White House History Quarterly 51 - Veterans Day and WWI - Moskey

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Please note that the following is a digitized version of a selected article from White House History Quarterly, Issue 51, originally released in print form in 2018. Single print copies of the full issue can be purchased online at Shop.WhiteHouseHistory.org No part of this book may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. All photographs contained in this journal unless otherwise noted are copyrighted by the White House Historical Association and may not be reproduced without permission. Requests for reprint permissions should be directed to rights@whha.org. Contact books@whha.org for more information. Š 2018 White House Historical Association. All rights reserved under international copyright conventions.

The Pilgrim’s PASSAGE President Woodrow Wilson’s Voyage to France on the USS George Washington, 1918 S T E P H E N T. M O S K E Y

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for her husband.1 The nine days at sea, culminating in a triumphant arrival in Brest, France, would be an opportunity for the president to prepare himself mentally and physically for the rigors of the conference. In addition to the work he would need to do during the ocean crossing he would have ample time to rest, relax, and enjoy himself. After their marriage three years earlier, the Wilsons quickly established a daily routine in the White House. Each presidential workday started with the couple taking breakfast together and then moving to the president’s private study upstairs, where they worked side-by-side until Mrs. Wilson needed to attend to other duties. They usually lunched together in the White House, alone, or sometimes with a few friends, and then the president turned his


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Believed to have been produced by the ship’s carpentry shop for the president, this wooden trunk, stamped “USS George Washington” on the inner lid and its protective canvas cover are seen (above left) in the trunk room of the Woodrow Wilson House. The fine construction, including unpainted oak wood with brass straps and hardware, distinguishes it from simpler painted trunks used by enlisted sailors. The president’s second wife, Edith Bolling Wilson, seen above with the president aboard the George Washington, worried about the president’s health and comfort aboard ship. Having witnessed the strain of the war finally lifting from him, she hoped that the nine-day journey across the Atlantic would provide an opportunity for him to rest ahead of the Peace Conference.


f i r s t l a d y e d i t h w i l s o n was happy that her husband took a threehour nap immediately after lunch on December 4, 1918, their first day aboard the USS George Washington, the troop transport ship that was taking her and her husband to France for the Paris Peace Conference. She always worried about him but had been especially vigilant during the one year, seven months, and five days that the United States had been at war with Germany. She was a firsthand, intimate witness to the strain the war placed on the president personally and officially. Now, as the ship sailed out of the Hoboken shipyard bound for Brest, “the long strain of war was lifting” from him, she would later write in her memoir. The trans-Atlantic journey that began that morning would be “a real holiday, lifegiving”

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The USS George Washington

The crew of the USS George Washington seen here arriving in Brest, France, enjoyed the president’s company and posed for a formal photograph with him on deck. left

The USS George Washington, seen returning to New York Harbor with President Wilson and his delegation, July 8, 1919, was built as German passenger liner in 1908. It was seized by the United States and converted to a troop transport ship during World War I. In the foreground is the USS Leviathan, another German-built passenger ship that had been seized by the U.S. government and used for the American war effort. below

President Wilson’s quarters aboard the George Washington were located in suite 66 on the B deck. Wilson’s desk, a replica of one used in 1789 by George Washington in New York City’s Federal Hall, was equipped with a wireless telephone that allowed the president to speak directly with government officials in Washington during the crossing.

builder: Vulcan Works, Stettin, Germany original name: SS George Washington launched: November 10, 1908 operated by: North Germany Lloyd Line as a passenger ship until 1914 in hoboken shipyard (neutral port): 1914–1917 requisitioned for conversion to a u.s. transport ship: April 6, 1917


commissioned uss GEORGE WASHINGTON (id #3018): September 6, 1917 began transporting u.s. troops to europe: December 4, 1917 international code signal letters: G.S.T.W. length: 722'5" speed of december 4–13, 1918, voyage: 16 knots displacement: 39,435 tons depth forward on arrival in brest: 28'6" depth aft on arrival in brest: 33'4"

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A photograph album prepared by the U.S. Army Signal Corps and given to the Wilsons to commemorate their voyage contains more than one hundred photos of daily life aboard the George Washington. Included are images of President and Mrs. Wilson, government officials who traveled with them, and the ship’s crew along with scenes of activites on board and in France. Two pages are devoted to portraits of the security detail (below) which Mrs. Wilson considered unnecessary. Today the scrapbook is preserved in the collection of the Woodrow Wilson House in Washington.D.C., and is seen (opposite) beneath a 1913 portrait of the president’s first wife, Ellen Axson Wilson, and their daughters.

A L L I M A G E S T H I S S P R E A D : B R U C E W H I T E F O R T H E W H I T E H O U S E H I S T O R I C A L A S S O C I AT I O N / W O O D R O W W I L S O N H O U S E C O L L E C T I O N

The Voyage Documented

On Board Entertainment The album includes many scenes of life aboard the ship, including an Army Signal Corps photographer at work (below) and a posed shot of sailors playing dice. The sailors (opposite) cast themselves in a variety of comical roles in a vaudeville show performed for the president near the end of the journey. Much to the pleasure of Mrs. Wilson, the president found opportunities for recreation during the voyage, including an improvised game of shuffleboard using brooms, blocks of wood painted black, and a chalk-inscribed game deck.


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of current films. The secretary of the navy had authorized an expenditure of $10,000 for “fitting up properly” the passenger quarters of the George Washington, which as recently as a month earlier had been serving as an American troop transport vessel.6 The Wanamaker Department Store of Philadelphia was hired to redecorate and refurnish the VIP suites, and this work had continued right up to the day before departure.7 The Wilsons were assigned to suites 65 and 66 on promenade deck B. Each suite included sitting and dining rooms, a bedroom, and a bath. The New York Times reported in a somewhat contemptuous tone that the president’s “imperial suite” was located across the hall from the “regal suite” (the first lady’s) and that both were “luxuriously fitted in red and gold.”8 This description was clearly meant as a jab to the president. Mrs. Wilson’s own, firsthand account of the furnishings and color scheme of her rooms shows that her dining room was decorated in “English chintz” and her bedroom in “ivory with pink bedspread and curtains and soft cushions.” The president’s bedroom, according to Mrs. Wilson, was made “gloomy” by its dark green curtains. The president’s suite included an office outfitted with communications equipment and what Mrs. Wilson called a “handsome flat-topped mahogany desk,” in fact a reproduction of a desk George Washington used when in New York.9 Other high-ranking VIPs were housed near the presidential couple, facilitating security arrangements. In her memoir, Edith Wilson wrote disparagingly about the presence of twenty-four-hour-a-day security while they were at sea. She felt that this was “useless” and said “it got on my nerves.”10 Dr. Grayson and Miss Benham were also located close by, so they could be available on short notice. In addition to newly decorated rooms, special food and catering services were brought on board to serve the president


attention to official duties awaiting in the Oval Office or his study, often with the first lady again at his side. Evenings were for dinners with family and friends followed by theater outings or other entertainments.2 The president’s White House routine was modified only slightly aboard the George Washington.3 After breakfast, as was his habit in Washington, Wilson worked through the morning in his private quarters with few interruptions. The only formal morning meetings he held aboard ship did not occur until Tuesday, December 10, as the president began to make final preparations for his arrival in France three days later. That morning, he met with several research specialists from his Peace Conference Commission’s staff. They showed him the data they were preparing to support the American positions he would present at Versailles. The president’s approach was a dialogue not unlike one he might have had years earlier when, as Professor Wilson, he engaged in academic debate with his best students. Wilson then met Ambassador JeanJules Jusserand in a formal working

