained but fifteen minutes.
Yet withal it was a pretty party, a successful party, a party that any American could feel a pride in. There were features to give one a thrill. Mrs. Coolidge was everything that the wife of the President should be and filled the role 'to the Queen's taste.' In her beautiful simple gown, practically without ornamentation, she was superb.