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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
ESPN footage showed a split-screen Murray’s partner Kim Sears and Berdych’s partner Ester Satorova 'sporting' their jewellery
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
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 & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee