Hoover Field – Washington DC’s First Airport

07/18/1926 Anton Fokker with Herbert Hoover. Washington's air passenger service was launched on this day.

From the left: Anton Fokker, Herbert Hoover, F. Trubee Davison and Edward Warner.]

The inauguration of the first air passenger service between Washington DC and Philadelphia on July 16, 1926 was a major milestone in the development of the nation’s capital, and of unusual personal significance for Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover.  Not only was Secretary Hoover, by virtue of the new Air Commerce Act, responsible for fostering air commerce, issuing and air traffic rules, and licensing pilots, but the grassy field that functioned as Washington DC’s first commercial airport was named Hoover Field in his honor.

In hindsight, perhaps it wasn’t such a great honor – Hoover Field had a short and troubled life as Washington’s first airport.

In 1925, Thomas Mitten, the head of the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company, sought to begin daily passenger air service between Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. in connection with the upcoming celebration of the 150th anniversary of Declaration of Independence.  Finding no functional commercial airfield in the District, Mitten selected the site of a former horse racing track on the south side of the Potomac River, which was just barely large enough for an airfield.  A single sod runway, 2400 feet long, and a single small hangar were constructed in five and a half days.  The only navigational aid was a windsock.

When Mitten’s service was finally inaugurated in July 1926, passengers and mail were carried on a schedule of three trips in each direction daily, using three-engine Fokker monoplanes seating 10 passengers. The flying time was approximately 1 hour 30 minutes each way, and the passenger fare was $15 one way and $25 roundtrip.  The service lasted for five months before Mitten finally gave up and sold his interest in Hoover Field.  Other companies took up the challenge of providing air service to DC, with mixed success.

Even though accidents were thankfully rare, Hoover Field was considered one of the most dangerous airfields in the country.  A major road ran along the east side of the field.  Nearby landfills often burned trash, producing black smoke that reduced visibility to virtually zero.  Power lines, radio antennas and a tall smokestack made approaches hazardous.  Improvements to the field helped, but the site was too cramped for a viable airport.  In 1927, Hoover Field lost the local airmail contract due to the dangerous conditions, though passenger flights continued including service to New York and other cities.


The north end of Hoover Field (left and bottom of the photograph) 1932. Military Road extends to the bottom right of the photograph. Washington Airport is to the right of the Military Road. From Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (HAER VA,30-____,8—209; http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.va1677/photos.368606p accessed January 18, 2017).

A second airfield named Washington Airport opened for business in 1927 on a tract of land directly adjacent to Hoover. The two airfields operated jointly at times and finally merged into one facility in 1933 under the name of Washington-Hoover Airport.  New local ordinances prohibited some (but not all) trash burning, which improved visibility.  The main problem was the government-owned Military Road that crossed between the two airfields.  With the merger, the main runway was extended directly across – you guessed it – Military Road.  The airport management attempted to stop traffic to allow planes to land and take off, but were fined by county officials for obstructing traffic!  It took an act of Congress to allow the airport to install traffic lights, and eventually the road was rerouted around the airport.

Throughout the 1930s, gradual improvements to the airport and removal of nearby hazards significantly improved safety.  But planes were getting bigger and safety standards were constantly improving, and Washington-Hoover had no space for longer runways or many new safety measures.  Every attempt to find a better site for a more suitable airport was stymied by a provision in the Air Commerce Act that prohibited the Federal government from owning or operating commercial airports;  in the DC area, there was no viable way to build an airport without involving Federal land or resources.

In 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt engineered a workaround – the new Civil Aeronautics Act allowed the Federal government to build commercial airports if necessary for national defense.  Construction began on a new Washington National Airport on reclaimed land along the Potomac River, south-east of Washington-Hoover.  After National (later renamed Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport) opened in 1941, the land that had been Hoover Field was sold to the War Department to become the site of the Pentagon.  The name Hoover Field, once synonymous with innovation in aeronautics, faded into obscurity.

For more reading about Hoover and aviation:

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Lou Hoover’s System for Dealing with the Depression

By Thomas F. Schwartz

#31-1928-f03 First Lady Lou Henry Hoover.

