Notebook October 2020
William Seale’s approach to preservation
On the life and work of the historian of the White House.
The White House is the most famous house in the world. Buckingham Palace may run a close second, though as the residence of a reigning but not ruling head of state it lacks the frisson of power that political observers and historians alike are helpless to resist. Bill Seale, the historian who died last November, knew the White House better than anyone, though not in the political sense. He knew the house as a building—the building that the nation provides for its presidents to inhabit. George Washington (who left office before it was finished, but who selected the site and approved the design) was the only one who never lived in it.
Jackie Kennedy famously got the White House history train rolling back in 1961 with her desire to restore the historical integrity of the public rooms. Seale became the pillar of the White House Historical Association and in 1983...
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