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White House - Employees And Clerical Staff

( Originally Published 1908 )

THE White House staff of employes consists of more than forty men and women including the clerical force in the executive office, Mrs. Roosevelt's social secretary and three maids, the steward, the two butlers, the President's family cook (a white woman in the Roosevelt administration), the house cook and assistant, one pantry man, four cleaners, the gardener and his assistants, laundresses, firemen, watchmen, janitors, plumbers and electricians. All of these are paid for by the Government except the President's family cook and the white maids; and the house servants are fed at his expense. Under President Roosevelt the State Dinners were placed in the hands of a caterer who supplied his own waiters.

Among the White House employes are at least three who have served our Presidents for more than forty years. These are, first, Colonel William H. Crook, the disbursing officer, the man who attends to the payment of the employes in accordance with the regulations suggested in the foregoing paragraph ; second, Captain Pendel, Chief Doorkeeper, who entered the White House when Lincoln was President; third, Charles D. Loeffler, Quartermaster-Major, retired, who has acted as Keeper of the President's private door for more than fifty years. (See chapter on "Later first Gentlemen," under "Garfield's Social and Business Habits.)

Colonel Crook, Paymaster

Paymaster Crook's record is one of particular interest. He began as a bodyguard to Mr. Lincoln. About thirty days before the assassination of Mr. Lincoln, the President wrote Secretary of War Stanton the following significant note:

"My man Crook has been drafted. I cannot spare him. Please fix. A. Lincoln, March 2, 1865."

The matter was "fixed" of course, in accordance with the Mr. Lincoln's request and Colonel Crook from that time until now has never once been in any danger of being taken away from the White House. He proudly states the fact that he has been an adviser to ten Presidents and that hence, while his title of Colonel is wholly honorary, he deserves it.

The method by which Colonel Crook pays the White House bills is interesting. He has an enormous check book filled with blank Treasury warrants, and on the first and fifteenth of each month he fills out as many warrants as are needed to meet the White House expenses so far as they relate to the payroll.

Colonel Crook, then, pays everybody in the White House that is entitled to wages, including even the secretaries, though he does not, of course, pay the President. And it is worthy of mention that certain White House employes may draw their salaries at any time a month in advance if they so wish, the unwritten rule being that Colonel Crook shall pay them their wages upon such demand.

In addition to his duties as paymaster, Colonel Crook is required to keep what is called the White House Scrapbooks. In a series of huge volumes the Colonel pastes all newspaper and magazine notices relating in any way to the President or to the Administration, regardless of whether such notices are friendly or hostile. Under the law any President, when he leaves the White House, may take with him the particular scrapbook containing notices of his own administration, but no Chief Executive has ever taken advantage of this privilege.

Fifty Years in Government Service

In July, 1908, Charles D. Loeffler, assistant doorkeeper at the White House, received an autograph letter from President Roosevelt congratulating him most cordially upon "living to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of entrance into Government service." Mr. Loeffler keeps the door to the President's private office.

As Mr. Loeffler was retired as Quartermaster Major of the United States Army, he retains the title of Major. It seems that although "more than seventy years old, the Major, whom every prominent politician in the country knows, looks to be no more than fifty-five or sixty, and is on duty everyday in the ante-room just outside the office of the President. Theodore Roosevelt is the eighth President with whom Loeffler has had confidential relations, and, according to President Roosevelt's letter, he has proved himself a man worthy of trust." Major Loeffler enlisted in the celebrated Second Dragoons, now known as the Second Cavalry, at Baltimore, July 1, 1858. Robert E. Lee, afterward Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Armies was the Colonel of that organization and his nephew, Fitzhugh Lee, a Second Lieutenant.

Captain Fenders Forty Years as Doorkeeper

At the time of the wedding of President Roosevelt's eldest daughter, Alice Roosevelt, to Congressman Longworth, visitors at the White House were shown around the Mansion by a gray-haired doorkeeper who told them most interesting stories of the wedding of Nellie Grant and Mr. Sartoris. The visitors marveled that the doorkeeper could relate such intimate details of the wedding in Grant's term, but marveled still more when the doorkeeper informed them that he had served in the White House ever since Lincoln's time. That doorkeeper was Captain Thomas F. Pendel, who a few years ago wrote a story of his service under eight Presidents under the title of Thirty-Six Years in the White House.