#31-1928-f03 First Lady Lou Henry Hoover.

A widespread characterization of the Hoover presidency is that he ignored the needs of average Americans during the worst hardship.  In fact, the opposite is true.  Every request for assistance sent to the White House was forwarded to First Lady Lou Henry Hoover.  Mrs. Hoover set up a system which both evaluated the severity of the need as well as assigning the task where it would get the best response and attention.  Unfortunately, most of these requests no longer exist because Lou Hoover felt the requests were private matters and that most of the individuals did not want their requests known as a simple matter of personal pride and dignity. What follows is a memorandum written by Philippi Harding Butler who served as personal secretary to Mrs. Hoover from 1920-24 and again from 1929-33:

“RE Relief Cases & Various Pleas for Help received by Mrs. Hoover

This type of mail became so voluminous that in early 1931 Mrs. Hoover designated one of her secretaries—one in her personal employ—to use every means possible to find help in response to these appeals.

In every Cabinet Secretary’s office we had a contact to whom were sent the questions and appeals which would only be answered or investigated by a Department.  In each case the writer of the appeal had a reply from Mrs. Hoover’s secretary telling what was being done with the question, and in each case there was a follow-through by the Department in question with a report as to what was or was not possible and what had actually been done.

For the great number of questions and appeals of various kinds, we contacted friends all over the country who were located in an area from which a letter had come, or Committee which had been formed by various organizations to help in the emergency (to wit—Girl Scouts, General Federation of Womens Clubs, etc.).  The great mass however were handled by a Miss Heizer, recommended by the President’s Committee on Emergency Relief, who gave part time to this work and was paid personally by Mrs. Hoover.  She had knowledge of helpful Committees and organizations all over the country.

In each case the writer of the original appeal had a reply from Mrs. Hoover’s secretary, and his or her permission was asked to send the appeal to someone who might be helpful.  No appeal was sent to anyone without such permission.  Mrs. Hoover felt very strongly that people would write to her, as the President’s wife, not knowing where else to turn, and all names and circumstances were regarded as confidential by all of us working on the cases.  Reports came back on each ‘case’ and in a vast number real practical assistance was given; a very small proportion was found to be unworthy.  In a great many cases, where special help was needed with no source for it, Mrs. Hoover would donate the money needed, but anonymously, through the friend or agency handling the situation.

As a consequence of Mrs. Hoover’s insistence that all such matters be considered confidential, at least a quantity equal to two filing drawers full were removed from the files.  Many routine matters and those sent to Departments for official answer were left in the ‘Downstairs’ files.”

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Google Maps driving directions from Palo Alto, CA to Washington, DC

Google Maps driving directions from Palo Alto, CA to Washington, DC

At 11:40 am on Monday September 12, 1921 Lou Henry Hoover began a 3,945 mile cross country trip from Palo Alto, California to Washington, D.C. Ostensibly, this was a trip to move the family’s Cadillac to D.C. Its deeper purpose was to support her father, Charles Henry, in a time of grief. Her family had wired Lou on August 14 that her mother had grown very ill. Lou headed west on a train, but arrived on August 19, the morning after her mother passed away. As she wrote in a letter:

He needs change very much, and yet is of course in no humor to get much benefit from a train journey, and none whatever from an ordinary visit. We wanted the California Cadillac in Washington, and I have always longed to drive across, so I told him I was going to do that now, at the opportune time, and of course he is coming along, so that I won’t have to be alone!

Charles Henry and Lou Henry Hoover, circa 1918. #31-1918-a60

Charles Henry and Lou Henry Hoover, circa 1918. #31-1918-a60

Lou and Charles were accompanied by a nephew and Matias “a wonderful Philipino boy, devoted to him [Charles], who can drive a car or cook or do any of the chores we balk at!” Charles kept a log with daily entries about the trip. One example, the entry for September 19:

Leave Elko 10:15 AM, 5 gal gas at Wells. Fine ranches during 17 miles from Elko to Deeth Wells. Threatening rain with high winds all day, could see storms off on mountains. Sprinkling at 4 PM and had a punctured tire! Arrived at Cobre (about 8 houses) 5 PM, camped in RR station. No hotel. 94 miles for the day.

