Presidential Horses, Carriages And Stables
( Originally Published 1908 )
WE READ little about the White House stables, yet many incidents of interest have occurred relating to the horses and carriages of the President as well as in relation to coachmen and grooms.
How are the White House stables maintained? Who pays for the official horses and carriages? Every year Congress makes an appropriation for this purpose, yet the Government does not now and never has provided horses or carriages for the President. The appropriation covers merely the cost of horses for office and secretverdana use and of maintaining the stable building and employes necessary to keep it in order. The Presidents have always paid for their own horses and carriages and for the feed for the animals. The Government appropriatibn, however, in addition to covering the expense of maintaining the stable building, pays for four horses for the Secretary to the President and covers the salary of driver and groom.
Three horses for general "office" use are also furnished by the Government.
President Roosevelt's Ten Horses
President Roosevelt's equipment in horses consists of two carriage teams and six riding horses for his family, ten in all. These, together with the four horses for Secretary Loeb and the three office horses, are all the White House stable will hold. In carriages, President Roosevelt has a landau, a brougham, a surrey and a buggy, the latter being for the use of his children.
The livery of all connected with Mr. Roosevelt's stable consists of blue coats, white doeskin trousers, high boots and top hat with red, white and blue cockade. When Mr. Roosevelt goes forth in his carriage, two men are usually "on the box," these being a colored coachman and a colored footman.
Stables of Washington, Arthur and 'Cleveland
Of all the equipages in which our Presidents have ridden, the most gorgeous were those used by President George Washington. On State occasions Washington drove in a carriage drawn by six horses all brilliantly caparisoned. His coachmen and footmen were dressed in white livery trimmed with orange. The coach was a cream-colored affair with panels decorated by famous artists in the style following that of Louis XVI.
Of the later Presidents, Mr. Arthur probably possessed the finest array of horses and carriages. His landau was painted a dark green trimmed with red. It was drawn by two exquisitely matched horses of dark mahogany color. Silver mountings were conspicuous on the harness. All the lap-robes of the coachmen were decorated with the President's monogram. The one used by the President inside the carriage was of Labrador otter.
President Cleveland's stable was most modest. He possessed only five horses. He provided a victoria for the use of Mrs. Cleveland, but the President himself was most fond of a buggy. In his administration, only three horses for office and secretverdana use were provided by the Government, and these were used by Mr. Cleveland's private secretary, Mr. Daniel Lamont.
Mr. McKinley's Traps Attracted Attention
President McKinley walked more than he drove. The result was that, whenever he appeared in a new kind of carriage, the correspondents sent out all sorts of stories concerning the equipage of the President. One despatch of the time reads :
"The President has bought a new trap, which he initiated today. It is constructed on the most fashionable lines, is strictly up to date, embodies all that is modern, including rubber tires, meets all the requirements of society folk and, altogether, is the smartest turnout ever owned by a Chief Magistrate of the United States. It is for the exclusive use of Mr. and Mrs. McKinley. There is one seat in front and a single seat behind for the footman.
"The trap was not purchased for the purpose of ostentation, nor because it is stylish, but because it will afford the President more opportunity for outdoor exercise. With this rig he handles the reins himself and thus gets the full benefit of his drives. Mr. McKinley enjoys driving when he guides the horses himself. He is a horseman of no mean ability, as he proved last winter when he drove a spirited span hitched to a cutter.
"With Mrs. McKinley at his side, he thoroughly enjoyed the innovation, and so did she. They took a spin along Connecticut Avenue, the most fashionable thoroughfare in Washington. Coming and going, were traps, carriages and rigs of every description, but none pleased the fastidious eye more than the Presidential turnout.
"The President enjoys his trap the more because Mrs. McKinley can share the pleasure with him. Some months ago he frequently took horseback rides, but he could not have the company of his wife, whose comfort is always his first thought."
A newspaper article of a later date tells of a new carriage used by President McKinley that cost $1,300 and came from a Chicago firm. "The father of the head of the firm was a carriagemaker in Maine nearly half a century ago and constructed President Pierce's carriage."
President Franklin Pierce went riding through Washington in 1852, in the carriage above referred to, an unpretentious one-horse "shay." It was really his chariot of state. It was a two-wheeled affair, built in Norway, Maine, and it was worth in the days of its youth and splendor, just $150. "It is now"
says a report written some years ago, "in the possession of Mr C.P.Kimball. of Chicago, at whose father's carriage-factory it was built."
How President Grant Bought His Finest Trotter
President Grant loved a good horse better than all else in the world excepting his family and friends. Even during his term in the White House he never had much money to spare for luxuries, but it seems that he simply could not resist an extravagant desire for a particularly fine pair of driving horses which he happened to see one day in the White House grounds. Senator John P. Jones told the story at the time, as follows :
"A butcher in Washington owned one of the finest driving horses I ever saw, and from the moment Grant clapped his eyes on that proud, high stepping animal his very soul yearned to possess it. He dared not tell anybody of his desire to own the horse because he feared some overzealous friend or scheming lobbyist would buy it and give it to him. Only to me did he confide this secret of his heart for such it really was.