How Captain Pendel came to secure his post at the President's house, is related in his own words as follows :

"In 1861, or 1862, the Metropolitan Police was established by Congress at the Capital, and I made application for and received an appointment on the force.

"On November 3, 1864, Sergeant John Cronin, Alfonso Dunn, Andrew Smith and myself were 0rdered to report at the First Precinct, in the old City Hall, at one o'clock in the afternoon. We supposed we were to be detailed for detective work in New York City on account of the great riot then on there, especially as we were ordered to report in citizens' clothes, to conceal our revolvers, and to be sure to have them all clean and in good order. We arrived at the City Hall, and then were told where we were to go, which was to the President's Mansion, there to report to Marshal Lanham, at that time United States Marshal of the District of Columbia, and a bosom friend of Abraham Lincoln.

"These were days that tried men's hearts, and women's, too. Men were falling at the front by hundreds, both in the Union and in the Confederate armies. There was weeping and mourning all over the land. Our nation was trembling with anxiety; we were all hoping that the great strife was over or soon to be.

Marshal Landham took us upstairs and into the President's office, where we were introduced to him and to his two secretaries, Mr. Nicolay and Mr. Hay, the latter now being Secretary of State. We were then instructed to keep a sharp look-out in the different parts of the house, more particularly in the East Room and at the door of the President's office. After we had been on duty about three days, Sergeant John Cronin came to me and said, `Pendel, I want you to take my place near the President's office, and I will send your dinner to you'. I took his place, and he sent my dinner up to me, but I think that was the last duty on the force he ever performed. He had other business in the city.

"On the first Sabbath morning, as nearly as I can remember, a few days after our going on duty and the occurrences with Cronin which resulted in his leaving. It being the first Sabbath we were on duty at the White House, we were in a little waiting room on the right hand side of the stairs. This room is now sometimes used by the President as a smoking room, and also as a reception room for those calling on the President and his family socially. Where the elevator now is used to be a pair of little old-fashioned stairs. You would go up a few steps and come to a landing; up a few more steps and another landing, and so on. This was a favorite stairway of Mr. Lincoln's, for he used it more than any other in the house. When he came downstairs that Sunday morning we were all chatting, and by `we' I mean Edward Burke, his old coachman, Edward McManus, Alfonso Dunn and myself. When Mr. Lincoln came into the room he said, `Which one of you gentlemen will take a walk with me as far as Secretary Stanton's house? He is sick in bed and I want to see him'. I immediately arose and said `Mr. President, I will walk with you'. After we had passed out of the front door and were still on the main portico, but out of the hearing of any one, the President said to me, `I have received a great many threatening letters, but I have no fear of them'. I said, `Mr. President, because a man does not fear a thing is no reason why it should not occur'. He replied, `That is a fact'.

"After we got off the portico, going east, I said, `Mr. President, there has been many a good, brave man who has lost his life simply because he did not fear'. Then he remarked in a thoughtful way, `That is so; that is so'."

After Lincoln came President Johnson, to whom Captain Pendel refers thus :

"President Johnson was a very generous man. He used to have a table set in the room which is now used by the steward, and here meals were prepared, and the doorkeepers and the help about the house did not have to go out to luncheon. No other President ever did this to my knowledge, either before or since the time of Mr. Johnson."

And after a lapse of more than thirty years, during which period he was rarely absent from his post, it is interesting to read Captain Pendel's comments upon the advent of President Roosevelt at the White House :

"When the people began to recover from the sad events that had transpired, they began to call on President Roosevelt. He has been a very busy man ever since he entered upon his duties. I would term him a great President and his wife a great lady, perfectly plain, matter-of-fact persons. Both he and she always have a kind salutation for those who are connected with the White House, but that he has had some friends to luncheon with him, and quite a number of private dinners. He seems to be very popular."

