Tag Archives: Martha

Little-Known Black History Fact: Lois Mailou Jones

Posted by BuellBoy

Lois Mailou Jones in 1936

Lois Mailou Jones in 1936

Textile artist Lois Mailou Jones was a Harlem Renaissance artist; in fact, she was one of the longest living members of the Harlem Renaissance.

Jones found her inspiration in Martha’s Vineyard as a teen. As her interest grew, she decided to attend the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in 1937, learning textile design.

Though a cultured profession, textile artists of her day were not excluded from racism. Sometimes she was required to clean the studio in order to us it. At one point, Jones saw her textile work hanging in a boutique. After introducing herself as the creator of the design, the owner told her a colored girl could not have possibly made such a beautiful design. After enduring more discrimination, Jones found herself in Paris, where she was accepted. It was there that she worked with Josephine Baker, Albert Smith and Emile Bernard.

Lois Mailou Jones

Lois Mailou Jones

Wishing to find her place in America, Jones entered “whites only” art contests using the face of her white colleague to make a name for herself. She connected with greats like with Mary McCleod Bethune, Arthur Schomburg, Alan Locke, Zora Neale Hurston and Danny Glover.

She took her expertise to an HBCU – the one place she was allowed to teach – and taught at Howard University for 47 years.

Before she died in 1998, Jones presented her work to President Bill and First Lady Clinton. She now lays to rest in Martha’s Vineyard, where it all began.

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Democrats Cast Blame At Each Other Over Senate Campaign

Posted by: Audiegrl

U.S. Senate Democratic nominee Martha Coakley gives a concession speech January 19, 2010 at the Sheraton Boston

Associated Press/Laura Kellman~The buck stops … Well, it was hard to tell just where the buck stopped Tuesday when it came to the Democratic party’s loss of the Massachusetts Senate seat that had been held by Edward M. Kennedy for nearly half a century.

Days before Republican state Sen. Scott Brown officially captured the seat over Democrat Martha Coakley, Washington to Boston began dodging blame and pointing fingers at each other.

Cool-headed analysis of what was driving independents from Coakley to Brown? No. The issue was who botched Democrat Martha Coakley’s Senate campaign more: her state people or national Democrats.

Most spoke the classic Washington way, under the cloak of anonymity. But President Barack Obama’s senior adviser took precise, public aim at Coakley’s camp as Brown closed in on the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s seat.

I think the White House did everything we were asked to do,” David Axelrod told reporters. “Had we been asked earlier, we would have responded earlier.”

But the signs had been there. In the bluest of blue states, the election was seen, at least in part, as a referendum on Obama, on health care reform, on the Democratic majority that had controlled two of three branches of government for a year.

And the Republican candidate was surging.

What of Obama himself?

Surprised and frustrated,” reported White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, promising more presidential reaction Wednesday. “Not pleased.”

Democrats could agree on the obvious: Somebody had taken the seat for granted, had underestimated the public’s anger over the economy, over the Democrats’ health care overhaul, over plain old arrogance in Washington.

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Welcome to 44’D’s Happy Holiday’s Special

We here at The 44 Diaries would like to say Thank You for participating in our blog and we hope that you all have a happy holiday and a prosperous new year. We also hope that you get to spend plenty of time with the people you love the most…

Please note: We will be keeping this up all week in celebration, but will be posting political news in the top section next to ‘Home’.


History of Christmas




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Origins and Traditions of Hanukkah

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Celebrating Kwanzaa



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Santa Claus Through History



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Famous and Not-So Famous Christmas Movies List

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The History of Christmas at the White House 1789-2009

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Twenty-Five Days of Christmas Music Videos

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Christmas Around the World



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Fun Filled Christmas Facts



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Christmas in the Age of Dickens

Christmas in the Age of Dickens



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Amazing Christmas Truce of 1914



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Holiday Season at the White House with the Obama’s 2009




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The History of Christmas at the White House 1789-2009

Like any other Americans, the family living in the big white house on Pennsylvania avenue has traditions surrounding the holiday season as well. Sit back, and get comfortable, while we explore how Presidents have celebrated Christmas from President George Washington to President Barack Obama.

A special note of thanks goes to our friends at White House Christmas Cards, for allowing us to use some of their outstanding research material as part of this presentation. If you are interested in a more in-depth study of Christmas in the White House, we highly recommend you visit their site.

Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas. ~ President Calvin Coolidge

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History of Christmas at the White House (1789-1849)



President George Washington and First Lady Martha (1789-1797)
President John Adams and First Lady Abigale (1797-1801)
President Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)
President James Madison (1809-1817)
President James Monroe and First Lady Elizabeth (1817-1825)
President John Quincy Adams and First Lady Louisa (1825-1829)
President Andrew Jackson and First Lady Rachel (1829-1837)
President Martin Van Buren (1837-1841)
President William Henry Harrison and First Lady Anna (1841-1841)
President John Tyler and First Ladies Lettitia and Julia (1841-1845)
President James K. Polk and First Lady Sarah (1845-1849)
President Zachary Taylor and First Lady Margaret (1849-1850)


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History of Christmas at the White House (1850-1901)

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President Millard Fillmore and First Ladies Abigail and Caroline (1850-1853)
President Franklin Pierce and First Lady Jane (1853-1857)
President James Buchanan (1857-1861)
President Abraham Lincoln and First Lady Mary (1861-1865)
President Andrew Johnson and First Lady Elizabeth (1865-1869)
President Ulysses S. Grant and First Lady Julia (1869-1877)
President Rutherford B. Hayes and First Lady Lucy (1877-1881)
President James A. Garfield and First Lady Lucretia (1881-1881)
President Chester A. Arthur and First Lady Ellen (1881-1885)
President Grover Cleveland and First Lady Francis (1885-1889, (1893-1897)
President Benjamin Harrison and First Lady Caroline and Mary (1889-1893)
President William McKinley and First Lady Ida (1897-1901)


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History of Christmas at the White House (1901-1953)

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President Theodore Roosevelt and First Ladies Alice and Edith (1901-1909)
President William Howard Taft and First Lady Helen (1909-1913)
President Woodrow Wilson and First Ladies Ellen and Edith (1913-1921)
President Warren G. Harding and First Lady Florence (1921-1923)
President Calvin Coolidge and First Lady Grace (1923-1929)
President Herbert Hoover and First Lady Lou (1929-1933)
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor (1933-1945)
President Harry S. Truman and First Lady Bess (1945-1953)


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History of Christmas at the White House (1953-1977)

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President Dwight Eisenhower and First Lady Mamie Eisenhower (1953-1961)
President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (1961-1963)
President Lyndon Johnson and First Lady Claudia (Lady Bird) (1963-1969)
President Richard Nixon and First Lady Patricia (1969-1974)
President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty (1974-1977)

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History of Christmas at the White House (1977-2009)

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President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalyn Carter (1977-1981)
President Ronald Regan and First Lady Nancy (1981-1989)
President George HW Bush and First Lady Barbara (1989-1993)
President William J. Clinton and First Lady Hillary (1993-2001)
President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush (2001-2008)
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama (2009- )


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The History of Christmas at the White House 1789 thru 1849

President George Washington and First Lady Martha 1789-1797

George Washington was sworn in as the first President of the United States on the balcony of Federal Hall in New York City. There was no White House at that time so the Washington’s lived in houses that were “borrowed” as Presidential homes, first in New York City and later in Philadelphia.

At a time when Christmas was still quite controversial in a new nation, at the time Martha Washington’s holiday receptions were stiff and regal affairs, quite befitting the dignity of the office of President of the United States and invitations were much desired by the local gentry. A Christmas party was given by the Washington’s for members of Congress on Christmas Day, 1795 at which a bountiful feast was served to the guests, all men with the exception of the First Lady.

The 2009 Mount Vernon Holiday Ornament

The 2009 Mount Vernon Holiday Ornament

Although not everyone celebrated Christmas in the colonies, the festivities at Washington’s Mount Vernon plantation in Virginia would start at daybreak with a Christmas fox hunt. It was followed by a hearty mid-day feast that included “Christmas pie,” dancing, music, and visiting that sometimes did not end for a solid week. This, of course, is in stark contrast to the Christmas of 1777, spent by General Washington and his troops at Valley Forge where dinner was little more than cabbage, turnips, and potatoes.

Some documents show that Christmas at Mt. Vernon were quite a celebration. The traditional feast varied from household to household (depending on how wealthy the family was) but generally, consisted of wines, rum punches, hams, beef, goose, turkey, oysters, mincemeat pies, and various other treats. The season was considered a grown-up celebration, but presents would generally be given to children. Irena Chalmers notes that in 1759, that George Washington gave the following presents to his children: a bird on Bellows; a Cuckoo; a Turnabout Parrot; a Grocers Shop; an Aviary; a Prussian Dragoon; a Man Smoking; a Tunbridge Tea Set; 3 Neat Books, a Tea Chest. A straw parchment box with a glass and a neat dressed wax baby.

President John Adams and First Lady Abigale 1797-1801

When the second President of the United States, John Adams, moved into what would come to be known as the White House, the residence was cold, damp, and drafty. Sitting at the edge of a dreary swamp, the First Family had to keep 13 fireplaces lit in an effort to stay comfortable. It is in this setting that the cantankerous president held the first ever White House Christmas party in honor of his granddaughter, Susanna. It could be said that the invitations sent for this party were the very first White House Christmas cards, though in those early days, the building was referred to as the President’s Palace, Presidential Mansion, or President’s House.

