Christmas Gift Exchanges in the Waldorf-Astoria

Former President Herbert Hoover celebrating the holidays in his Waldorf apartment.  ca. 1952
Former President Herbert Hoover celebrating the holidays in his Waldorf apartment. ca. 1952

My colleagues here sometimes tease me about ‘my favorite thing’ in the archives.  It is Hoover’s reading copy of a speech he gave at Cairo in April 1946.  It is inscribed to Kitty Milbank, one of Hoover’s close friends: ‘Dear Kitty, This is one of the most important speeches I have ever delivered.’  Hoover gave her this as a Christmas gift sometime during the 1950s.  I have shared this story so often that ‘Cairo Speech’ has become a shorthand punchline for the staff here.

When one of my colleagues found Herbert Hoover’s thank you notes for Christmas gifts from Kitty and Jeremiah Milbank, they promptly make copies for me.  Whereas Hoover gave the Milbanks pieces of history in the form of his speeches, the Milbanks were more traditional, but no less thoughtful, in their giving.

Hoover’s January 2, 1953 note thanks: ‘Santa Claus from 16 East 67th Street who slipped down 31A’s chimney with a heavy pack’ of: neckties, innumerable plants and cut flowers, a chest full of cognac, crème de menthe and kummel, cooked pheasants, a green scarf, a cashmere robe—‘which I almost never take off’ and a fishing box completely outfitted with all the things lost in the fire at Silver Lake the previous August.  Hoover was especially grateful for the unceasing devotion and affection of the Milbank family over many years.  Hoover closed with a handwritten note: ‘If B. Miller has missed anything out it is her fault.  For my part I am grateful for such thoughtful friends.’

Hoover’s December 27, 1957 thank you to the Milbanks said: ‘I am somewhat overwhelmed with your more than generous Christmas gifts.  If the following list does not include them all, it is my mistake.’  He then listed belts, ties, a dressing gown, a case of different kinds of cordials, two packs of playing cards and a canasta score pad.  His December 27, 1958 note opens: ‘You have been present in this household for so many, many years that I forget when they began (1924?). This time as usual I am overwhelmed by the following partial inventory: crème de menthe, chartreuse, kummel, flowers, sweater, dressing gown and a transistor radio.’

The finest gifts exchanged between Herbert Hoover and Kitty and Jeremiah Milbank were intangible—enduring friendship and respect.

One thought on “Christmas Gift Exchanges in the Waldorf-Astoria

  1. Matt – thanks for sharing another side of Hoover – the personal connections at holiday time. Hoover’s gifting of his speeches is a reminder of the value he had placed on passing his legacy forward to trusted friends. In return, what a treasure of gifts they provided him!
    Happy Holidays,

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