Earlier this year I wrote about a few of our many Presidential horsemen.  As a group, the Presidents have nearly all been involved in some sort of sporting activity.  Holders of our highest office have been swimmers, golfers, runners, bicyclists, hunters, card players, sailors, and basketball players.  As young men, quite a few played football or baseball; and along with tens of millions of their fellow Americans, many Presidents have enjoyed angling.

George Washington’s diaries have numerous entries describing days spent fishing.  During the Constitutional Convention in 1787 he went fishing between sessions no less than three times.

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George Washington.  From Wikimeida Commons.

Before becoming President, Chester A. Arthur once held the record for an Atlantic Salmon of fifty-one pounds on the Cascapedia River in Quebec.

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Chester A. Arthur (1830-1886) Twenty-first President (1881-1885), in his late twenties.  By Rufus Anson (Smithsonian Institution National Portrait Gallery) via Wikimedia Commons.

President Carter and his wife frequently fished together.

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President and Mrs. Carter.  Fishing with the Presidents: an Anecdotal History by Bill Mares (1999). The Gift of George Chapman.

Grover Cleveland was an avid fisherman and spent so much time on the water that the press complained about it.  He even wrote a book about fishing,  Fishing and Shooting Sketches, which is available in the Library’s Main Reading Room.

While there are numerous Presidential fisherman, the Library holds interesting objects in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room specific to two of them, Presidents Hoover and Eisenhower.

Hoover was a life long angler and continued fishing into his late eighties.  Prior to becoming President of the United States he had been president of the Izaak Walton League.  While in that post he supported legislation and agreements to regulate fishing and control pollution of the nation’s waterways.

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President Hoover fishing.  White House Sportsmen by Edmund Lindop and Joseph Jares (1964)

He enjoyed the solitude of fishing, and used it  as a way to relieve the stress of the Presidency.  He’s quoted as saying fishing gave him, “the chance to wash one’s soul with pure air, with the rush of the brook, or with the shimmer of the sun on the blue water.  It brings meekness and inspiration from the decency of nature, charity toward tackle-makers, patience toward fish, a mockery of profits and egos, a quieting of hate, a  rejoicing that you do not have to decide a darned thing until next week.  And it is discipline in the equality of men — for all men are equal before fish” (White House Sportsmen, p. 70-71).

To facilitate this need to get away, the President had a fishing camp built in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.  The site he eventually selected was on the Rapidan River in what is now the Shenandoah National Park.  The book, The President’s Camp on the Rapidan by Thomas Lomax Hunter, housed in the Rare Book Room, describes the camp and the surrounding area.  It features drawings of scenes from the camp and a wonderful map.

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Map of the camp.  The President’s Camp on the Rapidan, the gift of John H. Daniels.

Hoover bought the 164 acre site and leased surrounding land with his own money.  His wife took charge of construction and transformed the camp from a group of tents to a collection of rustic cabins and community buildings.  Visitors to the camp found it remarkable that such an extreme wilderness existed so close to Washington.  The difficulty of getting to the site guaranteed the President the tranquility he was seeking.  Writing in his book Fishing for Fun, Hoover said, “Presidents have only two moments of personal seclusion.  One is prayer; the other is fishing — and they cannot pray all the time.”  The camp on the Rapidan gave him just the secluded venue he desired.

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President and Mrs. Hoover at the Rapidan Camp.  Fishing with the Presidents: an Anecdotal History by Bill Mares (1999)  Gift of George Chapman.