Peacefield, the Quincy, Massachusetts home and farm of John Adams, where he spent Christmas with his family before and after his presidency

The affair was planned in large part by the vivacious First Lady, Abigail Adams, and was considered a great success. A small orchestra played festive music in a grand ballroom adorned with seasonal flora. After dinner, cakes and punch were served while the staff and guests caroled and played games. The most amusing incident of the evening occurred when one of the young guests accidentally broke one of the First Granddaughter’s new doll dishes. Enraged, the young guest of honor promptly bit the nose off of one of the offending friend’s dolls. The amused president had to intervene to make sure the incident didn’t turn any uglier.

The 2009 John Adams Administration Christmas Ornament

The 2009 John Adams Administration Christmas Ornament

With the death of George Washington shortly before Christmas of 1799, President Adam’s Federalist Party was weakened. Due in part to the unpopularity of the Alien and Sedition Acts, he narrowly lost his re-election bid to Thomas Jefferson, 65 to 73 in the Electoral College. Adams retired to a life of farming at Peacefield, his home near Quincy, Massachusetts. In 1812, Adams reconciled with Thomas Jefferson. He sent a brief note to Jefferson, which resulted in a resumption of their friendship and began an ongoing correspondence that lasted the rest of their lives.

President Thomas Jefferson 1801-1809

Since Christmas did not become a national holiday until 1870 during the administration of Ulysses S. Grant, it is not surprising that the exchanging of White House Christmas cards was not a yearly presidential custom during the very early history of our country. For most of our earlier presidents, there is very little documented information regarding Christmas celebrations or traditions they or their families may have practiced. However, whether it is because he was a prolific letter-writer or that scholars have accumulated a wealth of information on his life from painstaking research, there is more information describing Christmas celebrations of our third president, Thomas Jefferson, than any of our other Founding Fathers who became president. This information reflects both the time Jefferson spent as president in the White House and at his famous Virginia home and plantation, Monticello.

Monticello, the Virginia home and plantation of Thomas Jefferson, where he celebrated many Christmas seasons with his family before and after his presidency

As president in 1805, six of his grandchildren and 100 of their friends – invited by Secretary of State James Madison’s wife, Dolley, who acted as official hostess – made for a tremendously enjoyable holiday party at which Jefferson played the violin for the dancing children. Christmas celebrations at the Jefferson White House were festive affairs where delicacies and local American foods were served. Joyful Christmas partying continued at Monticello in 1809 following the end of the Jefferson presidency earlier that year. Celebrations at Jefferson’s beautiful home included social intercourse amongst friends and relatives and the serving of a Christmas favorite, mince pies. The hanging of Christmas stockings and the decorating of evergreen trees had not yet become the norm like those traditions are today.

2004 American President Collection Thomas Jefferson Ornament

2004 American President Collection Thomas Jefferson Ornament

In all that he did, Jefferson tried to maintain his political and moral philosophy, not only for the country itself, but also for America’s citizens. He believed that each person has “certain inalienable rights,” which could not be taken away whether a government existed or not. He also believed in equality for all people and was a proponent of states’ rights.
Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826 along with fellow Founding Father and 2nd President, John Adams). Ironically, this date was also the 50th anniversary of the adoption of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, the document which historians readily believe is perhaps the most important document in our country’s history.

President James Madison 1809-1817

President James Monroe and First Lady Elizabeth 1817-1825

Monroe, a Virginian who is considered the last of the United States’ Founding Fathers, was, however, one of the participants in what may be the most famous Christmas in our nation’s history.

It was on Christmas in 1776 that Monroe, a lieutenant in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, was wounded in the shoulder serving with General George Washington in the surprise attack against the Hessians at the Battle of Trenton in New Jersey. In fact, in the famous 1851 painting by German-American artist Emanuel Leutze, it is the young James Monroe who is shown holding the flag as Washington leads his men into battle as their boat crosses the Delaware River from Pennsylvania into New Jersey. Had the exchanging of Christmas cards been a custom back in Colonial times, certainly none would have been exchanged between the pro-British Hessians and the revolution-minded colonists!

The famous painting by Emanuel Leutze featuring George Washington leading his troops across the Delaware on Christmas of 1776. Future President James Monroe is depicted holding the American flag.

The famous painting by Emanuel Leutze featuring George Washington leading his troops across the Delaware on Christmas of 1776. Future President James Monroe is depicted holding the American flag.