Lou elaborated in a letter:

            . . . there is absolutely no place to camp close to this barren little station, and no other nearer than twenty miles, – no ranch or hotel or anything. The shack that calls itself a hotel here has only one empty single room. But the station is nice and big, and has just all been beautifully painted inside. So we gave Matias the “hotel” room and we “camped” in one of the two waiting rooms, – with our own cots and bedding!

September 30 was another interesting day:

           The coldest morning we have had. Told ice forms here every month of the year. Leave at 10 AM, engine won’t start. Oil congealed, can’t crank or use self-starter. Sun coming out warm 11 AM. Continental divide, elevation 11,330, Atlantic side, Pike National Forest; Pacific side, Arapaho National Forest (Reservation) Denver 59 miles. Stop at Hotel at Henderson, small country tavern, clean rooms and good supper. Drive – 90 miles. 18 days – 1648 miles.

Lou felt the trip was a valuable experience and was tempted to take her son Allan along, as she wrote him: “I fear I should have felt there was more ‘educational value’ to be got out of a transcontinental trip, than out of six weeks of school! And then you would have been in for it!”

The trip took 35 days and along the way they used 367 gallons of gas, 17 quarts of oil, had $96.71 in auto expenses and repairs, 5 punctured tires, one accident, an engine failure, and 2 repair stops.

This trip has a number of qualities that make a good movie: emotional drama, adventure, and surprising historical details from a time when transportation was far more rustic and challenging than today.

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Herbert Hoover, President-Elect – a Florida vacation

In January 1929, President-Elect Herbert Hoover returned from his seven-week trip to Latin America and began preparing for the Inauguration.  (At that time Inauguration Day was March 4, so he had an extra six weeks to work with.)  After a couple of weeks in Washington DC during which he chose most of his Cabinet, Hoover escaped to Florida for something of a working vacation.

Hoover arrived by special train in Miami on January 22, where he was presented with a three-foot-long key to the city and an assortment of fishing tackle.  He was paraded in an open-topped car through Miami, cheered by thousands and serenaded by brass bands.  Hoover’s destination was the estate of J. C. Penney on Belle Isle, an artificial island in Biscayne Bay connected to Miami Beach by a causeway;  the Penneys were in Europe and had offered Hoover the use of their Italianate villa and a neighboring property.  Eager for a private retreat and ready access to Gulf Stream fishing, Hoover accepted the Penneys’ offer.  The press quickly dubbed the Penney home “the official pre-inaugural White House.”

Inside the main house, Hoover found a staff of 30, newly stained woodwork (to hide the water damage from the 1926 hurricane), new carpets, linens and silver settings.  A new stove stood ready in the kitchen to cook meals for the future President.  Hoover claimed a small guest cottage for his office and designated a nearby boathouse as the pressroom.  Wrapping up his Cabinet appointments and obligatory meetings with political supporters who came calling, Hoover turned to the last item on his agenda, his Inaugural Address.  One reporter noted, “President-elect Hoover is at sea in pile of notes from which will come his outline of a new era of construction…He wants it concise, accurate to the last comma and comprehensive.  He will draft and redraft, write and rewrite, change and delete, confer and then revise, poring over it all for weeks.”

Hoover’s Inaugural Address may have been his foremost concern, but his main goal for the

President elect Herbert Hoover catches a sail fish off the coast of Florida. 31-1929-a75

President elect Herbert Hoover catches a sail fish off the coast of Florida. 31-1929-a75

Florida visit was to catch a sailfish.  Having failed to land one during five previous trips to Florida, he was determined to succeed.  Spending every possible hour on the water, Hoover brought along notepads, pencils and his secretary to jot down any speech ideas that came to him while fishing.  Fishing primarily in the vicinity of Long Key, he caught numerous saltwater fish including barracuda, bonito, tuna and kingfish.  Finally, on January 30, after a spirited fight, he landed a seven foot six inch forty-five pound sailfish.  Hoover’s joy was somewhat diminished when three of his companions, including a rank neophyte, landed larger ones.