Chief Messenger and Chief Intelligence Officer

Other White House standbys, besides Paymaster Crook and Doorkeepers Pendel and Loeffler, were Mr. O. L. Pruden, the Assistant Secretary, and Mr. Benjamin F. Montgomery, Telegrapher and "Chief Intelligence Officer." These titles were more or less arbitrary, and were not at all official, the duties of these two White House attachés being to perform whatever was required of them in a clerical way.

Mr. Pruden came to the White House when Grant was the tenant. He was then a mere boy in the uniform of the United States Army, having been transferred to duty at the Executive Mansion from the War Department. He was an excellent pen-man, and this accomplishment served to secure him the post in the President's House on the clerical staff. It was his duty to record all appointments, commissions and pardons made and granted by the Presidents. When Mr. Pruden died, his place was taken by the present Mr. Forster.

Mr. Pruden had a peculiar sobriquet the "Sphinx of the White House." He gained this nickname because of his extra-ordinary reticence in all matters relating to official business.

The former Intelligence Officer of the Executive Mansion, Mr. Benjamin F. Montgomery, had charge of the War Room in the Executive Mansion under President McKinley, and it was then that he acquired the arbitrary title of Intelligence Officer. The War Room was at that time the most extraordinary bureau of information in the world, being connected by telegraph with all parts of the globe.

Mr. Montgomery was officially a telegrapher, and as such was at work in the War Room, when the Spanish War began. He went to work as a telegrapher in the White House when President Hayes first entered the official home of the nation's Chief Magistrate. President McKinley so valued the services of Mr. Montgomery that he made him a Captain in the Signal Corps of the Army and later promoted him to be Lieutenant-CoIonel. He is now on the retired list, and his place is filled by Mr. Smithers.

Duties of the Stewards

The White House Steward is the virtual autocrat of the official table and cuisine at the President's house. In contemporaneous accounts of the stewardship at the White House the following facts are set forth :

"Almost every question governing the State dinners is within the control of the steward of the White House, who is in a position to be very arbitrary if he chooses. Even the President's wife has very little to say about the culinary department of household affairs. The steward receives, for carrying the responsibility of the entire household equipment, the salary of $1,800 per annum, and he is very heavily bonded. Moreover, this supervision of all the details of the household is no sinecure, for an account must be rendered of every dish or utensil, broken, or worn out, and no piece of broken glass or china can be destroyed except upon the order of the Superintendent of Public Buildings and Grounds. The present steward is the embodiment of discretion in the matters pertaining to his official duties."

The Corps of Waiters

All the waiters at the White House are hired by the steward and sometimes their name is legion. At State Dinners, especially, many extra men are brought into requisition and the force is drilled as carefully as a company of soldiers. A Washington reporter who visited the White House to acquaint himself with the facts relating to the employes, has this to say about the waiters :

"A score of waiters are employed by the steward or the caterer to serve the State dinners. The waiters are usually colored men, though under the Harrison administration, Steward McKim chose white waiters in preference. This unique departure has not been followed on all occasions by his successors. The waiters are not chosen lightly. There are numerous temptations in their way. Only men whose honesty and sobriety is beyond all question are employed. They are called upon for similar service from time to time, and find the employment pleasant and remunerative. They are required to report at the White House late on the afternoon of the State dinner, and are divided into squads and are thoroughly drilled in the part each is to play in the evening's entertainment.

"Each waiter is supposed to serve four or five-guests. He receives the dishes from the carvers so adroitly carved that though the form of the roast or fowl is preserved the guest can readily separate a portion. He watches closely to the needs of the guests under his charge. The President and his wife are served by their personal servant. The White House dinners are served ideally, for the waiters are not mere machines, but men of judgment and action. For their four to five hours' work they are paid $3 or $4, and this, in connection with the natural prestige of a waiter who serves at the White House, brings to the steward or caterer the best assistance the city affords."

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