In modern times, at the James Monroe Museum in Fredericksburg, Virginia, not only is there an annual exhibition showcasing what the Monroe home would have looked like at Christmastime, but other festivities include fireworks, a display of Christmas dishes such as candied fruits and plum pudding, and decorations which include mistletoe, ivy, and holly.

In 1831 James Monroe died from tuberculosis and heart failure one year later on the 4th of July – the third president of the first five in our country’s history to pass away on the date of the birth of our nation.

President John Quincy Adams and First Lady Louisa 1825-1829

President John Quincy Adams spent four Christmases in the White House and yet there is very little written about his Christmas celebrations, if indeed there were any. He was a very prolific writer and there is certainly the possibility that he sent Christmas messages from the White House. Since Christmas cards were not in vogue until after the 1850s, we can be sure that President John Quincy Adams did not send out White House Christmas cards.

President Adams appointed Joel R. Poinsett as the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico in 1825, who shortly thereafter brought back red, wild growing plants from the southern Mexican states. These red plants would be called poinsettia, the popular Christmas plant of today.

President and Mrs. Adams lived vastly separate lives while in the White House. President Adams developed his love for gardening and Louisa raised silk worms. Perhaps, her intention was to make Christmas presents with the silk. Being the only foreign born first lady, Louisa had some bad publicity stirred up by opponents of her husband. Their son John was the only son of a president to be married in the White House on February 25, 1828. Louisa Adams was the first to allow visitors to tour the White House with the intention of proving that the First Family was not living in the lap of luxury at the expense of the taxpayers.

President Andrew Jackson and First Lady Rachel 1829-1837

During the 1835 Christmas season, a number of young relatives occupied the White House of President Andrew Jackson. His wife’s niece, her four children and the two children of his adopted son, Andrew Jackson, Jr., all made their residence in the executive mansion. The President and his family sent invitations, White House Christmas cards, of sorts, to the local children inviting them to an event in the East Room on Christmas Day.

On Christmas Eve, President Jackson and the White House children embarked upon a carriage ride, delivering gifts to former First Lady Dolly Madison and Vice President Martin Van Buren. As they rode, one of the children asked the President if he thought Santa would visit the White House. Mr. Jackson replied that they would have to wait and see and told the children of a boy he once knew who had never heard of Christmas or Santa Claus and who had never owned a single toy. The boy, he told them, never knew his father and then his mother died. After her death, he had no friends and no place to live. Jackson and the children then visited an orphanage and delivered the remaining gifts in the carriage to its residents. Years later, one of the children, Mary Donelson, realized that the boy the president spoke of had been Jackson himself.

The 2004 American President Collection Andrew Jackson Ornament.

The 2004 American President Collection Andrew Jackson Ornament.

That night, the President encouraged the children to hang their Christmas stockings in his bedroom and even allowed himself to be talked into hanging his own stocking for the first time in his 68 years. On Christmas morning, the children raced into Jackson’s chamber to see what St. Nick had left. They each received a silver quarter, candy, nuts, cake, and fruit in addition to a small toy. The President received slippers, a corncob pipe, and a tobacco bag.

Later that day, the children who had received the White House Christmas card invitations arrived at the residence and found the East Room decorated with mistletoe and other seasonal foliage. They participated in song, games and danced throughout the afternoon. At dinnertime, the youngsters filed into the dining room two-by-two as the band played “The President’s March.” The French chef had created a remarkable feast including winter scenes filled with animals carved out of icing and confectionery sugar. Also featured were cakes shaped like apples, pears, and corn. In the center, there was a large pyramid of cotton “snowballs” – frosted creations which exploded when struck in a certain way.

The Hermitage, the Nashville home of Andrew Jackson, where he spent several Christmas holidays following his stay in the White House

After dinner, the children were allowed to participate in a wild snowball fight. While some of the adults feared that the festivities were getting out of hand, President Jackson cheered them on, taking great pleasure in their youthful enthusiasm.

After two terms, Jackson retired to his estate, the Hermitage, outside Nashville, Tennessee. He remained a force in national politics and was instrumental in the elections of Democrats Martin Van Buren in 1836 and James K. Polk in 1844. He died from tuberculosis in 1845 at the age of 78.

President Martin Van Buren 1837-1841

President William Henry Harrison and First Lady Anna 1841-1841

William Henry Harrison was not in the White House long enough to enjoy a Christmas season, serving only one month before he died. It is very clear that he did not send White House Christmas cards. The first known Christmas cards sold in the United States weren’t until 1843, two years after Harrison’s election in 1841. The custom of sending White House Christmas cards began officially with President Dwight D. Eisenhower, although many prior presidents sent Christmas cards to family and friends.

