White House Christmas Ornament

by John Delach

Erminia, our cleaning woman, looked perplexed when she arrived on Thursday, December 6th. She held out a large white envelope. Immediately, I recognized the handwriting to be that of Rosemary King. “Ah, the annual White House Christmas Ornament,” I thought to myself.  

For the last several years, Rosemary King has generously posted the latest edition of this special ornament to us during the first week in December. Unfortunately, something was very wrong with this one. The envelope was empty. The sealed flap had come undone somewhere in route.

I decided not to tell Rosemary as I knew she sent these treasures to over a hundred people. Instead, I chose to look up the ornament on line and discovered the White House Historical Association had them for sale. I ordered two and accepted a FedEx surcharge, so they would arrive in under three days.     

Like me, I have discovered that most folks are unaware of the existence of these ornaments. Truly, this is truly amazing once you realize their significance, their beauty and how economical they are.

Rosemary included us on her list about seven-years ago. Mary Ann and I were taken aback by its beauty and craftmanship, but at that point in our lives, we no longer erected a Christmas Tree. We decided to give it to our son and his family. They were thrilled to add it to their tree. The following year, the ornament went to our daughter and her family. They too loved it; we established a new tradition.

The history of these ornaments is relatively recent. The White House Historical Association has been selling them to the public since 1981 when First Lady Nancy Reagan suggested this. That first year, the association released 1,500 “Angel in Flight” ornaments that depicted a copper weather vane found on historic buildings like Mount Vernon and Independence Hall.

From the beginning, ChemArt Inc., a privately-owned firm in Lincoln, RI, has produced these ornaments. Their founder, Richard Beaupre, now 81, has worried over the annual production ever since. Today, ChemArt produces almost two-million ornaments each year all in their Rhode Island plant.

Beginning with Angel in Flight, each keepsake has been hung on the White House Christmas Tree located in the Blue Room. The historical association designs each ornament that focuses on every president in chronological order. The exceptions to this chain have been White House historical events like anniversaries.

The ornaments commemorate certain aspects of a president’s time in office, curious at times, but not controversial. The 2007 ornament, honoring Grover Cleveland, depicts his wedding ceremony to Frances Folsom in the Blue Room in 1886. (He was 49, she was 21.)

The 2011 ornament depicts Santa Claus standing on the snow-covered front lawn of the White House. The caption reads: “I hear there are kids living in this house.” The back of the ornament shows Teddy, Mrs. Roosevelt, a maid and the six Roosevelt children looking out a window excitedly observing Santa outside on the lawn.

William Howard Taft’s, 2012 Ornament pictured our most corpulent president embracing new technology by being the first president to ride in a motor car.

Herbert Hoover’s ornament is a fire engine, truly a curious choice to honor his presidency ruined by the great depression that descended upon the nation. His fire engine commemorated a toy fire engine given to children at a 1930 Christmas party to remind them of the White House fire in 1929 that forcing the evacuation of the people’s house during that Christmas party.      

This year’s ornament is drop -dead gorgeous. It honors Harry S. Truman with two themes, the complete re-construction of the White House from 1950 to 1952 and President Truman’s 1948 proclamation to permanently change the Great Seal so that the eagle’s beak would always be faced toward the talon holding the olive branches and not the one holding the arrows.

A small gold-plated seal stands above the ornament with the eagle proudly duplicated on both the front and rear. Two red ribbons extend above the seal to facilitate fastening it to a tree. The ornament is attached to the seal by a short chain. Its front depicts the South Portico, after the reconstruction that includes the “so called,” Truman Balcony that the 33rd President added to the White House facade. This three-dimensional, bowed image includes two outside staircases leading up to the balcony, a wreath and a red ribbon bearing, “The White House – Christmas 2018.

The concaved back of the ornament depicts the re-built Blue Room decorated for Christmas with a tree in the center. A scroll at the bottom reads: “1945-1953: Harry S. Truman.”

The cost is reasonable, less than $21 all in including standard shipping. I kid you not, these decorations are special and several of the more recent ornaments remain available. They are packaged in a handsome box with a booklet explaining the significance of the ornament for that presidency and a short biography and milestones achieved during his administration.

When I next saw Rosemary, I thanked her for the latest edition and said, “This one is the most beautiful of them all.”

She replied, “I think it is spectacular.”

True to my word, I didn’t say anything else.

Next up is Dwight David Eisenhower and I have this funny feeling that one way or another, it may include his famous putting green. Stay tuned.