session during which the senior French diplomat presented “certain facts” that his government had asked him to share with the American president.4 Each morning’s work session ended with lunch with Mrs. Wilson in his private quarters. Sometimes lunch also included their closest confidants on board, Dr. Cary T. Grayson, the president’s personal physician (who held the rank of admiral in the U.S. Navy), and Edith Wallace Benham, the first lady’s social secretary. Afternoons aboard the George Washington were for official duties: meetings with VIP guests and the members of his delegation, tours of the ship, press interviews, photo opportunities, and military reviews. Wilson also held meetings with his newly appointed ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, John W. Davis, who was on his way to assume his post in London, and the seasoned diplomat, Henry White, former American ambassador to France and Italy. White, a Republican, had served in those posts under President Theodore Roosevelt. President Wilson had asked White to be one of the five American peace commissioners, though the appointment was controversial because it had been so long since White had served in politics that many Republicans feared he no longer held Republican views.5 Starting on December 5, the second day at sea, Dr. Grayson made sure that the president took daily walks on the glass-enclosed promenade deck. These were not quick walks. It was not uncommon for the president and first lady, accompanied sometimes by Dr. Grayson or Miss Benham, to walk 2 miles by making several rounds of the promenade. These busy days aboard the George Washington ended with evenings at sea set aside for quiet dinners, entertainment, and relaxation. As in Washington, the Wilsons attended musicals and theatrical performances, only this time they were amateur presentations by the ship’s crew. Wilson, a movie lover, was provided with a library

B R U C E W H I T E F O R T H E W H I T E H O U S E H I S T O R I C A L A S S O C I AT I O N / W O O D R O W W I L S O N H O U S E C O L L E C T I O N

and first lady. The New York Times reported that Louis Seres, the chef of New York City’s Hotel Biltmore, had been tasked with overhauling the “saloon galley” on one of the upper decks. “The President and Mrs. Wilson will dine in their private suite,” the paper reported, “and the peace delegates and foreign diplomats will use the small dining room on the ‘B’ deck for their meals.”11 The French-born Seres was something of a celebrity chef who had cooked for King Edward VII of England, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, and King Leopold of Belgium.12 In 1916, his recipe for cooking a Thanksgiving turkey appeared in a national magazine. Seres offered his readers no less than three options for rich dressings with oysters, walnuts, or chestnuts, each liberally infused with milk, cream, butter, and other riches. Another of his popular recipes, “Deliea Salad,” called for a mixture of artichokes, pineapple, grapefruit, pears, green and red peppers, and “cold French dressing with paprika.”13 A typical menu for President and Mrs. Wilson in their private dining room was an elaborate affair with several courses of rich food, such as this dinner served on December 8:14

The president was one who liked simple tastes, and eventually, Seres’s cooking got to him. On December 10, Edith Benham noted in her diary that the president was “suffering terribly under the elaborate French cooking. Everything, of course, comes with a sauce.” She quoted the president’s final verdict on the food: “[I] can’t see any sense in wrapping up food in pajamas.”15 Wilson had actually been quite put out at the beginning of the voyage when he learned that he would not be dining with the others and eating what they ate. “His disbelief in special privilege was aroused,” Mrs. Wilson later wrote in her memoir, “and on our second trip to the Conference this culinary artist was left behind.”16 Throughout the voyage, the president took great interest in the military capabilities of the fleet of five destroyers that accompanied the George Washington from Hoboken to Brest. On December 9, the president witnessed what the Washington Post called “a

opposite President Wilson is seen with Cary Grayson, his close confidant and physician. Grayson, an astute political observer whose personal diary provides many details of the voyage and the president’s activities, made sure that the president took daily walks on the glass-enclosed promenade deck. below The Wilsons’ suites on the George Washington were redecorated and refurnished for the voyage by Wanamaker Department Store of Philadelphia. The bed from Mrs. Wilson’s suite is preserved in the collection of the Woodrow Wilson House. The brass plaque affixed to the footboard reads, “From the USS George Washington and the suite occupied in 1918–1919 by the President and Mrs. Wilson on their trips to and from the Peace Conference at Paris. The same suite was occupied in 1919 by the King and Queen of the Belgians on their visit to the United States.”