"I watched developments with keen interest, confident what the outcome would be in spite of my knowledge that Grant was never harder up than he was just then. Congress had not at that time increased the President's salary from twenty-five thousand dollars to fifty thousand dollars, and Grant actually needed every cent of his salary to make both ends meet. But just as I confidently expected, it wasn't long before Grant bought the butcher's horse. He had to give six hundred dollars for it. The day after the purchase Grant invited Conkling and me to see the horse, though just why he wanted Conklingwho cared nothing at all for horses to come along I was unable to guess, unless it was that he wanted to get another lecture from the imperious New Yorker for extravagance.
" `Isn't he fine, Jones' ?" Grant raid to me."
" `I assented'."
" `Don't you think he's magnificent, Conkling' ? Grant then exclaimed, stroking the animal's fine mane."
" `I guess he'll do', replied Conkling. `But how much did you give for him'?"
" `Six hundred dollars', responded Grant."
" `Umph' ! snapped Conkling. `All I have got to say is that I would rather have six hundred dollars than the horse'."
" `That's what the butcher thought', said Grant, and he nudged me in the ribs with an elbow."
President Grant's Patience With His Coachman
A story illustrating how General Grant bore patiently with any shortcomings on the part of the White House servants, is told by Doorkeeper Pendel, who relates the following:
"General Grant displayed more patience than any President I ever saw in the White House. Once he came downstairs to take a drive in his buggy. The buggy was not there. He smoked his cigar, and waited and waited. He walked up and down the portico, and would `right about' in regular army style, and walked up and down, and smoked again, and after waiting until the patience of an ordinary man would have been worn out, Albert, the coachman, finally appeared. Instead of railing out at Albert for his slow appearance, the President said something pleasant to him, took the reins and drove off."
Thomas Jefferson's Equipages
The story has come down to us that Thomas Jefferson, on the morning of his inauguration as President of the United States, rode to the Capitol unaccompanied and on horseback, dismounted and tied his horse to a rail. This story, may or may not be true, but the narrator of the tale omits to add that Mr. Jefferson, at the time, lived in a boarding-house within a stone's throw of the Capitol, hence necessitating only a short ride; and that he had really ordered a "coach and four" for the. occasion, but the equipage did not arrive in time, the man of whom the vehicle was ordered, jack Eppes, being delayed by a mishap on the road. One historian writes of this episode as follows;
"Mr. Jefferson himself, like Washington, was fond of horses, handsome equipages and handsome dress, despite what has been said of his Republican simplicity. He may have ridden horseback up to the Capitol for his Inauguration, as goes the myth, but he meant to have a fine coach and four for the occasion only Jacky Eppes did not get to Washington with them in season. He may sometimes have been carelessly attired, but often he flashed out in his white coat, scarlet breeches and vest, and white silk hose fit to figure on a Watteau fan."
President Jackson's Eccentric and Historical Vehicles
The strangest vehicle ever used by a President was that used by President Andrew Jackson at a time when the American poet, N. P. Willis, happened to be in Washington as a visitor at the White House. Says Mr. Willis :
"Some eccentric mechanic has presented President Jackson with a sulky made of rough cut hickory, with the bark on. It has very much the everlasting look of "Old Hickory" himself, and if he could be seen driving a high-stepping, bony old iron-gray steed in it, any passer-by would see that there was as much fitness in the whole thing as in the chariot of Bacchus and his reeling leopards. Some curiously-twisted and gnarled branches have been very ingeniously turned into handles and whip-box, and the vehicle is compact and strong.
"In very strong contrast to the sulky, stood dose by, the elegant phaeton made of the wood of the old frigate Constitution. It has a seat for two, with a driver's-box covered with superb hammercloth, and set up rather high in front; the wheels and body are low, and there are bars for baggage behind. The material is excessively beautiful,a fine grained oak, polished to a very high degree, with its colors brought out by a coat of varnish. The wheels are very slender and light, but strong, and, with all its finish, it looks like a vehicle capable of a great deal of service. A portrait of the Constitution, under full sail, is painted on the panels."
General Taylor's War Horse
N. P. Willis was again in Washington in President Taylor's time, and while there wrote the following account of that particular pet of General Taylor's, his war horse :
"We felt the smoke of Buena Vista and Resaca de la Palma, of Palo Alto and Monterey, pushing us toward the old cannon-proof charger. He went smelling about the edges of the sidewalk wondering, probably, at such warm weather and no grass,and we crossed over to have a nearer look at him, with a feeling that the glory was not all taken from his back with the saddle and holsters. `Old Whitey' is a compact, hardy, well-proportioned animal, less of a battle-steed, in appearance, than of the style usually defined by the phrase `family horse', slightly knock-kneed, and with a tail (I afterwards learned) very much thinned by the numerous applications for `a hair of him for memory'. He had evidently been long untouched with a currycomb the name of `Old Whitey', indeed, hardly describing with fidelity a coat so matted and yellow. But remembering the beatings of the great heart he had borne upon his back the anxieties, the energies, the defiances of danger, the iron impulses to danger, it was impossible to look upon him without a throb in the throat.
"We saw General Taylor himself, for the first time, the next day with more thought and reverence of course, than had been awakened by looking upon his horse but with not half the emotion. The `hero President' has been more truthfully described than any man we ever read much of before seeing."