President William Henry Harrison was portrayed in a 1991 Christmas ornament issued by the White House Historical Society. He was depicted atop a white charger in full military regalia. Harrison spent many years on the Northwest Frontier (as it was known in his time) probably spending Christmas with family or his troops. There is little written about President Harrison’s Christmas celebrations prior to his short tenure in the White House. There is little doubt that he would have followed his Episcopalian beliefs in any Christmas observances.

Grouseland, the Northwest Frontier home of William Henry Harrison, where he spent many Christmas seasons before his short stint in the White House

At the age of 67, William Henry Harrison became the oldest man elected as President of the United States until Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980. He won on the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” on the Whig ticket. The Harrison’s must have had a busy Christmas season in 1840 preparing to move to the White House.

President Harrison gave the longest inauguration speech in history and had the shortest term. He was the first president to die in office. He served only 30 days before dying of pneumonia. His wife, Anna, never had a chance to be First Lady, but was given a widow’s pension of $25,000 and lifetime franking privilege. President William Henry Harrison was buried in Ohio and the Whig party died with him.

President John Tyler and First Ladies Lettitia and Julia 1841-1845

There were probably no White House Christmas cards sent at the beginning of the Tyler administration. There is no information whatsoever as to whether the Tyler family followed that present-day Christmas tradition, but it was not until 1843 – during the middle of the Tyler administration – that the first commercial Christmas cards were even commissioned. That card was quite controversial as it showed a family and their young child partaking of some wine drinking, a picture of which would have been scandalous had the Tyler’s sent out something similar as their White House Christmas cards. Although Christmas cards were not exchanged, it is known that President Tyler enjoyed hosting Christmas parties for young children.

Married to wife Letitia since 1813, by 1839 she had become an invalid. After her husband acceded to the presidency, a daughter-in-law, Priscilla Cooper, became the President’s official hostess since the First Lady was not able to perform her official duties. On September 10, 1842, after a lengthy illness, Letitia died.

An illustration of party for children thrown by President John Tyler, perhaps a Christmas party

During the following year, the widower Tyler had taken notice of an outgoing and quite beautiful young woman named Julia Gardiner, daughter of Senator Daniel Gardiner of New York, whose family usually spent the winter social season in Washington. It was a special White House Christmas that followed as the President hosted a special Christmas Eve gathering of the Tyler and the Gardiner families. Their friendship turned into love in the succeeding months and the two were married on June 26, 1844.

Serving as First Lady for only a little more than eight months until the end of her husband’s term, Julia made quite an impact during her short reign. At the age of 24 and 30 years younger than her husband, she was the youngest woman to serve as First Lady. Bringing gaiety and a youthful feel to the White House, she made sure that the song “Hail to the Chief” was played at state occasions and she also introduced the Waltz and Polka to White House dance festivities. The one Christmas Julia spent as White House hostess must have been one of joy and celebration.

President James K. Polk and First Lady Sarah 1845-1849


James K. Polk is considered by historians to be the last strong pre-Civil War president. In his one term, he nearly doubled the territory of the United States, strengthened the economic power of the federal government, promoted trade, and bolstered the power of the chief executive. While nearly all give him credit for greatly strengthening the nation, he is often criticized for his lack of a forward-looking vision on the issue of slavery.

Polk accomplished the first two fiscal goals before the middle of his term. These policies were popular in the South and West, but not in Pennsylvania and much of the northeast. His first foreign policy victory came four days after Christmas of 1845, when Texas was admitted to the Union as the 28th state. This angered Mexico, which viewed the area as its own breakaway province. Avoiding a costly war, Polk reached an agreement with Great Britain to recognize the 49th parallel as the border between British Canada and the U.S., acquiring slightly more than half of the Oregon territory in the process. Acquisition of California and New Mexico would prove more difficult as the Mexican government refused Polk’s $20-30 million offer for the territories and by the spring of 1846, the nations would find themselves at war.

The Tennessee home of President Polk where he celebrated Christmas with Mrs. Polk before taking up residence in the White House

The Tennessee home of President Polk where he celebrated Christmas with Mrs. Polk before taking up residence in the White House

The country expanded again when Iowa gained statehood three days after Christmas. Another important event in American history occurred about a week after the holiday season when The Philanthropist became The National Era, and declared itself the country’s leading anti-slavery periodical. A few years later, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s highly-influential novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, would first be published as a 40-week serial in The National Era, further stoking the abolitionist movement. A few weeks before Christmas of 1847, another influential anti-slavery publication first rolled off the presses when former slave Frederick Douglass published the North Star.

