Recreations Of The Presidents
( Originally Published 1908 )
THE recreations and pastimes of the Presidents have ever been of special interest to the sport loving American people. In their eagerness to Iearn of White House events, newspaper readers have never ceased to search for news of the ways and means adopted by the Presidents of the United States to secure recreation, exercise or amusement either in or out-of-doors.
President Roosevelt, as the whole nation knows, is fond of every form of recreation excepting that of automobiling, though horseback riding, walking and tennis are his favorite forms of recreation in Washington, while hunting is the sport he prefers when on his vacations.
George Washington's favorite indoor recreations were confined to billiards and to listening to harp music. His adopted daughter, Eleanor Parke Custis, was a skilful and sympathetic performer on the graceful instrument so favored by President Washington. The favorite outdoor recreation of the "Father of his Country," like that of all his immediate successors in the White House, was riding a horse.
President John Quincy Adams, as we learn from his diary, often spent two of the morning hours swimming in the Potomac. He records the further fact that "my evenings are filled with idleness or at the billiard table." One entry reads:
"July 18, 1826, rose at 5:30 and bathed in river; played billiards from six to seven in the evening." Another entry a year later reads : "I rise generally before five frequently before four. Write from one to two hours in this diary,Rode about twelve miles in two hours on horseback, with my son John. Return home about nine; breakfast, and from that time till dinner between five and six, afternoon, am occupied incessantly with visitors, business and reading letters, despatches and newspapers. I spend an hour, sometimes before and sometimes after dinner in the garden and nursery; an hour of drowsiness on a sofa, and two hours of writing in the evening. Retire usually between eleven and midnight."
President Roosevelt's Outdoor Pastimes in Washington
On pleasant afternoons in Washington, President Roosevelt rides one of his favorite horses. On rainy afternoons he walks. A Washington press despatch tells how the President once tramped four miles through a driving snow storm at night, thus :
"President Roosevelt stole a march last night upon the Secret Service men, and a few minutes after they had departed for their homes, left the White House by a side entrance, and, unaccompanied, walked for an hour and a half through the fast-falling snow.
"The President started toward the Monument, without overcoat, and wearing on his head the broad Rough Rider hat that he uses on his hunting expeditions. He went to the speedway, traversed the driving course several times, and then started toward Georgetown. He walked at least four miles, returning to the White House about 8:30 o'clock his face aglow as the result of his brisk tramp."
How the President takes the lead whenever he is accompanied by young men on his walking expeditions at the National Capital is related by James Creeland, in Pearson's Magazine. Mr. Creelman says that Mr. Roosevelt "tries to inflame all his assistants with his own zeal." He wants them to go at things without hesitation and without fear. He wants them to put principle before propriety and to dash on like healthy men who care little about the dirt and blood-stains acquired in an honest fight.
"When Mr. Bacon became Assistant Secretary of State," Mr. Creelman says, "he had a good illustration of the rough symbolism by which Mr, Roosevelt frequently impresses his virile spirit upon his associates. Mr. Bacon is one of the most carefully attired men in the country. He was invited to go for a walk with the President, and, when he appeared, was dressed within an inch of his life'. Mr. Pinchot of the Bureau of Forestry also attended."
What followed, Mr. Creelman suggests, was not mere rough play. It was an initiation into the psychology of the Roosevelt Administration;
"After a long walk the party returned along the bank of the Potomac. As night fell they found themselves at the edge of a deep, wide pond lying between them and the White House. Without a moment's hesitation the President put his money and his watch in his hat and plunged into the water, swimming three hundred feet before he reached the opposite shore. Mr. Bacon, in his new suit of clothes and with a tightly rolled umbrella in his hand, was forced to swim across with Mr. Pinchot.
" `What difference does it make'? said the President, as the three dripping figures started for the White House. 'It was the shortest, quickest way and a wetting does no harm'."
President McKinley's Daily Walks
"President McKinley's favorite exercise was walking. He was, it has been recorded, a rapid and erect walker, and he was frequently seen about the White House grounds or on Connecticut Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue, walking with his Secretary or one of the members of his Cabinet. He apparently enjoyed the walks exceedingly, and was very punctilious in responding to bows of passers-by. Particularly did he notice workingmen who, knowing this trait, almost invariably lifted their hats to him.