Unlike Hoover, Eisenhower enjoyed the fellowship of fishing with companions.  His vacations tended to be trips with friends and family, focused on golfing, fishing, hunting, and cards.  Although he differed from Hoover in this, he had similar reasons for enjoying fishing…

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Eisenhower fishing with friends.  From http://www.myusualgame.com/tag/dwight-eisenhower/

“There are three [sports] that I like all for the same reason — golf, fishing, and shooting– because they take you into the fields… They induce you to take at any one time two or three hours, when you are thinking of the bird or the ball or the wily trout.  Now, to my mind, it is a very healthful, beneficial kind of thing, and I do it whenever I get a chance. (Fishing with the Presidents, p. 82)

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Eisenhower casting.  The Sports of Our Presidents by John Durant (1964)

In June, 1955, President Eisenhower visited The Parmachenee Club at Parmachenee Lake in Maine.  The Library holds a commemorative scrap book of the fishing trip which features a history of the Club and includes 17 photographs of the President relaxing with friends and fishing in the stream.

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The President relaxing on the porch.  President Eisenhower at the Parmachenee Club 1955

In addition to preferring to fish with friends, rather than alone, Eisenhower also differed from Hoover in his choice of attire.  He had a much more relaxed fishing costume than Hoover, who always fished in a coat and tie.  Regardless of their different approaches to the sport, angling clearly helped both men deal with the stress of the Presidency, and they both enjoyed its challenges and rewards.

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Eisenhower and a fishing guide.  President Eisenhower at the Parmachenee Club 1955

The Library holds several titles describing the sporting activities, fishing and otherwise, of the Presidents.  Most of them are available anytime in the Main Reading Room.  For starters I suggest, The Sports of our Presidents by John Durant, White House Sportsmen by Edmund Lindop and Joseph Jares, The Games Presidents Play by John Sayle Watterson, and Fishing with the Presidents by Bill Mares.  The book about Hoover’s camp on the Rapidan, and Eisenhower’s fishing trip scrap book are both housed in the Rare Book Room so you’ll need to make an appointment to see them, but I’d be happy to get them out for you to take a look at.


SONY DSCErica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail

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For over half the existence of the United States, horses were ubiquitous.  They served as the main source of transportation, and were essential to the military and to speedy communication.  They labored in agriculture, and as freight haulers.  Horses were common in everyday life.  It wasn’t until 1909 that President Taft replaced the Presidential horses and carriages with cars, and transformed the White House stable into a garage.  It is natural therefore, that many of our Presidents have been horsemen.  Some were indifferent or reluctant equestrians, but quite a few were true aficionados, obsessed with their horses, riding, racing, and driving them in every spare moment.  While there have been too many Presidents to cover in a short blog post, I’d like to highlight a few.

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Washington at Verplanck’s Point on the North River on September 14, 1782, reviewing the French troops under General Rochambeau on their return from Virginia after the victory at Yorktown.  By John Trumbull – Winterthur Museum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57115499

George Washington was a highly accomplished horseman, and a founding member of the Alexandria Jockey Club.  As a general he relied on his mounts and his skill as a rider to lead his men.  His favorite horse during the American Revolution was called Nelson.  Washington was an avid fox hunter and before the war Nelson was his primary mount in this activity.  Nelson survived the war and eventually retired to Mount Vernon with the former President (Horses of the Presidents by Leah C. Taylor (2006), the gift of Leah Taylor).

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President Theodore Roosevelt on Bleistein, 1902. (Presidential Horses, White House History No. 19, Fall 2006)

Another Presidential fox hunter was Teddy Roosevelt.  The Library holds an original, handwritten manuscript of “Riding to Hounds on Long Island,” an essay written by Theodore Roosevelt in July 1886 for the Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine. The sport was under attack for being “too English” for Americans to participate in, but Roosevelt advocates for fox hunting as excellent exercise and military training.  He also points out that George Washington, an iconic American, was a fox hunter.  If it was good enough for Washington, why wouldn’t it be good enough for average Americans?

