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Moment in Oddity - White House Raccoon
Many people enjoy trying unusual cuisines that can be often times, considered exotic. Whether it's trying escargot, frog legs or something similar. However, a meal consisting of raccoon as the main course would surpass the usual 'exotic' label. Back in the 1920's, during the presidency of Calvin Coolidge, many farmers would send various things to the White House to be served for the President's Thanksgiving meal. One such farmer from Mississippi sent a live raccoon. The President and First Lady could not fathom making a meal out of the creature and decided to keep the raccoon as a pet. The female raccoon was thereby named Rebecca, and for Christmas, received an embroidered collar inscribed with "White House Raccoon". Rebecca was allowed to roam the White House, sometimes getting into mischief as only a raccoon could. She was known to occasionally unscrew lightbulbs, dig into houseplants and open cabinets. When outdoors she would walk on a leash and she had her own treehouse built on the grounds. Rebecca even enjoyed participating in events like the White House Easter egg roll. The procyonid (pro-seeo-nid) was clearly very loved by her family with the Coolidge's even bringing her on vacation with them when they traveled to the Black Hills. Consuming a meal of raccoon may be considered odd to some, but having a raccoon as a White House pet, most certainly, is odd.
This Month in History - Birth of Marie Tussaud
In December, on the 1st, in 1761, Anna Maria Tussaud was born in Strasbourg, France. Tussaud's father passed before her birth and when she was six year's old her mother moved them to Switzerland. Once there, they moved in with a local doctor with Marie acting as a housekeeper. The doctors name was Philippe Curtius (cur-she-us) and Tussaud called him Uncle. Curtius had a talent for wax modeling, eventually moving to Paris in 1765 to establish a Cabinet de Portraits En Cire (seer 'sir' French). Marie and her mother joined the doctor in Paris a year later and she began learning from her 'uncle', the art of wax modelling. She showed promise and in 1777, she created her first wax figure in the likeness of Voltaire. In 1794, when Curtius died, he left his collection of wax works to Tussaud. In 1802, Marie began touring her art, but with little success, left for Edinburgh in 1803. In 1835, after touring Britain for 33 years, Tussaud established her first permanent exhibition on Baker Street, on the upper floor of the "Baker Street Bazaar". Marie Tussaud died in her sleep in London on the 16th of April in 1850 at the age of 88. The museums that her wax creations inspired now number over twenty, world wide.
White Hall of Kentucky (Suggested by: Angela Gabhart)
White Hall State Historic Site is located in Richmond, Kentucky, the Bluegrass part of the state. The site features the former home of one of the most reviled and celebrated men of his time, Kentucky legislator Cassius Marcellus Clay. He was a newspaper editor, politician, soldier and Southern emancipator. The mansion dates back to 1799 and is today a museum with a few spirits. Join us as we explore the life of Clay and the history and hauntings of White Hall!
Richmond, Kentucky is the state's sixth largest city and home to Fort Boonesborough, which is named for Daniel Boone who set up the settlement with his group of men in 1775. This was the second settlement in Kentucky. It is said that this area of Kentucky is where "the rolling hills of the Bluegrass meet the foothills of the Appalachians." That is probably what brought many of the indigenous people here to hunt and live. Unknown groups were here for thousands of years, followed by the Shawnee, Cherokee and Wyandotte. The city of Richmond was officially founded in 1798 by Colonel John Miller who came to the area for the water. The name was inspired by the city where Miller was born, Richmond in Virginia. Richmond became the county seat for Madison County. During the Civil War, the Battle of Richmond was fought here on August 30, 1862 and the Confederates pounded the Union in a very lopsided win. This helped to bring the state of Kentucky under Confederate control and by September 2nd, the capital of Kentucky, Frankfort, fell. This was the only Union capital to fall to the south during the war. One of the most well known figures from this town would be a member of the politically prominent Clay family.
In the 1800s, holding to abolitionist views wasn't popular in the South for obvious reasons. Cassius Clay was a man who believed strongly in emancipation and he was even open to a street fight or two against anyone who didn't approve of his convictions. Clay was no stranger to fights and he was no stranger to scandal. Cassius Marcellus Clay was born on October 19, 1810 to Green Clay, who was a cousin to Senator Henry Clay. Green Clay was one of the wealthiest men in Kentucky and owned a large plantation with slaves. He also owned taverns, distilleries and ferries and served in the Kentucky General Assembly. Clay County, Kentucky is named for him. Cassius was deeply affected by something that happened in his youth on his father's plantation. He already didn't approve of his father owning slaves. One of the young enslaved girls named Mary was a playmate for him. A cruel overseer threatened her once and she stabbed him to death out of fear. People claimed it was self-defense and she was acquitted by a jury of white men, a testament to the real danger she had been in. However, that didn't stop Cassius' brother Sidney from selling Mary down the river and the young boy carried that experience with him. He was devastated.