"President McKinley," says one biographer, "was a familiar figure in Washington. Mr. McKinley differed from some of his predecessors in the democratic frequency of his moving about. He did not immure himself in the White House. He seemed to enjoy seeing and being seen." Almost every pleasant day the President took a walk just as he did when he was a member of the House. His shoulders thrown back so that he could freely breathe the air, his head high and his arms swinging, he strode along as if he enjoyed the exercise and as if he were bound to get every physical benefit from every movement. "Mr. McKinley liked the outdoor air," says another biographer. "He found in it freedom from the daily worry and fret which go with high official place, and he secured inspiration from it. It was partly to his outdoor habit that the President owed the marvelous poise which came to be so marked a trait in his character."
A Washington correspondent of McKinley's time reports the fact that Mr. McKinley's physician "ordered", the President to take daily walks and goes on to say that "in addition to his drives the President will take an hour's walk daily." This does not mean that he will appear more frequently on the streets than heretofore, as the White House grounds afford wide latitude for this kind of exercise.
"After attending church this morning the President, fol-lowing the 'advice of his physician, went into the lot back of the White House and passed an hour walking briskly among the beautiful flowers and shrubbery, there being just enough undulation to the ground to give the needed exercise.
Grover Cleveland on the Out-of-Door Life
President Cleveland's favorite sports, indulged when ever he could spare the time from his duties in Washington, were duck-shooting and fishing. It was reported at the time of his residence in the White House that he was a great believer in sleep, and that he snatched a nap whenever he could. On top of this report the following appeared in the press of the country:
There is a story that when he goes fishing about Gray Gables on these warm days and bites are not as plentiful as they ought to be, Mr. Cleveland will drop off gently into slumber. There is an element of peril in this tendency, however, because one day he sat down on the edge of a grassy bank, cast his line and soon slept deeply. Along came a couple of fishermen, and, as the President is well known by sight there, they became alarmed at sight of him nodding thus on a bank, and they promptly waked him up, fearing that if he slept on much longer he would tumble into the water.
"Very soon the story spread, and by this time it is said to be a regular duty to keep an eye on the President in order that he may meet with no accident, while he sleeps. He has, in fact, met with one mishap already, because a bee stung him on the hand and it swelled considerably.
"Mr. Cleveland is amused rather than otherwise by these alarms, and refuses to allow any hired attendant to perform these offices for him, relying instead upon the company of a stray fisherman. He met a village boy on a recent fishing trip and fished with him for hours. The boy knew perfectly who his companion was, but it made no difference, and the two shared the labor as well as the sport of the day. In this respect Mr. Cleveland is a very successful man in dealing with people."
Mr. Cleveland was one of the hardest workers ever known in the White House, but he believed thoroughly in the beneficial effects of recreation, as we know from his own utterances in which he says :
"Men may accumulate wealth in neglect of the law of recreation, but how infinitely much they will forfeit in the deprivation of wholesome vigor, in the loss of the placid fitness for the quiet joys and comforts of advancing years and in the displacement of contented age by the demon of querulous and premature decrepitude !"
President Jackson Lends His Riding Horse to a Friend
It is related that though President Andrew Jackson loved a horse very much, he loved a friend better. Francis P. Blair,in his history of the Jackson régime at the White House, tells the following tale illustrative of the fact just stated:
"Three young horses were brought from the Hermitage (Jackson's Tennessee home) to Washington. On a beautiful spring day they were to be tried upon a race-course near the city. Early in the morning of that day, Mr. Blair had occasion to visit the President's office, where he found Major Donelson, booted and spurred just about to ride away to the race-course to see what the young horses could do.
" `Come with us, Blair', said Major Donelson, `it's a fine day and you'll enjoy it.'
'No', said Mr. Blair, `I can't go today. Besides, I've no horse'.
" `Well, get one from the livery stable'.
"Not today, Major'.
"The President, who was in the room, busy over some papers, cried out :
" `Why, Mr. Blair, take my horse. Donelson, order my horse for Mr. Blair'.
" `The Secretary hesitated, looked confused, and at last stammered out' :
" `Well. Blair, come on, then'.
"They walked out together, and getting to the bottom of the steps, found the General's wellknown horse already saddled and bridled.
" `Why, the General is going himself, then!' exclaimed Mr. Blair.'
" `He was going', said the Major, sorrowfully, `but he won't. go now'.
" `But let us go back and persuade him'.
`It will be of no use', said Major Donelson. `He had set his heart upon seeing those colts run today. But he has now set his heart upon your going. I know him, Blair. It will only offend him if we say another word about it. He has made up his mind that you shall go, and that he will not. So, mount'."