By Thomas F. Schwartz
A popular children’s game is rock, scissors, paper: rock breaks scissors, scissors cut paper, paper covers rock. Hoover’s eye doctor, Maynard C. Wheeler offered an interesting variation on the game in his oral history about Herbert Hoover. Previous blog posts have detailed Hoover’s habit of smoking Cuban cigars and pipe smoking using a special blend of tobacco made just for him. When Dr. Wheeler and his wife were invited to dinner with Hoover at the Waldorf Astoria, he left with two strong impressions:
“In the first place, in the middle of a great big coffee table was a large boulder in a bowl. I asked, ‘What in the world is that for?’ It was to strike his matches on, because he smoked a pipe continuously and, as you know, pipe smokers usually smoke matches. Then we saw him striking matches under the edges of the furniture, and we thought that was a pretty queer thing for him to be doing, until we discovered that somebody had pasted sandpaper in strategic places under all the tables that he might sit near, so it wasn’t as it looked.”
Another visitor to Suite 31-A that noticed Hoover’s unusual habit of lighting his pipe was Oregon Senator Mark Hatfield. In his oral interview, he recalled:
“I always remembered one thing about him. He had a very attractive apartment there, which was his working apartment. He had very nice furniture. And he had this pipe, and the pipe was never kept going for too long. Much of the time, he was trying to smoke ashes. He had these wooden matches, you know, not little paper ones but stove matches. He would reach under and strike the match under the tabletop. I would just cringe every time he would reach under and start this match from under the table, whether it was a coffee table, or the dining room table, or his desk. Where ever it would be that he was sitting, he would take one of these stove matches and give it a crack, give it a light from under that table.”
Hatfield had not discovered the sandpaper nor observed the purpose of the rock in the bowl. Both the rock and bowl are on his desk as part of the reconstructed Waldorf Suite 31-A at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa.