Revealed: Fooling around on the White House roof: life as a presidential brat

Former first children recall life at world's most famous address

New York

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.

Rob Hastings

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power