Hoover returned to the Penney estate every few days for meetings and conferences.  One evening he sat down with Willis Abbot, editor of the Christian Science Monitor, to discuss his upcoming administration.  “I am not at all apprehensive of the normal work of the Presidency,” Hoover said.  “It is arduous and taxing, of course, but that is to be expected.  What does somewhat disquiet me is the way in which I have been over-advertised.  My friends have made the American people think me a sort of superman, able to cope successfully with the most difficult and complicated problems.  They expect the impossible of me and should there arise in the land conditions with which the political machinery is unable to cope, I will be the one to suffer.”

On February 18, Hoover returned to Washington DC, refreshed and tanned from his vacation, but unaware how prophetic his statement would prove to be over the next four years.

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The Hoover/Kennedy Letters.

“May you have the happiest new year imaginable.” 

By Thomas F. Schwartz

President John F. Kennedy calls on former President Hoover at Hoover's Waldorf Astoria apartment.

President John F. Kennedy calls on former President Hoover at Hoover’s Waldorf Astoria apartment.

The recent film Jackie (2016) by Pablo Larrain offers an artistic interpretation of a life based on a 1963 Life magazine interview by Theodore H. White with the recently widowed Jacqueline Kennedy.  One typically would not connect Herbert Hoover with this fashionable First Lady.  But Hoover was quite fond of the Kennedy family having had a long friendship with Joseph P. Kennedy, the patriarch of the Kennedy clan.  Hoover and Kennedy served together on the Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government, more commonly known as the Hoover Commission.  The purpose was to reduce the size and cost of government through consolidation of duplicative services, elimination of obsolete services, and other cost saving measures.  The first Hoover Commission under Harry Truman was the most effective and caused numerous states to create their own “little Hoover Commissions.”   In fact, California still has their Hoover Commission in operation www.lhc.ca.gov/.

In the course of their relationship, Kennedy introduced Hoover to his three sons.  Robert would actually serve as a staff member for the second Hoover Commission.  John Kennedy represented Massachusetts as United States Senator in the 1950s and maintained a cordial relationship with the ex-president.  When the young Senator had crippling back ailments in 1954 that led to extensive hospitalization and spinal surgery, Hoover sent encouragement: “It doesn’t matter much what the politics of good men are.  What does matter is that they get out and keep out of hospitals.”  Much to his surprise, Hoover received the following letter from Jackie:

“Dear Mr. Hoover, You cannot image how much it meant to Jack having such a wonderful letter from you.  That you should take the trouble of writing touched him so much more than I could ever describe to you. When you are sick, or going through the long business of getting well, it is so heartening to know that people think of you enough to write you a letter, but when it is someone as busy as you, whom he admires so terribly much, why that is better medicine than any doctor could give.  So I must thank you too.  May you have the happiest new year imaginable. Every good wish from us both.”

Several years later, Jackie penned another thank you letter, this time for lunch:

“Dear Mr. President

This is terribly late to be writing you so please forgive me, but I did want to tell you how terribly grateful I am at your hav[ing] let me come to lunch with you last Sunday [January 15, 1956] in Washington.

That was so kind of you, all I did was sit there and eat, but I will never forget that day and all your graciousness and hospitality.

I had heard Mr. Kennedy speak of you so much last winter and developed a slight case of hero worship.  How lucky I was to have it all come to life and find you wiser and kinder than I could have ever imagined.

You were absolutely unbelievable at the hearing.  I thought Senator Mundt said the nicest thing of all—that you were an American Churchill.  It is an understatement, at least that is what Jack and I think and we will remember our lunch with you for as long as we live.

I do hope that when you come back to Washington we will have the privilege of seeing you again, and in the meantime, thank you so very very much.”

While the comparison to Churchill was meant as a compliment, Hoover’s own encounters with Churchill were anything but cordial.  It was Churchill who tried to stop Hoover’s food relief efforts in Belgium in World War I, even accusing Hoover of being a German spy.  Churchill was more successful in blocking Hoover’s efforts to feed Poland and Finland at the outset of World War II.   Hoover and Churchill were in agreement about the Soviet threat following the war, so on this point he could accept the compliment.

