Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Judging A Book By Its Cover - Error!

I'm looking at a picture of Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) -- the long, thin face and nose, the wire-framed glasses, the faintly receding hair.  This aesthetic-looking man would be just another East Coast aristocrat if I hadn't read about his White House.

Paradoxically, he was a convincing public speaker, well able to charm and manipulate the multitudes.  He was diffident and uncomfortable in one- to-one meetings.  He once remarked, "Fortunately, I have a special gift for relaxation and being amused."  He liked to entertain guests and family by telling stories in dialect, dancing a jig, imitating a drunk.  He loved limericks.  A favorite:  There was a young monk of Siberia; whose existence grew drearier and drearier  'Till he burst from his cell with a hell of a yell - and eloped with the Mother Superior!

He wrote ardent letters to his fiancee Ellen, such as this before their marriage.  "I tremble with deep excitement ... I never quivered so before with eager impatience and anticipation."  Hot stuff, eh?

Ellen began failing in the Spring of 1913 and died in 1914 of what was belatedly diagnosed as Bright's Disease, a progressive kidney ailment.  Wilson was so deranged by his grief that he would not allow her body to be put in a coffin.  Instead, he kept it on a sofa and he hardly moved from her side.  She died August 6th; the funeral was finally held on August 10th.

He grieved for the next nine months, conveniently forgetting that Ellen had urged him to marry again.  A "chance meeting" (undoubtedly set up by his doctor) at the White House between Wilson and Edith Galt turned into a marriage proposal from him two months later. 
Years later, she was asked how long it took him to become interested in her; "About 10 minutes" she replied. 

They were married on December 18th at her house (she was a widow.)  They began a life of exceptional togetherness, dining alone whenever possible.  She adapted to all of his hobbies.  The walked or took long drives or played golf. She sat in the room while he dictated the nationa's business to a secretary.   In the evenings they would go to the theatre or shoot pool in the White House game room.  If he had to work late, she sat beside him.  She screened his mail and encoded his replies. 

Wilson was also the first really avid golfer in the White House.  It's believed he got in more games than Eisenhower.  As early as 5 a.m., no matter the weather.  When it snowed, he had red-painted golf balls with which to play.  He described golf thusly:  "An ineffectual attempt to put an elusive ball into an obscure hole with implements ill-adapted for the purpose."

Wilson was hypertense with resulting cerebral and arterial disease.  He died on February 24, 1924, and was buried in the "new" Washington Cathedral.  He is the only President buried in Washington, DC.  Edith published her autobiography in 1938 and then lived on to attend JFK's 1961 inaugural.  She is buried beside him the Cathedral. 

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