President Zachary Taylor and First Lady Margaret 1849-1850


Zachary Taylor served as the 12th President of the United States before dying in office after leading our nation for only 16 months. Having spent only one Christmas in the White House (1849), there is no information as to how the President and his family celebrated the holidays or whether they exchanged White House Christmas cards with friends and acquaintances.

Indeed, First Lady Margaret Mackall Smith Taylor cared so little about performing the traditional social duties of a president’s wife that she would not have had a hand in sending out White House Christmas cards anyway. In fact, President Taylor was empathetic to his wife’s feelings of not wanting to take on the role of presidential spouse since his wife had endured a life of hardships as the spouse of a career military man. One of their daughters, newly-married Mary Elizabeth (Betty) Taylor Bliss, assumed her mother’s role at official functions and carried on in that capacity during President Taylor’s short term in office. Whether Betty Taylor Bliss had a hand in overseeing the exchange of White House Christmas cards is unknown as well.

Kentucky boyhood home of Zachary Taylor where he spent Christmas with his seven brothers and sisters

Kentucky boyhood home of Zachary Taylor where he spent Christmas with his seven brothers and sisters

By the summer of the following year, during the final stages of the eventual agreement on the issue which became known as the Compromise of 1850, President Taylor died. At a ceremony on the 4th of July connected with the building of the Washington Monument and celebrating the 74th birthday of our country, the President drank a large amount of cold water along with cherries and iced milk to help overcome the high temperatures. After contacting gastroenteritis and suffering from a high fever that night, Taylor passed away four days later from a reported coronary thrombosis.

Taylor’s death, however, has been clouded in controversy. Being a robust man in good health, historians have surmised that perhaps because of the controversy surrounding the country at that time, certain people upset with Taylor’s stance on slavery might have had reason to do him harm. In 1991, acting on the idea that Taylor was possibly poisoned, the former president’s body was exhumed, and hair and fingernail samples were taken. After testing, it was determined that there was arsenic present but the levels were too low to consider that Taylor – rather than Abraham Lincoln – had been the first president of the United States to have been assassinated.

A special note of thanks goes to our friends at White House Christmas Cards, for allowing us to use some of their outstanding research material as part of this presentation. If you are interested in a more in-depth study of Christmas in the White House, we highly recommend you visit their site.

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44-D’s True Crime: Discovery Channel’s Jack the Ripper in America

TrueCrime-490X136

Reviewed by Audiegrl

The greatest serial killer in history has never been named. But what if we are looking in the wrong place?


In 1888, a deranged killer stalked his prey on the streets of east London at night. After 121 years since the murder and mutilation of at least five prostitutes, the case remains unsolved and the true identity of Jack the Ripper has never been known. The world’s greatest criminal investigators have focused on searching for answers in London. However, in the 1890s a series of horrific murders took place across the United States in New York, San Francisco, Galveston and Atlanta, that mirrored the attacks in attacks in the UK. In this one hour special, Discovery Channel’s viewers will witness the new evidence, science and analytical techniques being used to reveal the true identity of Jack the Ripper.

NYPD Cold Case Detective Ed Norris

The Discovery Channel’s documentary, Jack the Ripper in America focuses on Detective Ed Norris, former head of the NYPD Cold Case Unit, who investigates and uncovers new evidence not seen since the time of the murders. In trying to solve the 118 year old murder of New York prostitute Carrie Brown, he begins to note the similarities between her murder and the famous Whitechapel murders in London. Brown’s murderer had a three-stage MO (strangled, penetrating wound, pulled apart) Because of the unusual and gruesome nature of the crime, the press of the day, immediately began asking the question, “Is Jack the Ripper in New York“. Norris sees the same unusual ‘signature‘ in both the London and New York killers. They both kill prostitutes by strangling, cutting the throat, and eviscerating the body. For Norris this indicates that he might be looking at the same killer.

Carrie Brown aka Old Shakespeare

Carrie Brown aka Old Shakespeare

The key in all cold cases is finding the clues missed by the original investigators. Although, Brown was murdered on April 23, 1891, Norris decides to let a new set of eyes look at the evidence. Enter Dr. Jonathan Hayes, the Manhattan Senior Medical Examiner. Dr. Hayes combs through the autopsy report of Carry Brown. He reaches some interesting conclusions, including a special marking on the body, which I won’t reveal here, you’ll have to watch the show. On August 7th, 1891, another unidentified prostitute is murdered with the same MO as Brown, and pulled from the East river. Visiting the New York Municipal Archives, Norris finds that the old newspapers of that time, reveal another shocking detail. The killer actually wrote to the NYPD, before the murder of Carry Brown. His letter is recreated below:

Capt. Ryan,

You think that “Jack the Ripper” is in England, but he is not, I am right here and I expect to kill somebody by Thursday next, and so get ready for me with your pistols, but I have a knife that has done more than your pistols. Next thing you will hear of some woman dead.