On November 22, Hoover sent the following letter:

“Dear Mrs. Kennedy,

I extend my deepest sympathy to you and your children for this, the greatest loss that can come to you.

May the knowledge that he gave his life for his country be a consolation to you.”

Several months later, Mrs. Kennedy visited Hoover prompting this note:

“Dear Mr. President, It was most kind of you to receive me in New York.  I have never forgotten the first time that I met you so long ago—nor will I forget this time.  You were always wonderful to my husband and he admired you so much.”

As Hoover struggled with failing health in early 1964, Jackie sent flowers along with a note “I do hope you’re feeling better and send very warm wishes.”  Hoover sent a reply on March 5, 1964 through one of his secretaries, Elizabeth Dempsey who wrote: “Mr. Hoover wants you to know how deeply he appreciates your gracious thought in sending him the beautiful gardenias.  He says, they bring spring to his apartment.”  Seven months later, Hoover would succumb to cancer at the age of 90.

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From Illegal Liquor Stills to Legal Christmas Cheer

By Thomas F. Schwartz


President Hoover and wife Lou greet veterans on the White House lawn during the Veterans’ Garden Party, June 1931.. 31-al57-09

Prohibition kept law enforcement officials busy busting wooden barrels of illegal spirits and confiscating copper vats and tubing from illegal stills.  The District of Columbia decided to put the confiscated property to good use and sent the copper to occupational therapy instructors at Walter Reed Hospital.  Here the materials were given to veterans who transformed the copper sheets and tubing into fanciful Christmas items.  The material cost the veterans nothing, having been provided by the police department through their successful raids on bootlegged stills.  A guest at the annual Christmas sale of occupational therapy products was First Lady Lou Henry Hoover.  A candlestick patterned from a traditional design of a wide, flat base and curved handle caught Lou’s attention.  Made from the copper of confiscated stills, the materials were transformed into a handsome hand wrought candlestick with a patina created from the application of acid.  A pair of candlesticks cost two dollars.  Lou purchased the pair and inquired if they could make 40 pairs more as gifts for friends.  The copper-working shop of the occupational therapy unit went into full battle mode to meet the request.  Normally, it took an average of three days to make one pair of candlesticks.  The request was a challenge but one that seems to have been successfully met.

Other items available at the sale were baskets, rugs, pottery, leather goods, sterling silver jewelry, lamp shades, and hand-made dolls.  Many of the crafts were designed to accommodate certain disabilities.  Sight impaired and blind veterans excelled in basket weaving while many orthopedic cases found pottery and rug-weaving a helpful exercise of muscles.

Mrs. Hoover provided the largest single purchase sale of items.  By noon on the first day of the sale, more than three hundred dollars of items had been sold with hopes of surpassing the previous year total of $1,500.

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It’s the End of the Year as we Know it…

by Matthew Schaefer

For some the end of the year is a time of reflection—a time to assess what has happened, what may yet come, and where they fit in the grand scheme of things.  Herbert Hoover gave voice to such reflections in the late Decembers between 1913 and 1918.  Hoover later titled these notes ‘Information for biographers’ which open:

‘There is little importance to man’s lives except the accomplishments they leave to posterity…. These notes have been kept and entered anew each New Year’s for many years.  The record for the years up to 1913 was written up at one time, afterwards in annual installments.’

Hoover then proceeds to tell his life story from his birth in West Branch, through his years in Oregon, time at Stanford, and he provides a detailed resume of his mining career from 1895 onward.  This resume describes his work in Australia, China, South Africa, Burma, and Russia—offering details on number of men employed, ore refined, and moneys invested.

Herbert Hoover's birthplace cottage, Hoover National Historic Site.

Herbert Hoover’s birthplace cottage, Hoover National Historic Site.

The closing paragraphs give a final recap of Hoover’s mining career and insight into his new ambition.  ‘By January 1st 1914, I was in position apparently to amass a fortune of some $30,000,000…. [but] the War crushed this fortune down by 95%…. 1914—While in California home at Christmas resolved to stop further money-making for good.  It led nowhere but to responsibilities and I felt I had 40 years left that I might give to public service.’