Croustade Beluga [toasts stuffed with caviar] Consomme of Oxtail in Cups Celery, Almonds Terrapin Maryland Breast of Mallard Duck, Bigarrade [orange sauce] Fried Hominy, Salade Lorette [beet salad] Coupe Helene [pears with chocolate sauce] Cakes Coffee

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thrilling demonstration of the work of repulsing a submarine attack.” A ship that had been “lagging far astern suddenly leaped forward, her funnels vomiting smoke, white spray dashing from her bow as she tore through the water at a clip of thirty knots an hour.” Positioning itself abeam of the president’s ship to provide him a better view of the exercise, the ship dropped depth bombs. “Great geysers were thrown high into air as the warship zigzagged its way through the waters beneath which was supposed to lurk the enemy submarine,” reported the Washington Post.17 The next day, President and Mrs. Wilson, accompanied by Dr. Grayson, went to the bridge of the ship to observe an exhibition of the antiaircraft capabilities of the super dreadnought battleship the USS Pennsylvania (BB-38), which served as the George Washington’s lead escort across the Atlantic. The Pennsylvania released six hot air balloons as aerial practice for the dreadnought’s antiaircraft gun crews.18 For a commander in chief who had been required by the Secret Service to spend the war years virtually sequestered in the White House, viewing these at-sea examples of the power and might of his navy were thrilling moments. The sailors revered the president and white house history quarterly


The USS Tudno, seen anchored in Brest Harbor alongside the George Washington, was employed by the U. S. Navy as a ship-to-shore ferry.

loved seeing him as he moved about the ship. “Whenever the President appeared on deck the crew would gather where they could watch him,” Dr. Grayson wrote in his diary, “and he never failed to wave his hand to them, and when they were close enough to give them a friendly greeting.”19 The men’s bond with their commander in chief was complete. He had sent them to a perilous war, and they had won it for him. Now he was among them, under their protection until he would become the first American president to set foot on European soil while in office. The crew had several opportunities to express their admiration and love for the president. On Sunday, December 8, the Wilsons chose unexpectedly to attend church services in the Old Salt Theatre—the crew’s assembly hall—on the ship’s D deck, rather than go to the Sunday services that were held for officers and passengers in the officers’ mess hall high up on the B deck. Wilson’s unannounced arrival in the Old Salt made the navy chaplain on duty that morning “noticeably nervous.”20 The Old Salt was below the water line, and the stale air was infused with pungent smells emanating from the ship’s galleys nearby, but the president was not deterred. He wanted to worship surrounded by his boys. The Wilsons made their way down to the Old Salt again on the evening of December 8 to participate in a navy tradition, a “crew-sing” accompanied by “picture songs” (words projected on the movie screen) so that everyone could sing along. Rousing patriotic songs from the war years such as “Keep the Home Fires Burning” and “Over There” were featured in the program.21 The president sang “with great gusto,” Edith Benham would later say, “for he has a good voice.” Mrs. Wilson, too, was “piping along merrily.” After the program, which included a movie, the president asked the captain if he could shake hands with the men. “You never


saw such a lot of happy faces as those waiting to be greeted,” Edith Benham observed.22 “President Wilson shook hands with the crew. He was covered with smiles all over,” noted yeoman second class Jeremiah A. Walsh, who kept a log of the president’s voyage aboard the George Washington.23 After the men shook hands with the president, they rose spontaneously and gave their commander in chief “three cheers and a tiger.” A “tiger” in this context is a shriek or howl, often incorporating the word “tiger” itself, and ending in a prolonged, enthusiastic cheer. Originating in early nineteenth-century American military settings, it was used for especially joyous and festive occasions.24 As the president started to leave the hall, the ship’s quartet sang the Princeton University alma mater, “Old Nassau.” The next morning the ship’s newspaper, The Hatchet, reported that this “delighted and thrilled the president,” bringing back “pleasant reminiscences of former days.”25 In Washington, the Wilsons were regulars at the Belasco and Keith Theaters, so a “Musical Gambol” with a vaudevillian flavor presented by the ship’s bluejackets on December 11 was a treat for them.26 The show, written and directed by Broadway playwright and producer Philip Hart Dunning, who had enlisted in the navy at the start of the war, included songs by the glee club, cabaret “stunts,” and “‘The Belle of Hawaia’. . . a sweet passionate thing, weighing not a pound over 275 and dancing with all the grace of the Pennsylvania on a stormy sea.”27 The Hatchet reported that there had been “unexpected difficulties” in selecting the “female chorus” because their tattoos showed on their arms and shoulders. There were other problems, too. “The rehearsal was delayed . . . by the leading chorus lady who was later found in the barber shop,” the newsletter dryly reported about the show’s star, “Madam C. Sharp Minor.”28 Despite these glitches, the show’s skits and

musical numbers were a great success, and the president enjoyed it “hugely.”29 On the evening of December 12, the final night of the voyage, the president joined the other passengers and officers for a movie night in the Martha Washington Theater. At the conclusion of The Devil-Stone featuring Hollywood starlet Geraldine Farrar, the ship’s choir, accompanied by the orchestra, started singing an old hymn of farewell “in splendidly modulated voices.”30 The audience, including the president, rose to their feet:

On December 13, 1918, at exactly 2:55 p.m., President and Mrs. Wilson disembarked the USS George Washington for the ferry that would take them to the docks of Brest Harbor for the French government’s official welcome of the first sitting U.S. president to set foot on European soil. As the ferry cast off, the ship’s band played “The Star-Spangled Banner” accompanied by a twenty-onegun salute from the ship’s battery that was returned by French guns on shore.

God be with you till we meet again, By His counsels guide, uphold you, With His sheep securely fold you, God be with you till we meet again.31 “The farewell was inspiring and touching to all of us,” Dr. Grayson later said.32 The president and first lady were up early the next morning, climbing to the ship’s bridge to watch the arrival of the French ships that would escort the George Washington into Brest harbor. Emotions were high as the president prepared to step onto European soil, the first sitting president to do so in the 142-year history of the American

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Thousands of Parisians lined the city’s streets and window ledges as President Wilson made his triumphant arrival in Paris on the morning of December 14, 1918, seated in a horse-drawn carriage beside French President Raymond Poincaré. The French nation expressed its esteem with a military parade and a large sign stretching across the Rue Royale in front of Maxim’s restaurant that proclaimed VIVE WILSON. Dr. Grayson said that the president “had carefully watched the attitude of the crowd and he was satisfied that they were most friendly.”



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opposite President Wilson addressed troops of the American Expeditionary Force at Humes, France, on December 25, 1918. AEF commander in chief General John J. Pershing presented the troops, saying: “You, Mr. President, by your confidence and by your support, have made the success of our armies possible.” A week earlier, the President and Mrs. Wilson placed a floral wreath on the tomb of General Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette at Picpus Cemetery. They returned to the cemetery on June 7, 1919, with a bronze replica of the wreath, which bore the same sentiment as the original: “To the Great Lafayette from a fellow servant of Liberty.” On Memorial Day 1919, the president laid a wreath in the Suresnes American Cemetery, which today contains the remains of 1,541 Americans who died in World War I and 24 unknown dead of World War II.

republic. “It was a radiant day,” the first lady later wrote, “just cold enough to be exhilarating.”33 President Wilson beamed broad American smiles at everyone, signaling his optimism and enthusiasm for the Peace Conference that lay ahead. Just ten years earlier, no European power would have considered the American president relevant to issues of war and peace. Then, during the Spanish-American War, the United States asserted its importance to geopolitics and made Washington a capital of diplomatic significance. Now, the American president was on a historic pilgrimage to Paris, a place sacred to the history of democratic ideals. “We are about to give order and organization to this peace not only for ourselves but for the other peoples of the world as well,” the president had told Congress just two weeks earlier. He

had a lofty mission: “It is international justice that we seek, not domestic safety merely.”34 The stakes were high for him politically and personally, both by participating in the peace planning itself and by traveling to Europe to lead the American delegation, as there had been talk of declaring the presidency “vacant” once he sailed for France.35 But for now, none of that was on President Wilson’s mind. He was about to step onto French soil amid all the pomp and circumstance that the Third Republic could muster and give Europe its first handshake from the American president. notes 1.

Edith Bolling Wilson, My Memoir (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1939), 172, 174.

