Entrances and Exhibits
Life in the Entrance and Cross
greeters welcomed visitors to Thomas Jeffersons 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
Western explorer Lt. Zebulon Pike deposited
two grizzly bear cubs on President Jeffersons 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
Hall of the White House. Only one-tenth of Americans
lived in Americas western territory, which began as
far east as the Allegheny mountains in Pennsylvania.
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 Presidents 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.
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. Jeffersons display of
artifacts continued to attract curious visitors to
the White House.
Jeffersons 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.
tradition of hanging presidential portraits in
these halls dates to President Ulysses Grant, more
than 60 years after Jeffersons 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 Jeffersons 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.
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 Presidents deceased wife.