This was the pivotal point for Hoover, turning away from the game of making money and toward the calling of public service.  For Hoover this service included food relief during and after both World Wars, serving as Secretary of Commerce and President, and working with Boys’ Clubs of America.  In doing these diverse public endeavors, Hoover heeded his own counsel, first written in his 1913 memoir: ‘When all is said and done accomplishment is all that counts.’

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Herbert Hoover’s Many Facets of Christmas

By Matthew Schaefer

ca. Dec. 1952, Herbert Hoover in front of Christmas tree.

ca. Dec. 1952, Herbert Hoover in front of Christmas tree. #31-1952-79

Christmas is a holiday laden with memories–family, fun, food, and faith form the warp and woof of these memories.  This held true for Herbert Hoover.  Late in his life, Hoover began to collect his Christmas reminiscences to share with family and friends.  One set of such memories is found in Hoover’s Post-Presidential Subject Files under ‘Christmas.’

In these memoirs, Hoover recalls Christmas across the years [shades of Dickens’ spirits visiting Scrooge].  His first memories were at age six, as a young boy for whom Christmas brought no store-bought gifts as times were tough and money was needed for the mortgage. Still Christmas brought the joy of sharing time with family, chopping down the tree, and Aunt Millie’s popcorn balls.  Later years saw the youthful Hoover experiencing the magic of Christmas stockings, store-bought peppermint sticks, and roast chicken with Uncle Laban Miles.

As a young adult, Hoover shared Christmas pasties with Cornish miners in

The Hoover family, Christmas 1903.

The Hoover family, Christmas 1903.California. #31-1903-14

Grass Valley, California. He commented that eucalyptus was no substitute for pine trees while celebrating Christmas in Australia—further challenged by the holiday falling in the middle of summer.  Hoover shared these memories with the guests who attended his black tie dinners on Christmas Eve, with his friends and fellow fishermen at the Key Largo Anglers’ Club, and with the families of his sons.

Of special note is Hoover’s talk on a Quaker Christmas shared with his friend Lewis Strauss.  Hoover offers a far-ranging reminiscence which includes a history of Quakers in America, family lore, and even assurances to Virginia that there is a Santa Claus.  Along the way, Hoover notes that in his youth children were ‘encouraged all lands of make believe from Mother Goose to Santa Claus.’

Quakers also devoted great attention to Christmas: ‘Christmas Day morning was given the joys of opening stockings, but the day was given mostly to the deep religious honors for the coming of Christ.  Departing from the usual silent worship of Quaker meetings, the second chapter of Luke and the Sermon on the Mount were read aloud and with feeling.’

After a brief recap of holiday meals and treats, Hoover returns to the magical hold Christmas has on the young.  He invokes Virginia, with her doubts about Santa Claus, and reminds her that the most real things in the world are those that are unseen—faith, love, poetry, and Santa.

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Santa Claus Lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

By Thomas F. Schwartz


Camp Rapidan school, #31-al73-06

December 1931 was like any other except that more Americans were feeling the effects of what would later be known as the Great Depression.   Herbert and Lou Hoover had a long history of assisting those in need.  The First Lady decided that the annual Christmas party would have a different emphasis.  The invitations sent to guests read: “This is not like the Christmas parties you usually go to, where you get lots of toys and presents to take home, and very good things to eat.  But it is a party where you bring toys and warm, gay sweaters or candy, or things other children would like who otherwise would not have much Christmas.” Throughout the month of December, Lou attended numerous events where she distributed gifts to children in need, often accompanied by her grandchildren, Peggy Ann and Herbert 3rd who went by the name of “Pete.”

One collection of toys went to a group of children near and dear to the Hoover family.  When Herbert and Lou established the first presidential retreat along the Rapidan River in Virginia, they realized that the local children had no school to attend.  Lou designed a school house, she and her husband purchased the building materials, and Lou interviewed several people and selected the teacher for the school.  The Hoovers continued to pay the teacher’s salary until 1938 when the county was able to provide a public school for the children.   Realizing that most of this rugged mountain population area did not have much disposable income to spend on Christmas, the Hoovers decided to send a Christmas tree and toys to the children who lived near Camp Rapidan.