2. William Seale, The President’s House: A History, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (Washington, D.C.: White House Historical Association, 2008), 2:59–61. 3. The following characterization of the president’s daily routine during the voyage is drawn from firsthand accounts: the diaries of Edith Wallace Benham and Cary T. Grayson in The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, ed. Arthur S. Link, 69 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966–94), 53:336–70 passim, also available online in The Papers of Woodrow Wilson Digital Edition, University of Virginia Press, www. upress.virginia.edu/rotunda/; Edith Benham Helm, The Captains and Kings (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1954); [Irwin H. Hoover], “Copy of Diary Kept by Head Usher at the White House, March 4th 1913 to March 4th 1921,” entries for December 4–13, 1918, ser. 1 (Appointment Books 1915–1924), reel 3, Woodrow Wilson Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Jeremiah A. Walsh, “The Historical Trip of the U.S.S. George Washington” n.d., entry 520, box 1124, file 2, Subject Files, 1911–1927: U.S. Naval Vessels, Record Group 45, National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.; Edith Wilson, My Memoir. 4. Grayson, diary, December 10, 1918, Papers of Wilson, ed. Link 53:348.

13. Pierre Lafage et al., “How to Select and Cook Your Thanksgiving Turkey,” Gas Logic 20, no. 5 (November 1916): 4; “Some Famous Recipes: Deliea Salad by Louis Seres, Chef Hotel Biltmore,” Table Talk: The National Food Magazine 42, no. 5 (February 1917): 60. 14. Dinner menu, December 8, 1918, “Scrapbook 1918,” ser. 9, vol. 2, reel 504, Wilson Papers. 15. Benham, diary, December 10, 1918, Papers of Wilson, ed. Link, 53:357. 16. Edith Wilson, My Memoir, 172. 17. “Sees Demonstration by Destroyer,” Washington Post, December 11, 1918, 1. 18. Walsh, “Historical Trip,” log entry for December 9, 1918. Walsh was a yeoman second class who during the war had served as a cable censor at the New York Navy Yard. 19. Grayson, diary, December 12, 1918, Papers of Wilson, ed. Link, 53:370. 20. Grayson, diary, December 8, 1918, in ibid., 53:336. 21. “President Spends Sunday Evening in Old Navy Fashion,” The Hatchet 9, no. 5 (December 9, 1918): 1. 22. Benham, Captains and Kings, 63. 23. Walsh, “Historical Trip,” log entry for December 8, 1918. 24. William S. Walsh, Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1909), 1053. 25. “President Spends Sunday Evening in Old Navy Fashion,” 1. 26. Program for “‘Musical Gambol by the Crew of U.S.S. George Washington,’ December 8, 1918, Scrapbook 1918.” 27. “First Nighters Enjoy Musical Extravaganza,” The Hatchet, 9, no. 7 (December 11, 1911): 1. 28. “Crew Preparing for Show,” The Hatchet, 9, no. 5 (December 9, 1918): 2. 29. Grayson, diary, December 12, 1918, Papers of Wilson, ed. Link, 53:370. 30. Raymond Blaine Fosdick, diary, December 12, 1918, in ibid., 53:371. 31. James E. Rankin, D.D., “God Be With You [Till We Meet Again],” in Gospel Bells: A Choice Collection of New and Popular Songs, ed. J. W. Bischoff et al. (Chicago: Henry A. Sumner, 1883), 51. 32. Grayson, diary, December 12, 1918, Papers of Wilson, ed. Link, 53:278. 33. Edith Wilson, My Memoir, 175.

5. “Wilson Himself Chief of the U.S. Delegates to the Paris Sessions,” Washington Post, November 30, 1918, 1.

34. Woodrow Wilson, An Annual Message on the State of the Union, December 2, 1918, Papers of Wilson, ed. Link, 53:278.

6. Seale, President’s House, 2:84–85. The $10,000 allocated by the navy would have the purchasing power of approximately $150,000 today.

35. “Would Vacate Wilson’s Office, Senator Sherman Prepares Resolution to Unseat President and Install Marshall,” New York Times, December 3, 1918, 1.


Helm, Captains and Kings, 62; “Cordon of Guards Awaits President,” New York Times, December 4, 1918, 2.

8. “Nation Awaits Peace Plan,” New York Times, December 1, 1918, 1. 9. All details on color, patterns, fabrics, and other furnishings are from Edith Wilson, My Memoir, 173. 10. Ibid. 11. “Cordon of Guards Awaits President.” 12. “Louis G. Seres, Chef to President Wilson” (obituary), New York Times, November 27, 1948, 17.

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