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Major General Andrew Jackson, engraved by James B. Longacre after painting by Thomas Sulley c. 1820. (Presidential Horses, White House History No. 19, Fall 2006)

Andrew Jackson’s favorite horses were race horses.  While his passion for racing horses is not unique among Presidents, he is the only President to have run a racing stable out of the White House grounds.  His thoroughbreds raced at courses in Washington and Baltimore.  To avoid the possible scandal of the President participating in a sport that much of the public viewed negatively, his horses were raced under the name of his nephew and private secretary, Andrew Jackson Donelson.  One of his most successful horses, Bolivia, was painted by Edward Troye (Presidential Horses, White House History No. 19, Fall 2006).

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Bolivia by Edward Troye (1836).  Retrieved from Clark Art Institute, http://www.clarkart.edu/Art-Pieces/10996

As yet another military President, Ulysses S. Grant was also an accomplished rider.  It turns out, he was also a bit of a speed demon.  He was actually arrested for exceeding the speed limit while driving his team through the streets of Washington.  He paid a $20 fine on the spot and commended the police officer, but it doesn’t seem that he changed his ways.  There are several more stories of him racing in the streets, including one about a race with a butcher’s delivery wagon.  The butcher’s horse won and Grant eventually purchased the horse for his own stable (Presidents on Wheels by Herbert Ridgeway Collins, 1971).

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Ulysses S. Grant in a carriage pulled by Dexter
Dexter, famed for his ideal trotting action called the “Dexter stroke,” won 46 of 50 races and trotted the mile in a record 2:17.1/4 during the 1860s. Robert Bonner bought and retired the horse, but allowed presidential candidate Ulysses S. Grant the thrill of taking the reins at top speed in this popular 1868 lithograph by Currier & Ives. (White House Horses [exhibition postcard], The White House Historical Association.)
 Even after the great age of the horse had been replaced by the automobile, and horses had been relegated to ceremonial and leisure roles, the occupants of the White House and their families continued to ride.  To learn more about Presidents, both historical and modern, and their relationships with horses I encourage you come visit the Main Reading Room and look through our books on the topic.


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Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail

Today I get to share an item of which we’re very proud at NSLM. This is the original manuscript of “Riding to Hounds on Long Island,” an essay written by Theodore Roosevelt in July 1886 for the Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine. I’m always certain to bring this out for viewing when we have visitors on tour at the Library.

The essay is beautifully bound and is part of the John H. Daniels Manuscripts Collection.
The essay is beautifully bound and is part of the John H. Daniels Manuscripts Collection.
Red leather and gilt decorations grace this custom binding.
Red leather and gilt decorations adorn the custom binding.
The first page. The essay is written on plain note paper.
The first page. The essay is written on plain note paper.
A photograph of Teddy opposite page one. In 1886, Roosevelt was 28 years old.
A photograph of Teddy opposite page one. In 1886, Roosevelt was 28 years old.
The pages are folded into thirds, presumably stored in a pocket or in an envelope.
The pages are folded into thirds, presumably stored in a pocket or in an envelope.
Guests often comment on the edits in the draft body. Even future presidents aren't above revising their work! In the digital era, edits are mainly invisible.
Guests often comment on the edits in the draft body. Even future presidents aren’t above revising their work! In the digital era, edits are mainly invisible.
Roosevelt's signature on the final page of the manuscript.
Roosevelt’s signature on the final page of the manuscript.
The essay was published as the first item in The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, July 1886.
The essay was published as the first item in The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, July 1886.
Roosevelt's main theme is a defense of foxhunting as a sport compatible with American culture. He refutes the notion that the practice is too British.
Roosevelt’s main theme is a defense of foxhunting as a sport compatible with American culture. He refutes the notion that the practice is too British.
"It goes without saying that the man who takes to hunting, not because it is a manly sport, but because it is done abroad, is a foolish snob; but, after all, he stands about on the same intellectual level with the man who refuses to take it up because it happens to be liked on the other side of the water."
“It goes without saying that the man who takes to hunting, not because it is a manly sport, but because it is done abroad, is a foolish snob; but, after all, he stands about on the same intellectual level with the man who refuses to take it up because it happens to be liked on the other side of the water.”