By Matthew Schaeffer
Visitors to the Herbert Hoover Museum will find nearly seven hundred artifacts on display to tell his life story. There is an entire exhibit case dedicated to documenting the Hoovers’ time in the White House. It contains scores of artifacts, and it can be overwhelming. One artifact that escaped my notice for many years was a silver humidor sitting on a small pedestal beside an autographed Hoover Ball. While I knew the back story of the Hoover Ball, I did not know the story of the humidor.
The autographed ball was memento shared by the men most often played Hoover Ball on the White House lawn in the morning. These stalwarts autographed a number of balls. Each kept one to remember their shared sweat. While the ink has faded, the names are still legible: Ballantine, Boone, Chapin, Heath, Hoover, Hope, Hughes, Hurley, Hyde, Jahncke, Legge, Mitchell, Newton, Richey, Stone, Sullivan, Thacher and Wilbur. The Hoover museum has three of these signed balls in the collections.
The silver humidor was presented by the players to Herbert Hoover as his presidential term wound down. The humidor’s lid shows an image of the White House, the Hoover Ball court, and the names of the most frequent players are etched into the front of the box. The gift of a cigar box to celebrate a fitness activity might strike the modern sensibility as slightly ironic. At the time, smoking a cigar was seen a healthful way to unwind and to relieve nervous stress.
The back story of the humidor is revealed in the accession files kept by the Hoover museum curators. Ernest Lee Jahncke, Assistant Secretary of the Navy and Hoover baller, took the lead to insure that the box was wrought and paid for in a timely fashion. The humidor was created by silversmiths Bailey, Banks and Biddle at a cost of $275. Jahncke persuaded fourteen Hoover ballers to each contribute $20 to defray this cost, exempting Joel Boone, Walter Newton and Larry Richey from this obligation. As the men were planning this gift for Mr. Hoover, Mrs. Harlan Stone and Mrs. Mark Sullivan commissioned a silver jewel box to give to Mrs. Hoover at the same time.
The presentation of these gifts took place on the morning of March 3, 1933 when the men gathered for the last Hoover ball game. One of the players, Ray Lyman Wilbur, wrote in his memoirs that twelve of the wives came down to watch this last game. At first the ladies were content to watch, but they soon picked up a ball and began a game of their own. The men quit their game and gave the field to the ladies. The curtain rang down on the first Hoover ball era with Mrs. Hoover holding court.
To be continued next week…