Another group of children who lived in the mountains of West Virginia also received a Christmas surprise.  A boxcar filled with toys made its way to Morgantown, West Virginia where children of unemployed coal miners got a gift from the many Santas who attended the White House party.


First Lady Lou Henry Hoover.  #31-1928-f03

Perhaps the most treasured Christmas gift was received by Philip Ratto, Jr. a six year old patient in Eagleville Sanitarium in Philadelphia.  His Christmas wish was to receive a card from First Lady Lou Henry Hoover.  Christmas came and went without getting his wish.  Finally on January 8 he received the following card:  “My Dear Philip: Santa Claus told me you specially wanted a Christmas card from me—so I sent you one that I thought you would like best of all.  Alas—there was a mistake in addressing it, and it has come back to me.  I am sending it again—and I am so sorry that you have had this long delay.  I hope you are getting well just as rapidly as possible, and that you had a merry Christmas.  Lou Henry Hoover.”

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Writing Christmas Cards Under Fire

By Thomas F. Schwartz

Jean Henry Lodge

Jean Henry Large 31-1901-24

December 7, 1941 was, as President Franklin Roosevelt aptly stated: “a date which will live in infamy.”  The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese plunged America into World War II.  At the time of the attack, Lou Henry Hoover’s sister, Jean Henry Large and niece, Janet Large, resided on the island of Oahu.  They were writing Christmas cards and wrote the following to her daughter Jean on December 7, 1941, although it did not arrive until February 4, 1942 in a military censored envelope:

                “Janet and I wish you a very Merry Christmas and happy New Year.

We are having a very noisy Sabbath right now.  Guns are roaring in the offing, clouds of black smoke rising down below, and airplanes sailing round in a ‘hit and miss’ manner.  Janet says not to be surprised if a sack of flour hits the roof. Apparently we are showing that we can protect ourselves if necessary.  Just a thought, you don’t suppose it is the real thing do you?!

I miss you all very much, although enjoying of course the unusual life I am living.

Jean Henry Large”

The next day, Jean Henry Large wrote a letter to Jean describing what she realized was an actual attack on the naval facility at Pearl Harbor.  The following excerpts describe the grim realization of a nation now at war.

Sunday morning 9 A.M. [December 7, 1941]

“Just reported on radio—‘Rising sun sighted on wing tips of airplanes. Sporadic air attack.  Planes have been shot down.’
First radio official report.  Janet got her office.  Mr. Benson told Janet ‘700 men killed at Wheeler Field—Barracks blown up. (Wheeler Field is down the hill about 4 miles)’ and Honolulu Harbor pretty well shot up.  ‘Major Harrington (retired living 2 doors from us and President of Janet’s company) donned his uniform and with first bomb and has gone to Barracks.”

Monday morning 9.30 A.M.

“…A complete blackout of the Island was made.  First we pulled down venetian blinds, and turned on one lamp, light showed from the window.  Then we fastened up blankets at all the windows—still showed. So we got on the floor with 2 candles flanked by blankets and played ‘Pinochle’ until 10 o’clock…Wish I had your gun or my gun.  Fancy being in the midst of a war with no fire arms!”

The letter goes on to describe updates of information about casualties and attempts to gather provisions and create makeshift outdoor trenches should another attack occur.

“First I was told to get as much water in both tubs, pots, etc. for fear the water supply should be broken.  Then on radio we were told to boil all drinking water as there was a report the water had been ‘doctored.’  That is probably just hysteria.”

In closing, Jean Large reassures her daughter that she and others “are reasonably safe, so don’t worry. I would not like to be situated near any of the strategic places.  Will you drop just a postal card to Aunty Lou [Lou Henry Hoover] if this letter comes through saying we are hale and hearty….”  She concludes, “A very disjointed letter I find.  Probably no more Christmas cards get off!”

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