Cassius grew into a strong, very tall and good-looking man who excelled at sports. He attended Transylvania University and then Yale College. It was here at Yale in 1832 that Cassius heard abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison speak. This inspired Clay to pursue joining the anti-abolitionist movement that was growing in America. The only part of the movement he didn't embrace was an immediately abolition to slavery. He felt that using the political system to gradually change things would work best. This is what made him an emancipator rather than an abolitionist. Clay married Mary Jane Warfield in 1833 and they had ten children with four of them making it to adulthood. Mary Jane would leave Clay after 45 years of marriage and he divorced her for abandonment. She left because of his numerous infidelities, one of which lead to him fathering a son with another woman, whom he later adopted officially.
The next marriage for Clay would be even more scandalous. In 1894, Clay married Dora Richardson, an orphaned girl. And yes, we are using the term "girl" for a reason because it is thought that Dora ranged anywhere from 12 to 16 years of age. That's already a lot to stomach, but here's the real kicker, Clay was 84-years-old! The sheriff brought a posse to Clay's house to rescue Dora, but she told them all that she was willingly there. She may have done this for their own protection because it is said that Clay had a loaded cannon near the doorway that he was ready to fire. He and Dora would divorce after four years of marriage. Clay was a fiery man, even in his eighties, and he not only proved that with the cannon story, but when he was 89, three men broke into his house intent on robbing him. Clay defended himself with a knife and left one man stabbed to death in the library, another dead in the ice house where he had bled out and a third went screaming into the night. Clay died in 1903 at the age of 92 from natural causes.
The Clay family was very involved in politics. Cassius himself served three terms in the Kentucky House of Representatives and helped start the Republican Party. His emancipation activism made him many enemies and in 1843, a man named Sam Brown tried to assassinate him. Brown shot Clay in the chest and despite being wounded, Clay pulled out his Bowie knife and took off Brown's nose ear and removed one of his eyes. Cassius decided to start a paper in 1845 called True American and this featured news and articles on emancipation. The office was in Lexington, but after numerous death threats and a break-in that resulted in his printing equipment being stolen, Cassius moved the newspaper office to Cincinnati, Ohio. When Abraham Lincoln ran for the Presidency, Clay backed him and befriended him. After Lincoln won, he appointed Cassius as Minister to the Russian court in St. Petersburg in 1861. It would be in Russia that he would father that illegitimate son.
Clay was key in getting Russia to back Union forces during the Civil War. This kept Britain and France from backing the Confederacy. Clay was also key to Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln had asked Clay to serve as a Major General for the Union and Clay refused to take the commission unless Lincoln freed the slaves in the Confederacy. Lincoln asked him to see how Kentucky felt about emancipation. Clay returned to D.C. and Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Clay returned to Russia in March of 1863 and stayed there until 1869. During his tenure, he negotiated the purchase of Alaska. Clay left politics and disapproved of reconstruction. He supported Democrat candidates for awhile and then returned to the Republican Party and was even elected president of the Kentucky Constitutional Convention in 1890. Laura Clay was one of Cassius' daughters. She was a big proponent of women's suffrage and states' rights. And even more incredibly, she was the first woman to be nominated for U.S. President by a major political party.
Now many listeners are probably wondering about that Cassius Clay name and its connection to boxing legend Muhammad Ali. The name does come from this Clay. Herman Heaton Clay had been a descendant of African-American slaves and he named his son Cassius Marcellus Clay in honor of the emancipator. That Cassius gave his son the same name and he would later change his name to Muhammad Ali after his conversion to Islam.
