Revealed: Fooling around on the White House roof: life as a presidential brat
Former first children recall life at world's most famous address
Nikhil Kumar is The Independent's New York correspondent. He was formerly assistant editor on the foreign desk and has also done a variety of jobs on the city desk, where he wrote about markets, commodities and other business and economics topics.
Friday 16 November 2012
One summer's night in 1974, soon after Richard Nixon resigned, a teenager and his buddies hauled a stereo on to the roof of his family's Washington DC home. Below, the city was still reeling from the fallout of the Watergate scandal. Looking east from their perch, they would have seen the illuminated dome of the Capitol. South, across the Tidal Basin, stood the Jefferson Memorial.
The address where the youngsters gathered to blast Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" was 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It was Steven Ford's first night at the White House after his father, Gerald, who had served as Nixon's vice-president, had moved in, assuming the tenancy under the 25th amendment of the United States constitution.
"Literally, it was like Dumb and Dumber," a more grown-up Mr Ford said this week while recounting the high jinks at a Texas panel discussion with other presidential offspring.
"You can still get up on that roof, because I had my first kiss with my husband up there," a more recent resident, Jenna Bush Hager, the younger twin daughter of George W Bush, said at the event held at the Lyndon B Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas.
Mr Ford went on to recall how his father's abrupt elevation meant that the Nixon family trinkets were still being bundled up when his father was sworn in on 9 August, 1974. The Fords remained at their suburban DC home for several days before they could move in, which meant that on the night of the swearing-in, with no presidential cooks on call, the task of fixing dinner fell to Mr Ford's mother, Betty. "She looks over at my dad and says: 'Gerry, something's wrong here. You just became president of the United States and I'm still cooking,'" he said.
Meanwhile, Lynda Johnson Robb, the elder of the two daughters of Lyndon and Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson, remembered how her mother's fondness for the popular western TV show Gunsmoke led President Johnson to call upon the services of the White House Communications Agency (WACA), the military communications unit charged with keeping the Commander-in-Chief connected.
State dinners would sometimes interfere with Mrs Johnson's TV schedule, so the unit was asked to come up with a solution fit for First Lady. "Somehow he got WACA... to find a way to tape Gunsmoke for mom," Ms Robb said.
Not everyone in the Johnson White House got what they wanted. In a recent Beatles documentary, Ms Robb's younger sister, Luci Baines Johnson, recalled how she had asked her father to invite the band, which visited the US soon after President Kennedy's assassination, to a private concert but was turned down because the nation was still in mourning.
Sasha and Malia Obama, though, seem to have had better luck. If recent unconfirmed reports prove true, One Direction could be heading to the White House. The Obamas are said to have extended them an invitation to thank their daughters for their support during the President's re-election campaign.
First children: High jinks in the Oval Office
Thomas 'Tad' Lincoln Abraham Lincoln's youngest son suffered from a learning difficulty but was a fun-loving child, once ringing every servant's bell in the White House at once.
Chelsea Clinton The daughter of Bill and Hillary moved into the White House aged 13. Chelsea endured jokes about her appearance but was a lively character, codenamed "Energy" by the Secret Service.
John Jr and Caroline Kennedy Caroline's pony Macaroni would roam the White House garden while John Jr, was known for playing under JFK's Oval Office desk.
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