Yours truly,

Jack the Ripper

Richard Jones

Detective Norris wants to get into Jack’s head, and walk in his foot steps. He feels that he was an organized killer that took advantage of the conditions of the time: no ambient street lighting, a black curtain of smoke over the city caused by burning low quality coal, and counting on his victims to naturally take him to the dark, secluded places used in the prostitution trade. Norris takes viewers through a summary of the Ripper murders by using re-enactments and walking through the crime scenes. Next, Norris consults London historian Richard Jones, owner of Ripper Walking Tours and author of Uncovering Jack the Ripper’s London. Jones has spent more than two decades investigating the Whitechapel murders. He asks Jones if any of the serious Ripper suspects had ever traveled to the United States after the death of Mary Kelly. Jones provided him with three names: Severin Klosowski, Francis Tumblety, and James Kelly.

Known as the From Hell or Lusk Letter

Norris then consults with Sheila Kurtz, a Forensic Hand Writing Analyst, Master Graphologist and President of Graphology Consulting Group. Kurtz had successfully worked on the Son of Sam case among many others. After reviewing samples of the Ripper’s hand writing, Kurtz identified the writer as a very disturbed individual, who she said, “I wouldn’t want to be in his company“. For additional details on her analysis please visit her blog. The graphic to the left shows the letter was purportedly written in 1888 by Jack the Ripper.

Dr Thomas Bond

Dr. Thomas Bond

Norris then paid a visit to Britain’s National Archives. The archives hold thousands of original documents in the Ripper case. There, Norris discovers a document not previously used in the investigation. A profile of the killer. Sir Robert Anderson, the head of the police Criminal Investigation Departments, asked Dr Thomas Bond, Britain’s top police surgeon in 1888 to examine material connected with the Whitechapel murder investigation. Bond wrote a 19th-century version of a modern day unsub profile, based on personally examining the body of Mary Kelly and reading the autopsy reports on the first four victims. In the report, he describes in detail the type of person they should be investigating. Dr. Bond was sure that all five women had been killed by the same hand, because the throats of all victims had been cut in a similar way and the victims were presumably lying down when murdered. (for additional details on Dr. Bond’s profile, click here to read the report) Norris ultimately uses this 121 year old profile to narrow the three suspects down to one name. James Kelly. In the world of police parlance, Norris says that “Kelly looks good“.

Jack the Ripper victims: Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catharine Eddowes, Mary Kelly

In 1883, James Kelly only one month married, argues with his wife and accuses her of being unfaithful. In a psychotic rage, he uses the methods of strangulation and throat slashing to kill her. Kelly is caught, convicted and sentenced to die by hanging. Then his employer comes forward and explains that he believes Kelly is mentally disturbed. Kelly was then examined by a alienist and committed to the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. Kelly’s psychiatric report has been sealed for over 125 years, until Norris examines it.

Broadmoor Old Gate

Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum

In 1863, Broadmoor was the first custom-built asylum to house criminal lunatics. In Broadmoor, Kelly is a outwardly a model prisoner, but at the same time he is secretly planning his escape. Working in the asylum’s carpentry shop, he cunningly uses a piece of medal he carved into a key to aid his escape. In January of 1888, Kelly escaped and just disappeared. At that time a series of stabbings and slashing attacks of women start in London. Three victims: Annie Millwood, (February 25, 1888, stabbed repeatedly, but survived), Ada Wilson, (March 28, 1888, slashed in the throat, but survived), and Martha Tabram, (August 7, 1888, stabbed 23 times, did not survive). Norris feels these are the early attempts of Jack the Ripper, who like many serial killers, escalates and only gets more brutal over time. After these three attacks, the first London Ripper murder occurs. Surprisingly, Kelly was once considered a suspect by London police, but after only minimal checking at his old residence, they simply gave up, and were never able to find him. With the huge amount of pressure they were under, the case against Kelly went cold…

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Astonishingly, in 1927…forty years later, a much older Kelly voluntarily returns to the insane asylum and began to chronicle his travels. A typed copy of Kelly’s confession letter survives in the National Archives, and Norris is the first detective to read it. In the letter, Kelly describes having “problems dealing with society“, and being “overtaken with feelings of envy, jealousy, and malice“. Kelly states, “the thing has been hard because of all kinds of ‘skank’” (a term he uses to refers to women of low moral character) and “I’ve been on the warpath since I left Broadmoor Asylum.” Also in his letter, he admits to traveling to London after his escape, and more interestingly he tells of traveling to the United States and arriving in New York conveniently before the Carrie Brown murder. He was by profession, a trained upholsterer, and would have known quiet a bit about knives and how to use them effectively for the purpose of murder. Kelly also mentioned traveling to many cities in the US before returning to England and admitted that he came to the US many times over a period of 40 years.

