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White House Life: Now and Then

Life in the Entrance and Cross Halls
Art and Furnishings

The dimension of the red carpet in the Cross Hall is 74' x 11.2W'.





Entrances and Exhibits
Life in the Entrance and Cross Halls


Two new greeters welcomed visitors to Thomas Jefferson’s White House in November 1807. Never before had anyone seen such a pair, who tussled and tumbled on the circle in front of the north entrance of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The caged-duo both delighted and frightened visitors who called on the president that fall.

Western explorer Lt. Zebulon Pike deposited two grizzly bear cubs on President Jefferson’s doorstep as a living testimony to life in the American West. Most Americans at that time had never seen a grizzly bear or many of the western artifacts displayed in the Entrance Hall of the White House. Only one-tenth of Americans lived in America’s western territory, which began as far east as the Allegheny mountains in Pennsylvania.

Thomas Jefferson had turned the Entrance Hall into a western museum of sorts by showcasing antlers, snake skins, pelts, skeletons and Indian costumes in 1806 sent by Meriwether Lewis, the White House aide who explored the American west with Captain William Clark. Jefferson planned the expedition of Lewis and Clark from his office in the White House, and he personally instructed Lewis in math and science to prepare him for the journey. Captain Lewis came to the White House in 1801 to serve as the President’s personal aide. His office and bedchamber were located on the south side of the East Room. Lewis left the White House in 1803 to begin his western journey.

When winter arrived in 1807, President Jefferson realized he could no longer keep the grizzly bears, so he sent them to a friend who cared for them in Baltimore. Jefferson’s display of artifacts continued to attract curious visitors to the White House.

As in Jefferson’s day, the Entrance Hall leads to a perpendicular hallway called the Cross Hall, which runs east to west. Today a gallery of recent presidential portraits adorns the walls of the Entrance and Cross Halls.

The tradition of hanging presidential portraits in these halls dates to President Ulysses Grant, more than 60 years after Jefferson’s tenure. For the first time Americans viewed the White House as a place of history. The Grants shared this sentiment and saw an opportunity to help restore American pride following the devastating Civil War.

A collection of presidential portraits was begun during the Buchanan Administration. The Grants added to this collection, and then hung paintings from Washington to Lincoln in the Cross Hall behind a glass screen. From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, visitors could walk through the north entrance and into the Entrance Hall, just as they did in Jefferson’s time, and then proceed down the Cross Hall past the paintings and into the East Room. With a note from their congressman, visitors could view the other State Floor rooms, such as the Red Room, where they could see the large Grant family portrait.

One particular portrait caught the attention of the White House staff when Chester Arthur became President following the death of James Garfield in 1881. Arthur was unknown to the staff, and he caused quite a stir when he placed a photograph of a beautiful woman on a table in the Cross Hall. The President instructed the White House gardener to always keep fresh roses on the table. Gossip soon spread about the identity of the mysterious woman until the staff learned she was Nell Arthur, the President’s deceased wife.

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