Green Clay built a home in Richmond, Kentucky on rolling farmland in 1798 and he called it Clermont. This was built with slave labor and out shined the log cabins that most people in the region owned. The house was designed in the Georgian architectural style and had seven rooms and covered 3,000 square feet. The first floor had a large hall on one side and a dining room and parlor on the other side. The upstairs had four bedrooms with fireplaces. The house also had an attic and a basement. Cassius Clay inherited the property and he thought of his father's home as the "old building." In the 1860s he did a major renovation to the house, which was a huge expansion. This was constructed above and around the Clermont and was also done in brick with elements of Georgian and Italianate architecture. The architect was Thomas Lewinski and built by John McMurty. This rebuilt mansion covered 10,000 square feet and expanded the seven rooms to 44 rooms and had central heating and indoor plumbing. The central heat came from two basement fireboxes. The water for the bathroom was collected from rainwater on the roof and piped to the bathroom, which had a bathtub made from a hollowed-out poplar tree that was lined with copper.
White Hall was put up for auction and Clay's grandson, Warfield Bennett, bought the mansion, but over the years it fell into neglect. Tenant farmers used it for storage, with total disregard to the beautiful home. They used the house to store hay bales and the roof eventually caved in allowing the elements into the house. The home was donated to the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 1968 by descendants of the Clay family. Kentucky First Lady Beula C. Nunn oversaw the restoration and it was dedicated on September 16, 1971. White Hall is today a museum and event venue, now managed by Eastern Kentucky University. It's a favorite spot for weddings and sometimes an extra uninvited guest pops up in wedding photos. These guests aren't alive either. White Hall is reputedly haunted.
There are tales of women in black here, as well as the spirits of children. There are many nose pictures here. People smell rose perfume, cigar smoke, burning candles and brandy. So clearly, Mr. Clay liked a brandy with a cigar. And the candle smell probably goes along with people claiming to see candle lights around the perimeter of the house and moving through the house. Sometimes music from a piano or violin is heard and there is no known cause for it. Lights get turned off and on in rooms that are unoccupied and disembodied footsteps are heard. Unseen dinner parties take place in the dining room.
Keven McQueen, a former guide at the house, wrote about this in his 2001 book Cassius M. Clay: Freedom's Champion, "The ghosts of White Hall appear to have a certain fondness for playing tricks with the lights. When restoration began on White Hall in the later 1960s, a trailer was placed near the house for the guards to stay at night. Reportedly, almost every night, the guards would watch a single ball of light moving from window to window in the second-floor master bedroom." McQueen also wrote, "Often the strong smell of pipe smoke or perfume will come seemingly out of nowhere, fill only a particular room or two, then abruptly disappear without fading away."
Former Park Manager Kathleen White told The Lane Report in 2007,
"There’s something that goes on here,” White said. “I hesitate to say
it’s haunted because it’s all in how you view it. But there are things
I’ve seen, things I’ve heard, smells I’ve smelled out of the ordinary
that I cannot explain." Many employees have seen the Lady in Black and some even claim that she was actually wearing blue. One employee said that he had seen the end of a hooped, black gown turn a corner and disappear down the stairs to Green Clay's room. Other employees have seen different colored dresses, which makes one wonder if this is like an aura.
Patti Starr is a Certified Ghost Hunter, researcher, lecturer, teacher and tour guide with decades of experience under her belt. She runs the Bardstown Ghost Trek and has investigated White Hall many times. One evening she was at the house taping for Halloween with a Lexington news team when they picked up a voice saying "I'm ready, Clay." Patti believes this may have been one of the robbers that Clay faced off with in the mansion. The cameraman was pretty freaked out by this. Starr writes about the house in her 2010 book Ghosthunting Kentucky and her first time visiting in 2001, she thought she saw someone in an upstairs window looking out at her as she got out of the car. She found out that no one was in the house, but many people have seen the same thing as her. Former tour guide Charles was taking a group through the house and he told Starr that he was explaining the plumbing to the guests when he glanced up and saw the form of a woman on the third floor landing. He could see her from the neck down. She was wearing a white blouse and a navy blue hooped skirt. He could see right through her.
Guides usually dress in period clothing. One day, two of them were playing around on the stairway when they saw a man walk into one of the bedrooms on the second floor. He turned and looked at them before disappearing beyond the doorway. He was wearing older clothing, so they at first thought it was another guide. They went downstairs and mentioned that they saw a male guide go into a bedroom on the second floor and the other guides looked around and said that no one was missing. A couple of the employees went upstairs and found no one. A woman named Misti Dawn got married at White Hall and she and her husband Tommy had pictures taken while posing inside. In one picture, it looks as though a white apparition is hovering above them. They shared the picture with Starr and its a very interesting photo.