USS Zaandam

First Norris wanted to check to make sure that Kelly’s confession matched up with actual travel records of the day. In Britain’s National Maritime Museum, they kept track of every ship that came to the United States. Kelly said he traveled to America aboard an Anglo-German steamer named the Zaandam that sailed from Rotterdam to New York. At the museum, Norris not only confirmed the ship existed, but that it sailed from Rotterdam to New York on October 7, 1890—two years after the last Ripper murder in London (11/88) and months before the April 23, 1891 murder of Carrie Brown in New York. You might be thinking, “How does a ‘wanted man’ get into the United States without detection?” Professor Dan Citrum is an expert in 19th-century immigration and explains how easily it could have been done. Remember this was before Ellis Island was established, so getting in and out of the country was very easy. No drivers licenses, no passports, and no photo id whatsoever. Many people back then, came to this country to start over, and remake themselves and get lost in the huge crowds of New York city. In his confession, Kelly admits to changing his name once his ship arrives to ‘John Miller‘, one of the most common names both then and now. Kelly used his new name like a disguise to blend in and escape police scrutiny.

Knowing from experience that many serial killers travel extensively, to avoid detection, Detective Norris plots the cities Kelly claims to have visited against the murders written about in the newspapers. He begins to see similarities in Ripper-like murders committed in other cities: New York NY, Trenton, NJ, Galveston, TX, New Orleans, LA, Philadelphia, PA, Baltimore, MD, Jackson, CA, San Francisco, CA, Denver, CO. Each of these murders occurred during the time that Kelly, thorough his confession letter, said he was in that city. Even the city newspapers asked the same question “Is this the work of Jack the Ripper” and “Is this the fiend of Whitechapel?” and “Has Jack the Ripper Invaded Texas at Last“. Detective Norris identified twelve murders across five states in just four years…and remember, Kelly was gone for forty years…you can do the math. To read an amazing collection of news reports, please visit Casebook: Jack the Ripper.

Using a asylum photo of Kelly provided by the National Archives, he was able to see what Kelly looked like at age 67. Norris then contacted Steve Mancusi, a NYPD senior forensic artist who has helped solve the most difficult cases for the last 30 years. He wanted Mancusi to use forensic imaging technology normally used for age-progression in missing child cases, but with this case, he wanted him to reverse the effects of aging, to show what Kelly would have looked like in his 30’s. The striking illustration below on the right is based on their findings.

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Both illustrations of Jack the Ripper

The left composite, was drawn based on 118 year old eye-witness accounts of Jack the Ripper in London. They examined different witness statements and used modern day forensics to come up with a portrait of the killer, even indicating what type of hat he wore.

The drawing on the right, is the result of Mancusi shaving 40 years off of James Kelly’s photo at age 67. As you can see, once they added the type of hat mentioned by eye witnesses, the drawings are a very close match.

In the end, there is no doubt in Norris’ mind that he has found Jack the Ripper. We may never know. John Kelly died of natural causes in 1929 inside Broadmoor Asylum and took his secrets to his grave. In my opinion, Jack the Ripper in America was very well done and is a must-see for all forensic buffs and amateur Ripperologists. I’m interested in seeing further research, analysis and discussion of Norris’ theory. Regarding any factual errors in this post, I apologize in advance, and encourage everyone to let me know what needs to be corrected.

Time After Time

On a lighter note, anybody remember the movie “Time After Time” starring Malcolm McDowell, John Warner and Mary Steenburgen? McDowell played H.G. Wells, who uses his time machine to chase his friend, Warner (aka Jack the Ripper) through the streets of modern day (1979) San Francisco. After watching Norris’ documentary, maybe Hollywood’s silly (but entertaining) version of the Ripper story had a sliver of truth to it after all. 😉

The Secret of Prisoner 1167: Was This Man Jack the Ripper? by James Tully


Hat tip and special thanks to Roy Corduroy for his suggestion to add this book to this post. Casebook: Jack the Ripper gives this book a three-starred review:

A triumphant achievement on the part of Jim Tully, well-researched and written. James Kelly is his suspect, a lunatic upholsterer and wife-murderer who is actually in the Guinness book of world records for his escape from Broadmoor asylum. Tully weaves a fascinating story, regardless of your feelings on Kelly as a suspect. Recommended.

Related Articles and Sites

Casebook: Jack the Ripper

Maps of Whitechapel, 1888-1894

Ripperological Preservation Society

Jack the Ripper Tours

Serial Killer Database – Jack the Ripper

The Whitechapel Society

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